Fear terror, not NCTC

An NCTC which coordinates the inputs from all agencies responsible for various segments of intelligence collection is an absolute imperative

Amer-ica’s Natio-nal Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), under the directorate of National Intelligence and department of homeland security, was created by a presidential decree in August 2004, in pursuance of the recommendations of a Senate Committee set up to inquire into the destruction of the World Trade Centre by Islamic kamikaze pilots on September 11, 2001 (9/11).

The NCTC was chartered to coordinate all available national intelligence and resources in the fight against terror worldwide and keep the American homeland safe. As far as is known, there was no opposition to the proposal in the American legislature.
A similar proposal originated in India in the aftermath of the traumatic Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008 (26/11) caused by a jihadi group of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which caught a dozing and criminally unprepared nation completely by surprise. But nothing much seems to have come of it, as the traditionally pathetic and lackadaisical reactions to the multiple bomb blasts in Hyderabad on February 22 demonstrate. But the Hyderabad blasts did serve the purpose, however limited, of reviving attention on the waning NCTC debate. It’s been a jerky and prolonged stop-start process which has ground on almost interminably with much clashing of gears as political leaders and other aspirants for public office have made the NCTC a political volleyball rather than what it should be — a prime issue of national security.
In the interests of the country, all distracting side issues raised by petty regional politicians without the least comprehension of national security, must be disregarded and consigned to the dustbin.
The latest manifestation of this apathy has been the chain of bomb blasts in Hyderabad. The public in India is deeply concerned about terrorism and generally associates terrorist incidents in India with the active quasi-official as well as popular support of Pakistan.
The emerging links between the Hyderabad bombers and Dawood Ibrahim, Riaz Bhatkal are disquieting reminders of a gathering tide of externally sponsored fundamentalist violence, which cannot be simply wished away.
But the greater danger is from the repercussions inside India by the accumulated psychological impact of these incidents if they are not effectively countered — a rising tide which may finally wash away the admirable restraint displayed to date by the people of India. Such a catastrophe must be prevented at all costs, because this precisely is what the terrorists want.
The demand from the Indian people for security against increasing incidents of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism cannot be ignored in pursuit of some ephemeral peace. But this will require much more holistic and effective coordination between the various intelligence and security agencies at both national and state level than is the case at present.
The NCTC had been visualised and designed as a central coordinating agency for this precise purpose. Despite the fact that its requirement and urgency are clearly felt and understood, the NCTC still hangs in limbo, because of disagreements between the Central government and political parties in the Opposition on its scope and power. Memories of the misuse of security organisations during the Emergency era remain bitter and contribute to the impasse even though most in the current generation may not have experienced the Emergency firsthand.
Also, a growing “liberal secular” niche element of the intelligentsia feels that in the Indian socio-political culture, delegation of centralised powers to any Central intelligence or security agency is inherently prone to misuse against political opponents rather than the actual terrorists. Adequate checks and balances against misuse of power are absolutely vital. Nevertheless, even while accepting and allowing all shades of political and public opinion, both within the government as well as outside it, we must accept the reality of a clear and present danger of externally sponsored terrorism. Political differences and attitudinal problems must be resolved to create broad-based consensus and political support for an NCTC that’s appropriately organised, resourced and structured, and with adequate built-in safeguards. This is a vital and urgent imperative at the present moment.
It is pertinent to note that the American NCTC, on which the idea of an Indian counterpart was mooted, functions as the primary agency to coordinate the collection and collation of raw information and its dissemination as processed intelligence to concerned security organisations (federal as well as state). However, the American context is very different. While the American model (as well as those of other countries) can be taken as guide for experimentation, India must develop its own organisations — its NCTC must be specifically tailored to suit its environment and special circumstances and requirements.
Though an NCTC-type Central organisation is an urgent operational necessity, it will entail intensive legislative and political preparation. The concept of federal crime does not exist in India, where law and order is a jealously guarded constitutional preserve of state governments.
The concept of federal crime must be accepted and legislatively enabled in India to include terrorism as well as its associated supporting structures of organised crime covering trafficking in drugs, weapons, explosives as also illegal immigration, which often acts as a cover for infiltration of terrorists.
The main lesson from Hyderabad is that an NCTC which coordinates the inputs from all agencies responsible for various segments of intelligence collection, complemented by an appropriately structured federal investigative agency which can operate seamlessly across state boundaries in conjunction and cooperation with state and local authorities, is an absolute imperative, if India is at all serious about its own war on terror.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament

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