January 22, 2010

Revamping security set-up


More important than personnel change
by Inder Malhotra

EVER since the New Delhi grapevine started forecasting National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan’s departure from the Prime Minister’s Office to Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, it has been clear that the change is a prelude to a revamping of the entire national security architecture in this country, such as it is. The institution of NSA has existed in the United States since the end of World War II and in Russia also for a long time. Here, however, it is very new and in an evolutionary stage.

To be sure Mr Narayanan was very briefly the NSA and chief executive of the first ever National Security Council in V.P. Singh’s time. But the whole exercise was no more than a flash in the pan. Both the NSC and the NSA disappeared with the fall of V.P. Singh’s government. Mr Narayanan went back to his earlier post of Director of Intelligence Bureau from which V.P. Singh had shifted him, and served for several years.

It was only in 1999 when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister that the first functioning NSC was formed and the first functioning NSA was appointed. However, Atalji assigned the onerous task to his already overburdened Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra, which was totally contrary to the recommendations of the task force on the subject. (Interestingly, Mr Mishra is now opposed to the institution of NSA because he thinks it is incompatible with parliamentary democracy.)

In 2004 when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed J.N. Dixit, a former foreign secretary, as his NSA. Simultaneously, Mr Narayanan joined the PMO as an adviser on internal security. Coordination of all intelligence agencies and ministries involved in making national security policy remained with the NSA.

After Dixit’s sudden death in January 2005, Mr Narayanan became the NSA and took over the overseeing of both external and internal security. Being a veteran of the intelligence establishment and a long serving DIB, he also started micromanaging intelligence agencies that aroused criticism. Too much executive responsibility, the critics argued, detracted from the NSA’s job of coordinating the making of national security policies and monitoring their implementation. But this had no impact. Mr Narayanan, like Mr Mishra, acquired a very high profile that was — in some ways though not entirely — comparable to the roles played in the US by Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. To say this, however, is not to overlook the good work Mr Narayanan has done and services he has rendered. Even his critics acknowledge his constructive role in negotiating the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. It is also remarkable that after 26/11 the Prime Minister refused to accept his resignation while others were allowed, if not actually told, to leave. Some attributed this to the confidence that the Congress President was perceived to repose in him.

If a date has to be fixed for the waning of Mr Narayanan’s star, it has to be the day when the hands-on P. C. Chidambaram took charge of the Union Home Ministry in the wake of the horrendous Pakistani terrorist attack on Mumbai. Wanting to establish a firm grip on internal security, he started holding a daily meeting at which not only the heads of the I.B. and the external intelligence agency better known by its acronym RAW but also the NSA had to be present. The word went round that at times tension at these meetings was palpable.

Apparently, things began to move faster after the parliamentary elections in May last when the Manmohan Singh government Mark II was formed. The Prime Minister asked Mr Narayanan to stay on as NSA but only for a limited period, not for the government’s five-year term. The watershed, some observes believe, was reached when Mr Chidambaram, in his lecture on the centenary of the IB, outlined a comprehensive scheme to revamp and reinvigorate the Home Ministry. He wanted it to deal with every aspect of internal security and shed other responsibilities, ranging from national disaster management to the welfare of freedom fighters, to other ministries and departments. The general reaction then was that the idea behind the Home Minister’s scheme was sound but the same could not be said about all its details. However, Mr B. Raman, a former deputy chief of RAW and now one of the finest security analysts, wrote that Mr Chidambaram’s reorganisation plan, if accepted, would make him “Internal Security Czar”.

It is in this context that there has been widespread and intense speculation about a turf war between the Home Minister and the NSA in which the former has prevailed. Mr Chidambaram has pointed out, however, that he has never even mentioned the NSA. All he wants, he adds, is that every agency having to do anything with the problem of terrorism must report to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre under the Home Ministry. This arrangement would leave the NSA with a large number of other functions. In any case, as he underscores, Mr Chidambaram’s lecture has yet to be converted into a precise proposal to be presented to the Cabinet for approval.

Be that as it may, the main point that is being overlooked is that whoever may be the Home Minister and whoever the NSA the entire national security architecture in this country needs to be restructured and revamped to cope with the great and growing challenges to Indian security, internal and external. It also needs to be recognised that at present internal security has assumed greater importance than ever before. The United States had made sweeping reforms in its security apparatus after 9/11. It had set up a new department of home security without making it excessively powerful, and taken other measures. Yet, the latest incident at Detroit where the US homeland became vulnerable to airborne terrorism shows the even the wholesale American reforms haven’t been enough. Our system, sadly, is chaotic by comparison and needs to be streamlined speedily.

What the government proposes to do is not yet known. But there is a clear and urgent need to appoint a Director of National Intelligence who would relieve the NSA of the responsibility to coordinate the operations of intelligence agencies and report to the Prime Minister through the NSA and to the Home Minister directly. Equally patent is the need to ensure that everyone concerned shares fully all intelligence inputs. The doctrine of sharing them on the basis of “need to know” simply will not do.


Bifurcate Home Ministry, says Chidambaram



Proposing a bold, thorough and radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level, Union Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday suggested bifurcation of the Home Ministry.

He said subjects not directly related to internal security should be dealt with by a separate Ministry or brought under a separate department in the Home Ministry itself and handled by a Minister independently.

“The Home Minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security,” Mr. Chidambaram said. In his view, given the imperatives and the challenges of the times, a division of the current functions of the Ministry of Home Affairs “is unavoidable.”

To counter, prevent and contain a terrorist attack and respond to it should one take place, India must set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by the end of 2010, he said while delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment lecture here. In his 40-minute address, he touched upon the situation post 26/11 terror strikes and the state of India’s police. He outlined the tasks that lay ahead to ward off crises like the hijack of IC-814 or another catastrophe like the Mumbai terror attacks.

Referring to the proposed NCTC, Mr. Chidambaram said: “Such an organisation does not exist today and it has to be created from the scratch. I am told that the United States was able to do it within 36 months of September 11, 2001. India cannot afford to wait for 36 months. India must decide now to go forward and India must succeed in setting up the NCTC by the end of 2010.”

Broad mandate

He said NCTC must have a broad mandate to deal with all kinds of terrorist violence directed against the country and the people. “While the nature of the response to different kinds of terror would indeed be different and nuanced, NCTC’s mandate should be to respond to violence unleashed by any group — be it an insurgent group in the North East, the CPI (Maoist) in the heartland of India or any group of religious fanatics anywhere in India acting on their own or in concert with terrorists outside India.”

“NCTC would, therefore, have to perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations. All intelligence agencies would therefore have to be represented in the NCTC. But I am clear in my mind that without ‘operations,’ NCTC and the security architecture that is needed will be incomplete. It is the proposed ‘operations’ wing of the NCTC that will give an edge — now absent — to our plans to counter terrorism,” he said.

Mr. Chidambaram said the Ministry of Home Affairs now performed a number of functions that had no direct relation to internal security, which included a division dealing with freedom fighters though it did not have even a desk for dealing exclusively with forensic science.

“There are other divisions or desks that deal with Centre-State relations, State Legislation, Human Rights, Union Territories, Disaster Management, Census etc. These are undoubtedly important functions and deserve close attention. However, internal security is an equally, if not more, important function that deserves the highest attention.”

Venturing after a year in office to outline the new architecture for India’s security, Mr. Chidambaram identified two enemies of change. “The first is ‘routine.’ Routine is the enemy of innovation. Because we are immersed in routine tasks, we neglect the need for change and innovation. The second enemy is ‘complacency,’ ” he told top police and intelligence officials that included National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Director IB Rajiv Mathur.

Striking a note of caution, Mr. Chidambaram said there was no time to be lost in making a thorough and radical departure from the present structure. “If, as a nation, we must defend ourselves in the present day and prepare for the future, it is imperative that we put in place a new architecture for India’s security.”

He also announced the commencement of two more projects — the first to overhaul the Foreigners Division at a cost of about Rs. 20 crore and the second to adopt mission mode project on immigration, visa and foreigners’ registration and tracking — with the objective of creating a secure and integrated service delivery framework for facilitating legitimate travel and strengthening security. It would network 169 missions, cost Rs. 1011 crore and take four-and-a-half years for full implementation.

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