Union Home Minister P Chidambaram tells Political Editor Vinod Sharma that terrorist threats to India’s security require an institutional response.
How’s the creation of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre progressing? The deadline you’ve set is very tight.
Actually, NCTC should be in place before December 31. Since it’s a new idea for a new organisation, I’ve given myself time up till end December. The next step is to prepare a discussion paper. I’m now writing it. It should be ready in a couple of days and will form the basis of an internal discussion before we take the matter to the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Who all will be involved in the internal discussion? Who are the stakeholders?
Stakeholders are various agencies of the government. Internal discussions I suppose will be with the Prime Minister’s Office and with senior ministers. Afterwards, I’ll prepare a note and take it to the appropriate committee of the Cabinet.
How soon will the proposal be before the Cabinet?
Say the first week of March.
Have you sensitised the PM on the new architecture of security with the NCTC at its hub?
I’ve explained to him the broad contours of the new architecture and why it’s necessary; why it cannot wait.
What’s his first response?
He suggested that I put it all down in a discussion paper. Which is why I’m writing the discussion paper.
Where do you see the National Security Advisor figuring in the arrangement?
That’s for the PM to decide. Which is why I steered clear of making any reference to the NSA’s office in my speech (that unveiled the proposed architecture) at the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture. As the NSA advises the PM, it’s for the PM to decide where he’d like to place him and with what responsibilities. What I’m looking for is an institutional framework—which in my view should be the NCTC—to deal with terrorism. We aren’t talking about other aspects of intelligence gathering, policing and security. We are talking specifically about counter-terrorism. If you agree that terrorism will be our biggest challenge for the next 5-10 years, given the situation in our neighbourhood and in the world, then countering it is the government’s first responsibility. For that, we need an institutional framework to prevent, neutralise and respond to a terror attack.
What will other agencies cede to the NCTC?
In my scheme of things, they should cede to NCTC the right to coordinate, lay down policy and give directions on matters relating to countering terrorism. Other agencies will be represented in the NCTC at the level of their second or third in command.
Your concept draws inspiration from what the US did post-9/11. Lately, the American NCTC has come to adverse notice in the attempted bombing of an airliner.
Their NCTC is ten years old. You are highlighting the one failure that has come to notice — the Abdul Mutalib case. But do you know how many cases there are where the NCTC thwarted or prevented an attack? There hasn’t been a terrorist attack in the US since 9/11. The utility of an institution can’t be judged on the basis of one incident that we know of while not knowing the hundred other where there was success. Counter-terrorism efforts cannot revolve around individuals. They have to be located in an organisation that has institutional memory, institutional response and institutional capacity. I’ve tentatively named it NCTC. It doesn’t mean we’re copying the Americans.
Some experts also want a Directorate of National Intelligence, given the varied intelligence requirements.
We have two major intelligence agencies — the IB and the R&AW. They are doing reasonably well. In my view, there is no need to invent another organisation. What we need is a coordinating mechanism that’ll pull together the strengths of various organisations and take ultimate responsibility for all matters relating to terrorism.
You met today the outgoing NSA, M K Narayanan. Was it a good meeting?
Yes, of course. The Press sometimes is hopelessly off the mark. The offer to appoint him as Governor was made by the PM sometime in December about which I came to know much later. Narayanan and I go back to 1975 when I was Youth Congress president of Tamil Nadu and he was Deputy Director of IB in Chennai. I know his family, his children and his wife Ammu very well. Narayanan and my wife share a birthday. I think he and his wife are both happy that after a distinguished record of service, they’d spend the next five years in Kolkata.