Last year Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi assured the estimated 4,000 athletes and tens of thousands of fans who will participate in next month's Commonwealth Games that their safety was his “number one concern.” Sunday's terrorist attack in Delhi, which left two tourists injured, has made clear that the promise — like so many others to do with the Games — wasn't worth much. Delhi is supposed to have a central control room manned by personnel trained to respond in real time to a terrorist attack. It didn't function. There were several police squads around the historic Jama Masjid area on Sunday, but no plans to seal off exit routes and ensure an orderly evacuation. Delhi Police commando units took too long to reach the area to launch an effective cordon-and-search operation. Police believe the attack was most likely carried out by one of the Lashkar-e-Taiba-linked cells that are collectively referred to as the Indian Mujahideen — a prospect India's intelligence services have been anticipating for months. It is possible that the systematic degradation of the Indian Mujahideen's network since 2008 prevented a larger attack: the terrorists were equipped only with pistols, and a bomb planted in a nearby car failed to detonate properly. But that is no reason to believe other attackers might not be better equipped and prepared.
For more than a year, alarm bells have been ringing in India's intelligence services on the poor state of Games-related security — but not loud enough, it would seem, to compel the Delhi Police to wake up. Instead of paying attention to the need for careful planning, Games security has relied on an ineffective method: pumping in large numbers of personnel in the hope of deterring attackers. The central government has made available 175 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force to supplement Delhi's own 64,000-strong force. Police in neighbouring States, including Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have also pitched in to help. But it is clear that the bulk of the forces deployed to protect Delhi during the Games are there to ‘reassure' the public — not to serve any useful counter-terrorism function. Few of the personnel now visible on Delhi streets seem up to handling a crisis. No drills have been conducted to test emergency-response preparedness in hotels, malls, and markets. Institutions and crowded public areas have been fitted with closed-circuit television cameras but many, including those at the Jama Masjid, aren't working. Delhi is fortunate that lives weren't lost on Sunday — but good luck is no substitute for good management. The Delhi Police must be pushed to set their house in order as best as is possible in the days that remain before the Games begin.