The Red Herring Dealers of Lahore

There’s more to the Mumbai terror alert than meets the eye

Yesterday, reports in the media indicated that a terror alert had been sounded in Mumbai and across many Indian airports: five terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba had entered the country and planned to target petrochemical installations in Mumbai using the sea routes. These reports were similar to those a couple of days earlier, concerning Gujarat, where coastal police tightened watch over offshore islands and the petrochemical complex at Jamnagar.

Reports in today’s Pakistani newspapers reveal that three of the five alleged LeT terrorists are shopkeepers and a security guard from Lahore, who have sought police protection in the light of the Indian terror alert.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a goof-up by Indian intelligence authorities, citing Occam’s & Hanlon’s razors. To do so would be to ignore the little known fact that the Lashkar-e-Taiba has, in the past, used red herrings to befuddle and embarrass India’s intelligence agencies, including during one of the biggest terrorist attacks in recent times. It would also be to ignore the alacrity with which the three gentlemen from Lahore discovered their photographs, sought police protection and, according to one popular website that peddles a ‘nationalist’ line, were to address a press conference. All this within hours of the photographs appearing in the Indian media. Things do happen pretty fast in the internet age, but a mere three six hours to mobilise all this should raise eyebrows. (Gujarat police had put up the photographs across the state as early as May 6th). [See update below]

So what, other than incompetence, are the possibilities?

The first is that real terrorists used fake identities to enter India. If they have entered India, it means they are still around and might use the lowering of guard caused by this episode to strike. Also, the alerts indicated five terrorists. It is important, therefore, for the authorities and the media to treat the threat as ongoing and serious, and not drift into complacency.

Second, this was an information operation designed to embarrass India and the United States, and use it to show that India always makes false accusations against Pakistan. By implication, Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba were victims of a ‘false flag’ operation by India (and the United States) to implicate Pakistan. The best time for this would have been when Hillary Clinton was on Indian soil. However, by accident, inefficiency or design, the terror alert was sounded after she left the country. In the event the grand expose in Lahore turned out to be a damp squib.

Be that as it may, the myth-making machines of Pakistan will turn this episode into a narrative of how Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba are unfairly blamed by India and the United States. Even if its for domestic consumption, it’s still an effort that didn’t go waste.

We must, of course, consider the Occam & Hanlon razors. Did India’s intelligence agencies goof up? They could have erred in terms of the existence of the threat, the presence of terrorists and their identities. Each of these is a separate issue. That said, at this stage, we are better off if they raise an alert at the risk of looking red-faced rather than let the fear of embarrassment cause them to less on the ball.

Tailpiece: There’s also a chance that the Indian media put up the wrong pictures. How and why they’d end up publishing photographs of the three gentlemen from Lahore is a mystery.

Update: May 11th, 2012 Praveen Swami & Mohammad Ali report “late on Wednesday, shopkeeper Mahtab Butt said he had on a whim used Google to search for the word ‘India.’ The search led him to an India Today group site. There, he discovered a photo of himself, fellow storeowner Atif Butt and night guard Muhammad Babar, illustrating a story on the alleged Mumbai terror plot. Mr. Butt said he immediately called Pakistani television show host Mubashir Lucman — a controversial figure known for his dogged support of the religious right — with the news…Later that evening though, both Mr. Butt and Mr. Atif Butt provided The Hindu with a quite different version of events. The two men said they had learned of the report from a common friend, whom they identified as Khubaab.”

This increases the likelihood that India’s intelligence agencies were fed misinformation to either divert or embarrass them. We can only speculate the reasons for this. Embarrassing India during Mrs Clinton’s visit is enough of a motive. While it is unlikely that the ISI would wish to escalate tensions with India at a time when Pakistan’s relations with the US are close to breaking down, it would be inappropriate to dismiss the risk of a terrorist attack.

The misleading presumption of a coup

We lose the middle when we debate the extremes

Here’s an excerpt from a report in The Hindu filed by its New Delhi bureau.

Precisely why the government ought to have been alarmed by the presence of two additional formations on New Delhi’s outskirts, when tens of thousands of soldiers are stationed in and around the city, also remains unclear.

Intelligence sources told The Hindu that the political apprehensions might have emanated from assessments given to the government as its conflict with the Army Chief on the age issue escalated in early January. Tens of thousands of soldiers were arriving in Delhi for the Republic Day parade, even as Gen. Singh was preparing to move the Supreme Court, and the Intelligence Bureau feared the inflamed public discourse on his date of birth might spark an embarrassing incident.

The movement of the two units was noted with concern in this context, a senior Intelligence Bureau official admitted to The Hindu, but insisted that “at no stage was the possibility of a coup, or any attempt to overawe the government, ever discussed. We worried about indiscipline, or a show of support by some elements — and it’s our job to consider those possibilities.”

Though the Intelligence Bureau routinely monitors troop movements in sensitive areas across India, the sources said, it had not been conducting surveillance operations seeking signs of threatening military movements. It was only after the 50 Brigade or 33 Armoured Division’s detachments were noticed on the capital’s outskirts that the government was notified of their presence. [The Hindu]

In yesterday’s blog post and tweets, I had warned that the presumption that the Indian Express report only indicated a coup would close our minds to other “in-between” possibilities.

Note what the senior IB official says—it was not a coup they feared, but rather ‘indiscipline or a show of support by some elements.’ Street protests have become increasing common over the last few years not least because the UPA government has succumbed to political negotiations conducted by such means. As the officer said, it’s the Intelligence Bureau’s job to consider those possibilities. The atmosphere of mistrust would have played on those risk assessments and set off the chain of events.

What is of public interest, then, is what caused civil-military trust to break down? What mistakes did the civilian establishment make in the days and hours leading up to January 16/17? What mistakes did the army make? These questions need to be examined dispassionately in order for us to be able to attempt to restore that trust. [Troop movements of the curious kind]

A breach in the defence ministry?

It is too early to point fingers (especially without evidence)

Last year there was an eavesdropping controversy supposedly targeting the finance minister and his aides. It has now been reported—and denied—that the defence minister’s office might have been bugged. If it is indeed true that A K Antony’s conversations were being overhead, this is not a trifling matter. We still do not know what became of Pranab Mukherjee’s case. That obfuscation might have good reasons (in the public interest) and bad ones (in the partisan political interest). So it becomes all the more troubling to know that yet another important cabinet minister might have been targeted for eavesdropping.

While good journalism would investigate the matter, making allegations without evidence is dangerous. Most media reports somehow find it relevant to mention the recent controversy over the army chief’s date of birth in a report of suspected bugs in Mr Antony’s office. They insinuate a connection without any evidence.

India Today’s, Sandeep Unnithan goes a step further. “The needle of suspicion,” he writes using the passive voice, “has been pointed at the army. Sources say it is possible that the MI (military intelligence) team stumbled upon the bug planted by another team”. We do not know who these ‘sources’ are? We do not know why they think the MI team should ‘stumble’ upon a bug instead of ‘finding’ it as part of their professional routine?

He then says “Defence Ministry officials believe that the Army was snooping on phone conversations around South Block.” This is better. We know that it is defence ministry officials who are making these allegations, although we do not know if it is a gossiping clerk or a top official leaking information to the media in the public interest. It could be anyone.

Mr Unnithan then goes on to provide evidence that the Army has equipment that can listen in to phone conversations. But there’s a, well, bug in his story. If the Army has “off-the-air” interceptors and “passive cellular surveillance systems” why would it need to plant a bug in Mr Antony’s office? Intercepting cellphones does not require planting of bugs in the defence minister’s office. If we presume that the Army already has the ability to tap fixed line telephones, then why would they need plant a bug at all? Also it’s not only the Army that has these devices. There were at least 73,000 such passive interception devices in government and private hands last year.

The bug might have been placed to eavesdrop into offline conversations. In which case, the whole story of the Army’s surveillance equipment and ‘shadowy’ military intelligence divisions is as irrelevant or relevant as any other explanation. The needle of suspicion has many directions to point at. At this point we just do not know.

There is no doubt that recent events have increased mutual mistrust and antagonism between the civilian and uniformed defence officials. So suspicions and conspiracy theories are to be expected. Journalists have an important responsibility to ensure that these are not unduly stoked by the manner of their reportage.

The immorality of leaking private information indiscriminately

The Hindu shouldn’t be collaborating in this unethical enterprise

When Wikileaks indiscriminately leaked diplomatic correspondence it had the fig leaf of claiming it was exposing wrongdoing by governments. Never mind that it put the lives and safety of informants in authoritarian countries at risk while only revealing details of how international diplomacy is conducted. Those details might have surprised ordinary people who were unfamiliar with the workings of their foreign ministries and embassies, they didn’t achieve any lofty public purpose. As I argued then, they might have conversely caused governments to tighten up their information silos to the detriment of the public interest.

Now, when Wikileaks has indiscriminately leaked the email archives of a private firm, Stratfor, there is no fig leaf of any kind left. Stratfor is a private intelligence company that collects and sells geopolitical analysis to private and government buyers. The nature of its business requires it to seek out informants, negotiate with them and pay them. It might procure leads from US government agencies and sell them information. All this is in the nature of its business.

Some people might be appalled that other people do this kind of business, but it is a legitimate business. Stratfor didn’t claim to be the Red Cross or a humanitarian organisation. It claims to be “a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis…(using) a unique, intelligence-based approach to gathering information via rigorous open-source monitoring and a global network of human sources.” It is what it says it is. It operates legally.

If Julian Assange or anyone else knows of specific instances of wrongdoing or illegal activity by Stratfor or its employees, the right thing to do is register a complaint with the relevant law-enforcement authorities. If Mr Assange has evidence of illegality, the only ethical thing for him to do is to hand it over to the authorities. Wholesale, indiscriminate leaking of private information—because you dislike Stratfor’s business or suspect illegality—is neither ethical nor moral. It is quite likely illegal.

From what we know of Julian Assange, he lacks the moral compass to make these fairly obvious ethical judgements. The Hindu, though, does (or, perhaps, used to). I often disagree with the newspaper’s editorial line. However, until the Indian newspaper’s dalliance with Wikileaks, I did not have reason to complain about its basic ethics. No longer. It is unclear just how a reputed institution like The Hindu could be a willing collaborator with Mr Assange on the violation of the privacy of a private company.

If the editors of The Hindu believe that invading Stratfor’s privacy is somehow acceptable then they ought to start by opening up their own corporate email systems to the public. Make every email and phone call public. Surely the public has a right to know the names of the informants who talk to the newspaper’s journalists? Surely the public must know what the journalists tell each other and to their editors? So what if the informants are honest whistleblowers risking their lives or crafty officials manipulating public opinion? Let’s have it. Let the people decide!

If The Hindu’s editors think that their own emails are private information, why then are they denying that right to Stratfor?

Update: In an editorial note published on February 28th, the newspaper justifies its collaboration with Wikileaks on two premises. First, that “confidentiality and privacy cannot be invoked as a cover for wrongdoing or unethical behavior”; and second, “the unusual nature of Stratfor’s business — in essence, providing intelligence to clients who include governments and large corporations, some embroiled in serious controversies, like Dow Chemical — means that there is a compelling public interest in studying the e-mails to see if they cast light on corporate or governmental wrong-doing.”

This is sophistry. The ethical question here is how can we know a priori that there is wrongdoing? Is it ethical for individuals and newspapers to steal private property (or deal with thieves) merely on suspicion? Even the police can’t search without warrant. So if I suspect The Hindu of being on the payroll of the Chinese Communist Party, it it acceptable for me to hack into their email systems, or ransack their offices, to look for evidence of “wrongdoing or unethical behavior”? Clearly not.

And surely the “unusual nature of StratFor’s business” is not that unusual. For instance, “the unusual nature of The Hindu’s business – in essence providing information to clients who include governments, large corporations, rapists, convicts and enemies of India, some embroiled in serious controversies like the 2G scam and the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka — means that there is a compelling public interest in studying the emails to see if they cast light on corporate or governmental wrong-doing.”

So let The Hindu open up its email archives to me. I will be ‘acutely aware that my use of this material imposes special obligations upon me, in particular to respect the privacy of the legitimate business activities and private correspondence of The Hindu, its staff and those they may have corresponded with. In my reportage, I shall do my utmost to respect this obligation, by only publishing material if it clearly points to corporate or government wrong-doing or unethical behaviour, and thus meets the test of compelling public interest.’

If this proposal strikes you as preposterous, it is because it is. Strangely, and unfortunately, The Hindu’s editors are doing just this to someone else.

Concerns about secret US raids into Pakistan

US covert operations in Pakistan pose risks to India

There is something disturbing about US raids of the sort that killed Osama bin Laden. If the level of secrecy was so high that the Pakistani military establishment was not operationally aware of who was conducting the raid, if not for what purpose, there is a risk that the Pakistanis will reflexively react as if it were an Indian attack.

The White House counter-terrorism chief’s comments add to these concerns:

Q: And I understand that there was a moment of real tension, one with the helicopter, but then also when the Navy SEALs were leaving and the Pakistani government started scrambling their jets, and there was a concern that they were coming to where the U.S. troops were, where the Navy SEALs were. Was there an actual concern that the Pakistanis — since they were not apparently informed about this military operation, was there an actual concern that they might actually take military action against the Navy SEALs?

MR. BRENNAN We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace. At the time, the Pakistanis were reacting to an incident that they knew was taking place in Abbottabad. Therefore, they were scrambling some of their assets.

Clearly, we were concerned that if the Pakistanis decided to scramble jets or whatever else, they didn’t know who were on those jets. They had no idea about who might have been on there, whether it be U.S. or somebody else. So we were watching and making sure that our people and our aircraft were able to get out of Pakistani airspace. And thankfully, there was no engagement with Pakistani forces. This operation was designed to minimize the prospects, the chances of engagement with Pakistani forces. It was done very well, and thankfully no Pakistani forces were engaged and there was no other individuals who were killed aside from those on the compound. [White House, emphasis added]

The military establishment is paranoid about their “strategic assets” and the notion of US, India and Israel snatching Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has been deeply socialised within the population. Presuming that John Brennan is telling the truth, what this means is that raids like the one the US conducted in Abbottabad might be seen as attempts to defuse the nuclear arsenal, especially but not necessarily if they happen to be conducted in the vicinity of nuclear weapons storage sites. This sets up a game of Crown Jewel Panic, which poses asymmetric risks for India. [See 1 2 3 4]

It is in India’s interests that the United States share information with India or Pakistan well before it conducts such operations. Now there is a chance that if India is seen to be raising its guard after receiving such information, the Pakistani army will be more inclined to believe that something is afoot, thereby raising the risks to India. So informing the Pakistanis would be the best way to lower the risks of unintended consequences. But then, informing the Pakistanis might well defeat the whole purpose of the covert raid. Therefore, given that the risks disproportionately accrue to India, keeping New Delhi in the loop is a far better option than keeping it in the dark.

Obviously, the question is “Why would the Americans tell us?” It is easy to the usual route of cribbing that they never will. That route also leads to a cul-de-sac. The other route is to ask “How can New Delhi persuade Washington that it is better that they tell us first?” The latter route is likely to be more productive.

The Raymond Davis Drama

Looks like the North Waziristan operation will be postponed again

From the very beginning, it was hard to shake off the suspicion that the Raymond Davis affair involved covert operatives from both the United States and Pakistan. That Mr Davis was engaged in diplomacy by other means should have been clear to anyone with a passing familiarity of the business (attained, perhaps, by the study of the scholarly works of David John Moore Cornwell or Ian Lancaster Fleming). Once the US embassy confirmed that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity it was a matter of pedantic or professional interest as to whether he worked for the CIA, DHA, State Department or indeed was a private security contractor employed by the US government.

But what was less discussed, at least until a couple of days ago, was that the two Pakistanis men (referred to as ‘youths’ or ‘boys’ in the Pakistani media) he killed might have also been engaged in diplomacy by other means. (Incidentally, Express Tribune pulled the initial report, here’s the cached article). Diplomats and foreign journalists who have served in Pakistan are familiar with such diplomacy, not infrequently conducted from a motorcycle. It would be of pedantic or professional interest as to whether they worked for the ISI, Intelligence Bureau or some other “agency”.

It is possible that the dust-up between Mr Davis and the two Pakistanis was the result of the escalation of free and frank discussions to a higher calibre. It is also possible that the two Pakistanis, and one of their innocent counterparts, lost their lives in the risky venture of creating a dust-up.

Consider. There are two possibilities why Lahore police would arrest a white American man who identified himself as US diplomat with immunity. First, that they were told to do so by higher authorities. Second, that the local authorities were so radically anti-American—consistent with general public sentiment—that they were willing to disregard claims of diplomatic immunity, and brazen out the consequences. This is unlikely, not least because it would mean some people would lose their jobs in the process.

General Kayani’s guidance to the interior minister reminding him to keep Mr Davis’ military background in mind supports the hypothesis that the military-jihadi complex instigated this drama. Why?

That is hard to say. It is, however, the biggest beneficiary of the crisis. Politically, it is the Zardari government—which it has no love for—that is on the ropes, caught between an increasingly tough Washington and an increasingly anti-American public sentiment. Even if the matter is resolved in a few days’ time by getting the judiciary to affirm his diplomatic immunity, the episode can be offered as a reason, yet again, for the Pakistani army to avoid launching the much delayed operation against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in North Waziristan. The overall rise in temperature works to call for a reduction in US drone attacks, using the argument that doing so is necessary to lower anti-American feelings.

The Pakistani military leadership calculates that the United States can suspend bilateral relations or aid for a short while, but overall, the risk of a permanent break is low. It is not wrong. That is why it can afford to rock the boat—with terrorist attacks or diplomatic dramas—to pre-empt US coercion. After all, for the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, poking the United States in the eye is less risky compared to having to really fight itself.

Note: This article is under copyright and may not be reproduced without explicit permission

Related Link: Najam Sethi has an excellent analysis of the affair.

When BlackBerry went to New Delhi

BlackBerry must comply with Indian law. India needs a new debate on privacy.

Yes, terrorists can use anything to communicate with each other, plan attacks and help carry them out.

Hafiz Mohammed Saeed can write letters, in code, and send it by post to his sleeper agents in India. He probably does that. But not all means of communications are alike in their ability to help terrorists carry out attacks. A terrorist with a satellite phone with real-time voice and data connection is far more dangerous than a terrorist who carries letters in his pocket. So the argument that terrorists can use anything to communicate is not a valid counter to the argument that government agencies can prevent, investigate and prosecute terrorists better if they are capable of intercepting or blocking real-time communications.

For instance, there is a reasonable argument that the damage to life and property in Mumbai during the 26/11 attacks might have been lower if the terrorists had been denied access to real-time communications, from satellite phones, to cellular phones to broadcast television. There is also a reasonable argument that the ability to intercept the phone calls made by the terrorists plays an important role in prosecuting them in courts of law and in courts of public opinion. India’s law enforcement agencies have had the ability to tap your phone for ages, but apart from the odd political scandal, it is difficult to build a case that this has somehow led to the infringements of the rights of ordinary citizens.

The current debate over Blackberry’s messaging system must be placed in this context. The ongoing discussion between the Indian government and Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that provides BlackBerry services, involves two inter-related issues.

First, whatever might be RIM’s values, business practices and corporate policies, its business in India is governed by Indian law. The contention that “no one else has a problem with our service” is no defence—India has security considerations that might be peculiar to it, and as long as the requirements are constitutionally legitimate, RIM must comply. It is disingenuous to conflate the legitimate authority of a constitutional democracy—imperfect as India’s is—with that of the demands made by totalitarian or authoritarian states. The two are morally and practically different. [See this editorial in the Globe and Mail].

RIM could insist—as it has just done—that it is not treated any differently from others in the field, but it cannot get away with the excuse that its corporate policy overrides the rule of law in India.

Second and the more important issue is for India to establish due processes to determine just who, under what circumstances and under what checks and balances gets to actually block or intercept communications. A national debate over digital privacy, powers of government and mechanisms for redressal is now urgent, as the Indian economy and society become ever more reliant on communications networks.

It is clear that citizens need greater, more credible safeguards. It is also clear that the government needs to be more capable of addressing threats that arise from advances in communications technology. What is not clear is whether the political establishment sees these as priorities worthy of wider public deliberation. The usual practice of passing legislation without adequate parliamentary debate is neither likely to reassure citizens of their rights nor offer new ideas to law-enforcement agencies.

This blog has consistently argued against blunt measures like banning telecommunication services, even and especially in insurgent & terrorist affected areas. Governments must learn how to operate in an information-rich, networked world. Therefore, to the extent that the Indian government’s threat to block BlackBerry services is a device to press RIM to better co-operate with the law-enforcement agencies, it is tolerable. Such a threat is credible only if it can hurt both the government itself and RIM. This appears to be the case.

However, it would be a serious mistake if the government were to make such a ban permanent. Not because India needs the BlackBerry, but because the underlying rationale is self-defeating.

Hello Baradar

Why a lamb was sacrificed

The New York Times, which broke the story of the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, supposedly second only to Mullah Mohammed Omar in the Taliban firmament, says that it was the result of a joint US-Pakistani operation in Karachi last week. The news was kept secret in order to entrap other members of the Taliban leadership but was finally released to the public after “White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region”—that is, after someone in Pakistan leaked it. [See analyses by M Ilyas Khan (‘BBC’), Amanda Hodge (The Australian) and Huma Yusuf (Christian Science Monitor)]

Now why was the poor Mullah ‘captured’? At an INI discussion this afternoon, we arrived at four potential answers.

First, given the fact that he was arrested in Karachi—and not Quetta, Peshawar or the tribal areas—it could well have been a CIA operation that led to his capture. Since it would be impolitic to present it as such, a convenient cover story of a joint operation becomes necessary. The fact that US operatives are interrogating Mr Baradar while he is in Pakistani custody supports this argument. If indeed it was a US operation that netted him, it would mean that the Obama administration has escalated covert operations in Pakistani territory to another level. Both Pragmatic Euphony and I lean towards this explanation.

Second, as Arif Rafiq of the Pakistan Policy blog has argued, Mr Baradar could have been sacrificed by General Kayani as a signal to Mullah Omar—that the Quetta Shura Taliban had better not stray too far from the line laid down by Rawalpindi. This might, for instance, require the Taliban to become more amenable to talks with the Americans and a deal with the Karzai government. Or it might actually be the opposite, as Mr Baradar was engaged in secret talks with the Karzai government and US forces. In any event, this explanation suggests that the Pakistani military establishment is using very strong tactics to coerce the Taliban.

Third, as my INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar noted, it might well be that the Mr Baradar’s fate is similar to that of the several ‘right-hand men’ and ‘No 3’s’ that General Musharraf used to hand over to release some pressure that the United States exerted on him. While entirely plausible, it is unclear why the ‘capture’ should take place in Karachi—prompting uncomfortable questions as to who else is holed out in that city.

Fourth, just for the sake of analytical completeness, is the possibility that the Pakistani military establishment has decided to jettison the Quetta Shura Taliban. No, before you entertain wishful thoughts, this is not because of any ‘change of heart’ but because General Kayani might have calculated that this particular group is dispensable. It is the Haqqani militia that is Pakistan’s chief proxy in Afghanistan.

The change of NSA is a manifestation of deeper change

India’s national security reform is in the second stage

Going by most media reports, you will be forgiven for believing that M K Narayanan’s movement to West Bengal as governor has got entirely to do with an energetic home minister winning turf battles and the Congress party president going one up on the prime minister. Or even that he was removed for obstructing prime minister’s move towards a (US-brokered) deal on Kashmir. It is entirely possible that some of these reports are true. They are, however, more the consequences of the change, rather than the change itself.

That change—and the India media have missed it almost entirely (save honourable exceptions)—involves the revamp of the national security apparatus in the wake of the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008. The first stage was a relatively quiet series of administrative and operational changes introduced in the home ministry, intelligence agencies and related security forces. Home Minister P Chidambaram’s Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture was titled “radical restructuring of security architecture.” Restructuring in any organisation involves, shall we say, ‘staff movements’, the radical type even more so. Mr Narayanan’s departure and the appointment of a new NSA has to be seen in this light.

How should the NSA’s job description change? K Subrahmanyam makes the case:

The present model gives too high a profile to the NSA, and impinges on the effectiveness of his role.While Kissinger and Brzezinski had high profile roles and were innovators focussing on one policy (Kissinger on China and Brzezenski on Afghanistan), they were not the ideal NSAs for the system. In India, Brajesh Mishra was resented by most Cabinet ministers. Cabinet secretaries are not resented since they play a low profile role. Condeleezza Rice was a prima donna as the Secretary of State and so was Colin Powell. But they played a low profile role as NSAs.

For the new NSA , much of the executive role for intelligence will shift out of his hands and so also internal security management, which will shift to the revamped home ministry.But it is necessary to ensure that all intelligence inputs of DNI are routed to the PM through him. The NSA should continue to have his coordinating role in respect of internal security in order to apprise the NSC of the continuing developments in the internal security situation. Our cabinet system functions on the basis that each minister is autonomous in respect of his own jurisdiction.The NSC concept is based on the recognition that on national security, the ministries need to be coordinated and that responsibility vests with NSA. Shedding of various executive responsibilities and assuming an expanded coordinating role will make the NSA more effective and permit the PM to implement his strategic vision better.

Civil servants have a preference for hands-on administrative roles.The purpose of NSC is to function as a thinktank for the strategic advancement of the nation. Such visions have to come from the political leadership.The most important challenges currently facing India are the rise of China and the new industrial revolution consequent on climate change on the external front, and terrorism and problems of left-wing extremism, ethnic sessionism and good and effective governance on the internal front. For an NSA or NSC to tackle this, India needs more thinking and planning, and a hands-on administration. [IE]

That the UPA government is embarking on a radical reform of the national security architecture is to be welcomed. But to the extent the media focus is on the superficial politics, on ‘frontrunners for the position’ and on perceived turf wars, there is little public scrutiny of the actual reform itself.

Terrorism for the cameras

On this week’s terrorist attack on Srinagar

“Barring that it took place around the corner from the offices of Srinagar-based television stations,” writes The Hindu in today’s editorial, “there was little to distinguish the incident from dozens of similar fire engagements that regularly take place in the State.”

During the course of the attack, the Pakistani handler instructed the terrorists to prolong the attack for as long as they could, to conserve ammunition by carefully firing single or two-round bursts. “You must make every effort,” said the handler “to stretch this through the night and the whole day tomorrow.”

As good an example as you can get, to demonstrate that terrorism is theatre. As Bruce Schneier wrote:

The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act. [Bruce Schneier]

This was not a brainless 3act of terrorism involving indiscriminate attacks aimed at creating mass casualty. This was a clever attempt to achieve the same effect but with the limited resources at their disposal. The terrorists counted on the television media to act as the force multiplier. They didn’t entirely fail, as Pragmatic Euphony points out.

But when Indian intelligence authorities released intercepts of conversations between the terrorists and their handlers, the tables were turned. It is unclear if jihadi organisations fire (pun unintended) their handlers, but Junaid presents a fit case for dismissal. If your strategic intent is to prove that the violent ‘freedom struggle’ in Kashmir is not dead, it is not too clever to give the game away by using a phrase like “breathe life into a dead horse.”

(Of course, it is possible, though unlikely, that the intercepts that were released were false or doctored. That still doesn’t change the final score.)