Shoddy database on terror may land us in trouble
Instead of minimising the implications of the faux pas and dismissing it as a human error, we must take the matter much more seriously, cautions B Raman
More than two years after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai and the setting up of the National Investigation Agency, the government of India continues to have a shoddy counter-terrorism database.
That is the inevitable conclusion from the current controversy over an embarrassing professional and diplomatic faux pas relating to the alleged inclusion of the name of Wazhul Kamar Khan, a terror suspect living on bail with his family in Thane in Maharashtra, in a list of 50 terror suspects allegedly enjoying sanctuary in Pakistan.
This list was reportedly given by the Indian government to the interior ministry of Pakistan some weeks ago and had remained a secret till now. This list was released to the media by the ministry of home affairs after the Abbottabad raid by United States's commandos, which led to the death of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The belated release of the list was seen by many as an attempt by our home ministry to step up pressure on Pakistan to act against terror suspects wanted in India and allegedly sheltered in Pakistan.
Image: Some of India's most wanted terrorists
A faux pas by the Indian government
The fact that Wazhul Kamar Khan's name was mistakenly included in the list was discovered not by the counter-terrorism agencies of India or Pakistan, but by Mateen Hafeez, a journalist of the Times of India. His investigative report was carried by the paper on May 17.
Representatives of the home ministry, retired officers of intelligence agencies and investigating agencies appearing in television debates have uncomfortably tied themselves in knots in trying to explain away or rationalise this faux pas.
They have been projecting it as a clerical or human error, which does sometimes take place in government, and urging that one should not capitalise on this unfortunate error to discredit our agencies.
Image: Union Home Minister P Chidambaram
This error indicates serious deficiencies
There is nothing mala fide about the inclusion of the name of this suspect. It was not an instance of a fabrication of evidence against him or Pakistan in an attempt to fix the neighbouring nation.
At the same time, this error indicates serious deficiencies in our counter-terrorism database which should cause concern to our policymakers. It would also cause concern to the international intelligence and investigating community and add to the suspicions that they already have about the credibility of our investigation process and our allegations regarding Pakistan giving shelter to Indian terrorists.
Our credibility as professional counter-terrorism experts will be weakened by this serious error. A terror suspect had been arrested in Maharashtra. He had been given bail by a court. He was living with his family. And yet, the government of India was not aware of it and its database indicated that he had been sheltered in Pakistan. That is why his name found its way into the dossier given to Pakistan.
Image: The list was handed over to Pakistan government
The whole exercise seems to be casual
At the time the dossier was prepared for being handed over to Pakistan, none of the agencies of the government of India or of the government of Maharashtra appeared to have detected this embarrassing mistake. This would clearly show that there was no co-ordination in the preparation of the dossier.
Nor was there any effective supervision of the process and any proper vetting of the dossier before the decision to hand it over to Pakistan were taken. In our anxiety to embarrass Pakistan, the whole exercise seems to have been handled in a very casual manner.
Other countries would be greatly concerned by this faux pas and by our casual approach for one very important reason.
After the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, there was a demand in India for a retaliatory strike on the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan from which these attacks had emanated. The government of Manmohan Singh managed to resist the demand from some sections of the public for a retaliatory strike.
Image: Remembering the victims of 26/11 near Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the sites of the attack
We might create a messy situation
If there is another 26/11 (God forbid), the demand for a retaliatory strike against the terror infrastructure in Pakistan could be revived. For such a strike to be effective, it has to be based on an accurate database of the infrastructure in Pakistan.
If this incident indicates the shoddy state of our database, by ordering a retaliatory strike on the basis of a shoddy database, we might create a messy situation and find ourselves in an indefensible position before the international community.
Instead of minimising the implications of the faux pas and dismissing it as a human error, we must take the matter much more seriously than we seem to be doing so far, try to find out how the whole thing happened and take the required corrective action. Our reputation as professional counter-terrorism experts is at stake in the eyes of the international community.
Image: A rabbi at Nariman House, one of the sites of the 26/11 attack