Intelligence alerts on terrorist threats in the Capital were 50% down over the past five years, a sign that warnings have become more pinpointed or handlers of Pakistan-based militants are wary of a global backlash after an attack on India’s political nerve centre.
Experts cautioned that the declining number didn’t mean New Delhi has become less vulnerable to attacks, especially from Pakistan-based militant outfits such the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“Besides fears of international repercussion, Pakistan’s terrorist activities are more focused in Afghanistan, plus the country is facing internal problems too. So terrorist activities are on the decline beyond Jammu and Kashmir since 2008,” said Ajai Sahni, a counter-terrorism expert.
The Jaish and Lashkar enjoy patronage from the Pakistani establishment and army, and are involved in this year’s Pathankot air base and Uri army camp attacks in which about two dozen Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan denies the charge.
A former special director with the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), AS Dulat, said the decreased threat perception could be a matter of guesswork.
The IB and R&AW alerted Delhi police 306 times about possible terrorist attacks since 2012, which recorded the highest number of warnings at 77. In comparison, only 29 alerts have surfaced till September this year, a Delhi police response to a right to information query revealed.
“Broadly, we can divide these inputs into two parts. One is of general nature. Say possibilities of attack during Independence Day and Republic Day. We circulate these inputs to keep our forces on the toes,” a senior Delhi police officer said.
“The second type is specific. For instance, X person is coming to Delhi and staying in a particular hotel. We investigate and report back to the agency about the authenticity of the alert. No information is available on the authenticity of each and every alert.”
Experts saw another reason for the falling numbers — alerts have become more specific and accurate.
It was said that any alert — verified or hearsay — was recorded and passed down as an input in the past. But that has changed these days with officers asking for more specifics, which help to sieve out rumours.
“For a common man, decreasing inputs may indicate less threat. I believe the hinterland is always under heightened threat,” Ashok Chand, a former additional commissioner of police, said.
The one aspect security experts were singular about was the Pakistan-sponsored militants’ focus on Jammu and Kashmir, which has been keeping them off targets such as New Delhi and Mumbai.
“The spurt in terrorist attacks in Kashmir proves a point,” an intelligence officer said. “Also, Pakistan knows an attack in Delhi or the metros will attract a far greater international reaction than strikes on Kashmir.”
Another aspect attributed to the decreasing alerts is the growing presence of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda sympathizers, and home-grown militants. Intelligence agencies don’t share alerts in such cases, but take action with the help of local police.
Delhi police arrested about a dozen militants this year; among them six IS sympathisers and two are from the Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
“None of them came directly from Pakistan. Agencies get information about Pakistan-based terrorist through local informers and technical intervention such as call interception, including months of work such as data encryption as ISIS members interact through social media,” an officer said.
Such cases go beyond the realm of alert, but invite actionable input that requires direct collaboration between the intelligence agency and police to arrest the militant.
“That explains why number of terrorism-related alerts is going down, though IS members are getting arrested increasingly,” the officer said.
A network, called the National Intelligence Grid, or Natgrid, was supposed to collect and keep all data on previous alerts so that these could be assessed to verify similar links when a fresh warning is issued. But the idea mooted in 2010 remains a non-starter.