Prime Edition


V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

Internal security needs Modi’s attention

SC acquittal of convicts in Akshardham temple attack should be an eye opener to the egos of our state police.

Mumbai during the 26/11 terror strikes.

t is gratifying that Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi's first meeting with bureaucrats was with Home Secretary Anil Goswami on 19 May, if press reports are correct. He also met former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval. This indicates the importance he attaches to internal security despite some "strategic community" fabulists attempting to distract him with foreign issues.

Threats from Pakistan have existed since 1947 despite sage advice from foreign policy experts. Threats from China, which were subdued after Rajiv Gandhi's successful China visit in 1988, were rekindled when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's 13 May 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton justifying Pokharan II tests to counter China, was leaked to the New York Times. Both these problems can wait.

Our internal security problems need immediate attention. No one has paid any attention to it since 1947 except for setting up some institutions that have not performed. As a result, we have growing communalism, a serious ethnic strife in the Northeast, rising domestic religious insurgency and persisting Leftist militancy, while our preventive security machinery shows its inability to anticipate and deal with such situations.

In 1998, the previous NDA government created a National Security Council, but did not know what to do with it especially in relation with our Ministry of Home Affairs, which had the legal responsibility for internal security. A comprehensive analysis and assessment of foreign and domestic threats based on integrated intelligence from all sources is the primary responsibility of any NSC, wherever such a body is set up. Their second role is advising policymakers on how to meet such threats. But our NSC failed in its very first test during the 1999 Kargil crisis. It met only on 8 June 1999, a month after the incursion was noticed. It failed in making a strategic assessment on available intelligence indicators, tasking the agencies for collecting further intelligence to plug the gaps (intelligence arbitration) and advising policy options to the Cabinet.

Our NSC failed a second time before the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.Since 1999, our National Security Advisers have been spending a major portion of their time treading on our Foreign Ministry's toes. This is because all our NSAs were from the Indian Foreign Service with no exposure to internal security complexities. Even when the lone non-Foreign Service officer was chosen as NSA, he continued with his predecessors' practice of chairing the China dialogue, with no such experience in diplomatic negotiations. This should have been done by our Ministry of External Affairs, a specialised body created for it. At times, our NSAs almost appeared to be keen to "upstage" even our External Affairs Ministers. Eyebrows were raised when the late Brajesh Mishra, our first National Security Adviser, who was also doubling up as Principal Secretary to the PM, visited Paris on 27 September 2001 for holding high level bilateral meetings on Pakistan and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. That was just a day before our External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's planned visit to Paris for similar bilateral discussions. The strangest irony was to see the same Brajesh Mishra telling years later to a TV channel on 19 January 2010 that there was no need to have set up an Indian National Security Council. The fact that he had held the charge of NSA for six years from 1998 despite the Kargil Committee's recommendation of not combining these two busy assignments made it all the more bewildering.

Our second serious problem is the refusal of some Chief Ministers to allow the National Investigative Agency to undertake terror probes which need an all-India approach. The recent Supreme Court acquittal of all the convicts in the 2002 Akshardham temple attack and their strictures against the Gujarat police "for shoddy investigation which concerned national security and integrity of the nation" should be an eye opener to the inflated egos of our state police.

Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi's first priority should be to clearly delineate the NSC's responsibility, charging it with the ultimate responsibility of intelligence integration and strategic security advice to the Cabinet. Second, he should initiate action on the excellent recommendations in Chapter IV of the NDA Group of Ministers' February 2001 report, "Reforming the National Security System", which were not implemented by the Vajpayee government even after the 13 December 2001 Parliament attack, despite being in office until 2004.

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