Counter-terrorism: The Architecture
...police stations in the country are, today, virtually unconnected islands... There is no record of crimes or criminals that can be accessed by a Station House Officer, except manual records relating to that police station... we must have more police stations and, at the police station level, we must have more constables, some of whom are exclusive for gathering intelligence... the police must also be the first responder in case of a militant or terrorist attack... QRT and commando units should have modern weapons and equipment...6
Doing all this, however, "is just extracting a little more from the 'business as usual' model". The real priority, the UHM argues, is "a bold, thorough and radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level".7
At the heart of this 'radical restructuring' is the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), proposed to be created against an outlay of INR 3,400 crores, "by the end of 2010",8 because "India cannot afford to wait for 36 months" (the time it took the US to establish its NCTC, the model which India seeks to imitate). A multiplicity of other 'architectural' transformations would also go into this 'radical restructuring', with additional outlays of unnumbered thousands of crores, prominently including the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), the Crimes and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) - all these, and many existing institutions, to be brought under the overarching authority of the NCTC, within a redesigned Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA).
It is not the intention, here, to enter into a detailed critique of these ambitious proposals, but two points need to be highlighted in passing.
India's record of institution building over the past decades has been disastrous. We have set up numberless shell organizations, but few of these have acquired the operational efficacy envisaged. There are structural reasons for this, the most important being the unavailability of the necessary profile of human resources. With under 4.2 per cent of the population possessing anything more than a High School certificate,9 this problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. Any major institutional innovation will only cannibalize existing institutions for educated and skilled manpower; most of these institutions are already in a crisis of manpower at leadership levels. This was certainly the case with the far less ambitious National Investigative Agency, which was supposed to be 'like the FBI' - an aspiration that is, in itself, laughable.10 The fact that the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security for the NCTC took longer than the time envisaged for the setting up the organisation speaks volumes for our institutional responses and capabilities. MAC, NATGRID, CCTNS and the crucial Universal Identity Card (UID) project, among others, have been floundering for years without reaching their respective 'take off' stages.
The degree of centralization envisaged would create no more than an illusion of control, but the reality of a gigantic, ponderous, inevitably inefficient and potentially obstructive, bureaucracy. As has been repeatedly emphasised elsewhere, counter-terrorism is a small commanders' war,11 and the challenge is to create the widest dispersal of effective response capabilities. KPS Gill's admonition in this context has urgent relevance, that "there is no point in... the Home Minister trying to be a field marshal."12 It is useful to recall, here, that the Centre's performance in terms of its existing mandate has not been particularly encouraging. A close study of the state of any Central Agency today would demonstrate that these structures are riddled with infirmities and deficits. The Centre is, in fact, as bereft of effective capacities as are the States. Worse, regimes at the Centre have, in the past, tended to abuse, for partisan political gains, even the very limited provisions for overriding central authority that currently exist. Solutions cannot be proposed 'in an ideal world'; proposals for systemic overhaul have to take into account the political and administrative culture that prevails.
The problem with creating a centralized 'radical and new architecture' for India's security, however, is even more fundamental, and relates to our basic assessments and conceptualization of terrorism.
Terrorism is not just an incident - a bombing or a commando-style attack; and CT is not just incident and emergency response. Terrorism has become an enduring condition of our quotidian lives, and elements of the wider effort and conspiracy to engineer a terrorist act surround us at all times. CT demands a continuous capability to identify and neutralize the small, neglected, deviations, anomalies, misdemeanours and lesser crimes that culminate in the final and dramatic act of terrorism. No effective CT response can be mounted in a collapsing internal security and intelligence environment. Security is an indivisible, and there is no such thing as a 'small crime'.
Delhi's Chief Minister, on one occasion, exhorted the capital's Police to "go after terrorists and not cycle chor",13 and this is precisely the misconception that has created an enabling environment for terrorism. It is, of course, doubtful that Delhi's over-stretched Police spend any significant proportion of their time chasing 'cycle thieves' and other petty miscreants. What is important, here, is the understanding that the same networks service both petty crime and major crime, including terrorism; and the same enforcement agencies 'look the other way' when such crimes occur. The same hawala networks service corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, as well as terrorists. Smuggling channels that bring grey market goods into the country also bring in arms, ammunition and explosives.
It is useful, here, to recall Rudy Giuliani's implementation of the 'broken windows' theory14 to New York crime, while he was Mayor of that metropolis. The essential idea was a 'zero tolerance' of vandalism, petty crime and public misdemeanour on the argument that these 'lead up' to major crime. Significantly, rates of both petty and serious crime in New York fell dramatically in the decade following Giuliani's implementation of this policy.15
The general policing and intelligence environment, similarly, has a direct bearing on the execution of terrorist acts, and on the terrorist calculus of success, failure and impact. Significantly, with a threat like terrorism, it is not sufficient to try to secure principally urban targets alone - as is the overwhelming direction of present responses. Terrorist conspiracies are mounted, attacks are prepared, and perpetrators are deployed through, areas of the poorest policing, across the chaos of India's rural and mofussil expanse. It is here that networks take root and find sympathisers, support and sustenance, when the urban environment becomes operationally 'difficult'. And it is here that the hard slog of CT, the systematic penetration of networks of sympathisers, supporters and cadres, and the dismantling of this complex, has to be executed. As long as terrorist networks find spaces to thrive within an environment of ineffective policing, the challenge of 'delivering' a terrorist attack to an urban target will never be insurmountable.
This, then, is the fundamental error: shifting the focus to the institutional architecture of CT without settling the most basic questions of strategy, objectives, priorities and orientation.
Our principal problems lie, not in architecture, but in manpower, materials and execution. We have eviscerated our institutions over decades, and now believe that the solution lies in creating layer upon layer of meta-institutions to 'monitor', 'coordinate' and 'oversee' this largely dysfunctional apparatus.
In his Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture, UHM Chidambaram warned, "Routine is the enemy of innovation. Because we are immersed in routine tasks, we neglect the need for change and innovation."16
The truth, in fact, is the exact opposite. It is the quality, content, relevance and thoroughness of our 'routine' that will define our capacities for CT success. You cannot address higher order deficits and deficiencies unless the 'routine' is efficiently taken care of. In fact, while glaring deficits in 'routine' functions and capacities persist, an emphasis on meta-institutional and 'architectural' transformations becomes an evasion, an alibi for not addressing the immediate and greater crisis of basic capacities, capabilities and functions.
There is no ideal configuration or distribution of powers and functions, no grand or novel 'architecture' that can produce optimal results. The crisis is one of efficiency. Governance and administration in India - including internal security management - have failed to evolve any systems - any 'routines' - to maintain efficiency or impose accountability, and are currently operating against the imperatives of even the most rudimentary principles of management or administration. Vast resources are wasted where they produce little positive outcome. Initiatives and structures that could produce the best results are, at the same time, rejected or starved of resources. Even where leakages and inefficiencies have been well-documented, these are not corrected. It has not mattered whether this has occurred in centrally administered projects and agencies or in state administered projects and agencies. Mere structural, architectural or constitutional redistribution of powers, functions and responsibility, will achieve nothing unless issues of capacity, efficiency and accountability are addressed - in that order.
It is the regrettable truth that policing has been tremendously neglected by most State Governments, and there is now an enveloping crisis of capacities. Unless State Governments explicitly recognize the primacy of policing and of law and order management in any system of efficient governance, there is little scope for improvement.
If we are to confront and defeat proxy war, terrorism and insurgency, we must create Police Forces across India that are professional, efficient, well-resourced and accountable. It is tragic that international perceptions, today, see the Police in India as a "broken system" reflecting nothing more than "dysfunction, abuse and impunity".17 India is a rising global power, and its security apparatus must reflect, and be seen to reflect, global standards. What is needed, now, is comprehensive modernization, not just incremental upgradation of technologies. While technological inputs will be crucial, modern policing is not the outcome of technologies alone. It is the Policeman - his training, orientation, capabilities and, crucially, mindset - that makes the difference between a modern and an obsolete Police Force. It is, consequently, the profile of the Policeman - his education, training, skills and orientation - of course, but also his welfare and status in society that must undergo comprehensive revaluation.
It is useful, here, to remind ourselves, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated, as far back as in September 2006, and well before the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, "Unless the 'beat constable' is brought into the vortex of our counter-terrorist strategy, our capacity to pre-empt future attacks would be severely limited."18 Virtually nothing has been done to translate this idea into the realities of the ground. The 'beat constable' here, is shorthand for the complex tasks of general policing and intelligence work, the very 'routines' that we tend to dismiss with contempt.
This does not mean, of course, that innovation is to be shelved. It is clear that existing 'routines' are failing to achieve the objectives of general law and order administration as well as CT, and need transformation. However, we cannot, in this situation, cherry pick our preferred 'innovations' from international examples, or randomly from CT literature, or along personal proclivities and preferences, or along technologies and innovations that powerful vendors are trying to market. Our innovations must arise out of the documented deficits and failures of our existing 'routines', and the specificities of the projected challenges they are intended to meet. There is little publicly available evidence to suggest that this has, in fact, been the case with any of our innovations or acquisitions over the past years. We cannot, moreover, talk about strategic innovations without defining our basic strategy - and there is little sign of a coherent CT strategy on the horizon.
Of course, irrespective of the efficacy of our general policing and intelligence system, or of any 'routines' and protocols we may establish in the foreseeable future, terrorist plots will result in at least occasional success. It is at this juncture that Special Forces, QRTs, and coordination, command and control mechanisms come into play. It is important, first, to recognize that such a situation already represents a CT failure. Further, our assessment of innovative alternatives must be built on clear scenarios of terrorism and response, and not on generalized models borrowed from other countries, or constructed on untested theoretical positions.
For instance, Special Forces and QRTs would appear to have some natural utility, particularly in containing the undue protraction of an incident. However, is this evaluation based on ad hoc comparison of existing general force capabilities and optimal Special Force capabilities, or on demonstrable advantages on the ground? NSG hubs were created in four metropolii, including Mumbai, on the argument that the ten hour delay in their deployment resulted in extraordinary harm during the 26/11 attacks. But was this decision based on an objective evaluation of NSG performance after it arrived on the scene? On an evaluation of the NSG response over nearly 52 hours that followed? This does not appear to be the case. Moreover, has any effort ever been made to assess the comparative preventive efficacy of an improved general policing system, as against creation of Special Forces? The potential of a terrorist attack is ordinarily realized within its first minutes, well before any rational timeframe of deployment of commando or QRT units. Indeed, if we look back at 26/11, the most heartening aspect of the response was the extraordinary courage displayed by the ill-equipped and ill-trained local Police, including lathi-wielding constables, whose capture of Ajmal Kasab was the single most extraordinary achievement in the entire fiasco of responses. It can certainly be imagined that a better trained, equipped, and coordinated general policing apparatus would have been able to prevent most of the 26/11 attackers from reaching their targets. Has such a scenario been 'gamed' to arrive at an objective assessment of response priorities and alternative models of 'innovation'? I do not think so.
None of this is intended to argue that we need not look at the 'architecture' of security, or at 'radical' institutional innovations and developments. Rather, it is a question of settling priorities; and of excluding the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The system certainly calls for an overhaul. It is not, however, clear that such transformation needs to begin with the 'framework'. I would suggest that a focus on capacities and processes within existing institutions would bring far more tangible benefits in the near and medium term, rather than the sweeping structural changes that are currently advocated. Moreover, at least some of the proposed 'architectural' elements are unviable, redundant, or unlikely to achieve critical mass in any timeframe that would be relevant to our CT imperatives.
There is often a facile response to this: why can't we do both - basic capacity development and 'architectural innovation' - together? The simple answer to this is, because we lack the resources to do so at the scales necessary, and within timeframes imposed by the challenge of terrorism. Flinging thousands of crores in all directions is not going to serve any real purpose. While financial caps may be one of the possible impediments to simultaneous developments across existing and proposed systems, the most significant obstacle to the realization of a 'radical architecture', as already indicated, is the country's and the Governments' human resource profile, and the multiple barriers to its rapid enhancement. Other factors would include technology and rates of absorption; the pace of process and administrative evolution; and the psychological resistance to change that will be felt at all levels of transformation.
If we are to prioritize necessary transformations, consequently, it is content that must be given precedence over form. The crisis in India today is one of capacities, and this cannot be addressed by the reinvention of institutional forms. It doesn't matter if our responses are centralised or decentralised, as long as the executive agencies remain infirm, under-manned, under-trained and under-equipped. Issues of mandate and structure will become relevant only after the issues of capacity and capability have been addressed.
Theoretically, however, even if the capacities issue is addressed, centralization would still tend to fail in the very complex and vast Indian system, as well as the country's political and cultural environment. Given India's size and diversity, a centralized authority is necessary - and already exists in the form of the Government of India, and within it, the UMHA. However, since national (security) administration involves complex and multifarious functions, these can only be addressed through delegation to a progressively decentralised structure, with clear mandate and accountability. No single agency or authority could ever effectively tackle all aspects of national security management across the length and breadth of the country without turning into a colossal bureaucratic nightmare.
National security is, of course, a national issue - but that does not necessarily imply that it is a 'central' (Union Government) issue. There is no reason to believe that the States are 'anti-national', or are incapable of tackling issues just because they have trans-State ramifications.
India is certainly not an impotent state - and this has been proven in victories against terrorists in the past, certainly in Punjab,19 and more recently in Tripura20 and Andhra Pradesh21. This experience needs to be studied in great details, and its lessons must be widely understood within the security community - not in reductionist slogans, as is often the present case, but in the full complexity of the dynamics of terrorism and CT. India has the power, but fails both because of the lack of political will and a tremendous incoherence in strategy. There has to be a far more profound and better informed strategic and policy discourse in the country before the Government can be held to account for its persistent failures to do what very obviously needs to be done.
The priorities of our CT responses are easily derived from the preceding arguments, and it must be clear that a wide range of initiatives can be taken by the Police leadership itself, though, quite naturally, with some support from State Governments, and the Centre's financial backing. It is useful to highlight some of the immediate possibilities:
The highest priority must be given to improving the profile of the average Policeman in the street. While tremendous emphasis is now rightly placed on Police-population ratios, numbers are not everything. This is dramatically borne out by the experience in Andhra Pradesh. In 2005, Andhra Pradesh was among the States worst afflicted by Maoist violence, with all 23 of its Districts in acute crisis. A focused campaign through 2006 and 2007 decimated the Maoists, reducing the insurgency to a marginal irritant in just eight border Districts, where Maoists continue to launch occasional attacks, principally against civilian targets. Crucially, the Andhra Pradesh Police-population ratio in 2006 was just 98 per 100,000, and, in 2007 had fallen to 96 per 100,000, as against an all-India average of 126 and 125, in these years, respectively. An undermanned system cannot, of course, maintain exceptional levels of efficiency indefinitely, but the Andhra Police has demonstrated what can be achieved even with severely limited manpower.22 Every Police Force in India currently has entrenched inefficiencies built into existing processes of administration, deployment and operation. Large proportions of Police Forces are ordinarily wasted in static and unproductive deployments, without clear mandates or objectives within a security, crime-fighting or CT framework. It is necessary to make an objective evaluation of current processes and deployments to identify areas of redundancy and waste, and to redeploy the 'recovered' manpower more efficiently. The objective is to operationalize the largest possible proportion of the Force, and to empower each Policeman, through reorientation, training and technology, to secure the specific purposes for which he is deployed. Greater Police efficiency will also change public perceptions. Both perceptions and efficiency would, moreover, be significantly improved by addressing issues of welfare and the skill/education profile of the constabulary.
The world is changing at an unprecedented pace - new techniques, technologies, systems, structures and dynamics evolve on an almost daily basis. Most people in Government and in the security system remain insulated from an overwhelming proportion of these transformations, and have little capacity to absorb and adapt to all but the most obvious technological manifestations of these transformations, and to integrate these into the operational structures of their institutions. The training and education of officers and personnel, in these circumstances, must be a continuous and intensive process, must be fully resourced, must be built into the pattern and schedule of their responsibilities, and must produce quantifiable improvements in skills and capabilities. Programmes must create domain expertise for specialised officers on CT and crime-fighting strategy and tactics. Simultaneously, they must create at least minimal awareness of this context among all leadership cadres in the Force, and define and disseminate, across the Force, the strategic and tactical fundamentals of CT and crime-fighting responses.
If national security is to be assured, it is now necessary to frame certain consensual minimal standards of policing across the country. These standards need to be applied both across urban centres and rural jurisdictions. The Centre has, for instance, asked all States in the country to establish and maintain a 'desirable' Police-population ratio of 220 per 100,000.23 The evolution and maintenance of a range of minimum standards across other quantifiable parameters is an urgent necessity.
An accelerated recruitment programme to fill all sanctioned posts in the Force should be the highest priority within a time-bound framework. Sanctioned strengths must also be continuously revaluated in the context of emerging tasks and challenges.
The 'virtually unconnected islands' that are our Police Stations today must be brought into the national CCTNS network at the earliest. Such data networks should have been established in this country, decades ago. Reports indicate that many States are lagging in the execution of the State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and State Data Centre (SDC) components of the CCTNS project. The highest priority must now be ascribed to executing the State components of this project.
Each State Police establishment must evolve and implement effective 'routines' or protocols, not only for CT responses, but for all principal tasks and duties of enforcement. These protocols must, moreover, be translated into efficient practice through intensive training programmes and drills. Every Policeman must see himself as being clearly tasked, mandated, trained and equipped to fulfil clear sets of objectives.
Every Policeman must have a basic level of fitness and weapons' skills to respond effectively in an emergency, if required. The weapons' skills of State Armed Police contingents need dramatic enhancement - with whatever weapons they may possess. Even the antiquated .303 rifle, in the hands of a skilled shooter, can prove to be an extremely effective weapon, especially where the advantage of numbers and initiative are on the side of the Police.
The intelligence component of the State Police establishment, in most cases, requires exponential augmentation, and must have an effective presence in each Police Station, particularly in the rural and mofussil hinterland. Capacities to gather intelligence of evidentiary value also need to be established, so that effective prosecutions can be launched, and convictions secured. While CT may be regarded as a priority in this context, effective capabilities for all crime are necessary. The final act of terrorism is ordinarily the culmination of a succession of lesser offenses, and effective CT requires that the chain be broken at the earliest stage possible. Intelligence flows generated through the State apparatus must interface in real time with the national databases, including MAC and CCTNS.
Even though no consensus can be reached on a national CT strategy, it is imperative that the security establishment, even at the level of individual States or within the Police department, defines its own strategic perspectives. Unless this is done, there is little possibility of ensuring coherence in tactical response, technological acquisitions, or institutional and process innovations.
Technical/ Technological acquisitions must be reconciled with plans and programmes. Tremendous waste has resulted in the past with poor timing of acquisitions, or with partial provision for some elements of a programme, while others are left out.
A permanent and empowered Technology Evaluation Group, which proactively assesses appropriate, emerging and horizon technologies for their suitability and cost-effectiveness for CT and enforcement objectives, and makes continuous recommendations, including those on pricing structures, to the State Police leaderships, should be established in each State. Such evaluations must be made on the basis of direct contact and familiarity with the demands of the field.
(Paper Distributed at the National Seminar on Counter-terrorism Organised by Force 1, Mumbai Police; BPR&D; and the Strategic Foresight Group On November 24, 2011 at Mumbai)