There has been unnecessary excitement and unwarranted indignation over an advisory issued by the security officer of the US Embassy in New Delhi about the security precautions to be followed by American citizens travelling to India or living in India.
2.The advisory, which is available for US nationals on the notice boards of the US diplomatic and consular missions in India as well on the web sites of the US missions in India says as follows in a notice dated June 2,2009: "The United States Mission in India wishes to urgently remind all U.S. citizens resident in or traveling to India that there is a high threat from terrorism throughout India. As terror attacks are a serious and growing threat, U.S. citizens are urged to always practice good security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile. Americans in India should be vigilant at all times and monitor local news reports and vary their routes and times in carrying out daily activities. Americans should consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or choosing hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues.'
3. A similar advisory was issued by the security officer (warden) of the US Embassy on May 26,2009, regarding the dangers of unrest in Punjab following the alleged murder of a Sikh leader by some Sikhs in a Vienna gurudwara. It read as follows: "U.S. citizens are advised of the continuing tensions and civil unrest in the Indian state of Punjab. The killing of a Sikh leader in Austria May 24 sparked violent protests in many areas, particularly around Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Phagwara and Hoshiarpur. There have been no reports of foreigners being targeted, but due to the intensity of the protests, Americans could be at risk. The concern will be heightened when and if the body of the slain cleric is returned to India - possibly during the week of May 26-31. All U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Punjab should exercise caution, maintain a low profile, avoid all demonstrations, monitor local media for security updates, and anticipate major transportation disruptions."
4. Such advisories are routine and are issued by the security officers of all important missions to their nationals travelling to or residing in India. This is part of their responsibility towards the personal security of their nationals in India. The Israeli missions periodically issue such cautionary advice to their nationals in India----particularly to those planning to visit Goa. After the Mumbai terrorist attack of November,2008,in which many foreigners of different nationalities were killed by 10 terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the frequency of such advisories has increased.
5. There are two kinds of advisories---- an advisory against travel to a country and an advisory about security precautions to be observed ina country. The advisory against travel to a country is issued by the Foreign Office of a country on the basis of the advice from the intelligence agencies. The advisory about security precautions to be observed in a country are routinely issued by the security officers of the diplomatic missions.
6. The advisory to which objection has reportedly been taken by P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister of the Government of India, has been routinely issued by the officer in charge of security in the US Embassy. There is nothing objectionable in the advisory and there is no ground for our protesting against it.
7. In fact, the security officers of all Western companies in India issue such advisories regarding security precautions to their foreign staff working in India. This is the right thing to do.
8. Every diplomatic mission is expected to keep advising its citizens about likely threats to their security. If our diplomatic and consular missions in Australia are working as they should be, by now they should have issued a security advisory to all Indian students in Australia in the wake of the violent attacks on some Indian students. Threats to personal security need not arise only from terrorists. they could also arise from others. If the Indian missions in Australia have not yet done it, it would reflect poorly on them. The Australian Government cannot object if they issue such an advisory.
9. We are making a laughing stock of ourselves by creating a rumpus over the US advisory and by projecting it as a negative reflection on India and as an insult to India by equating India with Pakistan. (4-6-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )