Stop "Bloody Terrorism"

. 7/28/08

The serial bombings in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, which have taken a toll of over 50 lives and injured more than 150 people, form part of a sequence of attacks that have demonstrated just how dangerous the terrorist threat to India’s major cities continues to be. Even by the macabre standards we have been compelled to become accustomed to, the character of the violence is horrifying: after all, it takes a special kind of savagery to bomb a hospital. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has promised a ‘comprehensive plan’ to deal with the challenge — but did not spell out what action was contemplated nor why the Union Government has taken five years to decide it must have one. Sadly, pronouncements like this have followed each terrorist attack in recent years, as part of a ritualistic set of actions intended to reassure people that the government is working to make their lives more secure. Police deployment in public places is enhanced; random checks on traffic are stepped up; metal-detectors are installed in shopping complexes. But the truth is that not a single urban terrorist has been arrested in street checks; nor have searches at shopping complexes led to the detection of even one bomb. Measures like these cannot meet the terrorist threat. Cities, as any security professional knows, cannot be turned into fortresses.

Terrorism can be broken down to two elements: the intention to engage in acts of murderous violence, and the infrastructure needed to execute them. Terrorist intentions can best be addressed by investing in police intelligence and investigative capabilities. Not one State has intelligence databases or forensic capabilities of international standard. A national centre run by the Intelligence Bureau, which is supposed to act as the vanguard for capacity development, is an old promise that is yet to be met. Most State police forces remain under-staffed, under-trained, under-equipped. As for terrorist infrastructure, an effective regulatory apparatus is needed for the sale and storage of explosives. In 2004, India proscribed the production of nitroglycerine-based high explosives, commonly known as TNT or dynamite. In its place, the industry adopted ammonium nitrate-based explosives, which have a short shelf life. On paper, licences are needed to buy and store explosive material; and stocks must be regularly audited. In practice, ammonium nitrate and other dangerous chemicals such as potassium chlorate are readily available. From fishermen to farmers, a wide range of unregistered users hold stocks. Expertly fabricated explosive devices based on ammonium nitrate can be deadly, as the terrorists demonstrated in Ahmedabad and Bangalore — and before that in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Varanasi, and Lucknow. Unless a rigorous regulatory apparatus is put in place, they will continue to find the explosive material they need to power their campaign of hate. Will such measures guarantee a terror-free future? The answer is no, because a considerable part of the terror infrastructure lies outside India — but they might contribute to making our lives significantly safer.

The Hindu

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