Indian Official Unveils Plan to Strengthen Security

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 11, 2008; 9:30 AM

NEW DELHI, Dec. 11--India's chief law enforcement official announced a massive revamp of the country's security infrastructure in the wake of last month's Mumbai attacks, boosting coastal security, setting up a national investigative agency comparable to the FBI in the United States and strengthening anti-terror laws.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram spoke at a day-long debate Thursday in the Indian parliament about the deadly shootings and bombings in India's financial capital that killed 179 people at two luxury hotels, a restaurant, Jewish center and a train station. The attackers are believed to have entered the country on boats, via the Arabian Sea.

Chidambaram said that South Asia is in "the eye of the storm of terror" and that after the Mumbai attack, it was not possible for India to "go back to business as usual."

"The finger of suspicion unmistakably points to the territory of our neighbor, Pakistan. We will strain every nerve to defend our borders," Chidambaram said, promising "hard decisions" as the country moves forward.

Among a slew of security measures, Chidambaram said India would create a Coastal Command to secure 4,650 miles of shoreline, set up 20 counter-terror schools, raise regional commando units, strengthen anti-terror laws and set up a national agency to investigate suspected terror activity.

Indian parliamentarians also spoke, expressing their outrage at the attacks and urging the country to stay united in its response to terror.

Chidambaram laid out the detailed plan in the wake of mounting public criticism that the Mumbai attack was a security failure, coming after several intelligence reports about a possible attack from the Arabian Sea. During the attacks, 10 gunmen laid siege to Mumbai for three days. Six Americans lost their lives in the carnage.

"I have found that there is a tendency to treat some intelligence inputs that are not specific or precise as not actionable intelligence. Further, the responsibility for acting upon intelligence inputs is quite diffused," Chidambaram admitted in a nationally televised speech from the parliament floor. "Steps are being taken to fill the vacancies in the intelligence organizations expeditiously and to provide them with advanced technical equipment."

Also Thursday, Indian leaders reacted with skepticism to a decision by the Pakistani government to shut several offices of a charity group believed to be linked to the attacks. The organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, is believed to be the front organization for the Lashkar-i-Taiba, which was outlawed by Pakistan in 2002. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council placed Jamaat-ud-Dawa on a list of designated terrorist organizations and imposed sanctions on it.

But Indian officials noted that past promises by Pakistani leaders to go after militant groups have been undercut by a history of "catch-and-release" in its dealings with prominent extremists, and said Islamabad must insist on trials for suspected extremists in order for any crackdown to be effective.

"They are banning organizations . . . they are changing names, they are changing signboards," foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said. "Faces are the same, ideology are the same. How does it help us?"

India has demanded that Islamabad dismantle all the militant outfits in Pakistan and hand over suspects who were implicated in various terror attacks in India.

At the same time, Mukherjee refuted reports that India's military was moving closer to a direct confrontation with its nuclear-armed neighbor, an apparent effort to calm the population in India, which itself has nuclear capabilities. "We are not provoked. We have no intention of being provoked," Mukherjee said. "We have not mobilized our armed forces, we have not suspended air links. We have not stopped every other activity."

All India has done, he added, was convey "our sense of outrage."

After his speech, a member rose and asked "Why don't you attack Pakistan?"

And Mukherjee answered, "I am making it clear that is no solution."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the U.N. sanctions "the kind of purposive action that we believe should be pursued in a sustained manner by the world community so that entire infrastructure of terror is dismantled." Singh said that India has so far "acted with utmost restraint" but it should not be misconstrued "as a sign of weakness". He said that the "the idea of India as a functioning democracy and plurastic society is at stake" and the nation will give a "fitting rebuff to our enemies".

© 2008 The Washington Post Company