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After Brussels, Indian Security Agencies Cannot be Complacent 

Post-Brussels, India could integrate police and private resources to thwart terrorist designs, writes R K Raghavan.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read


Belgian soldiers stand guard next to one of the memorials to the victims of the recent Brussels attacks, at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, March, 27, 2016. (Photo: AP)

Every time there is a major terrorist strike anywhere in the world, India shivers in fright. Any other reaction would be unnatural. But then, do we stop just with that wholly negative human response? If we did that and not prepare ourselves to frustrate any future attempt to tinker with our public order, we will only be encouraging more attacks.

Cynics would say that whatever we do, we just cannot prevent the terrorist from succeeding. This is only partially true. The fact that we have not had any major incident in India since 26/11 is certainly not fortuitous. It is an index of the strength of our preparedness and the thoroughness of our standard operating procedure (SOP). If despite this a few mishaps have happened, and a section of the police did not rise to the occasion, we need not despair.

This is because we seem to have done a few things right that have kept mischievous elements with an evil design at bay. Or else how do we explain that successive Republic Day parades in the national capital and in states, and assembly elections in a number of states have generally been incident-free. These are events which are particularly vulnerable and terrorists have not been able to cause major disruptions.

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Importance of Daily Briefing

We cannot however relax our vigil. I am still queasy about the policeman at cutting edge level. Whatever is positive about counterterrorism, the credit for it should go to the average intelligence operative and his supervisory officers. The man deployed at the police station has still not shown himself sufficiently proactive for us to feel at ease. There is a slackness induced by wrong priorities - such as an anxiety to make money the wrong way- that their supervisors will have to address.

I concede there are daily distractions -- VIP visits and conventional crime -- which tend to dilute the effectiveness of the drill to sensitise field staff on their fundamental tasks. Anything short of continual indoctrination is likely to leave gaps in knowledge and police awareness of terrorist designs.

There is a traditional practice of briefing policemen at police stations during the morning roll call. The widespread impression is that this useful mechanism has fallen into disuse. This is tragic if true. There is nothing like a face-to-face Q&A session on the subject between the SHO and his men. Inputs on this will have to come from the State Special Branch in an imaginatively capsule form. This is elementary, but requires enormous dedication to make it productive. My feeling is that not many supervisors realise the value of daily briefing on terrorism in sharpening counterterrorist responses.
Snapshot

Learning from Brussels

  • The man deployed at the police station has still not shown himself sufficiently proactive for us to feel at ease.
  • Daily distractions such as VIP visits and conventional crime hamper the task of sensitising the field staff.
  • Not many supervisors realise the value of daily briefing on terrorism in sharpening the counterterrorist responses.
  • It will take several years to foster a culture of inquisitiveness and enquiry within the security agencies for identifying future Headleys.
  • There is a need to integrate the police with private resources in an effort to improve their efficiency.
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Identifying Future Headleys

I am equally uncomfortable with the quality of instruction administered to the community. A terrorist attack always requires basic preparation in the form of procuring explosives and a reconnaissance of the target area. That a dicey character like David Headley could visit Mumbai as many as five times to collect field information prior to 26/11 reflects the fragility of our arrangements to keep track of intruders facilitating anti-Indian operations.

The Mumbai episode revealed far too many chinks in our armour. A wide network of listening posts on the ground is an extremely useful measure for identifying future Headleys quickly and defanging them.

The police cannot be omnipresent and they need a zealous community to tip them off regarding suspicious movements. This cannot happen overnight. It will take several years to foster a culture of inquisitiveness and enquiry within the community that will help isolate any individual preparing to committing harm. This is no guarantee that we will be able to foil every terrorist operation. I am sanguine that a popular impression that the whole community is alert can greatly help.



Two men help re-adjust the tributes left for the victims of the recent bomb attacks in Brussels, following heavy rain in the Place de la Bourse in Brussels,  March, 28, 2016. (Photo: AP)
Two men help re-adjust the tributes left for the victims of the recent bomb attacks in Brussels, following heavy rain in the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, March, 28, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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Integrating Police with Private Resources

In major cities, we have a huge army of private security guards protecting offices or private apartment blocks. I do not think this reservoir with great potential has yet been tapped. Periodic briefing of these men by police visit to offices and residential complexes is a useful exercise of considerable promise.

The bottom line is there is no need for despondence, nor is there room for complacence. There are enormous non-governmental resources which are available for being easily tapped. The police leadership at the top has a major role here to bring about a change in thinking that would integrate the police with private resources in an effort to make terrorist targets harder than today. Ultimately it is a battle of wits that has to be won by the government and police if democracy and peace will have to survive.

(The writer is a former CBI Director)

Also read:

Brussels Terror Attack: Stoking Latent Islamophobia is ISIS’ Plan

Why Terror Attacks Happen In Europe: A ‘Contrarian View’

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