Trapped in the past
The principal strategic challenge in
any conflict comprises four elements: a realistic and accurate assessment
of the threat; an objective assessment of the resources for an adequate,
if not overwhelming, response (including institutional, financial, manpower
and technological components); the acquisition of these resources within
timeframes imposed by the conflict; and the sagacious deployment of
these resources to secure the objectives of a coherent and clearly defined
As legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu
says, "A skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does
not demand it of his subordinates."
The situation of victory against terrorism
has not yet been created in India.
Indeed, the very first step in the envisaged
four-stage strategic process is yet to be secured. There is no consensus
whatsoever, even on the nature and magnitude of the threat of terrorism
in this country, and even less of an understanding of the extraordinary
geopolitical environment within which this threat is being articulated.
We have, consequently, an utterly directionless
and ill-informed policy discourse on the subject, a pervasive incapacity
to distinguish between variables that are relevant and meaningful, and
others that are mere 'noise', often imported into the discourse through
political correctness, or even injected therein by advocates of the
very terrorist organisations, their support structures and sponsoring
states, that counter-terrorism policy is intended to confront and neutralise.
The Indian security apparatus dates
back to the early 20th century. Concealed behind the dust of this enveloping
confusion is a policy establishment that has atrophied over decades,
and a security establishment that has been systematically debilitated
and rendered infirm through incessant and multiple acts of neglect,
intentional harm and a political philosophy of abuse and abandonment.
The cumulative impact is that each new
terrorist outrage in India is ordinarily met with disarray and posturing,
rather than with responses that demonstrate improving control, efficiency
Worse, a wide range of pseudo-solutions
are immediately articulated, while the fundamentals, simple as they
are, are studiously and persistently ignored.
With dozens of dysfunctional Central
agencies already in existence, for instance, we are abruptly informed
that the problem of terrorism can only be addressed by a new federal
This is essentially a diversionary ploy
to channel the entire debate into the realm of fractious Centre-state
relations and contentious constitutional amendments that, advocates
of this 'solution' themselves admit, are nigh-impossible to resolve.
The result, of course, is that the political
leadership has found an alibi that lets them off the hook as far as
immediate corrective action is concerned.
Or, again, the most widely circulated
and popular myth of all, we are wisely informed that 'development',
and not the use of force or any conceivable operational improvements
in the security and intelligence establishment, is the 'only solution'
But 'development' is not something you
can order off a menu card; it is not the case that, for 60 years, successive
governments have implemented policies that deliberately sought to keep
the country underdeveloped, and, since realisation has now abruptly
dawned on the present leaders of this benighted nation that 'development'
is the 'solution', such development is quickly going to be attained.
There is, in reality, no magic formula
that is going to transform India into a well-governed, modern, equitable
society with its entire population enjoying European living standards
at any point in the foreseeable future.
Poverty, acute deprivation, widespread
under-employment and unemployment and endemic backwardness, compounded
infinitely by growing incompetence in governance and a steady deterioration
in administrative capacities and penetration across wide regions of
the country, will remain inescapable realities for large proportions
of the Indian population for decades into the future. Substantial pools
of grievances and hopelessness will, consequently, continue to exist
in abundance, for extremist and subversive elements to tap into.
Where then, do the real solutions lie?
What, precisely, is the 'great idea' that can transform the confusion,
vacillation and incoherence of current policy into a tough and effective
line that will give a fitting response to the challenge of terrorism?
The reality is that, while a 'great
idea' may, on occasion, underlie excellence in certain fields, excellence
is not realised, even in such cases, merely through the articulation
of an exceptional idea. What India needs is to plug the crippling deficits
in its policing and intelligence agencies, nothing more and, equally
Instead, on the rare occasion when the
policy discourse actually focuses on the country's security vulnerabilities,
there is overwhelming emphasis on the creation of special forces and
institutions, rather than on fundamental and comprehensive improvements
in existing ones.
The first and most crucial principal
here is that you cannot have a first class counter-terrorism response
within the context of a third class policing system. This should have
been more than evident by now, but somehow fails consistently to register.
Take, for instance, the case of the
National Security Guard (NSG)-an elite special response unit set up
principally for counter-terrorism. Despite excellent manpower profiles,
training regimes and technology backups, the NSG has had, at best, a
peripheral role in dealing with terrorism simply because of its location.
Terrorists, unfortunately, do not strike
where special forces stand ready to confront them, and in most cases,
by the time special forces arrive at targeted locations, the mischief
has already been done.
Of course, the special skills cultivated
in the NSG are not altogether wasted, and the contributions, particularly,
of explosives' experts in the organisation and the national database
they have established is not negligible.
On objective parameters of its performance
in countering terrorism, however, the NSG would have to be declared
a failure, not through any defalcation on the part of its officers and
personnel, but through error of design.
"In the 20th century, the state was
the chief enemy of freedom," philosopher John Gray notes, "today, it
is the weakness of the state that most threatens freedom."
It is the infirmities of the presently
under-manned, under-trained, under-equipped and primitive security and
justice systems, and not lack of some inchoate 'great idea' or 'out-of-the-box
solution', that lie at the core of our inability to effectively tackle
extremist subversion, terrorism and sub-conventional warfare in India.
Manpower deficits, for instance, are
endemic. India has 126 policemen per 1 lakh population, compared to
western ratios that range between 250 and 500 per 1 lakh. Worse, the
Indian ratio is worked out against sanctioned posts, and there is a
9.75 per cent deficit against sanctions across the country, with some
states recording a nearly 40 per cent deficit.
The ineptitude of the political executive
has prevented any action on terrorism. Across the country, there is
a 17 per cent deficit in the sanctioned strength of Indian Police Service
cadres. Western intelligence and enforcement agencies are backed with
cutting-edge technologies, the best technical support, enormous resources
and responsive and efficient judicial and legislative systems.
The Indian security apparatus, meanwhile,
remains trapped in policing techniques and technologies, most of which
date back to the early 20th century. Even the best of them are decades
Other elements of the justice system,
including legislation and a formalistic, lingering, unaccountable and
often hostile judiciary, offer little support to law and order administration
or counterterrorism in India.
The intelligence apparatus is even more
ill-equipped for the challenge. Despite its image of omnipresence, the
total strength of field personnel engaged in intelligence gathering
in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is under 3,500 for this country of 1.2
The Centre offers no explanation for
its inability to implement long-standing decisions-based on the Girish
Saxena Committee recommendations- dating back to 2001, for a system-wide
reform and massive upgrading of intelligence capabilities.
Crucially, the Multi-Agency Centre,
the national intelligence database, and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence,
which were to be set up under the IB, remain mere shell organisations,
more than seven years after the decision was taken to create these,
with endemic manpower, technological and resource shortages.
A first class response to terrorism
cannot co-exist with a third class policing system.
The Saxena Committee recommendation
to immediately increase the IB's strength by 3,000 personnel, accepted
by the government in February 2001, has resulted in the sanction of
just 1,400 additional posts till September 2008.
The Centre is, of course, not alone
in its failures. Despite liberal Central schemes underwriting security
related expenditure and police modernisation in the states, the latter
have failed even to spend the monies allocated (utilisation in 2006-07,
for instance, stood at 63.71 per cent).
The gravest threat to India's security
is not Pakistan, not the ISI,
not terrorism, but the limitless acts of omission, the venality and
the ineptitude of the political and administrative executive, and the
complete absence of accountability in the top echelons of Government.
Our greatest enemy is not only within. It has captured the highest nodes
of power and decision-making in the country.
(Published in India Today, New Delhi, September