Ever since Monday's near-successful assassination of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, India's media have opened a 24x7 barrage of speculation about who carried out the attack. The question is important, but Indians ought to apply their minds to a more important issue nearer home: the dysfunction that continues to characterise the country's counter-terrorism infrastructure. Even though the attack took place less than 500 metres from the Prime Minister's official residence, there was no system in place to cordon off the area. Closed-circuit television images are reportedly inadequate to establish details of the licence-plate on the motorcycle used by the perpetrator. For more than an hour after the bombing, Delhi Police officials continued to tell journalists the fire was caused by the explosion of the car's compressed-gas cylinder — even though, it turned out, the diesel-burning vehicle had none. Terrorist groups targeting India, rather than Israel, will be paying close attention to this depressing litany of failures.
More than three years after 26/11, this much is clear: despite their shiny new guns and made-for-TV uniforms, India's new-model police forces work just like their predecessors. Last month, Maharashtra's élite special weapons and tactics units did nothing for over 45 minutes while a crazed bus driver rampaged through Pune. The credit for stopping the carnage went to an uncelebrated local resident who chased down the bus. Emergency services were missing in action after bombings in Delhi and Mumbai, and critical evidence lost because of crime-scene contamination. India's coastal security project was mercilessly exposed when two ships — which could have been carrying anything from terrorist assault teams to chemical and nuclear weapons — washed up undetected off Mumbai. The roots of these failures lie in exceptionally poor training. India does not have a single world-class institution for teaching investigation, forensics, intelligence or tactical skills. Recent expansion of manpower has sharpened the strains; the Intelligence Bureau, for example, has slashed training time from six months to three, while the Central Reserve Police Force's academies are choked. Language experts and skilled intelligence officers are conspicuous by their absence. Later this month, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram will open a new national counter-terrorism centre, which is meant to mate intelligence with investigation and emergency responses. The truth is this: India's intelligence is thin, investigation skills appalling and emergency response infrastructure non-existent. Painting fangs on this lamb won't fool anyone — least of all terrorists who mean India harm.