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India's security woes under scrutiny

Publication Date : 23-02-2013


India's bustling cities are easy targets for militants because under-trained and under-funded intelligence and surveillance agencies either fail to gather vital information or share it in time, security experts say.

Add old surveillance equipment, inadequate forensic technologies and a slow-moving bureaucracy, and the failings are all too familiar in Thursday's twin bombings in the city of Hyderabad that killed 15 people.

While India's many chaotic cities and its 1.2 billion people make it almost impossible to plug all security loopholes, its less-than-stellar intelligence and surveillance capabilities do make it a more appealing location to stage an attack.

"There will obviously be vulnerabilities when intelligence and policing agencies don't function in a coherent manner," says Naresh Chandra, a former top civil servant who recently led a panel tasked with suggesting a revamp of India's security apparatus. "There is great scope for improving the working of the intelligence agencies in India."

Typically, bombing investigations in India follow a predictable drill: Bombs go off, police and intelligence agencies trade charges over the sharing and quality of information, a security overhaul is promised, and then the trail goes cold.

All that was supposed to change after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants which shook the Indian security establishment. The government pledged to step up intelligence capabilities, set up counter-terrorism schools, strengthen anti-terrorism laws and start a national agency to investigate terrorist activity.

But the country has witnessed at least 11 small and big attacks since 2008, despite some improvements in security management.

This is because, analysts say, intelligence is often still half-baked and most tips are not followed through because of a lack of resources as well as inadequate coordination between competing state and federal agencies.

Over the past two decades, India's security challenges have evolved from ethnic or secessionist movements in its north-east region and Kashmir to attacks on its cities by religious extremist groups.

"The paradigm shift in the nature of the security challenges facing the country lends urgency to the need for reforms in the country's intelligence apparatus," a recent study by a think-tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, noted.

Indian security agencies, traditionally dependent on human intelligence, have struggled with the increasingly technical sophistication of the attacks and their masterminds. It is responding now, albeit slowly, even demanding that technology firms such as Google and the makers of the BlackBerry phones provide access to investigators of users' records.

On Thursday, India's Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the government had intelligence on a possible attack but the data was not specific.

Often, such "loose tips" in India are lost in a bureaucratic quagmire. In comparison, the United States National Counterterrorism Centre investigates the bulk of 8,000-10,000 pieces of information it receives every day as potential threats.

In a sense, Thursday's attack was predictable after Islamist militant groups swore to avenge the hanging of a Kashmiri man for attacking parliament in 2001.

Yet security in a city like Hyderabad, repeatedly attacked in the past, remained slack: Investigators found that closed-circuit cameras in the bombed market had been disconnected four days ago.

Similarly, other known targets, including Mumbai - bombed 13 times, excluding the 2008 attacks, since 1993 - remain as vulnerable as ever.

"One can understand that not every part of the country can be secured, but why can't the known vulnerable targets be secured?" asked Udit Khobragade, a former senior police officer who has investigated some of the attacks in Mumbai.


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