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What India needs to do to make the CWG safe

September 21, 2010 16:25 IST

Strategic expert B Raman examines the possible threats to the Commonwealth Games and how the various security agencies can tackle them.

A major sports event that will be watched by millions, provides theatre for terrorist organisations. It is to be expected that many terrorist organisations would be tempted to explore the possibility of organising terrorist strikes during the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi from October 3.

Organisations such as the Indian Mujahideen, the Students' Islamic Movement of India, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and others would have an anti-Indian motive. Others such as Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other affiliates of Al Qaeda would have an anti-West motive. Though the US and Germany are not participants, the UK, Canada and Australia are. They have incurred the anger of these organisations because of their role in fighting against the Al Qaeda-brand terrorism and the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Any nervousness in these countries about the state of physical security before and during the games is natural and should be understood and appreciated by the Indian authorities.

What will give confidence to them is our seriousness in threat assessments, thoroughness in physical security and competence in investigation of threats. If they get an impression that we are trying to play down threats and cover up incidents which indicate security inadequacies, their confidence in us will be damaged.

Keeping this in view, one has to deplore the seeming attempts of the Delhi Police to play down the seriousness of the incident of September 19, in Delhi in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured by two assailants on a motor-bike.

Instead of treating it as a possible terrorist incident which could have implications for physical security before and during the CWG unless and until proved otherwise, the Delhi Police have started projecting it as an ordinary criminal incident with no implications for the CWG even before any progress had been made in the investigation. This is totally unwise.

It is said that those in charge of physical security are fully prepared against possible acts of catastrophic or mass casualty terrorism involving weapons of great lethality, but they seem to be ill-organised to deal with small acts of terrorism where the objective is not mass casualties or catastrophic damages, but psychological consequences creating nervousness and panic.

The attack on the Taiwanese tourists on September 19 has to be treated as one such incident with a psychological objective and not a catastrophic one.

The objective of any anti-India terrorist group targeting the CWG would be two-fold. Firstly, to embarrass the government and its security agencies by disrupting the games through panic and loss of faith in the ability of the security agencies to protect the foreigners. Secondly, to highlight that the security conditions for major sports events in India are as bad as they are in Pakistan.

Pakistan has gone through a humiliating experience following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team last year. The anti-India, Pakistan-aided terrorists would want to make India go through a similar humiliating experience.

To achieve these objectives, the terrorists do not have to organise spectacular acts of mass casualty terrorism like 9/11 in the US or 26/11 in Mumbai. A series of small incidents with limited casualties, which show the Indian security agencies in a poor light and erode the confidence of foreigners in their ability to ensure effective security, would be adequate for this purpose.

If they are able to repeat small acts similar to the one staged on September 19 it would have a ripple effect on the morale of the participating teams and other foreigners. It is, therefore, important to ensure that there would be no repetition of such acts.

The government should immediately hold a brain-storming session of the security agencies and senior police officers of all states to discuss what further steps to prevent a repetition need to be taken. Examples of such steps are a ban on pillion riding and repeated appeals to the public to report cases of theft of motor vehicles and follow-up action to trace those vehicles.

All hotels and guest houses should be advised to keep the police informed of all suspicious-seeming persons staying in their establishments. The police should prepare a list of suspicious indicators and circulate it to them.

Any comprehensive security plan for an event like the CWG has to have three components covering the core area, the peripheral areas and measures to prevent diversionary attacks such as the hijacking of planes to divert the attention of the authorities.

The Munich Olympics of 1972 saw a penetration of the core area (the games village).The Atlanta Olympics in the US in 1996 saw an explosion when the games were in progress in a park in a peripheral area. The Beijing Olympics of 2008 were preceded by diversionary attacks in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang, Yunnan and Shanghai.

The Delhi incident of September 19 show inadequacies in the peripheral areas. The manpower available to the Delhi police would have to remain focused on the core area. They would need additional manpower for the peripheral areas from other states. They have to be drawn from the adjoining states and deployed immediately so that they become familiar with the topography.

Measures to prevent diversionary attacks have to be in place all over India. Steps to prevent an act of aviation terrorism should receive high priority. All the states should be in a high state of alert with effective co-ordination.

One can be certain that our intelligence and security agencies would have prepared comprehensive plans covering all these components. They would have been under constant pressure from their counterparts in the participating countries to do so. These plans need to be constantly revisited to identify and remove deficiencies.

We should not hesitate to seek the co-operation of Pakistan to detect and pre-empt any conspiracies hatched in the Af-Pak area to disrupt the CWG. We should not stand on false prestige or prejudices against Pakistan and avoid seeking the co-operation of Pakistan. It is not too late to invite Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik for a discussion on this subject.

B Raman