Talking tough won’t do

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

India is under siege from both within and without. Maoists are having their way in 40 per cent of the country while, on the other hand, Pakistani terrorists are also keeping the country on its toes. In his latest rebuke, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has warned Pakistan “not to play with India by covertly sponsoring terrorists… The Mumbai attacks should be Pakistan’s last game”. This is for the first time in the history of the fight against terrorism in India that the Union Home Minister has said that the terrorists will not only be defeated but also face retaliation.

A few days earlier Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan but asked Islamabad to stop backing the terrorists. Intelligence inputs pouring in, even from unimpeachable and foreign sources, indicate that terrorists operating from Pakistani soil are very much intact.

The FBI, America’s federal investigation agency, after interrogating two suspected terrorists in the US by the name of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana has informed India that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is plotting a major attack on India. This information is reportedly based on Headley and Rana’s confession made during interrogation. Apparently, the National Defence College in Delhi and two public schools in north India — Doon School in Dehradun and Woodstock in Mussoorie — were on the duo’s hit-list. The NDC trains about 100 officers every year of which about 60 are from the Indian armed forces. Foreign military officers number about 25 while IAS, IPS and allied services officers number about 15.

Schoolmates Headley and Rana — both of whom are of Pakistani origin — were arrested by the FBI in Chicago last month on charges of planning major terrorist attacks in India and Denmark. No matter what our politicians say, such attacks require a lot of logistical support from local sympathisers. Hence, there is no reason to doubt that Headley and Rana had local contacts here in India.

26/11 as well as earlier terrorist attacks have exposed chinks in our intelligence set-up. Not only did we lack of actionable intelligence about these attacks but we were also totally unprepared. Terrorists are constantly changing their training and strategies. Governments and security forces, on the other hand, have traditionally responded very slowly. Even if changes are made, they are not in proportion to the threat levels.

Another problem is that even when our security agencies are capable of reacting, they don’t act for the fear of being accused of being merciless and cruel. Even the normal precautions which are required to be taken are often ignored. But terror groups keep on improvising new tactics and crafting new plans to surprise India. Thus, there can never be too much of security.

It is shocking that our intelligence agencies have painted a possible scenario wherein terrorists could strike at our defence and nuclear installations, but no assessment or critical examination of the state of our preparedness has been done by the Government in this regard. The only silver lining is that the Union Home Minister has been seen to be taking a tough stand. But in spite of his best efforts, the changes needed to tackle any grim scenario have not been implemented like they should have.

Instead of having the terrorists surprise us all the time, our security agencies need to improvise and continuously modify their field strategies. This is the only way to neutralise the jihadis. There has to be a massive change in our security technologies and tradecraft before we can take the terrorists by surprise.

There is no such thing as a time-tested method for dealing with terrorism or for collecting intelligence. It is up to the Government of the day to give a free hand to its security agencies to invent new methodologies. Innovation is the key to remaining ahead of the terrorists. At present, due to a variety of reasons, our security agencies are on the defensive. This approach needs to be changed. We are the ones who should be on the offensive and going all out against the jihadis whose sole mission is to destroy the country.

The highest political leadership has offered to hold talks with the various separatist groups in the country. Force need not be used when talks can sort things out. This is a good policy. But the problem lies in the fact that there are no takers for this offer of dialogue. The separatists have not even responded as they feel that the Government is too weak to deal with them and, therefore, is asking for talks on bended knees. Our security agencies need to put themselves in the shoes of the terrorists and think like them in order to prepare themselves for any situation.

I received the following e-mail which supposedly comprises a quote by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The subject is ‘Immigrants, not Australians, must adapt’.

“I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individuals or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism among the majority of Australians. This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. We speak mainly English, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society learn the language! Most Australians believe in god. This is not some Christian, Right-wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If god offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because god is part of our culture.”

We could learn a thing or two from this Australian viewpoint.