Strengthen first line of defence

Sh. Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – C.B.I.)

All illusions, if there were any, have been junked by the Prime Minister in his speech at the recent Conference of Chief Ministers about the source of terrorism in India and the support of the Government of Pakistan to the same. On January 6, he unambiguously said that the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai was clearly carried out by Pakistan-based outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. On the basis of the investigations carried out, which include inputs by intelligence agencies of foreign countries whose nationals were killed by the fidayeen, there is enough evidence to suggest that given the sophistication and military precision of the attacks, they must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.

The Prime Minister added that we face a severe challenge from terrorist groups operating from outside the country, and that many of them act with the support of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. These terrorist forces have been trying to exploit our vulnerability, and at times they have succeeded in their goals, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent civilians.

Our problems are compounded by the fact that we have a highly unpredictable and uncertain security environment in our immediate neighbourhood. The Governments in some of our neighbouring countries are not very stable. The more fragile a Government, the more it tends to act in an irresponsible manner. Pakistan’s responses to our various démarches are obvious examples.

This is not the first time that India has laid the blame for the malaise of terrorism at Pakistan’s door. For almost every terrorist attack on our soil Pakistan is responsible one way or another, whether it be providing training or logistical support to the terrorists. The only solution, our hawks advocate, is war with Pakistan. But war is no solution to terrorism, as can be seen by the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq, and our own past wars with Pakistan. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we cannot strengthen our country’s security and intelligence-gathering infrastructure to combat terrorism. The Prime Minister has admitted that our defence mechanisms are inadequate and need to be overhauled.

There may be criticism that the range of instruments that we possess to deal with internal security threats is not sufficient. This may not be totally unjustified. There is a pressing need to review the effectiveness of our security set-up for the collection of communication intercepts and human intelligence. The training and equipment provided to our security forces also need careful review.

There is little doubt that our intelligence collection is deficient and so is our preparedness to deal with terror threats. I do not know whether it is due to ignorance or apathy, or a mixture of both. In 2008 the then Union Home Minister, while replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, had admitted that there were 25 to 30 per cent vacancies in various police forces of the country. Look at Maharashtra, which has borne the brunt of terrorism. According to its then Home Minister, last year 11,000 police posts remained vacant. The current strength of the State Police force is 1,31,000 and there is a need for another 55,000 personnel. Assam, another State severely affected by terrorism, has as many as 7,776 vacancies in different police categories. Similarly, Chhattisgarh has about another 7,000 vacancies.

Not surprisingly, our country has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in the world. As against a UN international norm of 222 policemen per lakh of population, India has just 143 policemen for the same number of people. This works out to just 14,000 police stations for more than 6.5 lakh villages. In most Western countries, the figure is between 250 and 500. Italy and Mexico, two countries with strong mafia and underworld presence, have 559 and 492 policemen per lakh of their population respectively. According to the latest figures compiled by the Centre, there were more than 1.3 lakh vacancies in the police all over our country. Even out of this nearly 15 to 20 per cent are diverted for VIP security.

New counter-terrorism mechanisms require more information, intelligence and technology, and latest sophisticated weapons. The State police forces, that are our first line of defence against the menace of terrorism, need to be strengthened in numbers as well as in equipment and training to meet the challenge.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report for 2006-07 tabled in the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly says: “Given the magnitude of extremist activity in the State, requirement of AK 47, 7.62 mm Self-Loaded Rifle, nine mm carbines, and 5.5 mm pistols for police stations were projected in the perspective plan 2001-05 to improve the striking capability of the police force and Rs 45.71 crore was sanctioned during 2002-07. Most of the equipment was procured only during 2005-06. In all the police stations of test checked districts it was observed that they continued to depend on outdated weapons like 0.410 muskets and 0.303 rifles, with majority of weapons being kept at the district headquarters. The State Government did not release its matching share (Rs 98.9 crore in 2002-03 to 2005-06). The percentage of utilisation of funds in the year of sanction was very low at 13 to 38 per cent”.

The above report is only an illustration of prevails all over the country. The real problem that India faces in combating terrorism is our unprepared police force. Beyond doubt once a person joins the police force, after initial training it is rare for him to be exposed to a refresher course. But no overhauling of our security system will be effective without improving the capacities and capabilities of our police force.

Thus, instead of searching for elusive terror training camps in Pakistan, we should simply put our own house in order. Before we point finger at others, let us strengthen our own defence mechanisms and start at ground-level policing and then work our way up. We must put an end to terrorism, or terrorism will end us.