Last week’s carnage in Paris was reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attacks in the way terrorists navigated the landscape, targeted populated areas and set out on their killing spree. The 26/11 attacks appear to be the prototype for future attacks and cities across the world are stepping up security.
But how safe are we in India? Security specialists say it is impossible to prevent all terror attacks but it is possible for governments to create a prohibitive climate to deter terrorists. These include the professionalisation of the police and security services, with a focus on improving their numbers, training, equipment and investigative capacities. Coordination among different agencies and between the Centre and state governments, which jealously guard their turf, is critical.
There is probably some progress made since the Mumbai attacks but perhaps not on a scale equal to the task. Frankly, the progress is unclear and does not quite impart the confidence that the State has a firm handle on the security issues. Bringing out the barricades on to the streets following a terror attack and stationing exhausted policemen to flag down suspects (via inevitable community profiling) are unconvincing measures so far as public perceptions go.
Governments need to be a lot more forthcoming about their level of preparedness, which is arguably not great, given how plans to install surveillance cameras in key public spaces have turned out in major cities. Candour can and must be used to institute accountability beforehand. If state governments, under whose remit policing comes, are being tardy about preparations then the Centre should not hesitate to name and shame them. Citizens also need to be aware of contingency plans in the wake of major terrorist strikes (and natural disasters). The traffic breakdowns in the capital during the India-Africa Summit provoke doubts about the State’s ability to deal with a situation when systems are thrown out of gear.
Lastly, leaders must remember that peace and security are socially produced outcomes. Terror stems from mindless ideology but also political grievance. There’s a need to address both. The State needs to gain a reputation for being scrupulously fair rather than being known for exerting partisan pressures. And remember, without being fair, the State’s access to communities is hampered — weakening its understanding and investigative capacity. Technocratic improvements help but a nation’s security is ultimately tied to the strength of its democratic commitments.