Close on the heels of the Mumbai terror blasts in July, Delhi has now, once again, been targeted by terrorists. In a suitcase bomb explosion yesterday at Gate no.5 of the Delhi High Court, 11 people instantly lost their lives and 75 others were critically injured. On the same day, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJi), a Pakistan-based terror outfit with transnational links in more than 20 countries including Bangladesh, India, Tajikistan, Iran, Malaysia, Fiji, and Philippines claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent to the media. The main reason for the blasts, the outfit stated, was to coerce the Indian government into repealing the death sentence of Afzal Guru who was involved in the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. It threatened more such terror attacks on the Supreme Court and High Courts if the death sentence were to be carried out.
Although the Delhi terror blast differs from the July 2011 Mumbai blasts for which no terror outfit had claimed responsibility, they are similar in many respects. Both attacks involved a low intensity Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and were intended to instill fear amongst the people. Both were facilitated by the absence of an effective state counter-terror mechanism. For instance, none of the entry gates to the Delhi High Court had installed Close Circuit Television Cameras (CCTVs) despite the fact that on May 25, 2011, Gate no.7 of the Delhi High Court had witnessed a low intensity ammonium nitrate fuelled explosion.
The email from HuJi has made the task easier for India’s counter-terror mechanisms for two reasons. First, too many resources do not have to be spent on finding out who carried out the bombing though the claim by HuJi requires further inquiry and verification. Second, there is available intelligence and expertise on the HuJi in India. Founded in the early 1980s, HuJi is believed to be an offshoot of the Jamiat Ansar-ul-Afghaneen (JAA), which was formed during the Afghan jihad. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, JAA was renamed HuJi and shifted its attention from Afghanistan to India. Since then, it has established close connections with another Pakistan based terror outfit, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Its operations in India were led by a man named Shahid Bilal, a former resident of Hyderabad, but based in Pakistan. After his death in Karachi in a shooting incident in 2007, a man named Mohammad Amjad (suspected to be from Bangladesh) is now in charge of HuJi’s India operations. Similar to the Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (LeT), HuJi’s main political goal is the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. It also draws inspiration from al Qaeda and the Taliban and follows the Deobandi tradition. The outfit has a cadre-ship of about 700.
It is critical that India’s counter-terror establishment does not get complacent just because they now think they know who is behind the blasts. In fact, several vital questions remain unanswered. How is it possible for terror outfits to repeatedly target Indian cities despite security measures having been strengthened in recent years? Is there a genuine lack of effective and well trained counter-terror forces in India? Most critically, the ability of terror outfits and insurgent groups to use violence bespeaks of an ineffective state. Significantly, more then 13 states in the heart of India are affected by Naxal violence, while Northeastern states are witness to more than 72 armed outfits. Added to this is the menace of terrorism. Also, the very fact that the HuJi sent the email to media outlets claiming responsibility for the Delhi blasts gives an indication that the outfit does not believe that the Indian state is capable of thwarting its network in India.
Instead of addressing these security challenges, the reality in cities like Delhi and Mumbai is that most of the best trained police personnel are utilized for VIP security. Nearly 60 per cent of the 83,740 or more police personnel in Delhi are employed for securing VIPs and their movements. The living conditions of most police personnel are sub-optimal; they are made to work in conditions where even basic amenities are absent. Out of 76,613 Assistant Sub-Inspectors (ASIs) in Delhi, nearly 63,103 are yet to get housing promised to them. Also, the ratio of police personnel at the level of constables in Delhi is much lower than the mid level ASIs, thereby coming in the way of a visible police presence on the ground. While special units to fight terror have been raised in cities like Mumbai, these have so far proved inadequate. The National Security Guard (NSG) is an elite counter-terror force but it is designed to serve only as a rapid reaction force and not a preventive force.
The need of the hour for India is to devise a counter-terrorism strategy which is well-coordinated and led by specialized units with superior intelligence-gathering and assessment skills. The government must immediately activate effective countermeasures including covert operations against terror networks based on sound intelligence and efficient bureaucratic coordination. Last, but not the least, visible policing is the need of the hour and must be mostly conducted by personnel who are well trained, well paid and motivated enough to get the job done. Unless such a change occurs at the ground level, major Indian cities are likely to continue to suffer from repeated terrorist attacks.