Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Transform, not reform

Transform, not reform
Ajit Doval, KC
(Courtesy: Hindustan Times, Dec 31, 2006)

An axiom explains the need for intelligence — a state’s efficacy against its adversaries is proportional to its knowledge dominance over them. As self-preservation is the state’s primary need, its scope extends to all threats. Earlier, when states withered due to aggressions, rebellions, insurgencies or power struggles, the intelligence focus was limited. Today, states fail for other reasons — political instability, fragmentation of civil society, economic failures, alienation of sections of society, and rejection or isolation by the comity of nations. This has expanded the scope of intelligence requirements and produced distortions, both relevant to India.
First, as the state exercises its power through government, the line between self-preservation of the state and of the government tends to become blurred. It mattered little when external aggressions or armed rebellions were the only threats. With social, political and economic factors emerging as areas of intelligence interest, the possibilities of misuse of the apparatus increase. India needs to guard against them.
Second, the modern state operates under a complex regimen of national and international laws, media gaze and vigilant public opinion, which limit its power. When the state’s objectives are not met by the legitimate instrumentalities, it is tempted to use covert action. This leads to use of intelligence not only as a knowledge provider for policy formulation but also as a deniable tool of policy execution. India needs capabilities to counter it.
Despite the talk of failures, Indian intelligence in last six decades has given an excellent account of itself. There are inadequacies arising out of increasing demands and new challenges that the archaic machine finds difficult to cope with. Innovative ideas, bold initiatives and leadership with grit and vision are required to bring about a revolution in intelligence affairs.
India’s security interests and intelligence requirements extend from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca and from the Central Asian republics to the equator. Growing rivalries for dominance of the Indian Ocean, China emerging as a major player with barely concealed strategic objectives in the region and beyond, competitiveness for energy resources, all have security implications for India. New intelligence capabilities — conventional and technological — will be needed.
As an emerging power, its global interface at economic, political and strategic levels is on the rise. Both adversarial and friendly powers would like to access our state secrets and influence our policies. Our own requirements of knowledge about them, that is needed to play our legitimate role in global power dynamics would increase. Convergence, and not coordination, of intelligence and counter intelligence would be required.
India’s troubled neighbourhood impacts heavily on its internal and external security. This will necessitate a synergised intelligence strategy for our neighbourhood. Everything that happens here in the political, military, economic or social arenas will affect us. Intelligence must not only know what is happening but also anticipate the future and influence developments.
Conventionally, the causes, instrumentalities and resources of internal threats have been indigenous. It no more holds good. Today, internal security is vulnerable to external stimulants. While threats from conventional sources are steadily reducing, external factors have raised the threat level several notches.
Covert action has emerged as a new low-cost option to achieve politico-strategic objectives. Though beleaguered for nearly two decades, India has failed to develop capabilities and a credible national response to covert action threats. Response has been episodal, with short memory. Covert action is a threat against which Indian intelligence must develop counter capabilities both in defensive and offensive-defence modes. Borders will have to be made impregnable and toying with the idea of soft borders will greatly harm our long-term security interests.
Demographic invasion from Bangladesh, which the Supreme Court dubbed ‘aggression’, has assumed a serious security dimension. In many of the bordering areas, it has brought about a total demographic transformation. The illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and their involvement in acts of terrorism are matters of serious concern, and will require sharper focus.
Technological upgrade and integration will be major future requirements of Indian intelligence. Most sophisticated technologies fall in denied areas and cannot be easily obtained externally. Acquiring intelligence capabilities in cyberspace and protection of critical infrastructure should be accorded high priority.
Lack of coordination is often blamed for many intelligence failures. However, intelligence being a sensitive and multilayered activity with diverse consumer requirements, perfect coordination conceptually is neither attainable nor desirable. What needs to be attempted is system-calibrated convergence at different levels on need-to-know basis. Convergence is an inbuilt automated mechanism, as part of the process itself, while coordination is an outside effort to combine two or more vectors through institutional or individual effort. Instead of convergence, we inadvertently encouraged divergence through steps like splitting the intelligence bureau into IB and RAW, allowing mushrooming of intelligence outfits with nebulous objectives and ill-defined accountability.
To meet these challenges, what Indian intelligence needs is transformation and not reformation. The construct of reforms, is of identifying and redressing the past errors. Transformation is bringing about changes focusing on the future. In reforms, we assume that if the shortcomings of the past were corrected the future would be secure. In the modern dynamic security scenario, this is an erroneous assumption and a sure recipe for inviting shocks. The past is behind us, but the future is more important. Let us change keeping our requirements and vulnerabilities in mind.
Ajit Doval is a former director of Intelligence Bureau.

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