Saturday, February 23, 2013

Quick take: Hyderabad blasts

Col R Hariharan

[This background paper was used for a TV discussion by Col Hariharan on February 22, 2013. It was based on open source information]


Two improvised explosive devices (IED) kept in tiffin boxes strapped to bicycles had exploded minutes apart, in Dilsukh Nagar, a congested Hyderabad suburb, around 7 pm on February 22. So far 17 people are reported to have died. Over 100 people were injured – some of them seriously – in the explosions. The area, which was also the scene of an earlier terrorist strike, has two cinema theatres. The explosions occurred 200 yards from a popular Sai Baba temple which is crowded located in the area where devotees throng on Thursdays.

Forensic evidence from the site is being collected. NIA and NSG teams have reached Hyderabad and to assist local police in investigations. Delhi and Maharashtra police are also in close touch with Andhra Pradesh police to help their investigations with their own input.  In fact Maharashtra police is sending a seven-member team to Hyderabad. Media reports indicate Ammonium nitrate, freely available for agricultural use, was used in the IEDs triggered by timers. The media cited a Delhi Police interrogation report of November 2011 in which Maqbool, an IM suspect had revealed that he and Imran had reconnoitred Dilsukhnagar and Begum Bazaar localities of Hyderabad on the instructions of IM founder Riyaz Bhatkal. While media has played up this angle, police appear to be not so sure of IM involvement in the explosions.

At the government level there were contradictory statements from different functionaries in the same department as well as at the Centre and State. Both the political class and the Police (perhaps prodded by them) have been reactive to the barrage of media conjectures claims which could prejudice objective analysis.


Intelligence failure

Everyone talks of intelligence failure in this incident because that is the easiest way of explaining all other shortcomings. Terrorists, unlike other kinds of extremists, operate in extremely secretive ways. Many times the operatives may not know the whole scheme of things in carrying out a particular strike. They also plan lone wolf operations involving only one person. So the question of predicting terror strikes with 100 percent accuracy is near impossible. Ideally there should be a central structure to correlate all inputs and analyse them to evolve to identify preventive and offensive strategies in vulnerable areas and on likely targets.  In the current terrorist strike, it is too early to objectively assess as all investigative reports will have to be studied.

Strengths and weaknesses

The level of cooperation between the Centre and states both vertically and laterally is better than before. Time delay in the sharing process can be reduced by using networked information sharing, but information instead of being routine can be addressed to specific persons earmarked in the state for counter-terrorism. In this case the available information was apparently treated in a routine manner. However, it must be stressed ultimately it is the state authorities’ responsibility to take a call on acting upon the information. So there is no point in blaming AP Police for not taking adequate follow up action because we do not know what action was taken. It would appear the police were either looking for corroboration of the information about IM suspect recceing the target area last year, or decided take limited action when they failed to validate the information. This would show lacunae in intelligence gathering and decision making at the state level. This should be rectified. But this is an ongoing process and there is no end to it.

The other weakness is political; in every incident both opposition and ruling parties try to score brownie points. There is a requirement for mature and informed discussion between parties in normal times for evolving broad based counter terrorism strategies. Otherwise with opposition parties ruling in some states, there will always be suspicion that the Centre is trying to impinge upon their powers. This suspicion is one of the reasons the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) proposed by Mr P Chidambaram has not seen the light of the day. This is a political issue that requires attention.

Lastly, both Centre and states have to resolve their problems in credibly communicating to the public. Had the Prime Minister spoken on the subject before the Home Minister dished out a pedestrian statement in parliament, it could have sent a message that the government was taking the matter seriously. The problems at the state level were similar but appeared to have been managed better as the situation developed.  

Suggestions for further action

Media’s role: With the spread of news at the speed of light, it is natural TV channels compete in nit picking. However this confers on them greater responsibility to ensure larger interests of the nation are not trifled with. There is an apparent refinement in their process since 26/11 with different anchors specialising in a subject. This is welcome. However, even in analysing current topics, much time is wasted in discussions on still bringing the issue back to hardy perennials – Islamic vs Hindu “terrorism,” historical grievances of communities and prejudices of ideology, dogma and creed. Talk show anchors should aim at choosing the right guys relevant to the issue rather than allowing religious/caste constituencies and political pundits taking control of every issue.  Ultimately such discussions should inform the public objectively rather than ending up in increased decibel levels.  

Public confidence: The objective of terrorism is to destabilize the state by carrying out daring acts of huge magnitude affecting the ordinary people. Every terrorist act succeeds in chipping away public confidence in the government and themselves little by little. To counteract this the government must carry out a thorough analysis of the whole incident and the actions taken, identify failures and acts of negligence and take follow up action to rectify them. After a period these details should be summarised and make them available to the public in a transparent way. This is our biggest weakness; so we do not believe our government is taking the right action because we do not know whether they did. This is what has happened in Hyderabad just as it happened in other places where terrorists struck. So to an extent terrorists have already succeeded; can we expect the government to take action?

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies.   E- Blog:

No comments: