Hard lessons from security lapses

There are public discussions on terrorist attacks and the security forces’ responses to them after every major attack in the country. Such discussions usually produce more heat than light. The security establishment and its various agencies are also expected to study and analyse terrorist actions and operations against them so that they are better prepared to face such situations in future. Incidents like 9/11 and 26/11 even became textbook cases for study. But the Indian establishment’s ability to draw lessons from such experiences and shape and implement future strategies in their light has often been questioned. Jammu & Kashmir Governor N N Vohra pointed out this earlier this week in the light of the Pathankot attack. His views need to be taken seriously because they are based on his experience as the Union home secretary and defence secretary, as a seasoned administrator and the governor of a state hit by terrorism.

Vohra raised some important issues at an NIA function where the Union home minister was also present. Some of them were the failure to draw lessons from previous terrorist attacks, differences between the Centre and the states in handling terrorist incidents and the inability of the BSF to man the 250-km border in Punjab and Kashmir. He also suggested  formation of a separate ministry for internal security and a cadre of national security officials. Vohra thought that the Pathankot attack could have been prevented if the right lessons from the Gurdaspur attack a few months ago and some previous attacks had been learnt. This is not new, because even the safeguards and protocols which were envisaged after the Mumbai 26/11 attack have not all been put in place. The Punjab government did not allow the NIA to investigate the Gurdaspur attack. States’ apprehensions can also be seen by the fact that some of them are against the setting up of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre. Both the Centre and the states should be equally involved in the fight against terror, and mutual co-operation and co-ordination are vital.
The BSF strength should be beefed up along the border and special attention should be paid to vulnerable points. Issues like smuggling across the border should also be tackled more effectively. It may not be wise or practical to post the army along the border. It is doubtful if a ministry for national security would do better than the present home ministry, but the proposal for formation of a special security cadre may be studied. As Vohra maintained, national security calls for a comprehensive view and readiness to avoid the mistakes of the past.
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