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The Rediff Special/ Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

India's lack of preparedness 'pathetic'

December 10, 2008

While there is no denying the Mumbai terror attacks [Images] had Lakshar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad written all over it, a former Indian intelligence official says India's lack of preparedness was pathetic.

Vappala Balachandran, whose Mumbai home is close to both the Taj and Oberoi-Trident [Images] hotels, is currently visiting the United States and much sought after by US federal, state and city intelligence officials for his assessment of the Mumbai attacks.

"What is the use of blaming Pakistan-based terrorists when we are so unprepared?" Balachandran, who was posted in Washington, DC in the early 1990s and led the Indian inter-agency intelligence teams in interactions with the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, told rediff.com

"Just blaming Pakistan -- there is just no point," he reiterated. "The basic problem is that our methodology is totally faulty."

Balachandran, who retired as a Special Secretary at the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, said, "I lay the blame on our own measures. The question should be: Have you done anything to set your house in order?"

"Within 46 days after 9/11, the US completely restructured the county's whole internal security machine, whereas we in India are still doing it from 2001," after the terrorist attack on Parliament.

"Another lacunae," he said, "is that nobody bothered to study the US Homeland Security System," and pointed out that "the best feature of the US Homeland Security System is its Terrorist Integration Centre. They have even got regional centres, with the effect that if you have any information on terrorism, it is promptly passed on to the state police and all others, whereas in India, the IB (Intelligence Bureau) works in utter secrecy. Nobody knows whether they have really passed on the information or not."

Balachandran, who while he was posted in the US from 1990 to 1994, was one of the most networked Indian intelligence officers and still maintains some of his CIA and FBI contacts, said, "After every terrorist incident in the past 3, 4 years, there is a big public controversy and the prime minister will say, we have passed on the information, but the state will say, we never got any actionable intelligence."

"(Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi [Images] even went to the extent of saying that the government's intelligence report is like the Indian weather forecast -- it is never reliable," he recalled.

"For example," Balachandran said, "they will say an attack is likely to come in Mumbai, but where, how, etc will not be provided. So how can the police take any preventive measures? This is the basic mistake in our methodology of tackling terrorism -- there is no intelligence integration, there is no operational coordination."

"Unlike the US, there is no Congressional intelligence committee to sort of supervise them (the Intelligence Bureau) -- there is no outside audit or outside supervision over the intelligence agency."

In the US, he added, "besides the Congressional oversight committees, you have got in the Homeland Security System, a Homeland Security Advisory Committee and many of the members are non-official, whereas in India there is no such thing."

Thus, he said, when the IB says it has passed on the intelligence information, "nobody knows how they have passed it on -- Is it in writing? Is it oral? If it is oral, where is it recorded? In the US, everything is recorded. If a Congressional committee wants to investigate, it can investigate if the intelligence information was really passed on or not. But there is absolutely no such system in India."

Balachandran predicted that unless some of these measures are undertaken and put in place, "India will always be a soft State and continued to be attacked" by terrorists.

He argued that "there is absolutely a need for a federal police, and bemoaned that even though the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) "wanted to do something like the FBI, there is no legal backing. There is nothing like a CBI Act. So, if the CBI have to come into a particular state, the states have to give permission. If the states say don't come, then the CBI can't act at all. There have been cases where the chief ministers have said they don't want the CBI to investigate and these can only be overturned by the high courts." Unlike in the US, where the FBI can investigate when there is a federal crime, the CBI has no such authority.

Given that the Mumbai attacks clearly illustrated the coordination and sophistication of the terrorists, Balachandran said it was pathetic the way the police was trying to counter them with antiquated methodology and a high level of unpreparedness. "If you see some of the visuals, it is so pathetic our poor policemen running around with 303 rifles which is Second World War vintage rifles against AK-47s." Like in the US, he added, "they should have a commando unit in every city -- a Rapid Action Force or SWAT teams, then they don't have to fly them from Delhi [Images] to come all the way to Mumbai."

He said he could not comprehend why no such units have not been assembled in major cities in India, considering that Mumbai "is being repeatedly attacked, Delhi is being repeatedly being attacked, Ahmedabad [Images] is being repeatedly attacked, Bangalore is being repeatedly attacked, Hyderabad is being repeatedly attacked."

"We should have these SWAT teams there and not depend upon the Centre. You can't wait for the Black Cats to come from Delhi. By the time they come -- two hours it takes to fly, and then one hour from the airport to the place -- by that time everybody is dead."

Balachandran lamented the repeal of the Prevention Of Terrorism [Images] Act by the Congress-led government and said this left the police with no laws on its side to combat terrorism.

Particularly, he said, at a time when there is a feeling among the minorities, especially the Muslims, "that they want to cooperate with the government to put down terrorism and remove the stigma of the Muslim community in the vanguard of terrorism, there is goodwill coming from that community."

"So, it is incumbent upon the Government of India to sit down with them and ask them which of the POTA provisions they find objectionable. But, unfortunately, that dialogue is not taking place. What is the harm of having a dialogue with a particular community to find out if that particular law is against them?"

After the July 11, 2006 serial train bombings in Mumbai, he said Muslims in Mira Road, an area close to the city which in the past has been a safe haven for terrorists, had said they would not tolerate homes in the area being used by the terrorists. "So, there is an upsurge from the community itself against terrorism because they are the people who are unnecessarily arrested and interrogated."

Thus, he felt, "if proper leadership is exercised, there can be a dialogue with this community and with all sections and at various levels -- at the state level, at the central level, at the NGO level, etc. Then, after their concerns are addressed, you can have an anti-terrorism law."


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