Our capabilities for prevention of an act of terrorism as well as for its effective termination were found wanting in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Some prior intelligence was available, but it was found to be inadequate by the navy and the police that were responsible for follow-up action. Coordination between the intelligence agencies and those responsible for physical security was weak. There was inadequate interaction between government agencies and the management of the hotels.
P. Chidambaram himself admitted in the Lok Sabha after assuming charge as the Home Minister that responsibility for follow-up action was diffused. The agencies responsible for termination after the terrorists had struck took time to mobilise themselves and act against the terrorists.
One could see from the various steps initiated by Chidambaram — such as the decentralisation of the deployment of the National Security Guards (NSG), the creation of regional hubs of the NSG, and strengthening its capacity for rapid mobilisation and movement — that we should be in a better position to confront the terrorists today than we were on 26/11 last year. Certain steps have also been initiated for strengthening our prevention capability. The Multi-Agency Centre in the Intelligence Bureau, which is responsible for intelligence collection, sharing and coordinated action, has been revamped. There has been a regular monitoring of the intelligence process by the minister himself. Action has been taken for creating a constantly updated database of information that could help in prevention and making this database accessible to senior officers.
Cooperation with foreign intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies has also been strengthened. We have not hesitated to borrow good practices from foreign agencies and adapt them to our needs. After a visit by Chidambaram to America, there has been a talk of our setting up a national counter-terrorism centre on the lines of the centre set up in the US after September 11, 2001. Joint command and joint action are among the operating principles of the US centre. These concepts are meant to ensure that there is no buck-passing in counter-terrorism.
Now for the downsides.
The National Investigation Agency set up post 26/11 to strengthen our capability for coordinated investigation of terrorist activities of a pan-Indian nature has had a slow start. The reasons for this aren’t clear. The public has a right to ask whether as a result of these measures, we are in a position to prevent another 26/11 just as the US has been able to prevent another 9/11. If, despite our best efforts, prevention again fails, then are we in a better position to confront the terrorists more effectively than we did last year?
Till the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detected the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s (LeT) Chicago cell comprising David Coleman Headley and Tahawuur Hussain Rana, and discovered the outfit’s plans to mount another terrorist attack in India using its US-based assets, we had a certain satisfaction about our ‘improved’ capability and alertness. After the FBI detected the cell and tipped us off that the LeT’s US-based assets had been operating in India for nearly two years before 26/11 and even after 26/11, we should be seriously bothered about ‘improvement’ not being up to the mark. The undetected activities of Headley and Rana clearly show the shocking state of our immigration controls and our failure to investigate the 26/11 strikes thoroughly.
Casualness in action and leadership has always been the bane of our counter-terrorism machinery. We wake up and act energetically for a few weeks after a terrorist attack and then go back into our casual mode. That is what has happened even after the traumatic strike of 26/11. What we needed after 26/11 was a shake-up of our counter-terrorism machinery to improve leadership, enforce accountability, strengthen capacities and weed out casualness and incompetence. That the machinery continues to function in the same haphazard manner as it was functioning before 26/11 should be all too evident to any objective analyst.
Most of the jihadi terrorism continues to originate from Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the past, the terrorists used to come across the border or through the seas. Now, they are trying to come from third countries in the West by assuming non-Muslim, non-Pakistani and non-Bangladeshi identities. They are faster in thinking up new ways of surprising us than we are in refusing to be surprised. There has hardly been any thinking in policy-making circles as to how to deal with the source of this evil. Their command and control — exercised from Pakistan — is still intact.
If any more surprises are to be averted, we have to act at home as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
B Raman is former Additional Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW)
The views expressed by the author are personal