The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Security lessons, a year after

New Delhi, Dec. 12: One year after the terrorist strike on Parliament, another attempt would be futile.

A repeat performance would be almost impossible. The security system has been overhauled. Terrorists can strike, but at their peril. Barricades, a three-tiered security cordon, checking of each vehicle, frisking at least at two points before entry is allowed, all make up a foolproof system, claim security officials.

What are the lessons the country has learnt from the December 13 attack on Parliament' “Not very many,” says K.P.S. Gill, the man reputed to have single-handedly broken the back of the Khalistan movement in Punjab in the nineties.

“There has to be a systemic overhaul which cannot be done overnight. In the meantime, we have to work out our list of priorities and make up our minds as to which are the most vulnerable targets,” says the super cop.

Gill says December 13 has proved that no place in the country is safe. If terrorists can take you by surprise and strike at the symbol of the country’s democracy, in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi, there is a message for the country, he says. But the public does not seem to have taken the warning seriously.

“Unfortunately, the public does not seem to realise that India is the target of ruthless terrorist attacks sponsored and funded from outside the country.” There is a need to raise public awareness, because terrorism cannot be fought by the government and security agencies alone. “Every man, woman and child must be made aware of this,” he says.

Side by side, the government must draw up a well-defined policy on terrorism. Even more important, there must be a political consensus on how to deal with this scourge.

“This is a must as the government needs to carry everyone along with it on an issue of crucial national importance,” Gill said. Besides the general mouthing of support by all parties, there has been no attempt to involve the Opposition in the Centre’s efforts.

Gill, himself a retired IPS officer, has great faith in the police. “Central forces can never succeed. A well-armed and well-trained police with understanding of local conditions is superior to any para-military force with no knowledge of local conditions.”

As the government is not in a position to protect each and every target, it has to choose and decide what its priorities are. Once these have been identified, they need to be completely sanitised and made secure. In a country as huge as India and with limited resources, this is the only option left to the government.

There have been major improvements in all-round security systems, say those who deal on a daily basis with terror, but the country has a long way to go before a more sophisticated security regime can be put in place.

The government is doing what it can. Funds for equipping and modernising the police are being given to the states to make the force more effective.

A multi-agency task force headed by Ajit Duval, a brilliant officer, has been in place for a little less than a year to make sure that intelligence inputs are shared among the different agencies on the ground. A databank of terrorist groups, individual leaders and their operations is being put together to make functioning more streamlined.

The importance of intelligence in preventing attacks is well known, but a lot has to be done to put in place a network. There is an urgent need for better communication equipment, digital maps and listening devices. Former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit believes that India has the capability and the skills, but lacks coordination. “Primary intelligence flow is there, but linking together the inputs and making a logical assessment is what we lack… Our entire approach is reactive and not proactive,” he says.

“We are using whatever we have and as best as we can, while at the same time trying to bring in changes. But all this takes time,” says a home ministry official.

“The country is better geared today, but the government’s reactions often remain knee-jerk. Look at what happened when the Raghunath temple was attacked a few weeks ago. The Centre decided to send in the NSG. Why' Just because the NSG had been used during the attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar,” says Kulbir Krishan, a security expert now on a sabbatical from his job in the police to research on terrorism.

In Kashmir, where the army, police and para-military forces are all deployed, there was no sense in rushing out the NSG, he says. “In Gujarat, it made perfect sense because that state does not have a force to deal with such a situation. The decision was influenced by the last experience.”

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