An umbrella organisation is needed to successfully fight terrorism
Cross-border terrorism has obliterated the traditional distinction between internal and external security. The constitutional division between aggression from outside to be dealt with by the Centre,and law and order by the states cant be applied to dealing with terrorism of the cross-border variety.
There is consensus on fighting terrorism effectively and,as the events of the last three decades have shown,the present apparatus is not good enough. Therefore,the need for a better institutional mechanism proposed in the form of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) cannot be overemphasised.
Let me make a few points based on field experience. No state police is equipped or competent to protect independently a state from acts of terror. This has more to do with the cross-border and inter-state ramifications of such crimes rather than the capacity of the force per se. The 26/11 attack is a case in point. Our response amply exposed the weaknesses in preparedness,coordination and unity of command. The Mumbai Police lost able officers whose courage was not matched by a quick,coordinated and effective use of state and Central resources.
The Intelligence Bureau is by far the most capable agency,due to its expertise as well as spread,not only to collect intelligence on terrorist networks but also to coordinate operations of high value with police forces of one or more states. This has been proved time and again,though most of the time the good work done on the prevention side goes unnoticed as it does not,for good reason,come to the public domain.
The fight against terrorism will not be successful unless intelligence collection,operations and investigations are carried out under one umbrella. In Jammu and Kashmir,the Special Operations Groups,mandated to collect intelligence and carry out operations,proved to be a turning point in the fight against terrorism. A sound investigation back-up to such groups would have further helped to trace cases and linkages like networks,support structures and funding,as also secure convictions in the courts. Professional investigation requires total cooperation from intelligence and operational teams,which does not come forth when the three work in tight compartments,each eyeing to get credit and unfortunately even to hog media attention.
The FBIs Joint Terrorism Task Forces in vulnerable US cities post 9/11 are a case in point. Each task force has components from the FBI,central intelligence,local and state law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security.
In India,there are three primary objections from states and constitutional experts to the architecture of the NCTC: lack of consultations with the states,erosion of federalism by providing power of arrest and search,and the NCTCs functioning as a wing of the IB. The explanation that the power of arrest and search is derived from the amended provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has not convinced critics who say that it will be unwise to take shield under amendments hurriedly carried out without discussion post 26/11. The consultation process has begun. After official-level exchange of views,the NCTC is to be discussed at a meeting of chief ministers on April 16. Answers to the other concerns must be found.
Can we take a cue from the two Counter Intelligence (CI) police stations set up in the early 1950s in Jammu and Kashmir? These police stations in Jammu and Srinagar have jurisdiction throughout the provinces,respectively. These were meant to register and investigate cases of transborder crimes and later even terrorist crimes. These police stations function under state intelligence and have representatives from all intelligence agencies,army and the Central Paramilitary Forces associating with investigations. These serve as data banks for information on transborder criminals and crimes. It should be possible to notify and set up with Central assistance a counter-terrorism police station in each state,manned by the local police. These police stations,under the administrative and operational control of state ATCs,can act as nodal points to achieve the mandates of the NCTC.
Ideally,a separate agency through the merger of the counter-terrorism component of the IB for intelligence gathering,the Multi-Agency Centre for data bank and analysis capability,the NIA for investigation and NSG teams for operations should be carved out. The state police component for arrest/search can be co-opted as described. A mechanism for getting inputs from R&AW,ARC and intelligence agencies of the defence ministry will add to its capabilities. But such a new agency will be deprived of the much-needed reach,spread and clout of IB.
This is not the time to experiment with new structures. As the concept develops,the government can revisit the relationship between the NCTC and the IB.
For now,let us put our best foot forward. The rate of prevention of terror strikes will increase exponentially with the creation of this umbrella organisation. The time gap between an incident and the arrival of help from the Centre will minimise. Quality investigation will help unearth modules operating in other states or even outside the country.
There is no doubt that there is no India without the states. But it is equally true that we will have a weak and vulnerable India if we do not create an effective institutional mechanism to fight terrorism. The required Centre-state agreement on this cannot be delayed any more.
The writer,a retired DGP,served in Jammu and Kashmir