Across the Aisle: Price of procrastination

UPA couldn’t constitute the National Counter Terrorism Centre. NDA must lose no time in doing so.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: January 8, 2016 5:30 am
Army men stand guard near the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot. (Reuters) Army men stand guard near the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot. (Reuters)

I write this with a profound sense of grief, contrition and disappointment bordering on despair.

Since the subject I have chosen for this special column is the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air force base, I resolved that I should weigh every word and phrase with extra caution before I commited them to paper and ultimately to print.

First, let me salute the valour of the seven men who were killed in the terrorist attack. Five of them were retired and re-employed jawans and, presumably, no longer subject to training or drill; one was killed despite being highly skilled; and one lost his life while engaging the terrorists. I mourn their deaths along with their families and millions of citizens.

Second, I rue the fact that several internal security tasks remained unfinished when the UPA government demitted office in May 2014, the most important among them being the constitution of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The key pillars of counter-terrorism are intelligence, analysis, and single command and control. More often than not, raw information lies as raw information and is practically useless. Honing information into intelligence is analysis and that is a specialist’s function. In the complex world of counter-terrorism, high-quality analysis requires a multidisciplinary approach bringing together the skills of the border guard and the computer technologist, the policeman and the professor (of chemistry or engineering or psychology), the spy and the scientist. The third pillar is a single command and control to undertake counter-terrorist operations.

I had reflected on the idea of an NCTC for many months. We had engaged with many experts in the field. We had studied different models. I was convinced that the NCTC was an imperative, especially in a federal system with as many police administrations as there are states and Union territories. We had already made a beginning with the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) within the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and in every state, and it required only two or three more courageous steps to constitute the NCTC. My feeling of remorse is because I did not succeed in notifying the NCTC before I left the ministry of home affairs on July 31, 2012. It is a long story and shall be told on another day. Suffice for the present to say that the NCTC was stalled by blind and unreasoned opposition.

The thousands of words spoken and written in the last few days (though I admit I have not heard or read them all) seem to have missed a fundamental change in the nature of the threat faced by the country today. One of the worst terror attacks on Indian soil took place on the four horror-filled days between November 26 and 29, 2008. Since then, there have been four major terrorist attacks and several minor ones. The major attacks were carried out in Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. What marked them out as fundamentally different from other major attacks in the past was that there was no proven connection to Pakistan. They were carried out by Indian-born and Indian-bred terrorists. The investigation pointed to the Indian Mujahideen or SIMI and, in the case of the Delhi attack, to a Kashmiri group. Likewise, the minor incidents were also traced to Indian groups in different states.

That fundamental difference seems to have vanished since 2015. We seem to be back to the pre-2008 days. The Pakistani state or non-state is back as the source. Terrorist attacks in Dinanagar, district Gurdaspur, Punjab (July 27, 2015), Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir (August 5, 2015) and Pathankot in Punjab (January 2, 2016) and some minor incidents have been traced back to Pakistan.

Third, my disappointment is with the manner in which the counter-terror system in the government responded to the situation that had fundamentally changed since the middle of 2015. It is a fair inference that the foreign office, the defence forces and the internal security establishment have not noted the change and have not been talking to each other.

My disappointment turned to despair as the nation watched the response to the Pathankot attack. It was déjà vu. There was no sign of a “single command and control”. The Defence Security Corps re-employs retired jawans who are not much better than armed gatekeepers. The Garud Force is a defensive arm of the air force to protect air force assets. The NSG is a target-specific counter-terrorist force, not a battlefield unit. Yet, these were the units that were called in as the first responders. The one trained battle-ready counter-terrorist force, the army’s Special Forces, was nearby but not deployed to secure the sprawling base or the perimeter.

Does the home minister meet with the NSA, the home secretary, the special secretary (IS) and the heads of the IB and RAW every day? It appears not. Had MAC provided inputs in the days immediately prior to January 1? We do not know. Was the cabinet committee on security convened immediately after the security forces engaged the terrorists? There is no official word, but the home minister did not attend any meeting after January 2.

As the saying goes, “things happen”, but we cannot let things happen. The matter of security of the people cannot be left to individuals, however brilliant they may be.

We need an institutional arrangement and the response to a terror attack must be an institutional response led, no doubt, by brilliant individuals.

Is there a case for constituting the NCTC? Look no further than the Pathankot terror attack. The draft notification was revised after taking into account the states’ concerns and sensibilities. The revised draft leaves room for any reluctant state to join the NCTC after an interval of time (as was done in the case of VAT). The draft notification is on the home minister’s table. A copy is with the prime minister’s office.

The best message of reassurance to a shaken and sceptical nation and the best warning to our enemies that we take terrorism as a serious threat will be to notify forthwith the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

The writer is a former Union home and finance minister.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

First Published on: January 8, 2016 12:05 am
  1. A
    Amit
    Jan 8, 2016 at 3:03 pm
    Good artcle, best way to help is make sure parliament functions and is held to ransom by a mere 44 members. If we can not organise aa a functioning parliment, how can we expect other insutions like air bases to learn by example. There are too many 'little fifedoms' in the country, so the journey will not be a short one. India is vast and diverse, we must not underestimate the difficulty of such a unique land.
    Reply
    1. S
      State-Encounter-Terrorism
      Jan 8, 2016 at 12:27 am
      Italian BCH loving/likking brahmins like M K Narayanan mooted the idea of NCTC to protect the ets of brahmins all over the country. Actually it is meant for National ENCOUNTER TERRORISM(STATE) Centers.
      Reply
      1. K
        Kiran Krishna
        Jan 8, 2016 at 6:22 am
        Good article
        Reply
        1. P
          Pat
          Jan 8, 2016 at 2:21 am
          Thief pc tax evader, scam king, dissove anti national congress party forever.
          Reply
          1. R
            Ravi K
            Jan 8, 2016 at 4:09 am
            It appears to me that PMO has undermined FM, Shushma, every step of the way. PM is the FM, ha ha ha. I have not heard FM's name single time in last 7 days. Is she missing in action?
            Reply
            1. K
              K SHESHU
              Jan 8, 2016 at 7:41 am
              The incidents of terrorist attacks have been happening since decades and there has been repeat of the same saying 'things happen'. But, the fact remains that the happenings are 'happening' and post-mortem reports are pointing towards security lapses...!
              Reply
              1. D
                DILIP
                Jan 8, 2016 at 2:37 am
                P Chidambaran to join ZBJP soon! See how many BJP s supporting him.
                Reply
                1. R
                  RD
                  Jan 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm
                  Do: Rose to Rose, Thorn to Thorn and bullet to Bullet as the Israel does. JUST DO IT.
                  Reply
                  1. O
                    Observer
                    Jan 8, 2016 at 11:04 am
                    Its shameful, how BJP's media trollers are attacking Chidambaram, when the Govt was so inept in handling of the situation. The might of a billion people country looked like a bumbling fool, in trying to wipe out 6 terrorists. And Then we are demanding a seat on the UNSC???
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Arun Mehta
                      Jan 8, 2016 at 6:50 am
                      All is lost now, modi is one man army to fight on all fronts, he is employing old and spent persons like DOVAL and nependra MIshra many more may be there we do not know? We are in the hands of COW plus feku pl. do not hope for the best now.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Arun Sharma
                        Jan 8, 2016 at 7:32 am
                        Home and defense ministers answer for lapses and ensure no repeion of such things.
                        Reply
                        1. S
                          SK
                          Jan 8, 2016 at 3:23 am
                          This is for the first time Chidambran has written a constructive article. We need unbiased suggestions which ever quarter they may come from. Now you should persuade Sonia to stop obstructing every thing in parliament.
                          Reply
                          1. B
                            Barb Dewyre
                            Jan 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm
                            I think there is a lot of merit in what he is saying. I also think that this government can use all the ideas that it can get, irrespective of where they originate from. Here we had a clic case where both the PM and HM were indulging in backslapping for a job well done even while the operation was far from over. Flying NSGs while commandos trained in anti- insurgency and familiar with the terrain were available in the neighbourhood is bewildering. Most importantly, there was advance intelligence about the attack and it's objective and yet we allowed the extremists to get into the base. We can blame stan all we like but t is imperative that we get our act together. If the terrorists realize that their actions are not making a dent on us, they will be forced to reconsider. But for that we should have a proactive force.
                            Reply
                            1. R
                              Rajesh
                              Jan 8, 2016 at 10:34 am
                              Boss, UPA couldnt do a million things. CONgress has utterly failed in the last 7 decades. All of the work is now on the NDA's shoulders even the basics like toilet building. We are well aware of that. It would help if you s would stop obstructing Parliament.
                              Reply
                              1. K
                                Karunakaran
                                Jan 7, 2016 at 11:48 pm
                                The crouching, dokhla-eating Gujjubhai whose chin touches his chest, and his equally uneducated cabinet colleagues are letting down India very badly. They have no education. They have no abilities to prevent the free-fall of India's economy. In the past India was fortunate to have such genius economists as Mr Manmohan Singh. But the 31% of the voters who brought the dokhla-bhai to power have created a huge problem for India. India must prepare itself for the next Lok Sabha elections. Send the selfie-chaser Gujjubhai back to selling chai and dokhla at the railway stations. India must get ready to welcome Mr Nitish Kumar as the next PM. Mr Nitish Kumar has cl and substance. The crouching, dokhla-eating Gujjubhai whose chin touches his chest, is only good to run after the goras for selfies, and provide photoshopped black to pink images of himself to the media. Is is purely disgusting. Even the political leaders of Nepal and Maldives are too dignified to run after the goras for selfies.
                                Reply
                                1. P
                                  P k
                                  Jan 8, 2016 at 6:28 am
                                  Well sripted. The Bottom line however is India's politicians, civil services have become too thick skinned and complacent. Now only God and the Army are our protectors.
                                  Reply
                                  1. D
                                    datharam gambhira
                                    Jan 8, 2016 at 12:19 am
                                    Lol are u a stand up Comedian ? Or may be a bend down ? To stand up u need a spine
                                    Reply
                                    1. K
                                      kumar
                                      Jan 8, 2016 at 11:19 am
                                      Even after getting to know that the terrorists are inside the Airbase if the authorities decided to send a team full of retired jawans - there is nothing to say more! Indian Armed forces need superior talent - govt should bring their ry on par with investment banks.
                                      Reply
                                      1. R
                                        rameshnk
                                        Jan 8, 2016 at 4:01 am
                                        Pc may have rightly or wrongly wanted to do something. But as usual many things do not move at all. Typical of many issues under UPA. Indecision was the greatest decision of UPA. when there was quick decision only when the issue of corruption, family, dynasty etc are involved. Parties like these are unfit to be given the responsibility of national interests.
                                        Reply
                                        1. P
                                          Priya Singh
                                          Jan 8, 2016 at 1:38 pm
                                          We should give round of applause to our great politician for this all drama. In this juncture also they are shining their political career rather to work uniformly against terrorism. Instead of rousting our security system and strengthening the route to counter terror attack. They are showcasing our security defects in front of w world What more we can expect from them??
                                          Reply
                                          1. G
                                            Gaurav Gupta
                                            Jan 8, 2016 at 4:33 am
                                            PC sir , what mechanism you are talking about. Only Modi ji knows all. Rest all have become stoneage formulae. Please do not suggest NCTC and add zero follow up in zero work done to make it a bigger zero. Let gness of the PM saheb play . To reinforce my point , Yashwant Sinha ji told a TV channel that Minister of external affairs is actually ministers of Indian people in foriegn soil, rest geur of the PM is taking care. Let us see how far luck will take us.
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments