It is good to see that the intelligence set up of the country under the present regime is working on a note of efficiency and professionalism. In India, there have been moments when the national intelligence agencies were perceived to be not above serving the narrow political interests of the party in power. This detracted from the country’s image as a developed democracy. Interestingly, this seems to be the season of former intelligence chiefs making it to the headlines for penning their recall of the happenings on their watch.
Political “disclosures” coming from intelligence circles attract media attention and excitement so much more, probably because it is not possible to verify them with anything in the public domain. It is “take it or leave it” and this becomes the high point of whatever is published.
I wrote three books on intelligence after my retirement, which were well received in professional spheres for their normative content on how the systems worked and for the critique on how should they be working for the benefit of the nation. They had glimpses of operational successes and inadequacies and of the funny moments that excessive confidentiality could create for the operators sometimes. There was no judgemental comment on the politics of the time.
It is known that Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB), before the advent of the institution of National Security Advisor, kept in touch with the Prime Minister literally on a day to day basis. He influenced the formulation of security policy on the strength of the intelligence that was available. He had a close glimpse of politics at the national level, but he never became a part of the politics itself.
Even in terms of national security, DIB gave inputs and advice, but did not dictate policy, because the political executive of the country had the right to take decisions in the exercise of the sovereign power that it wielded in its own right. It is the political executive that took the consequences of the decision. The intelligence agency could be faulted only for information failure if this happened to be the case.
An interesting case of politicised view overtaking national security comes to mind. It is intriguing that India granted “shared victimhood” to Pakistan in relation to terrorism, at Havana, notwithstanding the sustained reporting by IB on the continuing ISI-sponsored proxy war against this country, in which the adversary used the instrument of cross-border terrorism. The Indian move gave Pakistan a standing deniability that it used even for 26/11. Was the Prime Minister of the day advised against it? The hasty acceptance by Dr Manmohan Singh of the stand promoted by the Americans that the Mumbai attack —rightly considered as India’s 9/11 — was the doing of some non-state actors, also attracted notice as a distorted policy response.
As IB chief I served three Prime Ministers of different political hues — P.V. Narsimha Rao, A.B. Vajpayee and H.D. Deve Gowda — without running into any problem of agreement with them on issues of national security. In those days of political instability, however, I was “elevated” as Chairman JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) because of the internal turmoil in the camp that was giving crucial outside support to Deve Gowda. The date on which this was done — while I was out of the country attending the first SAARC security conference in Colombo — said it all. It was enough for me, however, that some of the leading newspapers of the country editorially questioned the action of the government.
The point is that the intelligence chief may set the direction of security policy, but must remain uninvolved in party politics even at the risk of ceasing to be a favourite politically. Unfortunately, some in this line fell for the temptation of having political alignments. There must be good reasons for anyone feeling tempted to unearth the “politics” of his times. One has this freedom, but that must carry the responsibility of ensuring that the “disclosures” did not provide any ammunition to wrong quarters. This can be a good self-imposed guideline for potential writers in the future from the profession of intelligence.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director Intelligence Bureau.