Analysis: India’s anti-bioterror plan
Published: Nov. 1, 2007 at 11:48 AM
By KUSHAL JEENA
NEW DELHI, Nov. 1 (UPI) — India has set up a group of experts to formulate a plan to counter the threat of biological terrorism.
“Intelligence on terror strikes will remain with the concerned central security agencies, while a recently formed expert group could formulate a plan to deal with exigencies in case of biological or chemical warfare,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.
Indian intelligence agencies have warned the Interior Ministry of possible biological attacks in the country. Intelligence and security agencies say they have intercepted communications indicating militants might use weapons of mass destruction.
Singh on Monday called a top-level meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority, established to deal with such exigencies.
“The prime minister reviewed the preparedness to deal with different types of terrorist attacks,” a statement from Singh’s office said. It was the first meeting of the authority since the United Progressive Alliance government came to power in May 2004. Singh presided over the meeting.
According to the Interior Ministry, intelligence agencies warned about new types of crimes like bioterrorism and hacking. It said the ministry was gearing up to meet the new threats. The expert group would work under the prime minister and the chiefs of all top intelligence and security services and members of NDMA will be included in the group as members. The interior secretary might head the elite committee, an Interior Ministry official said.
In view of the increasing threat, India decided to develop NDMA as a high-level policymaking body aimed at providing focused attention to disaster management, bring to bear best possible expertise and to generally professionalize the entire gamut of disaster-management activities.
“The disaster management should be holistic rather than relief-centric, and citizens’ awareness was needed in dealing with calamities,” Singh told the meeting.
He suggested setting up a high-level policymaking body capable of providing advice and assistance to states during times of disaster.
Indian security experts and analysts rule out the possibility of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction. However, there are reports from militancy-hit Jammu & Kashmir state where a militant group used cyanide-based injections. Separatist and terrorist groups in the state, claimed by both India and Pakistan, have been waging a war against Indian rule demanding independence.
“It is likely that in Jammu and Kashmir a group of foreign terrorists could use such weapons with increase in their desperation levels,” said Atul Lele, an expert in intelligence and security-related issues at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, a quasi-governmental think tank. “For India, there also exists a danger from agro-terrorism, which could ruin the economy of the country by deliberately exposing livestock to disease-causing infectious agents or dangerous chemicals.”
He said the result of such an attack might include animal deaths, economic damage and danger to public health from an unsafe food supply. India is also contemplating making a provision in the forthcoming federal budget for a large investment in public-health surveillance, timely contributions from biomedical sciences and pharmaceutical industry, transnational collaborations and training.
India, which has made progress in biotechnology, information technology, sensor technology and nanotechnology, could make effective use of them to strengthen biological defense techniques. The government is also considering conveying to the administrations of all top hospitals in the country with extensive research and development facilities to put in place emergency plans in case of an attack.
India is more worried about the use of weapons of mass destruction as there have been reports of the presence of al-Qaida operatives in Kashmir and along the eastern border with Bangladesh.
Indian intelligence agencies do not rule out the possibility of militants sneaking into the country through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border, as the fencing on this border has not been completed. The army and security forces are now less worried about the border with Pakistan that has now been sealed resulting in a sharp decline of infiltration.