Intelligence failure

The Indian government has blundered big time by including in its list of 50 ‘most wanted,’ who it alleges are being sheltered in Pakistan, a man who is very much here in Mumbai. Wazhul Qamar Khan was included in the list for his alleged role in the bombing of trains in Mumbai in 2003.

Khan was on the run for seven years but was subsequently arrested, only to be released on bail last year. But the Intelligence Bureau (IB) apparently forgot to update this vital information. The list of India’s most wanted was handed over to the Pakistanis early last year and the goof-up would not have emerged had India not raked up the issue again.

In the wake of Osama bin Laden being killed in a safe house in Abbottabad and the international community enraged with Islamabad for providing sanctuary to him, India thought it would add to Pakistan’s embarrassment by making public its most-wanted list and drawing attention to the big names in the world of crime and terrorism that are enjoying shelter in Pakistan. But it is India that has ended up with egg on its face thanks to the IB’s goof-up.

Home minister P Chidambaram has sought to downplay the enormity of the government’s mistake. However, its impact is serious. How can India expect the international community to take it seriously on the issue of Pakistan’s support to terrorism when there are such gaping holes in its allegations? Shouldn’t the government have checked out the wanted list thoroughly before handing it over to the Pakistanis?

That IB was not even aware that one of the 50 most-wanted had already been arrested stands testimony to the abysmal standard of its information gathering. How can we rely on it to unearth information about a clandestine terror attack when it is unable to gather routine information from the police and the CBI? So busy are our IB officers in planting stories and leaking information to the media that they do not appear to have the time to do routine work, like updating data on the country’s most-wanted.

In the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, the home minister promised a complete overhaul of India’s investigation agencies, its intelligence gathering network and the security set-up. The fiasco over the most-wanted list indicates that much of this overhaul is yet to be done.

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