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Caught napping again

india Updated: Mar 03, 2011 13:36 IST
Sudhir Hindwan

The terror attack in Varanasi on Tuesday came close on the heels of the Allahabad High Court verdict on the Babri Masjid case, making it clear that terrorists are keen to create fear and anxiety among people about the government’s inability to protect them against such acts.

The Indian Mujahideen (IM) is planning to strike in other parts of India with low-intensity devices. So Varanasi should not be viewed in isolation. During the last few years, terror attacks in Kathua and Pulwama, Gandhinagar, Ludhiana, Ajmer and Hyderabad have not only demonstrated the capabilities of terrorists but have also confirmed that jihadis have openly declared war against India.

Anti-terrorism expert Brian Jenkins believes that though security and intelligence agencies can warn us about possible attacks, there is still confusion over whether such a mechanism is successful in dealing with terrorists driven by fundamentalism. Experience shows that complacency and lack of immediate reaction to terror threats have paralysed the security systems in many countries. To combat terror acts, there’s a strong need for effective preparedness at the government level. First, we must know about the people behind such acts and their motivation. Second, we need sufficient data about the area where the event is unfolding. A good intelligence network can provide these details and also information about terror targets, timings and sites.

But the government alone can’t stop it. Groups and individuals can make significant contributions to improve the security environment. There is also a need for sophisticated security procedures that go all the way from airport screening to border checks. We have to learn from the anti-terrorist strategies of the West. The United States Patriot Act, 2001, allows security agencies to gather information about communication networks and properties of terror suspects. Besides, US immigration officials have the right to detain or deport illegal immigrants. Britain’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, 1984, allows securitymen to detain terror suspects and imprison them for one-and-a-half months without framing any charges against them.

In India, many attempts were made to ensure the implementation of anti-terror laws. But due to opposition from various quarters, these Acts were allowed to lapse. The Terrorism And Disruptive Activities Act, 1987, (Tada) was not extended beyond 1995. Similarly, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), 2002, did not go beyond 2004. On the other hand, Maharashtra and Gujarat have made attempts to enact separate Acts. But we still don’t have a federal agency that can tackle the problem from an all-India point of view.

To prevent another 26/11, Parliament passed the Bill related to the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in 2008. The NIA appears to be milder than Pota. While under Pota, a confession made before a police officer could be treated as evidence, under the NIA, the accused has to be produced before a magistrate to record his confession. The NIA authorises security agencies to seize funds and prevent the entry of terror suspects. Besides, the NIA has provisions for setting up special courts for quicker trials.

In the case of Pota, there was too much emphasis on the evidence before the courts. Under the UAPA, an accused will be presumed guilty in terror-related cases unless proved innocent.

The security apparatus and the police need to bring together technical and professional expertise-based experience for securing the country. More importantly, we need to develop the capability to anticipate terror strikes. This is possible by conducting specialised courses for monitoring security situations.

Sudhir Hindwan is a Chandigarh-based strategic affairs expert

The views expressed by the author are personal