Sunday, February 25, 2024

Task forces not enough to tackle security failures

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By V. Balachandran

Home minister P. Chidambaram’s admission on 25 June that he was not informed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) about the suspected bugging attempt of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office last year is yet another indication of the UPA government’s dysfunctional security management. He tried defending this by saying that he was not informed about it as it was a “non-event”, since “nothing was found”. But it is inconceivable that the apex intelligence agency under him did not choose to inform him of a case that concerned the senior most Cabinet minister’s security. I hope we are not back in prime minister Narasimha Rao’s days, as described by former home secretary Madhav Godbole in his Unfinished Innings (1996): the Intelligence Bureau bypassed home minister S.B. Chavan while holding secret parleys with the outlawed Ulfa in 1991-92 for an agreement even when “Operation Rhino” was going on. That the Ulfa leaders’ dramatic visit to Delhi passed into history more as a “non-event” was evident by subsequent events.

The UPA government now wants to re-evaluate our national security through a 14-member “task force” headed by former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra. We seem to think that all our security problems can be solved through “task force” reports. It is not that we did not have good reports earlier. What was lacking was follow-up action. The 1999 Kargil Review Committee (KRC), headed by the late K. Subramanyam, suggested comprehensive steps that were further distilled in 2000 by four “task forces” on intelligence, border management, internal security and defence headed by very capable persons. Their reports were evaluated on 19 February 2001 by a high powered group of ministers (GOM) headed by deputy prime minister L.K. Advani. One would have thought that our governments would have implemented these valuable recommendations with utmost speed after a national crisis like Kargil. Unfortunately, neither the NDA government, which made these recommendations, nor the UPA government, which succeeded it in 2004 took any action on some important recommendations like federal police or coastal security till the Mumbai terror attack hit us on 26 November 2008. Even now coastal security has gaping holes, as pointed out by me earlier.

The end of the 20th century saw the security scenario changing drastically because of globalisation and the entry of commercial enterprises into national security areas like transport and communications, eroding direct government control. In 1996, the US Congress mandated a study on “The Role of US Intelligence in the 21st Century” through the 17-member Aspin-Brown Commission, which had only one retired government official, two retired military officials, six corporate sector leaders, one from the academic world and the rest parliamentarians. After 9/11, the US found that 100 different activities including the corporate sector had vital roles to play in national security. Harvard professor Stanley Hoffman dramatically described this dispersal as the “emergence of a transnational Society that includes multinational corporations, non-governmental organisations, criminals and terrorists”. In fact the NDA’s GOM had hinted at this dispersal in Chapter II of their report.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was set up to represent such diverse elements, including the corporate sector, instead of casting the responsibility only on traditional institutions like the police, military, intelligence services and the FBI. It will surprise our ministry of home affairs mandarins that the DHS system, which we are trying to copy, has a legally empowered advisory body with 12 representatives from the private sector, four from academia and think tanks, five from the police or police associations, two sitting or retired governors and only three retired government officials to advise them on strategy, leadership, coordination, management, implementation, evaluation and feedback. One would have thought that the UPA government would have taken note of this trend and constituted the new task force to represent diverse sectors.

From press reports it seems that the Naresh Chandra task force is packed with former government officers who had some share in the country’s security management in different fields and hence were responsible in one way or another for the present state. The US 9/11 Commission had three politicians, one academic, two lawyers, three from the corporate sector and one from a think tank. Such diverse talents help in studying security problems spread over a wide spectrum rather than staying confined to the restricted experience of former government officials. INAV

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