How India's Voters Can Stop Terrorism

The first step is demanding more from their politicians.

Terrorists have once again struck India. While we should never be too confident in early assessments, it looks to be the work of the Indian Mujahideen, an Indian Islamist terrorist group whose origins are rooted in the Students Islamist Movement of India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and organized criminal networks. As evidence continues to emerge about the attack and its perpetrators, a perennial question has re-emerged: Are Indians safer today than they were on Nov. 26, 2008? On that day, four Lashkar-e-Taiba attack teams assaulted multiple sites in Mumbai. The terrorists -- due in part to the ferocity of the attackers but in larger part due to the shambolic state of India's security apparatus -- held the city hostage for three days while the carnage was broadcast around the world. In the end, 166 people were brutally murdered including several Americans and Israelis.

Following that attack, India made important and historically unprecedented improvements in its internal security architecture, including the creation of a Coastal Command to secure 4,650 miles of shoreline, the establishment of 20 counterterrorism schools and standing regional commando units, the creation of a national agency to investigate suspected terrorist activity, and stronger anti-terrorism laws. But the country remains deeply vulnerable, as Wednesday's bombings show. And even if these attacks galvanize the Indian establishment to act, four important systemic barriers will limit the degree to which India can improve its internal security arrangements, particularly the state police -- the first line of defense in collecting information from the public about suspicious activities, conducting investigations after an attack, and limiting the scope and duration of the assault once an event begins.

First, policing is a state subject in India and thus the federal government has very limited ability to compel the states to invest in their police. And the states simply do not do so. Only Gujarat, Kerala, and Manipur have showed any interest in the central government's no-refund grant to states for modernizing their police forces, which totaled approximately $395 million as of March 2011. States have also been dilatory in securing funds available to them under the modified "Modernization of State Police Forces" program initiated by New Delhi in 2000-01.

Second, India's vibrant and growing private sector attracts high-quality youth with pay, status, and other amenities that government service cannot offer, at present. It's no wonder the Indian bureaucracy no longer has the allure of prestige and status that it once had. India's ability to expand the number, size, and geographical distribution of police, intelligence, and other internal security organizations may therefore be hampered by recruitment shortfalls.

A third and even more alarming barrier to more significant reform is corruption and patronage politics. India, as Kanchan Chandra argues, is a "patronage democracy," wherein elected officials have the ability to distribute state resources to voters thanks to their significant discretion in implementing state policy. This affects police reform directly and indirectly. First is the lamentable fact that many police forces in India are deeply politicized and, at lower and leadership levels alike, have colluded with politicians for mutual benefit. Many police officials engage in various dubious activities to blatantly support their benefactors in elections or other public fora, suppress protests against them, or even engage in violence at their patrons' behest.

For obvious reasons, politicians tend to resist serious police reform. A 2010 study by PRS, an independent Indian legislative analysis organization, found that insurgency-riven states like Jharkand have utilized only 61 percent of the resources available for police reform. In other words, it's political will, not resources, that is generally lacking. Corruption runs so deep, moreover, that police forces are often supplied with sub-par equipment, and in inadequate quantities. According to one retired police officer, at least two batches of body armor that had failed tests in 2001 and 2004 were purchased by the Mumbai police due to corrupt acquisition practices.

Finally, Indian voters have not demanded better security in a sustained and systemic way by punishing politicians at the ballot box when they fail to deliver. Lawrence Saez and Aseema Sinha, professors in political science at London's School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, respectively, found that the timing of elections dictated public spending, with politicians being most attentive during an election year and less so after securing their positions. Another study by Arkadipta Ghosh, a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, found that Indian voters are most responsive during an election year rather than consistently concerned throughout the politician's tenure. Despite the poor performance of the Maharashtra state government before and during the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, for example, that government was re-elected less than a year later.

Unfortunately, there is much work to be done. India's domestic intelligence agencies need to be restructured at the state and federal levels; its nascent Federal Investigative Agencies need to be better resourced and strengthened; and a host of other critical measures are needed to intercept terrorists at the planning stage, limit the damage of an attack once it begins, and finally identify and prosecute the perpetrators and identify their support networks.

While this most recent outrage has again prompted Indians to question the efficacy of their security institutions, it is unlikely that their skepticism will be sustained -- or, most importantly, reflected in the votes they cast. Until they hold federal and state politicians accountable, internal security reform will be a revolution deferred.



Hot Air Zone

Naoto Kan’s statement taking on Japan’s nuclear industry isn’t likely to accomplish anything.

This week, Japan's lame duck prime minister, Naoto Kan, surprised some observers by coming out against nuclear power, announcing that Japan should scrap its target of 53 percent nuclear dependency in 2030 and focus instead on fostering renewable energy sources. What this means policy-wise is still murky, given that Kan's credibility is at an all-time low and the Japanese cabinet has yet to show any sign of carrying out his plans. But it may say a lot about the mixed fortunes of Japan's so-called "nuclear village," the industrial-bureaucratic lobby that was once of the most influential utilities lobbying force in the world.

Before Fukushima, Japan was one of the countries most committed to nuclear energy, with about 30 percent of its electricity coming from atomic reactors and a regulatory structure that appeared to many to side with the nuclear industry in a close relationship that created at least the appearance of collusion. Rather than use solely the power of the state -- i.e., the courts -- to convince locals to accept the expansion of nuclear power, utilities provided massive direct and indirect subsidies to local communities to buy their acceptance. And the government looked past all this.

The breakdown at Fukushima has altered this situation. Objectively, the accident was far from cataclysmic, compared with industrial catastrophes such as the Bhopal disaster or the hard-to-quantify but surely large number of deaths from cancers and pulmonary diseases caused by the massive industrial pollution that affected Japan in the 1960s. But incidents involving atomic energy have a psychological impact that is out of proportion to the dangers involved, due to their connection to nuclear weapons and the unseen -- and thus fearsome -- nature of radiation. Had Fukushima been a chemical plant whose destruction by the tsunami had killed thousands, no one would have called for abolishing Japan's chemical industry.

Now, with politicians like Kan now eager to seek political advantage through standing up against entrenched nuclear interests (as Kan became famous for doing in his 1996 crusade against those responsible for the HIV tainted-blood scandal, including members of the Ministry of Health and Welfare he led at the time), the nuclear village could be in trouble. And yet, the Fukushima effect has largely been felt in Germany, which just announced that it would phase out nuclear power by 2022, and Switzerland, which plans to do the same by 2034, rather than in Japan.

This is due in part to the weakness of Japan's anti-nuclear movement, which has been decimated by years of industry dominance in public affairs. Several Japanese cities hosted anti-nuclear demonstrations after Fukushima, but there were relatively few participants.

Of course there's always the possibility that the anti-nuclear movement could expand, particularly if new and damaging revelations about TEPCO are released, or if the still-unstable Fukushima reactors continue to leak more radioactivity, seriously harming rescue workers or children.

But at the same time, world events could also allow the nuclear energy industry to rebuild. If oil prices rise higher, if more revolutions and wars occur in the Arab World and Persian Gulf region, any alternative to oil may start to look extremely attractive.

In any case, it is highly unlikely that this week's statement from Kan will affect either the long-term fortunes of Japan's nuclear industry or the regulatory structure of the nuclear village. This is partly because the government is not, currently, equipped to make such sweeping changes. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is totally dysfunctional. The former majority party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is equally lacking in unity. Some politicians, such as Taro Kono of the LDP, have aggressively criticized nuclear energy, but many others are waiting to how the winds will blow.

Moreover, whereas foreigners are fixated on the Fukushima issue, for most Japanese voters bread-and-butter issues such as pensions, health care, and taxes are far more important. The next election is unlikely to be a referendum on energy policy and much more likely to be about broader economic issues.

Finally, it may simply be difficult for Japan to envisage a nuclear-free future -- and no one has put into words exactly what that would mean, certainly not Kan. Would it entail the rapid shut-down of existing plants? Would it involve a schedule to close them over 10 (or 20 or 30) years? Would it simply imply not building new ones? Does Japan want to import more oil and gas from politically unstable regions to compensate for a decline in nuclear power? How much could conservation deliver?

As for altering the regulatory framework, this is an equally complex proposition. In the end, as in other countries like France and America, so long as there are nuclear reactors there will be a nuclear village for a very simple reason: Atomic power is a highly technical field, and only those who are part of the sector can understand its workings, and therefore regulate it. This is not too different from the off-shore oil and gas industry. After the BP oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico, commentators attacked the cozy relationship between regulator and regulated. But it is hard to see how those who are not deeply involved in off-shore drilling could understand -- and thus supervise -- the industry.

In other words, things may still change, but it's too soon to write the obituary for the Japanese nuclear village.