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'India needs an internal security ministry'

Q&A: K Subrahmanyam

K S Manjunath  |  New Delhi 

K Subrahmanyam

K Subrahmanyam, who used to chair the Joint Intelligence Committee and headed the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses for 15 years, is one of India’s foremost strategic experts. While not wanting to comment on what action India needs to take vis-à-vis Pakistan, he points out that the most effective weapon against terrorism has to be economic; that India needs a separate ministry of internal security, a separate Director of National Intelligence and a cadre dedicated to national security. Excerpts from a conversation with KS Manjunath:

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and US Ambassador David Mulford have said the investigations will be taken to their logical conclusion. What does this entail?
For the US, this means cutting off economic aid to Pakistan and treating it as a terrorist state. Whether the Americans will take it that far is yet to be seen … this will mean the US will have to come up with some new strategy to deal with the Pakistan and Afghanistan problem. If the US is ready to put economic pressure on Pakistan, that may work considering Pakistan is near bankruptcy. In the case of Libya, it was economic pressure that finally worked.

What other leverage — apart from the diplomatic offensive — can New Delhi exercise over Islamabad?
Actions that have to be taken must not be discussed. But the most effective weapon against terrorism has been economic. Military force can be used, as the US did against Libya, but that didn’t deter the latter from indulging in terror activities. Now, Israel is on a military offensive against Hamas, but this won’t stop Hamas.

Can, and will, China exert pressure on Pakistan?

If it feels Pakistan is isolated and supporting Pakistan is not in its interest, China will abandon Pakistan. As of today, there is no indication China thinks in this fashion.

How adequate are India’s actions in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks?
What’s paramount is the setting up of a ministry — under the charge of a Cabinet Minister — that is dedicated to internal security. Internal security should not be part of the Home Ministry’s responsibilities. Just as we have a ministry for external security, which is the Ministry of Defence, India needs a Ministry for Internal Security.

The post of an Internal Security Advisor has been announced ...
This is in an advisory role. What I suggest is that a Cabinet Minister must devote full attention to internal security. Something analogous to the US Department of Homeland Security.

Can we replicate such a system?
In my view, it would be good to have a wholly dedicated Ministry for Internal Security.

Secondly, India needs a Director for National Intelligence. A few days ago (January 6), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said every intelligence report that comes in is actionable and it’s a matter of how it’s assessed. Intelligence assessment has been a neglected aspect of intelligence process in India. For example there used to be a Joint Intelligence Committee. When the National Security Council was created, it was converted into the Secretariat for that council. This shows it was not given due importance. It has been revived in the past two years. There are different intelligence agencies and the National Security Advisor is in charge of coordinating all these agencies.

The NSA is overloaded with too many responsibilities. Instead, there should have been a Director of National Intelligence, who reports to the NSA.

Thirdly, the assessed information must be reported to the Cabinet Committee on National Security so that the committee is sensitised. This practice does not exist and does not allow for the adoption of a proactive policy.

Also, India does not have a cadre dedicated to national security. For example, an officer who was previously Secretary (Fisheries) in a state is brought in as Joint Secretary in charge of internal security or defence. This generalism in the IAS needs to be reformed and therefore, there’s a need for a specialised cadre for national security management.

What else?
There is a need to set up two commissions: one to investigate the reforms to ensure internal security and the other to look into defence. For instance, the Kargil Committee was followed by a Group of Ministers who looked at decision-making with regard to defence and national security matters.

In the case of internal security: what should be the strength of our internal security apparatus, IB, R&AW, technical intelligence department and various other agencies of intelligence gathering, their coordination, intelligence assessment, dissemination, strength of para military forces, their weaponry, training, autonomy of our police forces etc. To look into these issues, there’s a need to set up a commission as it was done in the US Congress, where a bipartisan 9/11 commission was put together.

How effective will the National Investigation Agency be?
It should have been created a long time ago. In this case, the difficulty is that parliamentarians must be ready to prioritise national interest over their parochial interests. Take the Mumbai terror attacks; the boat, Kuber, which was hijacked and used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives to reach Mumbai, crossed international maritime boundaries for smuggling. Similarly, there are a lot of hawala transactions taking place. These are used to finance terrorism. All these structural weaknesses exist because of politician-organised crime-bureaucratic nexus and prevalent wide- spread corruption and misgovernance. So the political culture in India makes it vulnerable to terror threats.

Will the US change its south Asia policy under Obama?
His policy will be based on his developing familiarity with political realities in South Asia. He supported Indo-US nuclear co-operation. Obama has rightly turned his attention to Afghanistan, now that the US is winding up its military operations in Iraq. I haven’t said this so far, but the final problem is going to be between the US and Pakistan.

Pakistan is proceeding on the basis that it can tire the US out of Afghanistan and inherit a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. Pakistan’s efforts are to pretend to help the US in Afghanistan and at the same time keep the US mired in the region, and thus, tire it out. Pakistan thinks this worked with the former Soviet Union and as a result, the latter left Afghanistan.

With Obama’s administration, Pakistan’s efforts won’t be that easy since the incoming US dispensation has plans to stay in Afghanistan for 10 years and rebuild the Bagram airbase and other bases.

When the Soviet Union was pushed out of Afghanistan, Pakistan had US help. This time, for Pakistan’s plans to succeed, there will have to be a clash between Pakistan and the US. Whether the US confronts Pakistan is something that will become evident in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is taking over NWFP. There’s also a question mark over whether Pakistan’s Army will be able to manage the unrest in the tribal region. Taking these factors into account, there’s a possibility of Pakistan becoming a failed state. India should not assume the US will continue to support Pakistan.

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First Published: Fri, January 09 2009. 00:00 IST