While the relevance of the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind Wednesday continues to be debated, India needs to strengthen its counter-terrorism capabilities on a priority basis.
And the first step in that direction would be to make the Intelligence Bureau the nodal agency for counter-terrorism initiatives. RAW, which is currently the unofficial lead intelligence agency in India’s counter-terrorism efforts, should instead be allowed to continue with its primary objective of intelligence gathering and analysis.
India’s national security architecture
The government made significant changes to India’s national security architecture in 2018. Some of these included the addition of two more deputy national security advisers in the National Security Council Secretariat and the revival of the Strategic Policy Group.
Recently, there was the widely discussed elevation of the rank of NSA from a minister of state to a cabinet minister. While not the same in scale, the government had undertaken a similar exercise to transform India’s security architecture in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Among the key decisions made were the creation of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and a rejig of the National Security Guard (NSG). The most ambitious of these plans was the one to establish an overarching counter-terrorism body – the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
Role of RAW in countering terrorism
India’s counter-terrorism efforts have improved significantly since 2008, but the dynamic nature of the threat requires streamlining of intelligence and law enforcement operations. Currently, the RAW is the unofficial lead intelligence agency in India’s counter-terrorism efforts. This is far from the objective with which the agency was created. The external intelligence agency was established with the mandate to monitor the political and military developments of countries, which have a direct impact on India’s security and foreign policy. The dramatic shift in priorities after 9/11 (globally) and 26/11 (in India) has pushed the RAW away from its fundamental objective and towards gathering intelligence to thwart terrorist threats.
Counter-terrorism is a function of internal security apparatus
Counter-terrorism activities in India involve a combination of intelligence, law enforcement and military action, and requires the participation of the internal security apparatus. It makes little sense to have the RAW gather intelligence for operations that are driven by internal security organisations like the Intelligence Bureau, police, paramilitary forces and the Army. The collection and analysis of intelligence related to counter-terrorism are, therefore, most appropriately carried out by the IB. Whether this is done by way of housing the proposed NCTC (or any other variation of it) within the IB, however, is open to discussion.
Experts have said that any response to terror activities must be carried out under a “well-defined command and control system”. The role of the RAW in this field leads to double processing of intelligence (because the RAW passes it on to the IB, which shares it with the responders) and is, therefore, redundant.
As the lead internal intelligence agency, the IB should be the nodal agency for counter-terrorism initiatives and intelligence sharing. Issues of manpower shortages can be addressed by moving the RAW’s healthy counter-terrorism (CT) unit to the IB. Additionally, the IB must have the authority to liaison with other CT units overseas and can be assisted by the RAW when necessary.
Institutionalise India’s counter-terrorism posture
Institutionalising the counter-terrorism posture of the IB will result in two positive outcomes. First, there will be greater fusion in activities. It will minimise the lapses that could occur between the gathering, processing and acting on of intelligence. Second, it will allow the RAW to focus on its objective and direct resources accordingly. It could also further improve intelligence sharing between the two arms of India’s intelligence community.
The nature of terrorism has changed dramatically in the last two decades with trans-border and non-state actors evolving as critical threats. The response, however, must be internal given its potential to disrupt public order and jeopardise national security. Making counter-terrorism a function of the IB is one step forward in developing a cohesive response to the dominant security threat.
The author is a Policy Analyst at the Geostrategy Programme of The Takshashila Institution. Views are personal.