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Why NCTC is required for India: Part II

The nationwide debate on the NCTC in the wake of last week’s Hyderabad blast once again harped  on the failure of the intelligence agencies in averting  the terrorist attack , quoting the confession of an Indian Mujahideen operative that” he had carried our  reconnaissance of three areas including  Dilsukh Nagar in Hyderabad city before recommending it as the target site.

According to the Delhi Police investigation report, Maqbool and Imran Khan, another operative of the Indian Mujahideen, had told the police that while plotting the Pune blasts, they had stayed in Hyderabad and had reconnoitered “Dilkhush Nagar” (evidently a misspelling of Dilsukh Nagar), Begum Bazar and Abids in Hyderabad on a motorcycle. This, they claimed, they had done under instruction from Indian Mujahideen leader Riyaz Bhatkal.

By its very nature, the intelligence-gathering throws up millions of nuggets of information on potential threats to security. If an alarm were to be sounded on every one of those bits of information, it’s fair to say that as a country we would be in an eternal state of panic and alert, with no mind space for anything else. That is why intelligence agencies have to cross-verify every threat perception against a matrix of other information, and come to a conclusion on the extent of credibility that each potential threat enjoys.

If anything, the failure of intelligence in this case is more likely attributable to that stage of information-processing.  It is quite possible that the input may have been sent to the” agencies” but then Multi Agency Centre (MAC) would have hardly been in a position to follow the lead and taken per-emptive measures to avert it. And it is there that attention should be focused on if there is to be more meaningful sharing of intelligence alerts of security threats. Sadly, it is one area where politics has interfered to prevent meaningful efforts at counter-terrorism.

Whatever be the political compulsions or other motives, the fact remains that in the present arena, and there is a bigger need for establishing NCTC to enhance anti-terrorism cooperation and intelligence-sharing at a pan-Indian level. The structure of the NCTC he envisaged may have been intrusive for State governments, who were wary of the potential for political mischief. Yet, by shooting down the proposal in its entirety on the grounds that States’ rights were being encroached upon and the federal structure of the Constitution had been violated, they spiked an initiative that did have intrinsic merits.

Of course, even in the absence of an institutional mechanism such as the NCTC, there is nothing that ought to have inhibited security and intelligence officials by processing the matrix of information that they had – and passed on credible intelligence alerts about specific security threats to the States. If genuine intelligence information about potential security threats is to be harnessed meaningfully, the States must be part of the effort to establish a nodal mechanism to process disjointed bits of intelligence information – and process them for maximum effect.

IB has remained the prime intelligence agency engaged in the job of handling internal as well as external threats and it has fashioned appropriate responses to new threats, creating additional capacities and providing the kernel for the information to new investigating agencies whenever required. In the domain of counter-intelligence, it has been equally successful in emerging as an effective instrument to guard the nation against espionage and subversion. It has also reduced the threat of sabotage through preventive steps including implementation of stringent verification procedures in respect to vulnerable persons. And its area of coverage has gone on increasing with new tools of threat and new means and modules of terrorism.

As a senior IB official opines “ The symbiotic relationship of the IB and the state police forces in general and the state special branches in particular, provides for a seamless  sharing of information essential for the maintenance of public order’. This has proved invaluable in containing communal discord and preventing large scale disturbances, attributable to discontent among groups organized on considerations of language, religion, caste or ideology. Such an information sharing system has helped in sounding early warning to prevent economic disruptions due to diverse agitations.

The biggest challenge before the intelligence agencies all over the world today has been the upsurge in Islamic fundamentalist movement and the   batter of terrorist organizations. A country like India with a multi-religion and multi-culture background has to bear its brunt all the more. The use of terrorism as an  instrument of State policy by Pakistan have  stretched the capabilities of the Indian intelligence agencies to the  limit, requiring it to evolve operational methodologies in tandem with other agencies and state police forces. Moreover, the “Home grown terror modules’ having sprung up during the last few years have put more pressure on them. They have succeeded many times in neutralizing the threat but they have to go a long way in winning the ongoing battle.

As compared to other developed and developing nations where the intelligence agencies have better technology and facilities, Indian intelligence agencies have been lagging behind in operational support mechanism by miles and yet their record has remained more than satisfactory. This is despite the fact that their working conditions and the canvas of coverage from Kashmir to Kanyakumari have often been risky and dangerous to their lives.

IB has to also ensure its presence everywhere across its borders to detect and assess any threat to the country through subversion of the border populace and infiltration of hostile groups from across the borders. This requires a constant vigil and   collection of intelligence to prevent smuggling of weapons, explosives and fake currency. Besides traditional areas like counter terrorism and counter intelligence, the central intelligence agencies have also thwart economic and cyber threats to the nation. Technological advances require not just expensive infrastructure but appropriately trained manpower as well in the light of growing responsibilities and newer areas of surveillance.

In such a mix, there are possibilities of a few aberrations as well. But that should and must not be a reason to paint the intelligence agencies with a coal tar. The media made a splash on the Sohrabuddin encounter. Yet the fact remained that he was a hard core terrorist conduit. The Israt Jehan encounter too brought out the fact Javed was actually a Keralite Brahmin who converted to Islam and became an operative. Even in the case of Abu Jundal, the IB had confirmed his DNA in advance by at least 14 months before nabbing him.

Even otherwise, IB in India does not function like ISI of Pakistan or Mosad of Israel. There is enough checks and balances in our system to ensure that an innocent guy is not summarily executed. Any suspect is tried by the established law of the land and he is punished only after the court proves his culpability on the basis of hard core evidence. IB does not pass on the verdict anyway as its mandate is to arrest the suspect and then pass him on to the State police, CBI and the judiciary.

But there are certain decisions on which the government has to put its foot down and ensure that there is no compromise on any irritant which poses a threat to the nation and its sovereignty. There should be no compromise on that whichever the government and whatever the political compulsion. Unfortunately, there have been many occasions when the Govt buckled up under public pressure and adopted a wait and see approach.

The tragedy is that in most of such sensitive cases, the government appoints inquiry commissions or expert committees to study the failures, analyze the causes and recommend suggestions and reforms. At the same time, it is also true that these committees, ostensibly meant to serve only political purpose or silence mounting public criticism, become less than objective and are swayed by extra-professional considerations. They also often get over influenced by populist perceptions and causes and remedies which are not always correct.

 

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