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In case of attack

In his characteristically reticent manner,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted on Friday that India had “not been very successful in warding off terrorist attacks...

Written by C. Uday Bhaskar |
April 18, 2009 12:54:56 am

In his characteristically reticent manner,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted on Friday (April 10) that India had “not been very successful in warding off terrorist attacks”,and added that this violent constituency had not given up their efforts to strike again and destabilise the country. This observation acquires greater salience since the country has gone to polls from April 16 onwards — and anti-poll violence has already taken its toll.

Apart from cross-border terrorism whose virulence and determination was manifest in Mumbai last November,there are domestic actors opposed to the polls — and the first such victim of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls,Somnath Madkami,was killed in Orissa on April 9 by left wing extremists. Pre-meditated violence before and during the polls is a familiar pattern in India and the Election Commission makes adequate preparations in vulnerable areas .

But the real challenge,and cause for deep concern,is the cross-border variant and the recent spate of Taliban-related violence in the parts of Pakistan proximate to India. The two anti-terrorist operations in Kupwara and Gurez in J&K in late March/early April that have resulted in the death of one officer and eight other personnel from a crack commando regiment of the Indian Army, are indicative of the audacity and determination with which terrorists are challenging the Indian state.

There are some common elements in the manner in which the Mumbai attacks of November were carried out and the Kupwara incident — particularly the determined professionalism with which the terrorists conducted themselves and the final casualty ratio that ensued. If the ultimate aim of the terrorist groups and their sponsors is to disrupt the rhythms of democratic India,then it is axiomatic that the month-long poll phase provides an attractive opportunity.

Consequently, a repeat of Mumbai and the panic it engendered within the country is, an exigency that must be considered objectively and this begs the larger question — is the nation’s institutional infrastructure prepared for such an eventuality at this point? It may be recalled that when Mumbai happened and the audio-visual media went ballistic in its incessant coverage of the event,the first few days were very tense. The resilience of the bilateral relationship with Pakistan was sorely tested and for some time the possibility of some rash military initiative from either side was very real. Given the nascent nuclear profile of both nations,the global concern was predictable.

Prudence and rational calculations mandates that when a non-state entity challenges state sovereignty,a nation must not go to war against an opaque adversary without a clear pol-mil assessment about the options available to it. India, to Dr. Singh’s credit,maintained its restraint, and at the time it was averred that if another Mumbai happens,all bets are off. It is precisely this exigency that must be rigorously examined by the Indian security establishment at the political and bureaucratic apex in the interregnum before a new government assumes office in Delhi in late May.

Prevention,pre-emption and contingency planning in relation to cross-border terrorism are not DNA traits that we associate with the Indian security establishment, and the PM conceded as much in his recent media interaction. This was more than visible in the first few hours after the Mumbai attack of November 26. Knee-jerk reactions,lapsing into systemic stasis has become the Indian leitmotif and it is this syndrome that the new Home Minister PC Chidambaram has vowed to alter. In all fairness,he has brought commendable vigour and determination to the job but the clock is against him.

The political apex as represented by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the various branches of the executive symbolised by the NSA,need to have a Plan B — and in the event they do — then the populace must be reassured in this crucial limbo. Most importantly the massmedia,particularly television,must evolve its own Plan B to deal with another Mumbai-like challenge.

Higher national security management in a democracy calls for consensus and continuity between the elected representative who assumes ministerial responsibility and the apex of the bureaucracy — some of who are political appointees — as is the case of the NSA. India is a country where the prevailing strategic culture does not allow for a designated number two — and though we acquired nuclear weapons in May 1998. Opacity is not the desired texture at this point of time. Appropriately transparent contingency planning for a range of exigencies that could dramatically impact national security is imperative. The nation is at war — a low intensity proxy war that began in 1990 — and this must be recognised.

The writer was formerly director,Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

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