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Still insecure about security

On one level, discussions about threats to India’s internal security are depressingly familiar. Every chief ministers’ meeting on the topic revolves around the same three threats: Pakistani-supported terrorists, Northeastern insurgents and Naxalites.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2009 21:47 IST

On one level, discussions about threats to India’s internal security are depressingly familiar. Every chief ministers’ meeting on the topic revolves around the same three threats: Pakistani-supported terrorists, Northeastern insurgents and Naxalites. Every meeting discusses the need to bolster the country’s sorry police forces, improve intelligence gathering and sharing, and put together a better security infrastructure. There are also debates, repeated ad nauseam every year, about what to do with uncooperative neighbouring states when it comes to terrorism, how to address the socio-economic disparities that drive the Naxalite movements, and the ethnic subnationalisms of the hill areas.

Nonetheless, the shock of the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack has on paper resulted in a number of administrative changes. The creation of the multi-agency centres, for example, has provided an institutional means for intelligence sharing.

However, since their functioning is shrouded in secrecy, how much sharing actually takes place is difficult to assess. The more complex issue of intelligence reform is harder to assess. There is no clear evidence whether the intelligence agencies’ over-dependence on electronic intelligence and bitter inter-agency rivalry has been addressed in any substantial manner. Nothing positive can be said about the police, the basic brick and mortar of national security. Poorly equipped and trained, intimidated by even local criminals let alone politicians, it is no surprise that over 230,000 police posts remain vacant in the Centre and state forces. Home Minister P. Chidambaram was making a huge understatement when he said that “police reforms have not received the attention they deserve.”

It is the issues beyond the merely administrative that Indians should worry about the most. Naxalism and Northeastern insurgency depend on long-term corrective measures. The slow spread of the economic growth story into the so-called “red corridor” will in time undermine the former. Northeastern insurgency is increasingly only a story about bits of Assam and Manipur. Nothing so positive can be said about the source of terrorism in India. Earlier this year while referring to Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, “the more fragile a government, the more it tends to act in an irresponsible fashion.” That fragility has only increased in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly he has warned that irresponsibility, carrying RDX and Kalashnikovs, is likely to increase.