India taps US for a security boost
NEW DELHI - India is asking the United States for some help as it faces the complex challenges of preventing 21st-century terror attacks.
American security experts have been tapped to revamp security in New Delhi, where the South Block (ministry quarter), president's house and parliament are all located in close vicinity, making them a potentially easy target for militants.
The aim of the security upgrade is to replicate security systems installed at the Pentagon in South Block, which also houses the prime minister's office, the Defense, Foreign and Home ministries and the headquarters of the armed forces.
A heavily armed squad of fidayeen (suicide) terrorists unsuccessfully tried to storm parliament in December 2001, after entering the inner precincts using a vehicle with fake identification. All five were shot dead after killing six security personnel and one civilian, and Indian lawmakers inside were lucky to escape.
Like the Pentagon, South Block is being fitted with new surveillance and access control systems for the constant monitoring of vehicles, visitors, officials and other staff.
Biological and chemical agent detectors, advanced undercarriage scanning of vehicles, auto boom barriers, smart-card operated road barriers and automated visitor management systems are some of the security regimens and technology being implemented. The cost will run into the millions of rupees. The South Block will also remain out of bounds for group tours, unlike the Pentagon.
Parliament's security systems, upgraded after the 2001 attack, are in for another round of advancement with the installation of 300 advanced closed-circuit vision cameras to replace the existing ones. Mine detectors to supplement sniffer dogs have been bought in. Mobile phone deactivators are also being installed to jam mobile networks in case of an attack.
During last November's terrorist strikes on luxury hotels and other targets in Mumbai, militants coordinated their movements via cellular phones. This meant they could speak with handlers based abroad that could watch television footage showing where security forces had been deployed.
Indian officials say that access to classified information from Washington about terror activities in Pakistan is a key to pre-empt strikes. But while America is working closely with Pakistan in taking on terror outfits in the region, Islamabad has always had a guarded attitude towards sharing information with India.
New Delhi has been building on improved strategic ties with America; the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement is one significant achievement. The two countries have also shared intelligence on the Mumbai strike.
American involvement in Indian security has deepened in the past few months. In August , a six-member Anti-Terror Assistance Team from America visited the two main train stations in Mumbai that were attacked in November 2008 to study the security arrangements in place.
The US anti-terror teams are now devising a training plan for Indian forces involved in protecting the nation's railways. Also in August, US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer met with P Chidambaram, India's minister of home affairs, to discuss joint anti-terror measures.
Elite US anti-terror teams are known to be working closely with Indian intelligence agencies on creating intelligence networks as well as protecting "soft" terror targets such as crowded markets, shopping malls, and places of worship.
After last year's Mumbai attack, India began implementing an internal security plan including the establishment of a national investigation agency, new counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism schools, additional deployment of the crack anti-terror National Security Guards and a unified coastal command.
The federal government has been urging states to fill over 150,000 vacancies in police personnel in order to strengthen the national ratio to 40 officers per police station.
Chidambaram, known to be a tough taskmaster, is currently on a trip to the US to buttress cooperation on anti-terror mechanisms.
Prior to embarking on the four-day visit to America, which began Wednesday, Chidambaram told Al-Jazeera: "There is enough and more evidence to continue the investigation against Hafiz Saeed. On the face of this evidence, to let him off, I think, is atrocious."
New Delhi has not been happy with Pakistan's investigations into the Mumbai attacks, particularly the release of Jamaat-ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, who India sees as an alleged conspirator.
India and Pakistan have failed to arrive at any joint agreements on terrorism since the Mumbai attacks and India has called for global pressure on Pakistan for better co-operation on terror.
"We are thoroughly, totally dissatisfied with the Pakistani response [to the Mumbai attacks]," said Chidambaram.
Chidambaram's US visit will focus on Indo-US anti-terrorism cooperation, an assessment of the security situation in South Asia and studying counter-terrorism institutions and structures. He will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior officials involved in security and intelligence matters.
The visit of India's home minister will be followed up with visits by Indian civilian and police officials and military commanders to America to study security systems, a process that has already begun.
Chidambaram and accompanying officials will be looking at anti-terror attack measures that could be deployed in India. He will meet United States Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C Blair, National Security Adviser James Jones and visit the National Counter-terrorism Center in Virginia.
Aside from calling on his counterpart Janet Napolitano, Chidambaram will also meet Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Attorney General Eric H Holder.
Meetings are scheduled with key US lawmakers Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Congressman Sylvester Reyes, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
He may address recent alarm in Indian following reports that Pakistan has modified the US supplied anti-ship Harpoon missile to hit potential land targets in India. There are also reports of Pakistan secretly modifying the US-supplied P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, again for land attack missions.
It has been known for sometime now that New Delhi has been trying to impress on Washington the fact that US military and non-military aid to Pakistan - ostensibly to dismantle terror - is being misused to build anti-India arsenal.
Not willing to take chances, India has embarked on a defense modernization effort that is one of the largest globally. India's military acquisitions (domestic and international) are pegged at over US$50 billion in the period 2007-12 and aimed at building an immediate strike force against Pakistan and longer-term deterrence against China.
In a report last year, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India said the country over three years (2004-7), spent nearly US$11 billion on military imports, making it amongst the largest arms importers in the developing world. India's military imports are expected to reach US$30 billion by 2012
India's usually slow moving defense purchase processes have begun to show some sense of urgency. Trials have begun last month for India's largest ever defense deal, the US$12 billion 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft contract. India is looking to buy 155-mm howitzers, a variety of helicopters and long-range maritime reconnaissance aircrafts.
The first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant was launched for trials by India in July, part of India's US$3 billion plan to build five submarines and complete the triad of nuclear weapon launch capability from air, land and sea platforms.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist and WSN editor India. He can be reached at [email protected]