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Indian Security Overhaul Has Skeptics


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. Since the attacks on Mumbai last month, Indians have questioned whether their government is able to keep them safe. About 170 people were killed by a small group of attackers. Since then, the Indian government has announced an overhaul of its security systems, but there are doubts about whether that overhaul will work. NPR's Philip Reeves has this report.

PHILIP REEVES: Some three weeks after the assaults on Mumbai, those events still seems surreal. Passengers slaughtered at one of the world's busiest railway stations, armed young men indiscriminately spraying a famous tourist cafe, a three-day siege of the palatial Taj Mahal Hotel, and more, all played out blow-by-blow live on television.

ROBINDER SACHDEV: I think it has impacted India hugely.

REEVES: That's Robinder Sachdev of the U.S.-India Political Action Committee. His organization's compiling information on the attacks for U.S. members of Congress and other opinion makers.

SACHDEV: It was like three days of reality television playing out in front of you. And you've seen that, I mean, there are terrorists out there who are hell-bent upon killing people, and you are not able to do anything. So it kind of brought out, I think, a little whole lot of rage and impotence and angst and anger.

REEVES: Some of that angst and anger's now aimed at Pakistan. India says the attacks were launched from Pakistani territory by the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. India's piling pressure on the Pakistani authorities, saying they're not doing enough to get rid of the violent Islamist extremists. But the country is also engaged in painful soul-searching about its own response to the attacks. Raul Bedi writes from India for Jane's Defence Weekly. Bedi says things went wrong for the Indian security forces from a very early stage, particularly for the National Security Guard, a force tasked with taking on terrorists.

RAUL BEDI: From the time that the terrorist attacks started, which was at about half past nine or 10 o'clock on the 26th of November, the deployment of the National Security Guard commandos was almost 10 or 11 hours later because of various logistical problems in acquiring aircraft, in getting to the airport on time. And then once they did actually get to Bombay, they were put in these very slow buses which took them almost an hour to get from the airport to the site where the terrorists were besieging hotels.

REEVES: A few days ago, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, addressed parliament.


MANMOHAN SINGH: I would like to apologize to...

REEVES: Singh apologized that the attacks weren't prevented. His newly appointed home minister, Shri Palaniappan Chidambaram, announced an overhaul of Indian security and intelligence. Chidambaram said there will be a new federal investigative agency, a new coastal command, and regional hubs for the National Security Guard commandos. The Indian government is also planning to introduce tougher anti-terrorism laws, police reforms, counterinsurgency training, and new equipment. But recruiting and training people and procuring equipment takes years. Raul Bedi doubts this overhaul will make much difference.

BEDI: I'm very skeptical that it's actually going to function in a more efficient way, because there seems to be several levels of bureaucracy that will spring up as a consequence of this expansion, which automatically will make the whole exercise fairly regressive.

REEVES: The militants who attacked Mumbai arrived by sea. Indian investigators believe they seized an Indian fishing boat and killed the crew, then - after he delivered them to their destination - the captain. Arun Kumar Singh, a retired vice admiral, wrote an article some time ago about the risk of an attack on India by seaborne militants.

ARUN KUMAR SINGH: I have a copy here in the - 19th May 2008, six months ago. The next terror attack could be from the sea.

REEVES: Singh's career included commanding India's eastern fleet and its coastguard. Singh believes India needs a single powerful organization to protect it, like the U.S.'s Department for Homeland Security - as he puts it, one window of accountability for terrorism. He also says India's coastguard has far too few vessels, and he thinks too many agencies and too many ministries play a role in overseeing India's maritime affairs. Above all, Vice Admiral Singh's worried about what might happen next.

SINGH: What happens if a ship carrying 40,000 or 50,000 tons of fertilizer ammonium nitrate comes into a harbor? It's a 40-kilo ton bomb - minus the radiation - it's a 40-kilo ton bomb going off. This truly is Hiroshima plus Nagasaki going off together. And so these - can the American's stop these things? They are 200 miles outside New York Harbor, and they inspect ships.

REEVES: Singh says that's an example India now needs to follow. Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.