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'The terrorists have become smarter'

September 21, 2011 21:57 IST

Days after Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the investigators had promising leads in the September 7 blast outside the Delhi high court, a senior government official told reporters in New Delhi that there has been no breakthrough in the case a fortnight after the act of terror.

 "The terrorists have become smarter," he said, when asked about the lack of intelligence about domestic terror groups. "Basically, we are playing catch-up. Counter-terrorism is essentially playing catch-up, but we will get them in the end."

Asked about the absence of a breakthrough in domestic terrorism cases since the German Bakery blast of February 2010, the official said investigators had filed charge-sheets in four of the seven cases since the act of terror in Pune.

The official said the government is keen to avoid mistakes like what occurred after the July 2006 serial blasts on Mumbai's suburban trains. Then the city's Anti Terrorism Squad had announced it had cracked the case within days of the incidents which claimed over 180 lives and maimed hundreds, a claim which still fails to convince other investigators. Two of the young men injured in those serial blasts still live in Mumbai hospitals, unable to lead a normal life.

When one correspondent asked about Pakistan's nuclear weapons and the possibility that it could fall into the hands of terrorists, the official said, "Pakistan's nuclear weapons

clearly worries us, especially the inside threat. More than the weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, we are concerned about who will guard the guardians."

 "No one -- not us, not the US -- can guarantee this 100 per cent," the official added. "We think about this all the time, but there are limits to our cleverness."

When another correspondent asked if India and the United States could draw a contingency plan to take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if it came under terrorist threat, the official felt such a proposal would provoke precisely "the reaction we would like to avoid."

"We are not going to stand up and say that we are going to take out Pakistan's nukes, and certainly not with the US," he pointed out. "If there is one country that is even less popular in Pakistan than India, it is the US."

The official felt Wednesday's assassination of former Afghanistan president Burhanuddin Rabbani was the latest in a series of attacks directed against leaders pursuing the peace process in Afghanistan.

"The enemy," he said, is "clearly against Afghan reconciliation and picking off people with credibility to bring about peace in the region. These forces need to be eliminated. We (India) will work with anyone in Afghanistan to achieve this. This has also been our goal."

When asked what Is being done to ensure the safety of Indians stationed in that war-torn country, the official pointed out that the Afghanistan government has done a lot to protect the hundreds of Indians building roads and other infrastructural facilities.

As many as 350 Afghans have died trying to protect Indians since 2001; 22 Indians have died in Afghanistan this past decade.

The situation in Afghanistan may be among the subjects of discussion when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday evening. Afghanistan has featured at all previous interactions between Dr Singh and Ahmedinejad.

India, the official reiterated, finds Iran "a factor of stability in Afghanistan and the Gulf.  This has been our experience and is likely to be in the future too."

Interestingly, the official added that India had not shut off its discussions on the controversial Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline though it has serious concerns over the security of the pipeline which is planned to pass through insurgency-hit Balochistan in Pakistan and the actual terms of the pricing of the gas.

Energy politics is clearly on the government's mind as it moves to resolve the protests at Kodankulam in southern Tamil Nadu over the Russian-origin nuclear power plant there. Several local residents are on fast there, demanding that the plant be moved from the area.

While reiterating that the plant is "safe" -- "two reactors are ready to go critical" -- the official pointed out that local residents had legitimate concerns about the safety of nuclear plants after what they witnessed at Fukushima, in a technologically advanced nation like Japan earlier this year.

Union Minister of State V Narayanswamy met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on Wednesday morning to discuss the issue – the chief minister has appealed in the state assembly that the protestors break their fast, but asked that their concerns about nuclear safety be addressed by the Centre.

The official felt the recent protests over nuclear plants in Maharashtra, West Bengal and now Tamil Nadu did not herald the 'end of the prime minister's nuclear dream,' as one correspondent put it.

 "We need power," he said. "Nuclear power is the cheapest source of power. People have concerns and they need to be addressed. We need to address the concerns about safety and convey it to the people."

Nikhil Lakshman in New Delhi