Saturday, Oct 01, 2022

The NCTC Imbroglio

The objections against the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) have merit, but our response to terrorism and insurgencies cannot afford to remain disjointed for too long

A number of Chief Ministers and political parties have raised strong objections against the establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) that was to come into effect on March 1, 2012 as reported by the media. The main fear of the these Chief Ministers, being vehemently aired on TV channels, is that the government will use the NCTC to target non-Congress states, the issue was not discussed with the opposition/states and that the establishment of the NCTC will be an infringements of the rights of the states.

The first part of the objection by the concerned Chief Ministers is very genuine. Switch on any TV channel or pick up a newspaper today and you get the view that everything wrong is going on in non-Congress governed states while Ram Rajya prevails in the ones governed by Congress. The ruling polity obviously feels that the citizenry is totally naïve.

What is more significant is to note is what M.K. Dhar, former Joint Director Intelligence Bureau wrote in his book Top Secret – India’s Intelligence Unveiled. He says that irrespective of which party is in power in India, the entire intelligence effort of the country is focused on how to do down the opposition. He also mentions that during the entire tenure of Zail Singh as the President, all the phones in his bedroom and office in Rashtrapati Bhavan were tapped. So, how does the country get over such a malaise?

The second part of objections relate to the NCTC not having been discussed with the opposition/states. Michael Krepon wrote an article titled “Prime Ministers and Army Chiefs” (an abridged version was also published in the Dawn of Pakistan) last month. In this article, he quoted what V.R. Raghavan wrote in the Nonproliferation Review wherein he says, “There has been a shift in Indian decision making from a collegial and consensus-based approach to decisions arrived at by a small group of individuals based in the Prime Minister’s Office”.

This has been emerging as the pattern in most cases and not in the case of nuclear issues alone, the latest proof of PMO’s involvement being even in the case of denying justice to the General V.K. Singh in the deliberately created age row. Do we see a replay of the Emergency era— political arrogance et al? No denying the fact that the issue of the NCTC should have been discussed both with the opposition and the states especially when it has took 22 excruciating months to sanction its establishment.

The third objection that the NCTC will infringe on the rights of the states stems from the fact that despite facing decades of insurgency and terrorism, India has failed to look at how our Constitution should strengthen our hands in fighting this twin malaise. Take the example of the Maoist insurgency that since past five-six years is being described as the biggest internal threat by the Prime Minister. Yet, the response is left largely to the states aside from dishing out Central Armed Police Forces (CRPF) and intelligence related warnings. No centralized set up has come up to tackle this major security threat holistically. That is the reason that the proposal of the home minister to establish a ministry of internal security (akin to the US ministry of Homeland Security) was shot down.

The moot question here is how long India will continue to cope with such issues, given that ‘Law and Order' is a state subject? Though our founding fathers gave us a solid Constitution as a base, have we not undertaken hundreds of amendments? Why can we not de-link terrorist and insurgent acts from the states and bring them under the centre?

There is no doubt that this will require thorough discussion and consensus, which is unlikely unless the government in power can convince everyone that adequate measures have been instituted to ensure that the intelligence effort of the country is not utilized to target the opposition— a very difficult proposition in the current dispensation considering the reluctance displayed in bringing even the CBI under the Lokpal.

The fact is that without such measures our response to terrorism and insurgencies will remain disjointed and our adversaries will continue to exploit this asymmetric battlefield being offered by us on a plate. There was considerable merit in the home minister’s original proposal that the entire counter-terrorism architecture including the proposed NCTC function under the home minister till the creation of a ministry of internal security was accepted and implemented. However, what eventually has been sanctioned implies that while Multi Agency Centre (MAC) hitherto run by the Intelligence Bureau is subsumed into NCTC but organizations like the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) will continue functioning independently albeit all intelligence agencies are to provide inputs to NCTC.

Notwithstanding this, the NCTC in the proposed shape too will take many months/years to attain optimum level of real-time use operationally. To start with, it must have data links and standardized protocols with and amongst all intelligence agencies for real time passage of information. More significantly, state counter terrorism centres (SCTCs) must be established, which will ensure regular flow of ground level intelligence upwards and collated and analyzed intelligence flowing down. SCTCs should be established in all states and not like UHQ (Unified HQ) in selected few as is the current practice, for the simple reason that the threat of terrorism is omni-present.

Look at Mumbai today— periodically suffering from terrorism, it has hubs of the MARCOS (marine commandos of the Navy), NSG (National Security Guard) and Force One (Special Police unit created post 26/11 Mumbai terror attack) and yet no SCTC and no UHQ (Unified HQ) either. Same is the state in Delhi.

The SCTCs should function under respective State UHQ and be linked with the NCTC through the NATGRID. The requirement to incorporate a Decision Support System (DSS) is also essential, enabling short, medium and long term assessments. The national focus must shift from ‘investigating’ to ‘preventing’ terrorism.

Is India ready for all this? More importantly, do our politicians have it in them?

Lt Gen Prakash C. Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian army