Terrorist threat and response capability - India a year after

Terrorist threat and response capability - India a year after


Causation proves co-relation but  co-relation does not prove causation. Non-occurrence of any major incident following 26/11 has co-relation with terrorism but its absence does not prove disappearance of threat. Event  centric assessments often lead to such simplifications as human mind is designed to simplify complex issues to bring them within the limits of what it can comprehend.

The assertion by Maharashtra Director General of Police during “Security Summit” in battered Trident Hotel of Mumbai on November 14, 2009 that “Police’s response mechanism has improved drastically and we are much more confident now” is heartening but has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

A statement purported to have been issued by Mustafa Abu-al Yazid, one of the top Al Qaeda functionaries, early this year that “The Islamic nation that produced the audacious and heroic martyrs of Bombay, who struck you in the midst of your homes and humiliated you, is able to produce thousands more like them,” is also a tall claim for affect and not a measure of their real capabilities. Except the speculators, no one can bet their money where the truth lies. Rather than crystal gazing, this calls for a professional approach.

For meaningful risk assessment changes, if any, two independent vectors that determine security quotient need to be analysed. The first relates to the ‘Stimulant,’ i.e profile of the source of threat. Shift in threat levels is largely determined by changes in the capability and intentions of the source of threat. The other, relates to ‘Response,’ i.e ability of the threatened entity to destroy, deter or prevent the threat.

Disadvantage India

The Stimulant analysis first. As assessed in the light of disclosures made by David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, interdiction of HUJI and LeT activists in Bangladesh targeting Indian High Commission in Dhaka, investigations of counterfeit Indian currency cases indicating ISI linkages, unabated infiltrations and attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, disclosures by arrested jihadis from different parts of the country etc., it is evident that there is no lowering of threats from terrorist groups and their mentors.

However, while intentions remain unchanged and capabilities intact, there are two changes in last one year that will affect Pakistan’s capability to convert its diabolical intentions into ground actions. The first being compulsions created by a
virulent insurgency using terrorism as its tactics and secondly Pakistan coming under heavier international scanner on terrorism front, making it difficult to operate with impunity as in the past.

Contrary to a simplistic assessment, these factors do not lower the threat but may change its character to India’s disadvantage.  The new plans will be more devious and circumspect trying to leave no scent of its involvement. It will also make Pakistan give greater autonomy to act, without withholding resources to groups enjoying their patronage, a freedom that can hurt India. Further, wrongly suspecting India to be responsible for its woes, it may goad LeT, HUJI, HM etc. to retaliate. As operational capabilities of these outfits remain intact and so do their striking capabilities, it would be wrong to assess that changed setting will bring down the threat level.

Musharraf was honest in telling to CNN early this month that “Always, in every group, there is an ingress of the ISI. And that is the efficiency, the effectiveness of the ISI. You must have ingress, so that you can influence all organisations and use them to Pakistan’s own advantage.”

Recent moves indicate futuristic use with greater tactical circumspection and diabolism like operating through third country bases, recruiting local youth for operations, extending networks to smaller townships, providing sleeper cells with ostensible covers, issuance of strict instructions to LeT, HUJI and others on communications etc., are illustrative. The threats are not reduced but are changing their character.

Response analysis

Now, the response. In last one year, some changes have been brought about mainly to rectify gaps and infirmities of the past. Should Mumbai recur, the Indian response may be better. Introduction of quick response teams, acquisition of latest weaponry, redeployment of  National Security Guards (NSG), formation of National Investigation Agency (NIA), providing combat vehicles equipped with latest arms and global positioning systems etc. in some high vulnerability areas will provide speed, better fire power and tactical advantage to our forces, albeit in limited areas. The protective security of vulnerable targets has also been strengthened with better technology support.

However, a country of India’s size, diversity and freedoms cannot be protected only in a defensive mode. Cases of Headley and Rana are indicative of unaffordable chinks in our armour.

Very little achieved

The nation’s safety levels cannot be increased unless the capacities of terrorist groups are degraded, their collaborative linkages with gun-runners, financiers and underworld are severed, sleeper cells demolished, and over-ground support bases eroded through a planned and sustained effort.

Very little has been achieved or capacities built to meet these goals. India cannot depend for its security on hopes of the adversaries falling prey to their own contradictions or foreign initiatives reducing threats to India. The new threats may hit us in places where we are least prepared and in forms we expect least and the country has yet to prepare itself for that.

(The writer is former Director, Intelligence Bureau and first Indian police officer
to get the Kirti Chakra; also Director, Vivekananda International Foundation.)

Threat lingers

“Every day I receive intelligence reports saying that terrorists based in Pakistan are planning other similar acts.” - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on whether he worries about another 26/11-like attack.

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