x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

New Delhi pins antiterror hopes on police control centre

New Delhi markets have wasted little time in getting back to business after the recent serial bombings.

NEW DELHI // With shops reopened, windows replaced, wires, glass and debris hastily swept away, New Delhi markets have wasted little time in getting back to business after recent serial bombings. Police even seemed to do their part in the sweep-up after the capital's brush with terrorism, by killing the man suspected of masterminding the Sept 13 attacks, which claimed 24 lives.

Leading a raid on a south Delhi flat, celebrated police officer Mohan Chand Sharma was fatally shot. But Mohammad Atif, alias Bashir, was also killed during the exchange. Police say he was a leader of the Indian Mujahideen, an extreme militant group responsible for similar attacks in Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad this summer. "In an encounter, two terrorists have been shot dead, one has been arrested and two persons have fled from the spot," said Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the New Delhi police.

"The city is normal," he declared shortly after the raid. At least, until Saturday's explosion tore through yet another busy marketplace in the city's south end, killing three and injuring at least 22 others. But that too will be shrugged off, as shops replace shattered glass and reopen their stores. "We've been living like this for a long time," said 28-year-old Daman Singh, who was shopping in Greater Kailash's M-Block Market, days after two bombs exploded there.

The idea, Mr Singh added, is to never let terrorists see you flinch. "Their motivation is to affect people's minds. Two or three people may die, but hundreds are affected." But some wonder if the country is taking terror seriously enough. "The answer, clearly, is no," said Brahma Chellaney, a security analyst at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. "But nobody says so." "In a sense, India presents itself as an easy target for terrorists and that's the reason why terrorists find it attractive as a target."

The biggest factor, Mr Chellaney explained, is not so much public attitudes, but the political mindset. For a country that lost more than 1,000 lives to terrorism in the past eight years, there is still no national antiterrorism doctrine. It is, Mr Chellaney asserted, a glaring omission for a country that ranks among the world's most vulnerable to terrorism. Shivraj Patil, the home minister, on the other hand, insisted to reporters after the serial blasts that the country's existing laws were strong enough. But the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is getting plenty of political leverage from its promise to reinstate strict antiterrorism legislation if elected in next year's national election. That legislation, called the Prevention of Terrorism Act, was scrapped by the Congress Party in 2004, suggesting they targeted the country's 150 million Muslims.

Without a defined antiterrorism policy, however, local authorities are left with the usual tools against urban threats. Police, police and more police. This month, officials inaugurated its Central Police Control Room. Although the system had been planned for the past three years, police are hailing it as a powerful tool to fight terrorism in the city. Under the system, all of New Delhi's 500 police vans will be fitted with satellite navigation systems and mapping software. Perhaps more importantly, the control room promises to streamline its response to distress calls. The number of emergency call lines will double from 30 to 60 and the call information will be streamed directly to police in the field.

It could not come fast enough for a city that, despite appearances, remains palpably on edge. The day before the project was unveiled, two men on a motorcycle pulled up in front of a city bus stop and shot a 16-year-old girl to death. Despite it being mid-afternoon, with a police post nearby and a barricade about a kilometre away, the assailants eventually surrendered far from the scene - in a village outside of Delhi.

Local policing is one thing, but Mr Chellaney noted the real solution to terrorism must take place on a national level. If not, the rest of the world will reap the repercussions. "Over the last 20 years, major acts of terror have been first tried out in India, and then used in the West," he said. "They have honed their skills on India and then applied them elsewhere." As an example, Mr Chellaney cited the Air India bombing in 1985, which, in the single deadliest terrorism attack involving airlines before September 11, killed 320 people.

The bombing, he said, was nearly perfectly replicated two years later, when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, claiming 270 lives. Both attacks involved an odourless plastic explosive concealed in a radio, with the attacker checking in the luggage, but not actually boarding the plane. In addition, while the United States, which has not suffered a terrorist attacks on its own soil since September 11, firmly refuses to negotiate with terrorists, India has a somewhat softer record.

"When courts convict and sentence terrorists to life imprisonment and even to death, the government of the day refuses to carry out execution for years," Mr Chellaney said. "It puts people in jail and then treats them as part of a deal with hijackers." In 1999, when hijackers redirected an airliner to Kandahar, Afghanistan, the Indian government released three high-ranking militants in exchange for the hostages.

One of those militants, Omar Sheikh, went on to fund attacks on the United States on September 11. The other two established militant organisations in Pakistan - a legacy that continues to haunt India today. "When you have a history of releasing terrorists from jails, of not carrying out the execution of terrorist leaders whose sentences have been upheld by the Supreme Court of India, then you create an image of a soft state," Mr Chellaney said.

"When you make yourself look like a soft state, you become easier prey for terrorists. This is India's problem." ccotroneo@thenational.ae