Security set-up lacks intel culture

Our present day secu-rity and intelligence architecture is based on a colonial concept that refuses to change.

The abortive fidayeen attack on the Indian Air Force Station (AFS) at Pathankot raises serious questions about the government’s ability to effectively pre-empt such hostile attempts.

The repeated terrorist strikes on the country’s border-states and the hinterland lays bare the fact that our national security response management system leaves much to be desired. Over the past six months, two major terrorist attacks have occurred in Punjab, besides Pathankot being the latest one. 

According to news media reports, both electronic and print, the “intelligence” about the presence of terrorists was received by the relevant authorities from a senior police officer many hours prior to the actual attack. Fortunately, timely action prevented a major security breach at the AFS Pathankot. There is, however, a need to consider whether this input was actually “intelligence” at all.

The moot question is whether at all our intelligence and security agencies that are charged with running assets to cover terrorist organisations had any inkling at all that such threats would emanate from across the border. Further, what of the large chain of listening posts and electronic devices that dot the border doing that night? Did our border guarding units or the army notice any suspicious or unusual radar activities across the border prior to the incident?

The role of the Punjab state government also merits examination. The state government should explain why a Mahindra XUV-500 SUV was allotted to the Superintendent of Police, Pathankot. Statements of senior ministers during the operational and post-operational phase revealed inconsistencies in the approach to the terrorist attack. Otherwise, the absence of an Incident Command System (ICS) was noticeable both at Central and state levels.

Hopes were raised that following the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack, the internal security sector would be revamped and an effective system put into pl-ace. Consequently, huge amou-nts of public money has been expended in this direction leading to creation of several specialist counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist training institutions, detective training schools, up-gradation of weaponry, etc.

Even now, several states police forces use outmoded small arms like the .303 rifles -- despite receipt of modernisation grants. This suggests that modernisation funds are spent recklessly and without purpose.

Yet, large gaps still prevail and in some cases, more efforts are necessary. For instance, coastal security needs attention especially with participation of state police which has specific responsibilities. Also India has a large body of Central armed police forces and other agencies to he-lp maintain internal stability and border guarding responsibility. These are backed by an array of other law enforcement agencies. Now, additional armed police units are being raised for the future. This is in addition to the existing force levels in the tri-services plus the Coast Guard.

India is perhaps the only major power that operates a unique national security apparatus that is manned by the police. This has several disadvantages. The time has come for the intelligen-ce organisation(s) to be separated from law enforcement agencies for a variety of reasons. No intelligence agency can flourish without political support and cooperation from the civil service. Also, parliamentary oversight is advocated to ensure greater accountability and better results.

Lackadaisical approach

Today, the state police forces have become the weakest link in the national security response mechanism. This is despite huge expenditure incurred by the Central govern-
ment on police modernisation, especially on training and weaponry. In a southern state, the chief of an internal security division has changed several times over the past three years.

This means that senior officers have been transferred after short tenures. Consequently, there is neither specialisation nor development of professional outlook. Such a lackadaisical approach from the political bosses and civil bureaucracy is counter-productive to national security management.

One of the biggest challenges to national security management in India is lack of an effective intelligence culture. Our present day architecture is based on a colonial concept that refuses to change even six decades after independence. There is resistance to change from within the civil service.

The Union Home Ministry must become contemporary in nature and create synergies to provide higher directions to strengthen internal security. The alternative is to create a
new ministry devoted to internal security with the ability to acquire intelligence on threats and take operational steps to neutralise the same. In other words, it must be a hands-on ministry.

The vision of late PM Indira Gandhi to bring about a major change in the late 1960s to the character of external security requirements remain unfilled as also her efforts to diversify the national intelligence agency unfortunately remains a distant dream. India must develop the capability to detect, deter and defeat trans-border threats before they unfold on our side.

The need for induction of science and technology in a greater degree for surveillance purposes is a force multiplier. Repeated attempts by hostile state and clandestine violent non-state actors who operate from across our borders must be dealt with seriously. This could be the only way to normalise our political ties with Pakistan.

(The writer is former Special Secretary to the Government of India)

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