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Reign of Terror

12/3, 18/10, 13/9, 1/10, 29/10, 11/7, 18/2, 11/10, 13/5, 26/7, 13/9, 26/11, 13/2, 6/4, 13/7, 7/9...... and counting. Yet, we take chance with security.*

Colonel Utkarsh S. Rathore


Post-26/11, reacting to the elaborate security arrangements near Hotel Taj, Mumbai someone exclaimed with great flourish, “Why all this?  Lightning does not strike at the same place twice.”

On 7 Sep, the maxim was proved wrong. 111 days after their failed attempt to target Delhi High Court, terrorists bombed the same premises leaving 13 dead and over 80 injured. Owing to the monsoon session of the Parliament and intelligence reports regarding possible terror attack, Delhi was on ‘high alert’ when it happened. Temerity of terrorists to target same place in the capital city has shocked everyone. There is a palpable anguish among the public, who has always been at the receiving end of these terror attacks. The tragedy was no different for the politicians and officials, who reacted by blaming each other and finding lame excuses.

Common man is gripped with a sense of fear and despondency. Public transport systems, markets, business centres, courts, hospitals, hotels, multiplexes, educational institutes and religious places all have been targeted in the past. People put their lives at great risk when they frequent these places.

India’s tryst with terrorism is very old. As long as it happened in the remote north-eastern states, Jammu and Kashmir, states located in so-called “Red Corridor” it was treated like a routine law and order problem. “There seem to be an urban-rural chasm when it comes to acknowledge the gravity of threat posed by terrorism; as long as it is fought and contained at the remote fringes of the country it is acceptable to the establishment. When it reaches cities, particularly the metros the response level shows alacrity” opines a defence and security expert. The remark is not misplaced as India is the most terror-hit country in Asia after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The attack happened when the country’s political class was busy rousing regional passions by demanding clemency for the terrorists involved in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, attack on Indian Parliament and car bomb blast at the Youth Congress office in New Delhi. Due to such misplaced ambivalence among the politicians terrorism has not only survived years of counter-terror operations by armed forces and police but also crept inwards from these hot spots. Yet we have to get our act together.

26/11 was a turning point. Our security system was violated and lay exposed. We expected that a sound counter-terror strategy and capacity would emerge from the lessons learnt from the Mumbai attacks. But our coastal surveillance and defence remains porous as ever; cargo ships drift to Mumbai shores regularly, as if on ‘port of call’ mission without being noticed by navy, coast guard and coastal police. Coastal states are yet to raise and equip their coastal police force; a resolution which was taken after Mumbai attacks.

In the recent past investigations of many terror attacks have remained inconclusive. The cases have been transferred from state ATS to central agencies. The leads have gone cold leaving agencies groping in the dark. General perception in the street about our agencies’ capability is far from being satisfactory. People doubt their calibre and efficiency in no uncertain terms.

Intelligence remains our sore point. An intelligence report based on which police is put on ‘high alert’ is mostly a conjecture. A mere statement that on Republic Day or Independence Day terrorists may carry out a strike conveys nothing. When such alerts are sounded too often, even police becomes complacent. Tracking of terror groups – their leadership, modules, specialists, modus operandi, foot soldiers, supporters, sources of weapons, explosives and finance, linkages, etc. is a painstaking job. Operation Geronimo has shown that input refining needs diligence, patience and calibre. It believed that post-Batla House encounter in Delhi in Sep 2008, tracking of Indian Mujahideen and SIMI has become difficult.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) cut its teeth when it was assigned the task of investigation of High Court blast from the day one – its major assignment. It was heart warming to see NIA officials perched on a hydraulic crane scouring the scene of crime for clues.

Employment of NIA to investigate the case did not go well with Delhi Police which felt marginalised as in the past it was its special cell that used to handle such terror-related incidents. Delhi Police’s inability to crack a number of terror attacks in the capital may have forced MHA to take this step.

As per the mandate NIA is supposed to take on issues concerning trans-state investigation. Its manpower has been drawn from various organisations on deputation. It has to raise its own cadre. The equipment is still being identified and procured. There is a need for having well-staffed and equipped regional offices. In cases where only one state is involved NIA is unlikely to be getting any major access due to political reasons.

As an investigative agency NIA’s role is post-incident. It lacks preventive ability. Its formation is undoubtedly inspired by Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US, which has both – investigative and proactive abilities to prevent terror attacks even if it involves attack on foreign soil. In times to come one hopes to see NIA as part of National Counter Terrorism Centre having intelligence, investigation and prevention capabilities.

Post- 7/9 the discourse has drifted to building up of counter-terror hierarchy. Setting up of Criminal Crime Tracking Network System and Counter Terror Centre is being talked about. In all this debate local police which has an important role to play has been forgotten. Unless we strengthen, equip and network country’s 13,421 police stations and 7,826 police posts our counter-terror strategy will not deliver desired results.

There have been large scale recruitments in the police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to make up existing deficiency in manpower and raise new units. In this rush unit and sub-unit cohesion has been affected, which is evident from the performance of units engaged in anti-Naxal operations. There is a dearth of training facilities for the police. A constable or sub-inspector seldom returns to his/her training institute for a refresher or advanced training. As per a modest estimate a policeman would have to wait for ten years to get a chance to attend a long course in training schools. In the absence of training how can a policeman keep pace with the changing time?


Police stations are still relevant in our counter-terror matrix. Diehard policeman believe that it is the misuse of police force and neglect of police stations that has caused us dearly in terms of professional decay. “While we can collect strategic intelligence from a satellite hovering thousands of miles above us, the tactical intelligence regarding the movement of terrorists will still come from the beat constable and his mukhbir, “quips a retired ACP. He is right in saying that you cannot omit the ‘man (or woman) behind the gun’.

After any terror strike, companies dealing in security systems and equipments do brisk business, as our procurement processes are fast-tracked by easing the qualitative requirements. Most of our procurements in terms of electronic surveillance, access control, scanners, metal and explosive detectors, and bomb disposal systems have been procured through knee-jerk reactions. It is not very uncommon to find a number of foreign vendors flocking to North Block soon after a terror attack. Why cannot we do a systematic procurement through need assessment, system identification, vendor selection and smart negotiation?

CCTV cameras are often seen as panacea for all crime and terror problems. Electronic surveillance is just a part of integrated security system that a city or an installation needs. It is built upon integrating the principal domains of security – human, physical, technical and IT. Panic procurement omits the requirement of integration that is why hastily procured wares lose relevance and utility after sometime.

Chaos runs our cities. “Safe City” is still a distant dream. Post-26/11, it was hoped that at least metropolitan cities will have an integrated security system of electronic surveillance, visitors’ registry, identification, access control and crisis response, etc., which is far from being accomplished. It is disconcerting to note that Public Works Department dithered for more than two years and could not install 32 CCTV cameras in the Delhi High Court premises. In the absence of video footage investigating agencies are falling back on the archaic system of identity kit to produce the sketch of the suspects. The sketches issued by the police were so off the mark that these were later withdrawn.

Why should departments be dependent on PWD or some other agency for procuring and installing security gadgets? Can’t we allocate security budget to the departments? Aren’t departments capable enough to carry out tendering, vendor selection and procurement?

In electronic surveillance, control room operations – observation, footage viewing and cataloguing and issuing alerts are very important procedures. This aspect is not being paid due attention to, which is why one finds one or two operators trying to view the real time video footage emanating from dozens of camera. This is particularly true in case of transport hubs, installations and public places where inadequate staffing makes the entire process self defeating.


Control of explosives and explosive substances in India remains lax. Being an agricultural and industrialised country there is no dearth of substances which can be improvised as explosives. Availability of civilian grade explosives in mining and construction sectors to terror groups has not been effectively checked. In the areas affected by left wing extremism procurement of explosives by terrorists groups by looting, pilferage and misappropriation have often been reported. Open sale of ammonium nitrate - an ingredient found to be used in many bomb blasts in the country was finally banned by Government of India after 13 Jul Mumbai blasts. In the villages of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where small quarries are in operation, people have developed expertise in refining fertiliser grade calcium-ammonium nitrate into explosive grade ammonium nitrate for use in mining operations. Hence, the ban would serve little purpose.

While we boast off increasing tele-density in the country, the attendant security risks have not been taken seriously. Chinese mobile phones without International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number have flooded Indian markets. A call is tracked either by SIM or IMEI number. Criminals and terrorists use multiple SIM cards from a cell phone to avoid tracking. IMEI is helpful in tracking such calls.

Despite many regulations issued by the government procurement of a SIM card in the country is very easy. On 24 Jul, Mumbai police recovered 80,000 SIM cards from a person in Thane, Mumbai. Apparently all is not well with business practices adopted by telecom companies when it comes to issuance of new connections.

How safe are we? It is State’s duty to create a secure environment for its citizens. The establishment has created ‘islands of security’ for the VVIP, high risk installations and organisations instead. After every terror attack some more ‘vulnerable people or installations’ get added to the list. Common man feels vulnerable.

An effective counter-terror strategy would remain elusive unless we integrate our intelligence, investigation and physical action abilities. Multiple agencies will only compound problems of command and control and sniff out existing organisations. What has happened to state CID – a potent and effective organisation of the yore, which has lost is utility and credibility is a case in point. Capacity building should keep police stations as counter-terror nodes – adequately staffed, networked and equipped with modern weapons, forensics and communications.


Utkarsh S. Rathore is a threat and risk analyst and security consultant with Effect Shield.

* 12 Mar 1993: Mumbai Blasts; 18 Oct 1997: Delhi Blasts; 13 Sep 2001: Attack on Parliament; 1 Oct 2001: Attack on J&K Assembly; 29 Oct 2005: Delhi Blasts; 11 Jul 2006; Mumbai Train Blasts; 11 Oct 2007: Ajmer Blast; 18 Feb 2007: Samjhauta Express Blast; 13 May 2008: Jaipur Blasts; 26 Jul 2008: Ahmedabad Blasts; 26 Nov 2008: Mumbai Attack; 13 Sep 2008: Delhi Blasts; 13 Feb 2010: German Bakery, Pune Blast; 6 Apr 2010: Dantewada Ambush; 13 Jul 2011: Mumbai Blasts; 7 Sep 2011: Delhi High Court Blast