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No more knee-jerks

Why can’t the Intelligence Bureau coordinate with intelligence outfits in states until the proposed federal investigating agency is in place? Brajesh Mishra talks to Vinod Sharma.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2008 12:00 IST

In his address to the nation after the terrorist invasion that has shocked Mumbai and India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated the need for a federal investigating agency. For its part, the BJP wants tougher laws to face up to the threat that’s growing in proportion with each passing day.

As either objective cannot be realised soon enough for want of a political consensus, I would suggest urgent measures in tune with the available institutional material and human resources. But above all is the need for a political and administrative will to act — and act fast.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) has a presence in every district of the country. Why can’t it coordinate with intelligence outfits in states until the proposed federal investigating agency is in place? Equally important is the task of training the police forces and insulating them from political interference to measure up to a challenge that’s quite distinct from the usual law and order duties.

The police’s role is pre-eminent as the terrorist groups inimical to India have, after rounds of attack on places of worship, begun aiming at ‘soft targets’ — especially those crucial to our economy and overall public good. One can safeguard, for instance, the army installations or the South Block. But it is very difficult to afford that kind of protective cover for railway stations, hotels and hospitals that have come under fire in Mumbai, on the pattern first witnessed in Ahmedabad.

The targeting of railways infrastructure terrorises people and pummels the economy. Similarly, if the local citizenry and foreigners have the fear of trigger-happy gunmen lurking in their backyards, what would be the fate of our tourism industry and investments we’re seeking from abroad?

The September 20 Marriott hotel bombing in Islamabad brought to the fore this very change in terrorist tactics. But one cannot, on the strength of this parallel, jump to the conclusion that the mayhem in Mumbai’s Taj and Trident hotels is also the handiwork of those who blew up the Marriott, located in the vicinity of several high-security installations — such as the Pakistani PM’s House and the Parliament complex — in Islamabad. If not from the same school of terror, the men holed up in Mumbai’s landmark hotels are copycats who styled their script after Pakistan’s worst terrorist attack, to deliver a more lethal blow to cosmopolitan Mumbai by engaging in wanton killings and taking foreign tourists and visitors as hostages.

Given the reach and the expanse of the challenge — not to mention the killer gangs’ level of training and resolve — the fight against terror cannot be won through knee-jerk responses. It’s a long-drawn battle that requires equanimity of mind, sharp reflexes and a political culture that disallows electoral objectives to take precedence over national interest.

Brajesh Mishra is former National Security Advisor

(As told to Vinod Sharma)