Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai again

Recent terrorist attacks in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi seemed low-tech affairs: crude but powerful bombs placed in crowded areas. Easy to do and impossible to prevent. What happened in Mumbai seems altogether different. These terrorists were well-armed and well-equipped, and the whole sequence of attacks seems to have been planned well in advance. It is certainly a failure of our intelligence, as well of the security systems in place at the hotels concerned (it is much harder to enforce security at a crowded railway station like CST). It seems clear that this is a larger and better-connected group than whoever set off the previous bombs.

In other news, the England cricket team has called off their tour. I wonder why they didn't leave England when the London underground was bombed in 2005, or when the IRA was wreaking havoc in the 1980s. Life must go on and the terrorists must not win -- unless they're someone else's terrorists.


Sunil Mukhi said...

While it is undoubtedly hard to enforced security in Bombay's crowded railway stations, it's not impossible to try. One of the most time-honoured ways is the random check.

For the last many months, VT station has had metal detectors (dozens of them) at every entrance and exit. Everyone going in and out has to go through them and they are forever beeping and flashing green or red lights. The problem is that the police are simply reading newspapers or chatting with each other instead of paying the slightest attention.

Were they to check, say, one in a hundred or one in a thousand people who caused the light to flash red (or any fraction of people that is practical), they would at least be doing something.

Not only do I advocate random checks, I also advocate that the said checks be blind to the appearance and social status of the persons being checked. Very hard in India. Smart young men in T-shirts and jeans/cargoes (i.e yesterday's Bombay terrorists) would typically be excused from searches, much as swanky cars (and more so, swanky cars sporting red flashing lights) are excused from random checks on the streets. We need to get over this and turn much more professional.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Sunil: Yes, I saw metal detectors in Old Delhi station too a few months ago. (I haven't been to Chennai Central or Egmore in a while, so don't know the situation). I wonder how effective it is though, given that a large number of people inside VT/CST probably arrived on the locals. Or does every local station have metal detectors?

I doubt random checks would deter this sort of thing. I'm all for random checks of tickets, random fining of traffic offenders, etc: these are things certain individuals do routinely, so random checks will deter them. For a rare event (once-in-a-lifetime from the terrorist's point of view) a random check is unlikely to be much deterrent: he may have a one in hundred chance of being caught but he's probably more worried about other things. But, as you say, it would give the police officers something to do.