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Issue No.: 550 | April 2013
 

National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC)

Ashok Karnik
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The Union Home Minister has shown willingness to consider detaching the NCTC from the IB to satisfy the autonomy protagonists. However, that would create another problem altogether as NCTC without the IB backup would be an empty shell.

After the Hyderabad twin blasts (February 21), attention is again focused on the inadequacy of coordination between the Centre and the States on life and death matters like terrorist strikes. As usual, there were claims that the Centre had intelligence that terrorists were planning to strike but not the date, time and exact target. What was the State expected to do? The Centre expects the States to fill in the blanks in the intelligence provided by the Centre; it would be impossible for the Centre to penetrate the gullies and mohallas to identify the specifics. All over the world, generic intelligence is obtained at the national or international level and it is further developed at the ground level to foil terrorist strikes. The problem is that in India there are no resources at the local level to fill in the blanks.

Why NCTC?

It is easy for the Centre to leave the ground action to the States but time and again the local police are found to be inadequate. They are simply not equipped to deal with such a complicated matter as terrorist action. Firstly, they have no time to develop expertise since their energies are dissipated in all directions from bandobast, crime investigation, VIP security to routine law and order functions. Terrorism needs a study of the mind of the terrorist, his methods, sources of recruitment for such activities, the module formation and the network of suppliers, bomb makers, the shadowy controllers and finally the motivators. It is unreasonable to expect that every town and city police would have officers with this level of expertise. It is, therefore, logical and mandatory to have a dedicated group of officers to deal with this complex problem. The NCTC is expected to provide this expertise. P. Chidambaram, when he was the Union Home Minister, studied the best practices adopted all over the world in view of the newly emerging threat of terrorism, post 9/11 and came up with several ideas for the Indian situation. While his ideas like the National Investigation Agency (NIA), National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) were accepted – though with some reservations – the National Grid (NATGRID) and NCTC met with opposition. NATGRID faced difficulties about control and dissemination of information while NCTC faced more fundamental, constitutional hurdles. Even Chidambaram’s critics will concede that he is never short on ideas. His only problem was the gap between his ideas and their implementation. 

Objections

The objection to the NCTC was twofold: the NCTC needs to be empowered to act wherever it detects a threat which would entail a Central force acting on its own in States, violating the State autonomy  vis a vis law and order. Secondly, the Intelligence Bureau was proposed to be the controlling entity for the NCTC. The IB, which has the wherewithal to keep track of terrorist activities, is not a police organization per se and has no police powers; it is deliberately kept so, as intelligence needs to be kept aloof from the power that intelligence provides so that it is not misused. In the NCTC, the IB would be the apex body with powers of arrest and seizure. The combination of intelligence and police powers is considered dangerous. The Union Home Minister has shown willingness to consider detaching the NCTC from the IB to satisfy the autonomy protagonists. However, that would create another problem altogether as NCTC without the IB backup would be an empty shell. It will have to raise a country wide network parallel  to IB’s  or be at IB’s mercy to obtain intelligence. Knowing our empire building bureaucrats, IB would most likely be inaccessible to NCTC and the two would start working as rivals. The expenditure on duplication is another matter. Then somebody would come with an idea of a supervisory body to coordinate between the IB and the NCTC. That would be music to our bureaucratic soul and put an end to all anti-terrorism effort. It is sure to kill the patient instead of curing the disease.  If that happens, soon there will be skirmishes between the IB and the NCTC for kudos for saving the country from terror or finger pointing at each other whenever a terror strike succeeds. Detaching the NCTC from the IB would be akin to reinventing the wheel, as the NCTC would have to begin from recruitment, training, developing expertise, raising contacts and sources, which can take years. All these handicaps could render it ineffective for years and make it fail so badly that it might be condemned without trial. A concession offered by the Home Ministry is to get the NCTC to inform the State Director General of Police in advance of any arrest or search to be carried out in that State. This might assuage the feelings of autonomy warriors. The ideal solution now proposed is to give up the police powers envisaged for the NCTC and allow it to remain as part of IB.

Pragmatism vs Apprehensions 

Instead of opposing imaginary ghosts, the States must realize that the NCTC should be given a fair run in the interest of national security. It can be kept under the ‘oversight’ of a neutral unbiased body (judicial?) to prevent its misuse. If, and when, it is suspected to have been misused by the Centre, as is its wont, as seen in the use of the CBI, the States can take it up with the ‘oversight’ body. Lack of trust in the Central Government should not come in the way of national interests. 

 The need for an apparatus to tackle a long-term danger like terrorism must be appreciated by all. It is a matter that should transcend political boundaries. We have suffered long enough complaining of lack of coordination and doing nothing about it. It must be realized that terrorist attacks will continue as long as Pakistan continues to regard India as the bogeyman responsible for all its ills. Let us not delude ourselves that the threat would disappear just because we show magnanimity. A word of caution: NCTC is not a panacea against terrorism and its formation would not automatically safeguard us against terrorist attacks. It would only be an instrument to fight the menace. Let us at least try it out.

ASHOK KARNIK, 
ashokkarnik2001@yahoo.co.in
 
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The Art of Giving

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