We may not be this lucky next time

The irony of it!  

AS A befuddled nation watched helplessly the first-ever terrorist attack on Parliament House on December 13, concerns about internal security suddenly seemed so real. To use a cliche, a terrorist has to get lucky just once while the security personnel have to be vigilant all the time. This time the terrorists' luck ran out but not before they had indulged in a wild shootout for more than half an hour.

Investigators say that the five, believed to be Pakistani nationals motivated and financed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, had made elaborate plans for striking at a high value target for about a week, had maps of Parliament House, the nearby high-security area of North Block and South Block, and the Chanakyapuri area where most of the diplomatic missions and embassies are located.

They had used a laptop computer to download the Home Ministry's logo which was used as a sticker on the white Ambassador car which also sported a red beacon light for good measure. The car was found packed with nearly 30 kg of high-grade RDX explosive. In the Mumbai blasts, only about one kg of RDX was used and nearly 300 people were killed.

What saved the day on December 13 was the fact that after the fidayeen breached the outermost security cordon and got into the Pariament House compound, their car dashed against a vehicle in the Vice-President's convoy and in the confusion that followed the wire connecting the detonator with the explosives got detached.

But most disturbing about the entire episode was that it happened though intelligence agencies had got tip-offs that Parliament House could be a target of terrorists. The lurking threat had even been acknowledged by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister had even referred to the confessional statement made by a suspected Al-Qaeda activist arrested in Mumbai recently; who spoke of plans to hit Parliament and similar targets in the U.K. and Australia.

Despite such a ``loose and wide'' intelligence input, one could not find any change in the ground-level physical security arrangements in and around Parliament House though it is said that a review was going on. The access control systems were the same and the outer security rings had remained unaltered.

The five terrorists were foiled only by the extraordinary display of courage by ordinary, unarmed Parliament watch and ward staff and the junior ranks of the Delhi Police and the Central paramilitary forces. Fidayeen in Jammu and Kashmir have displayed the ability and firepower to engage security forces in gun battles that have gone on for 8 to 10 hours.

Security analysts and intelligence officials say terror strikes such as the storming of a high-value target like Parliament House, symbol of the country's multi-party democratic tradition, deal a severe blow to the image of the Government and serve to undermine democratic values and institutions. As the plunge in the sensex on December 13 indicated, such strikes also impact on economic growth. They also force a heavy commitment of army troops and paramilitary forces for internal security duties.

The experience over the past two decades of dealing with covert actions and proxy war point to the diminishing efficacy of conventional legal, administrative and security apparatus when faced with highly-motivated, trained and well- financed terrorists.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) on reforming national security had cautioned in May this year: ``There is an increase in cross-border interference by one state in the internal environment of another arising out of territorial, religious, cultural and ethnic factors and the easy availability of sophisticated weaponry in international markets. This trend is likely to continue at least in the short and medium terms.''

The Kargil Review Committee's report in January last year had pointed out: ``Pakistan has ruthlessly employed terrorism in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast... in the present international security environment, proxy war and terrorism have become preferred means of hurting a neighbour's social, political and economic well being.''

Again, the National Security Advisory Board said in its report this year: ``In the foreseeable future international terrorism and induced domestic terrorism will pose a greater danger to our national security than a conventional war. National response to terrorism in its varied forms is presently inadequate, of an ad-hoc character, and generally ineffective.''

At last month's conference on internal security, organised by the Home Ministry and attended by Chief Ministers, the security scenario portrayed by the top intelligence officials included a briefing on the present environment and the dominant ``neighbourhood factor'' that had helped in spreading ``Jehadi culture'' by unleashing an ideological onslaught. The Chief Ministers were also told of ISI-sponsored collaborative networking among terrorists, espionage agents, drug syndicates, crime mafia, hawala racketeers, currency counterfeiters and border smugglers.

The conference was told that there were three main concerns about internal security: trans-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, ethnic insurgency in the Northeast, and the growing tentacles of left wing extremism.

Senior security and intelligence officials say national intelligence capabilities and resources will have to be brought up to the desired level to meet the threat by building and integrating an intelligence grid with new doctrines, tradecraft, technology, training and orientation. It would also mean strengthening multi-layered security at all vital installations and symbols of national prestige. They also want an ``effective legal regime'' that would act as a high deterrent by ensuring speedy investigation, arrest and trial.