Last week political India delivered a rousing message to the people. In a resolution adopted on December 12, Parliament vowed not to rest “until the terrorists and those who have trained, funded and abetted them are exposed and brought to justice” and proclaimed that India “will be victorious in its fight against the barbaric menace of terrorism.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram have the unenviable task of delivering on these promises. The latter has announced a welter of counter-terrorism capacity-building measures, for example, National Security Guard quick-response teams dispersed across India, and new commando units raised from State police forces. He has also promised a new coastal command to oversee the Coastal Security Scheme initiated by the Home Ministry in 2005. These measures constitute progress — but they are at best palliatives. Bringing about the victory promised by Parliament demands resuscitating a security apparatus rendered dysfunctional by decades of neglect and political interference. Shortcuts will just not work.
Most of the security reforms India needs will take many months to implement. Even if India’s covert services — the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau — begin to enhance their language skills, area specialisation, and technological resources immediately, the results will not be visible in the short term. Even if the NSG begins to recruit the personnel needed for its four regional hubs today, it will be 14 months before the first trained commandos will be ready to do battle against sophisticated terror. And even if the States begin immediate construction of new training facilities, it will take two years or more for instructors and infrastructure to become available. Empowering the first responder to terrorist attack — the police constable — will also require long-term effort. State police forces, with a handful of exceptions, simply do not have the numbers of personnel needed for effective policing. Nor is there a blueprint for just how their retraining and re-equipping must proceed. Pressure from Parliament will be the key in pushing India’s notoriously snail-paced bureaucracy to ensure that the reforms get off the ground. After each terrorist outrage in past years, there was anger in Parliament — but only fitful, episodic implementation of security reforms. It took the Delhi bombings of October 2008 to push the government to sanction staff for the Multi Agency Centre, an intelligence coordination agency that was approved in 2001. In 2005, the Home Ministry promised to enhance coastal defences by setting up state-level “marine police with personnel trained in maritime activities.” But no marine police forces have materialised — nor has any institute been set up to train them. Unless Members of Parliament emulate their counterparts in some developed countries by building up in-house expertise on issues of life and death and keep a sharp eye on the course and pace of security reform, the fighting words we heard last week will turn out to be just “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”