Tarigami denied tight security despite attacks
19 January 2006
Srinagar: Despite a wave of terrorist attacks targeting the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, both the Union Government and the Delhi Police have refused to upgrade his security. On January 15, terrorists shot dead Mr. Tarigami's nephew and injured a CPI (M) worker in apparent reprisal attacks for the politician's opposition to Islamists in the State. Three months earlier, a Lashkar-e-Taiba assault squad had attacked Mr. Tarigami's residence in Srinagar. Despite intelligence warnings that Mr. Tarigami is amongst the Lashkar's principal targets, his security remains well below the levels accorded to other national leaders. On January 14, a day before the politician's last visit to the capital, Jammu and Kashmir Police authorities wrote to the Delhi Police requesting that his protection be enhanced in view of the near- successful attempt on his life. Two days earlier, the Intelligence Bureau had warned that a terror attack on his relatives was imminent, a report which also raised the prospect of a fresh assault on the politician himself. In a confidential message to the Special Commissioner of Police in New Delhi who handles VIP security, the Jammu and Kashmir Police asked that Mr. Tarigami be given a bullet proof car and a mobile escort. In addition, it asked that the guards at the Jammu and Kashmir Government's guesthouse in New Delhi be reinforced. Follow-up messages were sent on January 16 and January 17. All the Delhi Police came up with, though, were two escorts who went off duty at 8:00 p.m., and a constable armed with a .303 rifle — a weapon useless for close-protection duties. When this correspondent visited Mr. Tarigami, he was not searched before entering the politician's room; nor was the vehicle he travelled in examined for any concealed explosives before being allowed to enter the guesthouse parking area. NSG cover denied Despite his Z+ category security entitlement, Mr. Tarigami is not in fact much safer in Srinagar. While he does have bullet proof vehicles at his disposal there, as well as a full component of guards, the Union Government has shot down repeated requests from the CPI (M) leadership for protection by the National Security Guard, which has personnel especially trained in proximate-security tasks. Just why such personnel were needed became clear in the course of the October 18 attack, when Lashkar operatives brushed aside the Central Reserve Police Force guards assigned to Lone's house with relative ease. Following pleas from the CPI (M), Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil assigned Indo-Tibetan Border Police guards to Mr. Tarigami — guards who, like the CRPF, are not trained in protecting VIP targets. Sources at the Ministry of Home Affairs told The Hindu that the decision not to commit the NSG was driven by a shortage of personnel. In recent months, the Union Government has decided to slowly withdraw NSG personnel from VIP protection tasks, and return them to their original counter-hijacking and anti-terrorism roles. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, they pointed out, is protected by the State police not the NSG. On close scrutiny, however, the argument makes little sense. While NSG commandos are indeed wasted if assigned to protecting politicians in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, protecting a threatened person in Jammu and Kashmir needs their special skills. Such skills are available with the Jammu and Kashmir Police commandos who guard the Chief Minister — but the numbers of such personnel are severely restricted. Mr. Tarigami has been under sustained attack ever since terrorist violence broke out in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989. In September that year, a massive attack on his village home forced the politician to flee to Jammu. When the CPI (M) leader announced his decision to contest the 1996 Assembly elections, his father-in-law, Mohammad Akbar Bhat, was murdered; seven CPI (M) supporters died in a subsequent grenade attack on a victory rally. 'New Delhi is sending out a dispiriting message to everyone in Jammu and Kashmir who speaks out for Indian democracy,' a senior Srinagar-based police officer told The Hindu, 'which is that it either can't or doesn't want to defend them in their time of need.'