Terrorism, it doesn’t need saying, is frightening. But our freedom-loving citizens will find some countermeasures being suggested almost as fear-inducing as terror itself, constricted as these are by prejudices and vested interests. I refer to a few of the policy recommendations made by a task force on national security and terrorism on a commission from FICCI in the wake of 26/11.
Perceiving 26/11 as an attack on economic centres and, therefore, the Indian economy, FICCI organised a conference on terror and national security last December. Then a task force, headed by Rajeev Chandrashekhar, MP, and comprising important figures from business and security—H.Y. Singhania, Y.K. Modi, Ajit Doval, Lt Gen Satish Nambiar, and Ved Marwah, among others—met in February. Its recommendations, now in the public domain, deal with the whole gamut of security challenges—externally and internally supported jehad, the Maoist problem, insurgencies in the Northeast and Kashmir.
I have no quarrel with many recommendations, especially those on increasing the operational efficiency of our security agencies. But I have apprehensions about the recommendations on dealing with Pakistan, curbing the media and strengthening private security forces.
First, Pakistan. The task force points out the obvious nexus between the Pakistani establishment and anti-India terror outfits, and, rather simplistically, lists India’s hard and soft options. By virtue of limiting the soft options to bromidics such as sharing intelligence, joint military interaction, creating free trade zones and increasing cultural interaction, the task force not only ignores the steadfast antipathy for India that the Pakistani establishment is charged up with, it also seems to push for the hard options.
And pray, what are these? Inflicting economic pain. Leveraging the water issue. Covert retaliation. Surgical strikes. Even an all-out assault. There seems to be no thought to the outcome of such escalative action, which, given the nuclear capability of the two countries, could well be mad—mutually assured destruction. Nor does the task force, while recommending tough action, take account of Pakistan’s continued strategic value—despite its many sins—to the US and the West. Betraying as it does an ignorance of the complex challenges before our diplomacy, coercive or otherwise, the task force’s report makes for scary reading.
Now, the media. The report, like many others, points out the obvious fact that the media, competing in sensationalism and hysteria, tends to complicate situations like 26/11 or Kandahar. It endorses self-restraint on part of the media and adherence to internal guidelines, as many media houses are themselves advocating. But two of the suggestions could vitiate free speech and free media. These are: a) It would be useful for the prime minister to convene a meeting of media barons, seek their cooperation and give them a veiled hint of the possible implications of non-cooperation on national security issues; b) The area in which a terrorist attack takes place should not be open to just about anybody who testifies to being a journalist; only senior reporters should be allowed in, adequate training being a precondition. The two recommendations give eno-ugh leverage to the government and the administration to threaten journalists and media houses against exposing the government’s sins of omission and commission—all in the name of combating terrorism.
The FICCI task force’s suggestion on allowing private security firms to keep sophisticated automatic weapons is also problematic. It smacks more of corporate self-preservation than national interest. The report advocates amending the Private Security Agencies Act, 2005, to allow this. With access to heavily weaponised private security, what restrains corporate managements, out of the public eye, from taking the law into their hands while dealing with resenting populations displaced by them or their own aggrieved workers. With our corruption levels and lax monitoring, some of these weapons could even find their way into the hands of terrorists.
Equally disquieting is the task force’s catchy recommendation that the marine and preventive wings of customs be disbanded while strengthening the coast guard and coastal police. The reason offered for disbanding the customs wings? They are hotbeds of corruption! This is like saying thana-level policing should be disbanded because there’s corruption there. The standard test for such propositions is: Cui bono, or who stands to benefit? Is it that our corporates just don’t want their shipments checked?