As India eyes domestic security, U.S. firms vie for its business

Paramjit Singh, head of the Indian branch of Taser International, shows some of the company's products at the security conference held earlier this month in New Delhi.
Paramjit Singh, head of the Indian branch of Taser International, shows some of the company's products at the security conference held earlier this month in New Delhi. (Rama Lakshmi)

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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 18, 2010

NEW DELHI - At a sprawling exhibition hall in the capital, Indian military officers browsed displays of modern surveillance systems, sophisticated mine detectors, anti-hacking software and guns. They asked questions, took notes and scheduled meetings with company officials, setting in motion a major shopping spree.

In recent years, India has secured billion-dollar defense deals with U.S. companies to modernize its military. Now the country is overhauling its homeland security, and U.S. companies are again hoping to be first in line.

"As far as internal security goes, its strengthening and augmentation, there is going to be no dearth of money or resources," Ajay Maken, India's deputy home minister, said at the security conference this month.

After the terrorist attacks in Mumbai two years ago, authorities demanded better weapons and more sophisticated technology for police forces. Today, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, X-ray machines and bomb squads proliferate in airports, the Metro, malls, multiplexes and high-rises.

But analysts say the country's arsenal of domestic security weapons remains woefully inadequate in the battle against terrorism, separatist violence and Maoist guerrillas.

To upgrade its arsenal, India should turn to a "country which is strategically a friend of India," Maken said.

India and the United States have emerged as strong strategic allies since reaching a civilian nuclear accord that is likely to generate more than $100 billion worth of business. The two countries set up a counterterrorism cooperation initiative this year. Last month, Indian law enforcement and the FBI participated in a counterterrorism program that included sessions on improvised explosive devices and post-blast investigations.

"The two governments have outlined the 'what' of homeland security priority areas. The industry will now map the 'how,' " said retired U.S. Adm. James Loy, a former deputy secretary of homeland security and commandant of the Coast Guard. "The American companies want to make a contribution in the areas of counterterrorism, police modernization, cyber-security and transport safety."

Business opportunities for security companies over the next few years will be worth nearly $1.7 trillion, said Loy, who led a U.S. delegation to the conference.

Maken said India is also setting up a national intelligence database and modern crime tracking systems that prioritize cyber-security. "The more we are technologically advanced, the more is the threat of infiltration in our networking systems," he said.

India's internal security department has also bought long-range acoustic warning systems, sound guns and other devices from U.S. companies.

In recent weeks, the country's police and paramilitary forces have been widely criticized for firing at stone-throwing teenage protesters in the troubled Himalayan valley of Kashmir. About 85 protesters have been killed this summer.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed state police chiefs to find nonlethal means to control mobs. That opened up opportunities for companies such as Taser International, an Arizona-based firm that set up an office in India after the Mumbai attacks and attended the homeland security conference.

In August, paramilitary forces and the Kashmir police department decided to buy Tasers, and the state's police officers are now learning how to use them. India's national police training school and commando force have also bought Tasers this year for training.

"Earlier, our force had weapons that were meant to kill," said P.M. Nair, inspector general of the Central Reserve Police Force. "But now we have introduced nonlethal weapons to deal with volatile situations in Kashmir or other demonstrations elsewhere in the country."


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