Monday, December 1, 2008

Counter Terrorism-Unitedly strengthen the nation

Counter Terrorism-Unitedly strengthen the nation
By Seema Mustafa

Terror is heinous, as its targets are innocent citizens. It is remorseless, ruthless and as Mumbai has shown, it has the capacity to completely paralyse, even as it kills. And now that the long operations are over, the bodies recovered, the terrorists killed or arrested it is time for India's citizens to take stock of the events before the politicians beating their drums in the usual bid to politicize the event, and seek extra mileage.

The point to be understood by the citizens of India, who are far more mature, pragmatic and reasonable, than the people they elect is that for the moment it is not important whether the terrorists were from Pakistan, from the al Qaeda, from the Lashkar, of from this strange new outfit the Deccan Mujahideen. This is for the security apparatus to investigate, find out and take remedial action. It is not that important for the purpose of this article as this one fact, even if unearthed, will not stop the terror attacks and make us Indians more secure.

What will make us secure is a security apparatus that is alert, vigilant, efficient, skilled and highly trained. And given the politicians---be they of the NDA or the UPA or any other hue---unwillingness to ensure this, the Indian state will remain susceptible to terrorism. The terrorists that carried out the meticulous and highly sophisticated strike in the heart of Mumbai managed to expose the soft underbelly of the Indian state, made even softer by corruption and acute politicization.

The politician was predictable. The gun battles between the commandos and the terrorists were on in the hotels, but the Prime Minister of India had identified Pakistan as the mastermind of this terror attack. And had directed Islamabad to send across its ISI chief to New Delhi for talks. The BJP and its ilk had already started talking of draconian laws, with Advani and Modi on television channels as the experts in countering terrorism.

But not a single politician spoke of the real problem, that the relatives of many of the victims outlined through their tears. And the common man on the street, with his pragmatic wisdom, told the journalists who cared to interview him. There can be no change until and unless India is able to strengthen, not its laws as we have more than enough of these only, but its security network. And for this only two steps are necessary: bring an end to politicization and rid the police and the intelligence and security agencies of corruption.

Merit has long ceased to matter. Policemen now pay the politicians in the districts to be first recruited. They then pay them to get better postings. They are then paid in turn to turn a blind eye to corruption. And at the end in any city or district, the police seniors are men appointed more for their loyalty to the governments in power, than for merit. This is true of all positions, be it the diplomatic service, or the coast guards. But it becomes lethal when those entrusted to maintain law and order, and keep the citizen secure is too unprofessional to do so. Or too corrupt to care.

The politician makes money in equipment and hardware. For instance, the soldiers sent up to fight Pakistanis in the heights of the Kargil mountains did not even have proper snow shoes. Why? Because no one had thought of placing an order, as this was a small ticket item when compared to heavy weaponry, and the commission did not justify the effort insofar as the politician was concerned. Similarly, it was clear from the Mumbai operation that the city police, and even the anti terrorist force that lost some very good officers in the operation, were not equipped to fight the terrorists. The seniormost officer Hemant Karkare, in the limelight for his excellent investigation into the Malegaon blasts, was seen putting on a heavy, outdated jacket and going in for the deadly operation with just a revolver. He did not have a chance.

The police force through out the country is ill equipped. It does not have the right weaponry, it does not have enough vehicles, it does not have enough manpower, and the working conditions are absolutely pathetic, to put it mildly.

The Mumbai terror strike exposed failures at all levels. The coast guards did not detect the rubber dinghy's carrying men with huge arsenal. The intelligence agencies that should have been watching Mumbai like hawks, because of its well known vulnerability to terrorism, had no wind of the huge operation that was carried out with ease. The police was unable to deal with the crisis. The political authorities did not realise the magnitude of the attack until several hours later, leading to a major delay in requisitioning the NSG and the Marine commandos and then of course, the Army. The politicians did little but make statements and visit the spot, making it more difficult for the administration completely occupied with the ongoing operations at the time.

The government and the other political parties must not be allowed to divert attention from the real issues, to points that might give them electoral dividends but will not secure the country. The question is not of Muslim or Hindu terrorism. Today one group or the other might be on the ascendant, but only the fool will insist that terrorism and civil strife will not spread to pockets hitherto unaffected by terrorism. The terror attacks have spread out of Jammu and Kashmir to what some like to refer to as mainland India, and given the widening gap between the poor and the rich, and the growing frustration amongst the unemployed and dejected youth, strife and conflict is going to further test the soundness of Indian security.

Laws are not the solution, as the BJP has been advocating. One was happy to hear Rahul Bose on television pointing out that the US had the absolutely draconian Patriot Act in place, but that had done little to prevent Americans from being targeted across the world. The trick is to develop top level, professional security forces and free them from political meddling. The intelligence agencies are currently demoralized and frustrated. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), for instance has been reduced to a political wing, with little to no freedom to brainstorm and take independent decisions at even the second levels of command. Factionalism and infighting has almost crippled this elite wing.

The National Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan has a lot to answer for. He has spent more time in running foreign policy than on the job for which he was selected in the first place. He spent precious weeks and months chasing the India US civilian nuclear energy agreement than in dealing with the real complaints and problems beleaguering the intelligence agencies. The result is that a group of armed terrorists could hold the country to ransom for two days without the intelligence network getting even a whiff of this earlier. Now of course, every one is claiming that they knew, and that the other had done nothing about it. This was the story in Kargil, when the intelligence agencies –civilian and military---had no idea that the Pakistani soldiers had occupied the Indian heights. This is the story every time, intelligence agencies trading schoolboy charges.

One of the tasks before the NSA and his security secretariat then should have been to put in place a fairly foolproof method of intelligence dispensation and analysis, so that intelligence failure was minimized. And failure should have heads rolling, regardless of political favourites.

Accountability has to be fixed. And this has to be fixed internally. Today it might be one country or group, tomorrow it will be another. The same excuses are being pedaled out again, the same diversions are being created, and it seems that the politician is not willing to admit that he needs to learn lessons, and to clean up the mess after Mumbai. So while there has to be one serious investigation to determine those behind the attack, there has to be another equally serious inquiry to determine who failed in their duty, when and where, and to take action. The follow up action lies in a short and long term overhaul of the security apparatus, with merit being given preference to political leanings at all levels. Of course, this is easier said than done for the politician will not allow the administration to get out of his grasp.

This is where the people of India come in. Instead of getting swayed by the divisive agenda that will be put in play by the unscrupulous men who claim to lead us, we should make it clear to them that they have to be seen to be working on the ground in strengthening the system and making themselves and their officers more accountable. Hard states are not made by stringent laws that take away our right to breathe For then the people become unhappy and open the doors that then no state can shut. Hard states are those that govern with a soft hand, but in the process ensure that the entire law and order machinery, including the security and intelligence agencies, are strengthened through merit and training. And are not frustrated but secure, not angry but accountable, not arrogant but responsive and mete out justice with an even hand. This is when terrorists will be kept out as they will not be able to penetrate the armour of Indian unity.

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