Tuesday, Feb 07, 2023

To really counter terrorism

India cannot continue to fight a 21st century battle with 19th century institutions

Pathankot, NIA, salvinder singh, Pathankot air base, Pathankot air base attack, lie detector test, Punjab Police officer Salwinder Singh, NIA team, pathankot updates The crisis of combating terrorism is that India is fighting a 21st century battle with 19th century institutions.

In ‘How wires got crossed in Delhi’ (The Indian Express, January 9), the writers probing Pathankot make a claim both perplexing and dangerous. They say, “Even though the National Security Guard, a political organisation, falls under the home minister, orders on its use and deployment bypassed him”. Whether the home minister was bypassed or not isn’t the moot point, what’s worrisome is to claim that the NSG is a political organisation. This assertion needs to be corrected.

The NSG was certainly raised through parliamentary intervention in the mid-1980s. Much can be made of the NSG, its quality or lack thereof. Over the years, reams have been written about this deputation-based organisation, its raising and subsequent deployment, its successes analysed threadbare. What’s important is that India is unique in reinventing the wheel, wherein it raised the NSG rather than creating it as a sub-unit like other countries. Most such intervention forces worldwide are part of an existing establishment. A manpower-plenty country, India seems able to afford this luxury. Another NSG fact needs careful attention — that it has possibly the worst teeth-to-tail ratio of any combat force.

This requires urgent political attention, rather than the prescription offered by P. Chidambaram in ‘Price of procrastination’ (The Indian Express, January 8). His years of experience in government have led him to propose the country immediately constitute the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Superior intellect and first-rate analysis are always the ultimate weapons of war, or counter-terrorism in this case. But creating yet another institution doesn’t lead to administrative efficiency or speedy decision-making. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), created after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is simply another CBI with the additional charge of federal crime, in this instance, terror-related cases. A strengthened CBI could well have covered all the charters now given to the NIA.

The crisis of combating terrorism is that India is fighting a 21st century battle with 19th century institutions. Either the institutions must go, or they must be remodelled to suit contemporary requirements. The country can’t have it both ways — older institutions continuing, and additional ones continually placed on top. Saddling more baggage doesn’t make for a modern approach to combating terrorism. India is, and will always be, a federal country. This aspect must be the cornerstone of policymaking, beginning where India largely lives — in the community and in the states.

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Chidambaram points to an already existing structure within the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), and its subsidiaries in every state. The MAC does essentially what the NCTC is supposed to do, so why go down that route when the edifice is already in place? Instead of spending time, effort and monies on creating a new organisation, it’s far simpler and speedier to make an existing one better. By all standards, the IB is outstanding, with a work ethic unique in the government of India. In the game of preventing terror strikes, the IB still plays the lead role. And when it already has a MAC functioning within it, it’s far better to institutionalise that arrangement than build an additional establishment.

Political capital is better spent on improving the MAC and its variants in the states. By all estimates, the NCTC will do what the MAC is already capable of doing, or can do with a little tweaking and streamlining. To make all agencies accountable, the government should institutionalise the contributions and functioning of MAC members from the state level upwards. For, the state is really where the action is and where the crisis is the deepest.

In policing folklore, there’s a reminiscing about times when the SHO was someone who knew who was fathering which unborn child. Now the SHO is a political posting, or a favourite of the police bosses. The SHO is the most important link in the MAC chain, from the district to Delhi. We should strengthen this already existing institution, instead of allowing it to wallow in patronage. Even if the NCTC does come up, everybody will ultimately have to turn to the SHO where an attack happens to ask why. The NIA still has to, as does anyone else.

First published on: 30-01-2016 at 00:07 IST
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