Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Firings: Secure our security

Defence minister A K Antony told a public gathering in Kochi that our land borders are secure but not the seas. His words turned out to be, unfortunately, prophetic. Intelligence reports suggest that the perpetrators of the terror operation in Mumbai came from the sea. In all probability, they sailed past the naval headquarters before running amok in the city. How did terrorists at least 20 of them seem to have come in rubber dinghies evade the entire security establishment?

School children perform prayers for those killed in Mumbai attacks

Clearly, our long coastline dotted with ports, oil rigs and tourist resorts is a porous border. The Coast Guard, the primary agency responsible for guarding the coastline, doesn't have the personnel or infrastructure to do its job. No border of this nation is secure, especially when there are numerous failed or failing states surrounding the country. But any attempt to secure land borders will fail if we don't secure our coastlines with more ships, listening posts, landing stations and trained personnel. As we have said in these columns, there is an urgent need for better coordination among various intelligence agencies and with the armed forces. This, however, is possible only if we have a major revamp of our security architecture. Many experts have outlined structural changes in the security establishment, like creating a federal agency, a centralised command structure and a nationwide information base with real-time access to security agencies. Besides, various wings of the security establishment have to be made autonomous and accountable.
An agency like the IB spends most of its resources to gather political intelligence for the ruling party. Most appointments at the highest level in the security establishment are politicised, which explains the lack of accountability. This country has witnessed scores of terror strikes since the 1980s and in the past three years alone, over 800 people have died in terror attacks. But not one public official in India has had to resign after a terror strike. Should security bosses, including the home minister, national security adviser and heads of agencies like RAW and IB, be so secure in their jobs when security personnel and civilians risk lives for their failures? There is no dearth of reports on how to restructure our security infrastructure. The Kargil Review Committee and Girish Saxena Committee reports are just two of many. These suggested drastic changes in intelligence gathering mechanism and policing. Successive governments have endorsed them. But how much of the strategic vision charted out in these reports has been translated into reality? The government should come out with a white paper and Parliament should have a detailed discussion. We have had enough of piecemeal action and ineffective rhetoric. Wake up to the enormity of the challenge and act now.

Save Pakistan To Save Us All

The ferocious cruelty and unprecedented nature of the terror strikes in Mumbai may have left many in the world gasping at the daring and meticulous planning of the operation. There's also some mud on India's face as a result. But this is an excellent opportunity for New Delhi to try bold thinking and some sorely necessary plain speaking. To start with, call a spade what it is. It's Pakistan. Much of global terrorism today, not just what hits India, emanates or is planned from Pakistan. Just take a few instances that are obvious to all in the know but the world's eyes seemed, till recently, reluctant to see. Look at how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded the 9/11 operation of 2001, was captured in Pakistan; notice how Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are hiding and leading al-Qaeda from Pakistan, or the Pakistan-Afghan non-existent border, for years; count the jihadi terrorist groups that work from inside Pakistan who seem to enjoy considerable flexibility of movement within that country despite promises of crackdowns made periodically by the Pakistani security forces. And that's not all. Recall that the US confronted Islamabad, to apparently little avail, with evidence of the involvement of Pakistan-inspired elements in the July bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul; wonder how the world's premier nuclear smuggler and rogue proliferator, A Q Khan, can lead a low-profile, yet comfortable and virtually unexamined life in Pakistan while being under so-called house arrest, with no one from the rest of the world allowed to go near him; and, to gently remind everyone of India's concerns, Dawood Ibrahim a terrorist by any official standard continues to be sheltered by Pakistani security forces. No, Pakistan's people are not the problem. To the contrary, it is the people and their future in other words, the viability of Pakistan's state and economy that the world must get together to stabilise and help prosper. There's no time to lose. The world doesn't have to believe New Delhi, which has been warning about the threat of an unhinged Pakistan for years. Everyone in the know of things now sees the threat clearly; the point is to undertake a global approach to tackle the problem head-on. Stabilising Pakistan which means genuinely democratising its polity and helping its economy grow back to a sustainable level of prosperity in the medium term will help ensure a viable future for the nation and its people, thereby beating the menace of Islamist extremism that provides ideological energy for jihadi terror. An unstable and economically desperate Pakistan, on the other hand, will continue to promote terrorism under the guidance of the ISI, which helps a corrupt military establishment keep its stranglehold on power by citing external threats and warning of chaos as the alternative to their remaining in effective charge despite the recent transition to civilian rule. The world must call the Pakistani military's bluff and quickly. But the answer can't be a military one, except in the very limited sense by which sporadic raids are carried out by outside forces and unmanned aircraft or missiles into the badlands on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership run free. US president-elect Barack Obama perhaps sees the problem of Pakistan in stark outline, more so than the Bush administration for most of its tenure had cared to see. But increasing allied troop levels in Afghanistan alone won't be able to deal with the crux of the problem. The crux of Pakistan's problem lies within that country, specifically in the country's military establishment. Remember it ain't Iraq, which itself is still not amenable to a military solution after five years of fierce armed intervention. This is a larger country, with a complicated terrain, and it genuinely has weapons of mass destruction which its armed forces would cleverly threaten to use if push ever came to real shove. No, the answer might lie in a concerted global effort, at ensuring, first, the sustainability of Pakistan's democratic experiment. And, second, in pouring in as much assistance as required, under strict supervision of not just the IMF but perhaps a specially designed international political-economic authority that would oversee the country's direly needed transition from military domination to democratic viability. In short, the world, under the newly assertive leadership of an Obama-led United States, must devise a Marshall Plan for Pakistan. Such an effort will require the support of not only the traditional G-7 powers; it must have the cooperation of India and, most importantly, China, which is Pakistan's all-weather friend. If China, and to a large extent Saudi Arabia, can be persuaded to weigh in with their considerable influence financial as well as strategic over Islamabad, implementing a global plan to pull Pakistan out of chaos might actually succeed. And India should quietly help such a plan from the sidelines as a close ally, as it has become today, of the US. If, however, China and Saudi Arabia choose to continue to offer their shoulders for Islamabad's military establishment to lean on in order to extract sustenance financial and strategic indefinitely, there won't be any hope of devising a global rescue plan for Pakistan. In which case, we might as well give up any serious hope of fighting terror. The export of the Pakistani-Afghan mayhem to the rest of the world will continue merrily


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