India’s Internal Security Woes
Integrated challenges to homeland security have to be handled at the national level with a centralised framework for adequate response. The government would do well in coming out with a white paper on internal security challenges and get on with an effect
AT A RECENT SEMINAR on Homeland Security Challenges held in New Delhi, a panelist took umbrage to a remark that Maoist insurgency could persist for another 20 years. Though he could not lie the finger on the exact date when normalcy would return in the affected areas, his response was that it would be over much earlier. Assessments sure are difficult when we have been contending with terrorism and insurgencies for decades but have yet to come up with a composite and comprehensive response mechanism notwithstanding some steps initiated post the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strike. How long the Maoist insurgency will last is maybe a matter of conjecture but the fact remains that India’s kneejerk reactions to such movements that pose grave threats to our security, allow them to continue indefinitely. If that was not the case, the Maoist insurgency should have been over within a few years if not months of having given them a crushing blow at Naxalbari by employing an Infantry Division decades back.
The official list of terrorist organisations operating in India released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) talks of 29 organisations but makes no mention of organisations like the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Popular Front of India (PFI) despite proof of their radical acts and intentions. Browse the web and you have some 178 outfits (both terrorist and insurgents) listed operating in India though this list also omits organisations like SIMI, IM and PFI. Media reports of the Maoists establishments in urban centres (including Delhi/NCR) and similar reports of the PFI need to be taken seriously. As per a book titled From a Head, Through a Head, to a Head authored by a Pakistani and published in Karachi in the year 2000, states, “Zhouen-Lai suggested to Ayub Khan that Pakistan should prepare for prolonged conflict with India instead of short-term wars. He advised Pakistan to raise a militia force to act behind enemy lines.” Apparently, Ayub Khan took the advice of Zhou-en-Lai very seriously and Pakistan nurtured the militia force in the form of jihadi radicals to act behind enemy (India) lines. Unfortunately, India has permitted the establishment of an intricate international terror network on its own soil (inducted deliberately by Pakistan since early 1980s) that can now easily be operated with a ‘remote’, and which now is exceedingly difficult to identify. No wonder, the global terrorism map shows the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region as the most volatile and dangerous.
Recent apprehension of three Lashkar-eToiba (LeT) operatives in connection with planned terrorist strikes in Chandni Chowk area in New Delhi confirms LeT-Maoist links as also LeT connection with Pakistani stooge Geelani, heading the Hurriyat. Government’s acknowledgement of the Strategic United Front of the Maoists highlights the grave danger to homeland security and must be viewed coupled with the expanding panIndia grouping of Islamic terrorism with its international links and growing interdependence and linkages between insurgent and terrorist organisations within India. Intelligence sources had been reporting for last two years that LeT operatives had been attending Maoist meetings and were making persistent efforts to integrate terrorist organisations and insurgents within India. LeT has all along been the covert arm of the ISIPakistani Military and will leave no stone unturned in making efforts to balkanise India. The architecture of this phenomenon has been emerging over the past decade plus when Pakistan started inserting armed terrorist modules into all states of India covertly, knowing well that if these modules remained inactive sleepers for some time, it would facilitate their merging into the Indian population and acquiring Indian identities given the vote bank politics here.
China has been giving tacit support to Pakistan’s jihadi activities in India and has even provided training and support to United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), besides being behind the Maoisits of Nepal whose links with Indian Maoists were confirmed more than two years back through interrogation of apprehended Maoists—something which our government is afraid of stating fearing that it would annoy the dragon. The fact is that through gross inadequacy in handling social change, we have presented an expanding asymmetric battlefield in India that our adversaries are already exploiting and will continue to do so. International terrorist organisations (like Al-Qaeda and LeT) have linkages with other terrorist organisations including India in the name of global jihad and for targeting nationals of countries like the US, Israel and India. This is what Hafiz Saeed, the mullah, was advocating in Multan to a 50,000 strong radical congregation recently. Let us not get carried away by illusions of Pakistan’s military becoming answerable to the civilian government. Perhaps we should think of some semblance of civilian authority in Pakistan only when the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) is de-linked from the military and brought directly under civilian control.
Despite the euphoria over the killing of Kishenji, the Maoist insurgency appears to be getting more formidable by the day. The fact is that the response is largely left to the states with MHA merely dishing out companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) in addition to periodic intelligence inputs— an approach that is not workable. The situa- tion on ground is that CAPF inducted into the area have not been suitably reorganised, equipped and in some cases have not had any pre-induction training. Besides they are too thin on ground. Their venturing into the some 400-square-kilometre area that was declared ‘liberated zone’ by Maoists few years back is questionable and unlikely to have happened.
Bombing of Israeli Embassy Car
The recent terror attack on an Israeli official’s car outside the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi and in close proximity to the maximum security zone of the Prime Minister’s residence in February this year and our inability to prevent the action, identify and apprehend the perpetuators after the incident, indicates our weaknesses. There was media blitz of a new magnetic device and new tactics, which are misnomers. There is nothing new about motorcycle-borne terrorists undertaking terror missions. In fact, it is routine. There is nothing new either about areas outside foreign missions being very prone to terror threat. India should have known better with our mission in Kabul subjected to terror attack twice already. The requirement of 24 x 7 continued surveillance (both manual and electronic) outside foreign missions in India, particularly of a country like Israel, needed no emphasis. The magnetic bomb should have been no surprise either. Limpet mines with clockwork mechanism (that can be attached to any metallic object) have been available for the past several decades (not years). Most likely a timing device was used by the bomber that permitted him to escape and gave time for defusing a similar device in Georgia.
National Counter-terrorism Centre
The recent furore over the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) has caused considerable turbulence. Many Chief Ministers and political parties have raised strong objections against its establishment. The main objections are the fear that the government will use the NCTC to target non-Congress politicians and non-Congress supporters, NCTC will be an infringement on the rights of the states and that the issue was not discussed with the opposition and the states. The first part of the objection by the concerned Chief Ministers is very genuine considering what M.K. Dhar, former Joint Director Intelligence Bureau, wrote in his book, Top Secret–India’s Intelligence Unveiled. He says that irrespective of which party is in power in India, the entire intelligence effort of the country is focused on how to do down the opposition.
The second objection of ‘infringement on states’ too is genuine since we have failed to delink terror and insurgent acts from routine ‘law and order’ under responsibility of the states. The third objection of the issue not having been discussed too is genuine considering that it has taken 22 excruciating months to accord approval for the NCTC during which the issue should have been discussed and consensus arrived at. India has failed to look at how our Constitution should strengthen our hands in fighting the twin malaise of terrorism and insurgency.
There was considerable merit in the Home Minister’s original proposal that the entire counter-terrorism architecture including the proposed NCTC function under the MHA till the creation of a MIS. The mere fact that the Home Minister himself proposed a MIS implied that the current set up is inadequate. However, what eventually has been sanctioned implies that while Multi Agency Centre (MAC) hitherto run by the Intelligence Bureau is subsumed into NCTC, but organisations like the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) will continue functioning independently albeit all intelligence agencies are to provide inputs to NCTC. Even in the proposed shape, the NCTC will take many months/years to attain optimum level of realtime operational efficiency. To start with, it must have data links and standardised protocols with and amongst all intelligence agencies for real time passage of information. More significantly, State Counter-terrorism Centres (SCTCs) must be established to ensure regular flow of ground level intelligence upwards and dissemination of collated and analysed intelligence flowing downwards. SCTCs should be established in all states and not like UHQ (Unified HQ) in selected few as is the current practice, for the simple reason that the threat of terrorism is omnipresent that can occur at any place without warning.
India needs to do much more to gear up on homeland security. The current response to the Maoist insurgency is not cohesive to say the least. Taking 22 months to sanction a NCTC indicates the lackadaisical approach we have in countering terrorism as well. We need to speed up the pace and cater today to the type of threats including new technology and tactics that the terrorists may use tomorrow. In future, we could well witness cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, financial and kinetic attacks, dirty bombs, maritime, chemical and biological terrorism, and even radiological/nuclear blackmail to spread panic and create hysteria. Integrated challenges to homeland security have to be handled at the national level with a centralised framework for adequate response. A diluted NCTC can hardly be effective. The government would do well in coming out with a white paper on internal security challenges and get on with an effective response post ensuring a speedy consensus. Continued grouping of terrorist and insurgent acts under ‘law and order’ would only endanger national security further.