A team of investigators waited impatiently for a forensic report early last month. The report was important for it could establish the identity of the bomber who had been caught on CCTV in Hyderabad’s Dilsukhnagar area where serial blasts killed 17 in February this year.
The face in the footage was not clear and investigators were hopeful that a forensic expansion of the image would establish their suspicion – that the attack had been carried out by IM’s nimble-footed Yasin Bhatkal.
The forensics didn’t help and so the Hyderabad attack stays unsolved as does the one in Bangalore last month, where a bomb placed on a motorcycle outside the BJP office left 16 injured. While the investigators know who bought the second-hand motorcycle, the bomber still remains at large.
The Hyderabad and Bangalore attacks sum up the reasons for why India continues to be a soft target. Crucially, the attacks also exemplify what’s wrong with India’s counter-terrorism grid.
Most security experts point out that India’s counter terrorism strategy is flawed because it lacks a security mindset, unlike America, which believes first in pre-empting attacks and then “in going to the end of the world” to get them, as articulated by President Barack Obama after the Boston bombings.
In contrast, India had not pursued near-perfect intelligence as was evident from the Hyderabad instance. The areas in which the Hyderabad bombers struck were the exact areas which had been recced by operatives of the IM who were later arrested by the Delhi Police.
But the bombers managed to trigger blasts despite the Hyderabad police having interrogated the operatives at length in Delhi.
“Countering terrorism is a constant cat and mouse game in which you cannot afford to be outsmarted,’’ says a senior home ministry official, adding, “we are far behind in this game. We were still using landlines when the terrorists moved online.
By the time we woke up to that, they’d switched to superior techniques like voice-over internet protocol (VOIP), which is difficult to monitor.”
Imran Khan, one of the operatives who had recced Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad told his NIA interrogators that he’d conveyed the details to his boss and founder of IM, Riyaz Bhatkal, over yahoo messenger.
And here once again, is what’s wrong with India’s counter-terror infrastructure: for the nearly five years since 26/11, India has been pushing the US, to provide details of Mumbai conspirator David Headley’s email details and then of Abu Jindal (who was extradited from Saudi Arabia), but all its got in answer is, “the privacy laws don’t allow us to share the information.”
Despite 26/11 and despite the technological advances made by terror groups, India — unlike China — hasn’t been able to push internet providers to shift their servers here.
There are other flaws. India continues to remain vulnerable despite the brazen attacks in Mumbai, because of its defensive posture. Despite terror being exported from Pakistan by the LeT, India has not increased the costs of war through hot pursuit.
Nor — and this is alarming — has the government devoted enough resources, both at the Centre and in the states.
The Intelligence Bureau, which lies at the heart of the counter terror grid has 30% vacancies. The anti terror squads in states, including Mumbai which has been hit several times, is short of men and material.
Also, the police-population ratio stands at 137, when by international standards it should be 220 per 100,000 people and that too during peace time.
According to Ajai Sahni, Director, Institute for Conflict Management, “It is a long haul, even if we start doing the right thing now."
Former RAW Additional Secretary, B Raman also warns of increasing alienation and radicalisation. Clearly, there is more wrong than right as 26/11 showed in 2008 and Hyderabad did more recently.