Wednesday, October 29, 2008

'A deterrent law can really contain terror'

'A deterrent law can really contain terror'
Q&A: Ajit Kumar Doval, former Director, Intelligence Bureau, speaks to Asha Khosa about the lapses in the country's intelligence setup.
October 5, 2008
Source: Business Standard

Are we, as a country, under siege from home-bred as well as global terrorists?

India faces a serious threat to its internal security, if not a siege. Even so, the state’s power to counter terrorists and subversives is much more than the combined strength of all terrorist groups. We have a well-defined law and order apparatus and above all, the requisite political will to fight this challenge. But the situation might change anytime and India may face threats of much higher degree in future. For this, we do not seem to be ready. There’s an urgent need to put our house in order.

Is our government moving in the right direction in fighting terrorists?

Our system was never meant to handle the current level and quality of terrorist threats. Our laws, structures of governance, infrastructure, governmental functioning and the pace of decision-making etc are all meant for an earlier time. So, this needs to change drastically.
First of all, we need a strict anti-terror law, which can be a deterrent to the terrorists and also enable the security forces to tackle crimes related to the inflow of funds from abroad, the overground support to the terrorists, and also the corruption in political institutions.
There is a divergent opinion on the need to have a strong law.
Unfortunately, the debate on anti-terror law is motivated by political considerations. The real question is: Is POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) desirable? POTA was in force from September 2001 till December 2004, and the graph of terrorist-related violence was the lowest in this period. After POTA was scrapped, we saw a five-time rise in such incidents. With POTA gone, terrorists took just six months to reorganise themselves and they started striking in the hinterland from June 2005 onwards. A deterrent law really helps contain terrorists. Ask an average terrorist, and he would tell you that a strong law makes his work more difficult.

There are apprehensions that a harsh anti-terror law would be misused by the police and security forces...

We need to enable our police to deal with terrorists. A law is required so that the police do not have to work under pressure to produce results. If a policeman has no right to detain suspects for a reasonably long period, he would resort to torture to find out whatever he can in a short time. POTA or a POTA-like law can be reworked to ensure it’s not misused. A good law would always give the benefit of the doubt to the police in case they have made bonafide mistakes.
Looking at what is happening today, there is no future for us if we keep maligning the security forces and police who go after the terrorists. This is like giving them the gun but not giving the right to use it.

Giving sweeping powers to the police to detain people appears a scary proposition...

Giving powers to the police does not mean that they would wield them indiscriminately. It only gives them the confidence of moving scientifically and not being prosecuted if they make a bonafide mistake. For example, during anti-militancy operations in Kashmir, the security forces could use gunships. We never used them because we realised it would cause huge collateral damage. Imagine a village where a few terrorists are entrenched. Security men fight them with hand-held weapons the whole night and sometimes for days on end. There is the option to bombard the village but, barring the Kargil invasion, we never used gunships.

If POTA or a POTA-type law is so good, why do you think the government is not agreeing to it?

If it is for political considerations, I must say it is suicidal. The debate on the anti-terror law should be held in view of protecting our national interests and not the political interests of one or the other party.

There is a feeling that Indian Muslims are being pushed to the wall and an anti-terror law would accentuate their feeling of being wronged.

Firstly, there is a dire need to de-link Islam from terrorism. Terrorists must be treated as individuals and not representatives of one religious or ethnic community. Look at Pakistan, how it is tackling militancy. They have Muslims as terrorists, and also as the victims of police and militants’ action. But is anyone making it an Islamic issue?
However, it’s also true that since 1989, anti-India forces have used local Muslims for subversive activities and it’s only natural that the community, at any given time, would feel the heat. It happened to Sikhs in the past. On its part, the state should try to insulate Muslims from this, and the community must come forward to ostracise those who have even the remotest connection with anti-national acts. Unfortunately, it does not help when a university, instead of rusticating terror suspects, gets into providing them legal support. Such actions mount the heat on Muslims.
I believe common Muslims too want a strong anti-terror law. It would protect them from being coerced into giving shelter to terrorists or becoming their overground supporters.

With our growing economy, what new challenges should India be prepared to tackle in future?

The ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan) has been showing us what’s in store for us if we do not act now. The ISI is pumping counterfeit currency into our country in huge amounts. Look at what happened in Parliament on July 22 during the vote of confidence. Money was paid to some members to influence such a crucial decision as India becoming a nuclear power. What happens if a particular country pays Rs 50,000 crore to an MP to subvert a decision of crucial national importance in Parliament. A provision to look into this kind of corruption should be part of the anti-terror law.

Is there need for a federal investigating agency in India in view of the terrorist threats?

I find this entire debate on an FBI-type agency as mere talk of hardware even before the ideas on threat perception have been identified. We seem to be working on formulas and theories on the basis of mere slogans. This debate is topsy-turvy.

How would you compare our handling of terror in various parts of the country?

Mizoram was the first state where militancy was eliminated with the help of the local community. Insurgency is a games of wits where both the insurgents and the government wait for the other side to make mistakes and quickly cash in. For example, in Punjab we botched up Operation Bluestar, but we did not lose a day in exposing the militants’ misdeeds by launching Operation Black Thunder. This was the single-most important decision that changed the situation in Punjab. Recently, in Kashmir, the militants got the better of us when they encashed the Amarnath agitation in Jammu to beef up their support base.

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