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Can we prevent another 26/11 today?

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On this very day nine years ago, the city of dreams became the city of death, perpetuated by 10 terrorists of Lashkar-E-Taiba leaving 166 civilians and police personnel dead (plus 9 terrorists) in what popularly came to be known as 26/11. In one of the most deadly attacks Indian history has ever seen, coordinated attacks took place majorly in South Mumbai which were eventually controlled after almost 60 hours of gruesome battle. The terrorists came through the sea route and the attack led to a renewed focus on tackling challenges across water frontiers. The article will focus upon the steps taken in the aftermath of 26/11, and what more needs to be done.

India has a coastline of 5,422 kms touching 12 States and Union Territories (UTs). India also has a total of 1,197 islands accounting for 2,094 kms of additional coastline. Coastal security thereby involves many agencies like the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard, the local Police, etc. Indian Coast Guard is tasked with the overall defence of India and patrols the exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles), the Indian Navy has the objective of providing deterrence against war or intervention, safeguarding India’s mercantile marine and marine and maritime trade, ensuring decisive military victory in case of war, local police has objective of ensuring law and order in the city. Hence the multiplicity of authorities led to lacunae in information sharing and coordination, and as it is popularly said ‘everybody’s responsibility is nobody responsibility’, there existed a gap in maritime security domain. After almost nine years, recently the union government approved a proposal to set up a Central Marine Police Force (CMPF) to protect sea, coasts, ports and vital installations, this police force can police water up to 12 nautical miles from the coast and investigate crimes committed in the coastal water. The CMPF has limited mandate, and will be the point-authority to tackle future such threats.

Also, in aftermath of 26/11, several steps were taken to enhance coastal security like the establishment of National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS), headed by the Cabinet Secretary coordinating all matters related to maritime and coastal security; Joint Operations Centres (JOCs), set up by the Navy as command and control hubs for coastal security at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair; the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) became the nerve centre of navy. The inauguration of the central hub of National Command Control Communication Intelligence (NC3I) network, which can track 30,000-40,000 ships on a daily basis; 73 coastal police stations was sanctioned by the Ministry Of Home Affairs, deployment of commando units of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in ports, etc among the major work.

Owing to such extensive measures, a successful incident was witnessed on December 31,2014 when Pakistani boat was destroyed 365 miles off Porbandar after an hour-long chase by a coast guard ship on new year’s eve.

However, one cannot deny the challenges still remaining on coastal security front. CMPF though is a laudable efforts but can lead to further multiplication of authority in already crowded coastal security infrastructure if not handled well. Also, the CMPF may become an arena of turf wars between the State and Centre, as many of their functions still have a considerable overlap. Moreover, security requires robust intelligence which has to be obtained by local public. To obtain this information an agency needs to gain trust of public, learn regional languages, and coordinate activities with local groups. A new agency may face hurdles in these areas.

To make the security infrastructure further robust, some future solutions include issuance of multi-purpose identity cards to all fishermen, sea ferrying personnel and coastal villages, implementation of uniform licensing of fishing boats across the country. The installation of special transponders and global positioning system on registered boats for identification and tracking, deployment of commando units of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in all ports and creation of coastal security commission for streamlining policies and encouraging coordination.

The next major reform in the aftermath of 26/11 was creation of National Investigation Agency (NIA) which acts as the central counter terrorism law enforcement agency. The agency is empowered to deal with terror related crimes across states without special permission from the states. The NIA has concurrent jurisdiction which empowers the central agency to probe terror attacks in any part of the country, covering offences, including challenge to the country’s sovereignty and integrity, bomb blasts, hijacking of aircraft and ships, attacks on nuclear installations. The agency is seen as India’s answer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s counter terrorism wing, although, despite a population four times that of the United States, it has about 0.5 % of the funding of its American counterpart.

Further, the growing crimes in cyber arena require expertise, which the NIA unfortunately lacks. Also, the NIA has become more like a post-mortem agency as it can’t take up cases suo-moto and eventually has to take directions from either the Centre or State to function.

Another vital reform after 26/11 wa the National Intelligence Grid  (NATGRID), which was containing network of intelligence data gathered by several authorities. This was a major step taken as it could mitigate the problem of lack of real-time information which was a crucial impediment in anticipating threats. NATGRID utilizes technologies like big data and analytics to study and analyses the huge amounts of data from various intelligence and enforcement agencies to help track suspected terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks. The post of NATGRID chief was however vacant from May 2014- June 2016, but with recent appointment of Ashok Patnaik the institution got the much needed push. However, NATGRID excludes State agencies, police forces from access to its database which leads to loss of effectiveness. Since foot constables are the most suitable people to grasp the changing mood of the people & are also the first respondents excluding them may bear less fruits.

Apart from all such structural reforms, one major area has also been police reforms. Regular modernisation of police forces has been done over the years. Recently, ₹25,060 crore for police modernization for three years was passed by the union cabinet.

Most importantly, in the aftermath of 26/11, Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) was launched in 2009 with the aim of establishing seamless connectivity among 15,000 police stations across the country, and an additional 5,000 offices of supervisory police officers. CCTNS entailed digitisation of data related to FIRs registered, cases investigated, and charge sheets filed in all police stations, in order to develop a national database of crime and criminals. The project is however still to be over, and was extended recently, but on completion can be a game-changer in future.

However, the Indian police system is not without problems. India has 144 police officers per a population of 100,000, down from 149 per 100,000 in 2013, below the UN norm, of 220 per 100,000. There is also a lack of gender-equity as only 122,912 of India’s 1,731,666 state police officers are women. With concerns of manpower shortage going below the global norm & even below the sanctioned limit, they could well get out of sync with security requirements in future.

Hence, reforms in coastal policing, intelligence collection and sharing, improving capability of the NIA, robust usage of NATGRID, and making a holistic change by better inter-agency cooperation, reducing turf wars between Centre-State is the need of the hour. The National Counter Terrorism Centre’s (NCTC’s) idea also needs to be revived which,emerged in the aftermath of 26/11 but remained merely on papers. NCTC was supposed to be the single and effective point of contact, control and coordination of all counter-terrorism activities. The agency was to maintain a database on terrorists, their families, and whereabouts. It was housed under the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and could carry out searches, arrests and counter-terror operations in any part of the country.

On the whole we can say that certainly we are quite better prepared to prevent another 26/11. No major civilian terror attack has happened post 26/11 which is commendable. We have certainly made strides, but the security environment is changing rapidly. We can’t rest on our laurels just yet, as dimensions of security are no more just three (land, air and water) but have become at least five (land, air, water, space and cyber space) that needs pro-activeness in the security domain.

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