Shri P. Chidambaram, our home minister, is to visit Islamabad in the last week of June to attend the SAARC home ministers' conference due on June 26, 2010. He is to be accompanied among others by Smt Nirupama Rao, the Foreign Secretary. During his stay in Islamabad, he is expected to have bilateral discussions with Mr Rehman Malik, the Pakiwstani interior minister.
Mr Malik was an officer of the Pakistani Police Service, the Pakistani equivalent of the Indian Police Service. He used to be No.2 (Additional Director-General) in the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister (1993-96). The FIA is Pakistan's equivalent of our Central Bureau of Investigation and National Investigation Agency combined. It plays an active role in the investigation of serious terrorism cases.
He was closely associated with the Bhutto family and paid heavily for it. When Mr Farooq Leghari, the then President, dismissed her in 1996 with the implicit consent of the Army, he suspended Malik and had him arrested and prosecuted on corruption charges. He jumped bail and went to London where he started looking after the physical security of Benazir. He continued to exercise this responsibility till her assassination in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
Following her assassination, there were allegations of negligence against him. Despite this, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, who later became the President, retained his tremendous confidence in him. He was initially appointed Adviser on Internal Security and subsequently Minister of the Interior. He is a controversial and unpopular person, who has been the persistent target of the detractors of Zardari, who continue to accuse him of indulging in corruption when he was in the FIA for which, according to them, he should be held accountable. They also continue to accuse him of negligence, which, according to them, contributed to the assassination of Benazir.
All this has not shaken Zardari's confidence in him. The Chinese, who know this, cultivate him. He has just now returned from China after his second visit to discuss Sino-Pakistan co-operation in counter-terrorism and Chinese assistance for capacity-building in the civilian counter-terrorism agencies. The Chinese have not been putting all their eggs in the military basket. They maintain lines of communications with the civilian security bureaucracy too. During Mr Malik's recent visit to China they announced an aid package of US $ 180 million for capacity-building in counter-terrorism. It is not clear whether this is an additional package or this was merely a reference to the package announced during his first visit to China.
Mr Zardari's faith in Mr.Malik would be evident from the fact that shortly after the Government of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani assumed office in 2008, an attempt was made to transfer the control of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to the Ministry of the Interior, which would have made it the overlord of the Pakistani intelligence community minus the Intelligence Directorates-General of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. If this attempt had succeeded, the Army's role in internal security management would have been curtailed. The Army protested and got the order reversed.
Mr Zardari has inherited Benazir's idea that the only way of curtailing the internal role of the ISI is by re-building the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which comes under the Ministry of the Interior, demilitarising it by once again restoring the pre-eminence of the Pakistani Police Service in the organisation and by reversing the process of castration of the Police and other segments of the civilian security bureaucracy by the Army over the years since its debacle in the then East Pakistan in 1971.
The Army has not been opposing Mr Zardari's attempts to restore to the IB its past pre-eminent role in internal security management because some of his ideas in this regard enjoy the blessings of the US , which too feels that one way of reducing the role of the ISI without provoking the Army is by strengthening the role of the police and the IB.
These are developments which India should be happy about.In our preoccupation with the ISI's use of jihadi terrorist organisations against India, we have not been paying any attention to the advisability of building a relationship with the Pakistani Police and IB. The IB has been playing an increasingly active role in the collection of intelligence about India, just as our IB and Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) have been playing an active role in the collection of intelligence about Pakistan. In the past, the Government of Pervez Musharraf had used serving and retired officers of the IB in peripheral countries such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal for assisting the ISI in its operations against India. The close personal and professional relationships of the Pakistani police officers with their counterparts in these countries were sought to be used for this purpose. It is likely that the IB will continue to be used by the ISI for this purpose in future too.
Since 1947, no attempt has been made by any Government in New Delhi to build a police-police relationship between the two countries through means such as exchanges of visits by senior police officers, liaison between the professional police organisations such as the FIA and the IB in Pakistan and the Central Bureau of Investigation and the IB in India and laying down the ground rules for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. The only relationship, which has continued even in the worst of times, has been between the narcotics control agencies of the two countries.
During his forthcoming visit to Islamabad, Shri Chidambaram should be accompanied not only by the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, but also by the heads of our IB, the CBI and the newly-created National Investigation Agency (NIA) to lay the groundwork for a police- police relationship. It is in our strategic interest to contribute to a strengthening of the role of the civilian security bureaucracy in Pakistan's internal security management.
Arguments such as the lack of adequate co-operation of Pakistan's Interior Ministry in the investigation and prosecution of the Pakistan-based co-conspirators involved in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, the continuing dominance of the military in national security management in Pakistan which might not permit any hobnobbing by the police officers etc should not be allowed to inhibit any initiatives in this regard.
The Joint Counter-Terrorism Mechanism set up at the meeting between Gen Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh at Havana in September, 2006, was born dead. There is no point in hugging on to it. It should be given a decent burial and we should try the proposed experiment of a police-police relationship even if there be a risk of failure due to the negative attitude of the Pakistani Army.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies