In the wake of recent terrorist attacks, what measures should domestic and international corporations take to safeguard the security of their India-based people and operations? Alfred Romann reports
In 2008 more than five million foreigners visited India. They travelled to the beaches of Goa, the outsourcing centres of Bangalore, the financial hub of Mumbai and the man-made wonder that is the Taj Mahal.
Few of them gave much thought to the September bombings in Delhi that left 30 dead, or the Jaipur attacks in May that killed dozens and injured hundreds. Even fewer lost any sleep over the 11 bombs that exploded in Assam last October, killing 77 people. All of these attacks made headlines in India, but most received limited coverage in newspapers outside the country.
In contrast, the Mumbai attacks at the end of November grabbed the attention of the entire world. The death toll, at 167, was high. Hundreds more were injured. Flights were cancelled, executives were evacuated and company operations shut down. The fact that the attackers targeted iconic luxury hotels full of executives with mobile phones and Blackberries meant that the world was connected to the events in real time.
Few of the victims knew how to deal with the assailants or handle the violent situation they were thrown into; hostages were at a loss about how best to safeguard their lives. Even the Indian armed forces appeared unprepared for the scale of the attacks. Foreign governments were powerless and professional security agencies were limited in their response capabilities.
In the aftermath of the attacks the chill was palpable. There were reports of expatriates leaving the country. Government agencies circulated safety advisories and cautioned against unessential travel to Mumbai. Many multinationals recalled their employees. Others started re-evaluating the security of their India operations.
“Those were indeed scary days since we live in the heart of Colaba, directly where the events unfolded,” says Benjamin Parameswaran, a partner at German law firm Hengeler Mueller, who has spent the last few months in Mumbai on secondment. “We heard the explosion and shots from our apartment and could see the burning Taj from our apartment.
“There was a curfew for many days. We were trapped in our building from Wednesday night until Sunday.”
In 2007, India reported the world’s fourth highest death toll from terrorist activities.
In the months preceding the Mumbai tragedy, there were seven separate attacks that together killed more than 230 people (see table). According to Steve Vickers, president and CEO of Hong Kong-based security company FTI-International Risk, there are active terrorist and insurgent groups across the country, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Assam.