Needed: Revamp of national security apparatus

By C. Uday Bhaskar, IANS,

The multiple terrorist attacks that ravaged Mumbai with the death toll overshooting 180 have led to a justified outpouring of anger and anguish across the length and breadth of the country. India is outraged. Period. This is not the first terrorist attack that India has experienced – Mumbai alone recalls 1993 and 2006 with bitter memories. And tragically this may not be the last, given the ruthless determination of the extremist groups ranged against the idea of India.

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Yet Mumbai and 26/11 have a contour that is viciously distinctive. In the lexicon of terrorism, it is best described as being meticulously symphonic. Multiple terrorist objectives were pursued with deadly precision and not just the city of Mumbai but the entire Indian state and, at a remove, the global community – some of whose citizens were in the city that night – were attacked with a lethality that has no precedent.

In the first few hours of the tragedy that unfolded for more than 60 hours, it was evident that Mumbai was headless. This was brought home in the continuous TV coverage of the mayhem that was let loose in different parts of the city and the response mechanism of India’s financial capital and the symbol of the country’s 21st century aspirations was found to be abysmally poor. India was flailing. But the ability of the Indian system to respond to a macro-crisis is well-established (recall the Chinese aggression of 1962 and the balance of payment crisis of 1991) and this time, post-26/11 some meaningful introspection and policy review is imperative. What is this way ahead?

Democratic nations repose their trust in the electoral process and the politician. In this case, there is increasing disillusionment about the manner in which the Indian political spectrum has discharged the responsibility that devolves upon it – to ensure the basic safety of the common man. It has been repeatedly violated and Mumbai is only the most recent example. It is often bemoaned in India that post-1984, after the tragic assassination of Indira Gandhi, apropos counter-terror – a greater part of state resources and effort has been devoted to VIP security. Consequently many eminently useful internal security initiatives have remained still-born and rendered dormant due to politico-bureaucratic perfidy.

Hence the first step is to allocate political accountability for the spate of terrorist attacks that have taken place in the last decade and here both the Congress-led UPA government and its predecessor, the BJP-led NDA, are culpable. For the first time a political head has rolled and India has a new home minister, but this should not remain symbolic. An objective, non-partisan review and revamp of the entire higher politico-bureaucratic-police-intelligence lattice that comprises the nation’s internal security apparatus is imperative. Sacrificing one Patil is not enough.

India’s internal security challenge has become progressively more complex since the late 1980s and this has been only matched by the lip service paid by the higher echelons of those sworn to rise to this challenge. Successive governments at the centre and in the states have placed short-term electoral advantage over the compulsions of national security and this has led to the enormity of 26/11. Post-Kargil of 1999, the NDA government had initiated the much-needed comprehensive national security review and four major task forces drawing upon the experienced security professionals were set up. The four areas identified included the intelligence apparatus, internal security, border management and higher management of defence. These detailed reports were approved by a group of ministers in 2001, but little meaningful reform was implemented.

The spectrum covered was wide and specific policy recommendations were made. Mumbaikars will be aghast when they learn that one of the issues flagged in the border management report was about the vulnerability of India’s sea coast. The need to beef up the poor coastal security infrastructure was identified as part of the overlap between internal security and border management and the utility of a unified maritime agency was mooted. But like many other specific policy recommendations, this fell by the way due to a combination of politico-bureaucratic indifference and turf protection.

Thus what is needed now is not one more attempt to re-invent the wheel. Let the central government convene a special session of parliament in Delhi with similar action by the state legislatures and commence the cleaning of the stables. All reports and recommendations that have been submitted post- Kargil should be brought into the public domain and the reasons for their non-implementation be rigorously examined.

Accountability must be assigned – even if it is post-facto – and imbalances and distortions holistically restored. Piecemeal and knee-jerk attempts at fixing the internal security infrastructure will be cosmetic. The broom must be picked up in earnest.

(C. Uday Bhaskar is a noted defence analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected])