President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

APs New Initiative - Guards Against Terror

By M H Ahssan & Swati Reddy

Political insulation and latest equipment can prevent the State Security Guard from becoming another Octopus.

Reeling under the Mumbai terror attack the Andhra Pradesh government has prompted the establishment of a State Security Guard (SSG) along the lines of the National Security Guard (NSG) to combat terror. But, former super cops and security experts warn that it would be an exercise in futility if it is not a wellequipped, professionally trained force that is insulated from politics in general and politicians in particular.

While some believe such a force will be effective in tackling terror and other disasters, others fear that it could be another model on paper (like the Octopus) or a gimmick to cater to the whims and fancies of politicians.

Experts believe that such a squad needs the armour of sophisticated equipment like laser weapons and night vision glasses, advanced training and adequate funds for tackling terrorist attacks, bomb threats and hostage situations.

But what is the government plan so far? “Initially, a group of 200 SSG cadres for Hyderabad and Cyberabad and about 100 for Vishakapatnam will be required to guard the coastline. They will be equipped with the best equipment and will be trained along the lines of Greyhounds training but to fight urban terrorism. They will also deal with first response services like natural or manmade disasters when not engaged in combat,” says a senior police official, detailing the SSG exercise.

Impressive? Perhaps. But there are several suggestions that former senior officials would like to make from their numbers to their duties. “There is a need for a special force with a special purpose to work round the clock. A group of about 500 men should be raised and trained with special techniques to tackle urban terrorism like the firepower technique that enables terrorists to be flushed out without actually entering the room,” says former police commissioner R P Singh.

Most agree that such a special force would be available at short notice to respond to emergency situations. “The squad should be in a constant state of alert with, ideally, a response time of 30 minutes, unlike in Mumbai where it took the NSG a few hours to reach the spot. In order to do so, regional quarters must be set up to avoid any waste of time,” says former director general of police MV Bhaskar Rao. “The force should operate with focus and shouldn’t be given other jobs and misused for other purposes,” he adds.

Most cops however, admit, that this is a tall order given that even the high profile NSG is treated shoddily when it comes to equipment and protection gear, among other things.

However, it hasn’t stopped a handful from hoping that the SSG will be insulated from external influences, largely political. Others feel that it would be difficult to keep the two apart and with elections approaching chances are that they would be reduced to security guards of politicians. “Even if the squad is exclusively meant for a particular job it would always be under political influence,” feels former director general of police R K Ragala.

Bhaskar Rao adds for good measure, “Skilled black cat commandos are engaged to guard politicians in times of emergencies. This is a gross misuse of their abilities. Politicians should stop using police machinery for personal purposes.” He goes on to suggest that the move would be most effective if the government puts an act in place that specifies clearly the role of this new force and its functions.

Nevertheless, heads of prominent establishments in the city, particularly star hotels and multiplexes, welcome this initiative of the state government and say a highly trained and motivated force of individuals with the best of equipment is the need of the hour. “If two to four commandos visit the hotels on special occasions, even if they are in plain clothes, it makes a lot of difference. It would effectively convey the message across that there is high level security. Also they should be asked to take a tour of hotels so that they can get acclimatised to the surroundings and become familiar with their layout,” feels Veer Vijay Singh, president, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Andhra Pradesh.

“Although we undertake strict security checks we would still appreciate the functioning of a special security team as it would ensure extra protection,” T Srikanth, general manager (operation), Prasads Imax.

SSG not the first of its kind: Hyderabad has been on the target of terrorists since 1992, the year Babri Masjid was demolished. The following year in December the city witnessed a series of tiffin bomb blasts.

Also, in the early nineties the city police came to know about the infiltration of some Kashmiri militants and for the first time AK47 was used to gun down a Special Intelligence Bureau SP in Tolichowki area.

The city in 2005 experienced the first ever suicide bomb attack at no ordinary place but the Task Force headquarters of the city police. In 2007 the roots of the city were shaken when terrorists exploded three bombs, one in May at the historic Mecca Masjid, two in August at Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar, killing about 60 innocents.

For the last 16 years the police has been talking about the existence of terror modules, sleeping and otherwise, in the city. Besides, the city has also been on the hit list of Leftwing Extremists who have killed two senior IPS officers, in the same period in the city.

But the responses of the political leadership and police bosses have never been concrete. The politicians, cutting across party lines, have shown no comprehension of the magnitude of danger lurking over the city. The police, on the other hand, demonstrated little ability to read the writing on the wall and kept repeating the same old rhetoric of manpower crunch and budgetary constraints.

According to sources, between 1990 and 1993 when H J Dora was the city police commissioner he had announced the formation of City Guards. It was a team of 60 well trained boys that later fell to politicking in the police and the indifference of politicians. The City Guards exist no more.

Following last years’ bomb explosions, the government, after obtaining a comprehensive report from the then director general of police M A Basith and his team, had announced the formation of Octopus. At that time some senior officers had pessimistically said that the announcement was nothing more than cooling down the frayed public temper. Unfortunately, that pessimism turned out to be true.

Octopus, the elite force to fight urban terrorism, has strong components of operation and rescue teams. The Octopus plan envisages vigorous training and as well as high value weaponry for these teams. Why should the government waste taxpayers’ money in setting up a new force, State Security Guard, when it can revive the Octopus, internal security experts ask?

Another example of insensitivity of the ruling party and the top police echelons is the transfer of a battle-ready Greyhounds unit from Hyderabad to Gandipet and beyond.

According to a source one Greyhounds unit comprising about 30 highly skilled young men had always been kept ready at its former headquarters in Begumpet. The members of this unit can start leaving their location in their own special vehicles within five minutes of notice. The men in this unit have the training to secure an endangered place and tackle hostage situation. In spite of the IG Greyhounds insisting that the unit should be allowed to stay in some place in Hyderabad, the Director General gave it marching orders, sources said.

In a situation like this what is required on the part of politicians and the police officers is the understanding of the need to have a specialised force in the city to combat terrorists and raise it as quickly as possible. Only that kind of action would restore the faith of public, nothing less, analysts said.
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