That thing called safety

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“Intelligence failure”. Words that are bandied about so easily. “New York and London saw ghastly attacks, nothing has happened since. Words all of us have spoken at some point in the last few months as blasts have rocked Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Malegaon. Why have we failed to monitor activities of suspicious people? Why cannot we patrol our borders and our coast lines? Why cannot we set up sophisticated databases monitoring the comings and goings of people. India has such a huge population, filled with intelligent, resourceful people? Why is it that these resources cannot be channelised and used in matters of gathering intelligence.

Reading this article is also shocking. Dry runs. Great so the police managed to nab these people who entered India. Yet no steps were taken to ensure that these entry points were manned? If the average layman in India is aware that the borders are so porous and if they can actually manage a “dry run”, what hope do we have against the terrorists who have access to extremely sophisticated logistic support and intelligence.

I’m not even getting into the handling of the terror situation on hand. Even as I type these words rescue operations are on and the NSG and the Army is battling it out in Mumbai. After the intial mistake of the Bombay police and the ATS taking on these terrorists with pistols, a reasonably quick reaction has happened. And sitting here far away from the ground realities, its incredibly unfair to pass judgements. And there is the matter of bringing justice. I know that is a vague sentence. What are we bringing justice to? Do the families of victims really feel vindicated when bomb planters and people with guns are thrown in jail or sentenced to death? Now I’m not even for a minute denying the fact that they deserved to be punished. But looking at the larger picture what good has it done? Is it serving as a deterrant to further attacks. Coming as it is some decades later (as in the verdicts on the 1993 blasts), most certainly not. Further the terrorists that we are dealing with are willing to pay with their lives. So punishment is not what is going to stop these attacks.

Once the actual rescue operations are out, the blame game will begin, calls for a POTA like law will be revived. Now I’m not too familiar with the provisions of POTA. But in the time that it was in force was there any terror attack that was thwarted? As far as my limited knowledge goes, I think it was only used to arrest people accused of carrying out terror. This article does provide some information on the Act, I’m really surprised that I’m not able to find any neutral information as such on the net on POTA, in terms of statistics and operations under the Act.

Did the POTA have provisions to strengthen intelligence. I really can’t say. More than focussing on laws that will punish the terrorists, we really need a concerted effort into improving intelligence. Our Intelligence Bureau laughably informed us in the wee hours of the morning of 27th of November that this was a terror attack on Mumbai. We simply refuse to learn from past mistakes. Ideally we should have had increased patrolling in the Arabian Sea ever since 1993. Or at least in the recent times fraught with tension where terrorism is so rife. Surely they knew Mumbai is a sitting duck for terrorists? It is very difficult to provide security as such to so many millions of people in public places. The Mumbai police in a hugely failed experiment tried to implement security checks for all passengers at the Churchgate station. I don’t know if this is possible to implement in lesser populated cities like London and New York. Given this background isnt being on top with respect to intelligence even more critical?

I really wish someone out there would stand up and take notice. Will these Mumbai attacks prove to be a jolt? These attacks are very different in the sense that so far we have been used to hearing news after all the tragedy is over. We have seen all the damage of the blasts, wreckage, bodies, wailing relatives. We were shocked no doubt but were able to move on. These attacks have unfolded in front of our eyes. We’ve seen terrorists hijack a car and shoot at standing people and journalists in front of a hospital, caught on camera. The hostage situation is taking place in front of our eyes. Freed hostages escape as we sit glued to our TV sets. Fire breaks out in loved landmarks, places we have been to. Roads where our offices are located, took leisurely walks in, caught trains from are cordoned off. My colleague cancelled all his meetings that were scheduled to take place at the Oberoi today. I really do think this will affect the psyche of the Mumbaikar, the Indian, indeed a World citizen in a different way. I am scheduled to travel to Bombay next week and was planning to drop in at my beloved Marine Drive and take a walk. I don’t know if I can bring myself to do that and if it will be the same. Coming back to the point I’m making here will these attacks galvanise us into action?

 Will bringing our intelligence up to speed cost us a lot? Yes most certainly. I am willing to cough up more in taxes if it will help towards ensuring that the average Indian on the road is safer. Does the corrupt politician who swallows up public money feel that way too? Is there guilt anywhere in the minds of those who are governing us. Ms Gandhi lost her husband to terrorists. It doesnt hit home any closer than that. I’m sure she feels pangs each time she hears of attacks and bomb blasts. Can she do anything concrete about it?

Intelligence failures happen. They did on 9/11 and on 7/7. But should they be happening repeatedly? With such an alarming frequency? Am I asking for too much?

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5 Responses

  1. Got here from Lekhni’s.

    You say: “I don’t know if this is possible to implement in lesser populated cities like London and New York.”

    In London, the tube handles around 2 million people every day. This is the equivalent of about a quarter of London and Greater London population. The idea of metal detectors was mooted and rejected. The snarl-ups in quotidian life would be too many.

    Yeah I did think as much..it would really hamper movement and people will anyway start calling for all of it to be removed once the scars of an attack fade..

    An important thing we do everyday is to assess risk at some intuitive level. That needs to be formalised and Joe Public needs to understand it. The risk of being stabbed in London remains higher than being caught in an act of terrorism.

    Oh yes absolutely, if terror does strike really not much can be done about it. Which is precisely why I’m harping on intelligence. Things have been made so easy for the terrorists here because the coast is so porous and they knew it only too well.

    One thing is certain – if a bunch of men decided to sneak into nice hotels in London with guns and started shooting randomly, it would not be preventable.

    Yeah which is why these scenes could have played out in any country..9/11 was huge intelligence failure. I cannot imagine what a lapse it was for so many planes to be hijacked..bigger than this for sure..in terms of the lapse that is. But is it greater vigilance or happy coincidence that nothing has happened there since? There are no answers..

  2. ‘..the coast is so porous..’

    Britain is an island 🙂

    Haha..India possibly is closer to terror hubs?

    ‘.. greater vigilance or happy coincidence..’

    Bit of both plus a hyper-suspicious society, curtailed freedom and random legislations… The price we pay. When we lock the door, we do not just lock the world out, we also lock ourselves in. Besides as long as have windows, doors can only do so much.

    Beautiful words those…I’m so buying your book!

  3. Terror hubs, more like terrorism kitchens…

    “Beautiful words those…I’m so buying your book!”

    You are sweet! I will probably only ever produce dry, non-fiction on health, politics and business.. 😦

  4. My head is spinning. Will get back here later.
    Hope peace prevails soon.

  5. Ms Gandhi, as the reigning kingmaker of India, can certainly do a lot if she so wills. Lets just hope she does.

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