March 14, 2006Security

Hijacking trains

…is a stupid act of terrorism. But it exposes the Indian government’s cluelessness.

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

It is not those high-profile attacks carried out by Pakistan-sponsored, well-trained and well-armed terrorists that exposes the Manmohan Singh government’s abject failure to evolve an effective counter-terrorism strategy. That honour belongs to the innumerable, low-profile, low-intensity operations carried out by thugs carrying small arms and explosives, which allow them to impose a reign of terror in the Indian countryside. They raid police posts, prisons and extort money from hapless citizens. And sometimes they do stupid things like hijacking trains (via India Uncut).

Unlike airliners, trains run on the ground and that too, only on rails. Moreover, the routing of trains depends on railway officials on the ground, so the hijacked train is constrained to move forwards, backwards or stop. Unless a large number of well-armed hijackers are involved, they can’t truly hold the passengers hostage for long. Moreover, compared to aircraft or even buses, it is relatively easy for security forces to overpower train hijackers. While hostage dramas are possible, the odds of the standoff going against the hijackers are relatively low. Train hijacks, therefore, act as devices to attract publicity, and perhaps of plain old highway robbery.

The terrorists of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) had no real choice but to release the passengers of No. 628 Down Barwadih-Mughalsarai passenger train that they seized in the middle of a thick Jharkhand forest. They were smart enough to realise this (perhaps this shows that they were not that stupid after all).

But a government that cannot prevent stupid thugs from hijacking trains will also fail to prevent more intelligent terrorists carrying out far more violent attacks. Like the one in Varanasi recently. Now that everyone has patted everyone else’s back and demonstrated that such attacks don’t disturb communal harmony, someone — usually a government of consequence — should get down to the business of preventing such attacks in the first place. It does not help to say that not every potential target can be provided security. No one is asking for police constables to be posted outside every single market, school, temple or railway station. But where is the effort to beef up intelligence, to track down and neutralise known armed groups, to coordinate operations on a nationwide basis and indeed, to take the fight to the terrorists, wherever they may be?

Put real action aside, Dr Manmohan Singh’s government does not even have meaningful talk on this account.

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