A security memo to India’s new Prime Minister

A security memo to India’s new Prime Minister

By M.D. Nalapat | 3 May, 2014
National security was not a priority for the PM.
Security system needs to shift from overt monitoring to hidden methods.

Apart from ensuring that Congress president Sonia Gandhi continued to entrust him with the occupation of the most prestigious room in South Block, it is not clear as to exactly what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's priorities were. Certainly, national security was not on the list. During the 10-odd years that he has been PM, terror networks have sprouted across India, and sleeper cells with their deadly potential have multiplied. A country from where Al Qaeda was absent has now become among the most preferred locations for that organisation, an affinity directly related to the weak monitoring and follow up of (sadly infrequent) leads on terror operations and their attempted perpetrators. That India has thus far escaped serious terror-related damage is traceable not to an improved national security system but because the attention of several such networks is focused elsewhere.

Kashmir is no longer the priority it once was, now that more and more from even the extremist community in the Valley has seen for themselves the hell that is life across the Line of Control. The cockpit of operations is Af-Pak, and only when the Taliban regain control of Kabul will the attention of them and their associates return to India, this time not just to Kashmir but the entire country. Indeed, this is the reason why it has to be a security priority for India to ensure that the elected government in Kabul be given the weapons and training needed to defeat the Taliban, a line of action which Manmohan Singh has thus far declined to do, presumably because the Obama administration cannot as yet make up its mind as to whether it wants such muscular Indian involvement or not.

The neglect of Afghanistan by Manmohan Singh can be illustrated by the fact that the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of Home Affairs have yet to give sanction to a university in India to serve as the mentor for the new University of Afghanistan, a university that will be the mother institution for the entire higher education sector in that country. It is not known as to whether it is the ever-present urge within the ranks of the Manmohan Council of Ministers to tilt to US fiats that is behind such a delay. Certainly, the Obama administration would prefer a US university to be the mentor of the new University of Afghanistan, rather than one located in India.

Whatever, the example illustrates the neglect of a comprehensive India-Afghanistan relationship by Team Manmohan. Avoiding the wilful errors in security policy caused by the leadership of a Prime Minister clueless about matters of national security has to be priority for the new PM. He (or she) can make a start by ensuring that every day, he (or she) has, as the first meeting, a session with the heads of the National Technical Research Organisation, Research and Analysis Wing and the IB. Neither the National Security Adviser nor the Home Minister ought to be present at such meetings; else the freedom to give views entirely frankly will be absent.

While Sushilkumar Shinde is solely interested in the politics of Maharashtra (just as A.K. Antony is about Kerala) and shows it, in the case of P. Chidambaram, while he was Home Minister and was chairing such meetings, his predilections and contempt for an opposing viewpoint ensured that neither the RAW nor the IB chief could brief him with the undiluted honesty required in such a meeting (in which minutes should not be taken).

While Manmohan Singh was too unconcerned to meet his security chiefs except on infrequent intervals, and delegated such essential work to other ministers or to his officials, the new PM should meet the NTRO, RAW and IB chiefs daily for a briefing on the real time situation and possible courses of action. Next, there ought to be a more comprehensive focus on threats. At present, more than 90% of attention and resources is being devoted to standard terror operations, neglecting the risks to security from economic espionage and sabotage, and from cyber attacks. All three need attention, as well as coordination in action.

To ensure this, the security system in India needs to shift from overt monitoring to recessed methods that remain as hidden from non-official eyes as are systems operating in countries such as the US and the UK. The sooner databases get linked up and biometric information get collated, the sooner there be a vigorous process of sharing of information and planning of operations, the better will be the overall ability to spot a perpetrator before a bomb gets detonated or sabotage (including on advanced ships or aircraft by sleepers hidden within the services) gets carried out. In such a task, fully domestic IT companies and fully domestic financial entities need to be involved, the way they are in the US and the UK, or indeed in China. The NGO sector needs far more attention as an information and activity source, the way it is in the three countries mentioned. Up to now, the security services have operated as though they were still in the era of the British Raj. The incoming Prime Minister needs to drag this essential function of the state into the 21st century. He (or she) will find within the security agencies several individuals whose competence and dedication remains unmatched, even if they have been neglected for long by successive regimes unwilling to move from a 19th (or in patches 20th) century model to the 21st century version our country needs.

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