The terrorists misconnected a wire on the pressure mine under the tracks near Dinanagar, or the train that rolled over them would have ended up at the bottom of a 25-metre high ravine. It was blind luck. Bus driver Nanak Chand managed to spin his bus around as gunfire erupted, saving 76 passengers. Blind luck, again. Blind luck isn’t much to bank on, though. It is time India’s counter-terrorism planners began to depend on something more reliable. Ever since 26/11, both Central and state governments have promised Indian citizens modern, reliable counter-terrorism forces. Gurdaspur is evidence of how little they’ve delivered. Even though multiple fidayeen strikes had taken place just kilometres away in Jammu, the Dinanagar police station had no worthwhile perimeter defences, and was protected by untrained Home Guards. There was no rehearsed protocol to bring in backup forces. The Special Weapons and Tactics Unit that showed up after the strike walked around without bulletproof vests, and had no specialist equipment that might have allowed them to capture the terrorists alive. Blind luck alone averted carnage — and the India-Pakistan crisis it might have sparked off.
It doesn’t take genius to see what’s wrong. Police first responders — the women and men who will always bear the initial brunt of a terror attack — need to be better trained. Police forces elsewhere in the world spend a third of their budgets on training; Punjab Police, typical of Indian police forces, spends 96 per cent of its outlay on salaries, leaving it without enough cash even to meet its fuel needs. Elite forces are set up but then allowed to moulder. Punjab Police’s Swat team was trained by Israeli specialists four years ago, but proposals for further advanced training by foreign experts have been held up for want of funds. Police officers often end up firing just a handful of rounds each year for practice, because of cash constraints — let alone having access to specialist training ammunition or ranges where accurate simulations are possible. Emergency services are understaffed, underfunded and undertrained. Following the Boston marathon, not one life was lost after victims reached hospitals — all because emergency services staff and doctors had meticulously rehearsed their crisis response. In Dinanagar, there wasn’t even an ambulance visible.
Each terrorist attack in India is followed, in quick order, by political panegyrics celebrating the resilience of the victims and the courage of security forces. India’s people deserve better. Though there has been endless discussion of the intractable problem of deterring cross-border terrorism, there has been precious little consideration of the practical nuts-and-bolts actions that can mitigate its impact. It’s time the government came up with a clear roadmap to develop police capacity, and the funding to make it happen.