The twin bomb blasts in the crowded Dilsukhnagar market of Hyderabad on February 21 are an ugly reminder for India that the nation remains at the receiving end of cross-border terrorism and that the adversary has now developed the capacity not only to organise an attack from outside as happened in the 26/11 attack but also to execute acts of terrorism through its trained underground modules within the country.
The modus operandi, the nature of improvised explosive devices and the choice of target area tend to indicate that the event is in line with what has been happening in our country for many years and that the adversary pursued the hostile agenda through a deceptive period of quiet. The timing of the incident - on the eve of a Parliament session and after the execution of the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru -can't be ignored.
The Hyderabad incident has sparked off a debate on intelligence gathering, integral responses and Centre-state relations. There was a general alert on the imminence of a terror attack that called for invoking full-scale preventive measures at vulnerable centres already identified on the Indian map.
It is extremely important that an intelligence alert, howsoever unspecific, is pursued by the action takers to the fullest extent possible. Security fails when there is a classic information failure but it is even worse if the failure is caused by flaws in communication or response.
It was inevitable that the February 21 terrorist attack would bring the focus back on the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The idea of the NCTC needs to be demystified.
In a situation where the agencies garnering intelligence relevant to national security are spread across various wings of the government, there has to be a roundtable at the national level where all information on a major threat from various sources must converge.
A body of professionals must be engaged on a full-time basis around this roundtable to put the pieces together using the technology-enabled data bank and set off the process of operationally developing the leads to reach the individuals, premises and the time-frames behind the adversary's plan.
It would do this in close collaboration with the nodal points of the resourceful state intelligence organisations which are in a position to discreetly utilise the district police set up as well, wherever necessary. The end step of an open arrest or search as part of legal action has to be done by the 'investigation' outfit of the Centre or the state.
Evidently, the perception that the NCTC was an instrument of empowerment for the central agencies to take what would be a police step of arrest or search created a concerted dissent with political overtones. Adequate professional interaction between the central agencies and the state police leadership was needed before the finalisation of the proposed agency.
The NCTC script could do with some tweaking. The NCTC is all about a comprehensive ongoing operational cooperation between intelligence professionals of the Centre and the states for reducing the gap between information and action.
The convention of quiet togetherness for them built over the decades is reflected in the practice of the Director of the Intelligence Bureau convening and chairing the three-day annual conference of directors general of police and directors general of intelligence of the states to examine national security challenges.
In spite of the differing political complexion of the state governments, this format has remained undisturbed and speaks of the national convergence on security.
However, we should not allow the contentious debate over the NCTC to mar what has been achieved so far. In a democratic dispensation, it is extremely important that national security concerns do not get meshed into domestic politics in any manner as this can only detract from an effective handling of the same.
The response to both cross-border terrorism and the Maoist militancy has to be professional in the sense that no collateral damage is allowed and an individual is touched not on mere suspicion but on evidence.
The nation's foreign and economic policy should sub-serve the cause of national security which means that policy formulation should be in sync with the accepted security estimates. Intelligence does not dictate policy but it is a basic determinant of a valid response from the State.
DC Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau
The views expressed by the author are personal