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Preventive intelligence requires quality info and speed

Though Punjab and Mizoram can be cited as success stories in our counter-terrorism efforts, the nature of the threat today is as different as it is diffused. A sustained police crackdown and economic incentives are vital but insufficient to deal with fast mutating pan-Islamic jehadi terror networks.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2006 18:10 IST

Walk into any railway or bus station and you know that India is dismally unprepared to fight, let alone win, the war against terror. Poorly manned, narrow walk through metal detecting platforms miss 10-20 people for every one person they scan. Intelligence failures apart, such apathy in the face of ‘possible attacks’ is symptomatic of our reactive response to over two decades of terrorism.

Though Punjab and Mizoram can be cited as success stories in our counter-terrorism efforts, the nature of the threat today is as different as it is diffused. A sustained police crackdown and economic incentives are vital but insufficient to deal with fast mutating pan-Islamic jehadi terror networks.

The traditional focus of our central intelligence agencies has been on state adversaries. In dealing with an enemy that operates through closed clusters and thrives on the element of surprise to inflict maximum damage, our intelligence apparatus is the crucial first line of defence.

An ear to the ground, speed and agility are required to bust terror networks in the underbellies of cities and obscure villages from UP to Maharashtra.

The problem with our preventive intelligence has not been unavailability of information, but a failure in connecting the dots. Seized explosives and arms hauls in different parts of the country and previous blasts in Mumbai, Delhi and Varanasi display a pattern, precedent and warning that require better monitoring to prevent another 11/7.

Absence of a federal agency coordinating intelligence has led to secrecy, turf possessiveness and inability to swiftly share information with operational units. Such a body could help in shaping intelligence by mission or issue, and not by collection source or agency. For swifter response to specific threats, state police units need specialised training for counterterrorism operations.

Today 90 per cent of all information is in the public domain, and requires intelligence agencies to tap into independent expertise. The UK has set up the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre in 2003 for intelligence analysis and assessment. In July 2006 it released a strategy document to counter international terrorism, outlining its threats, challenges and policy responses. Such transparency is necessary since public awareness of security imperatives is fairly low.

Local terror modules thrive on the illegal infiltration of men and materiel across India’s porous borders, which need bettermonitoring. One third of our longest national border, with Bangladesh, remains unfenced.

In comparison with the Indo-Pak border, our border with Bangladesh lacks wide-area thermal imaging sensors, remotely piloted vehicles and sophisticated surveillance radars.

The Kargil Review Committee had recommended an indigenously developed state-of-the-art satellite imagery capability, but this is still ‘under development’.

India has recently joined the Container Security Initiative, which includes the pre-screening of containers before they enter Indian ports. But only one of our five major ports, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port at Mumbai, is equipped with a highly penetrative gamma ray detector, managing to screen about one tenth of the total volume. Our airports lack advanced radioactive capabilities to detect explosives.

It is true that our post-event investigations have a fairly good record, but averted crises register less on public consciousness than preventable disasters. Apart from the need for greater physical security, India’s counterterrorism efforts are hampered by its inadequate laws.