Intelligence in India’s Internal Security
Ajit Doval, KC - Former Director, VIF

As an instrumentality of the state, a seemingly simple doctrine that security interests of a state are best served when addressed from a position of knowledge dominance is the mother of intelligence. Unfortunately, states often do not act in their best interests – lack of useful and relevant knowledge not always being at fault. As Barbara Tuchman starts her famous book ‘The March of Folly’ with a lamentation that “A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by the governments of policies contrary to their own interests”. In modern times, most of these follies passed off as intelligence failures.

Despite all this talk of the failure, the dependence of the state on intelligence has universally increased at an unprecedented rate – pervading right from problem conceptualization to policy formulation and ground level policy execution. Momentous changes in nature and form of security threats, states resorting to low cost option of covert actions to achieve their politico-strategic objectives, easy accessibility to high and lethal technology, global mobility, low efficacy of conventional state instrumentalities against invisible threats, etc. are just few among the long causative factors. These shifting paradigms have catapulted intelligence to a central role in all modes of conflict. In an offensive mode it provides vital inputs for strategy formulation and assessment of enemy strengths and weaknesses on one hand and as a potent force multiplier and capability degrader on the other. In defensive-offense, it helps in raising the deterrence levels, through covert or overt methods, striking at the sources of threat and making offensive actions by the adversaries cost ineffective. In the defensive mode, intelligence plays the seminal role of prediction and prevention of threats and providing protective armour denying to the adversaries the sought targets. It catalyses a real time response, should the protective mechanism fail. Though these modes do not have domain exclusiveness, but there are some skills, instrumentalities and resources, both human and technical, which are specific to each category. In internal security, the intelligence role, by and large, operates in defensive-offense and defensive modes which not only require unique capabilities of its own but area-specific, problem-specific and response-specific expertise and skills.

India’s geo-political positioning, neighbourhood factor, historical experience, long and treacherous borders, long maritime boundaries, etc. make it highly vulnerable to external threats. Concurrently, its communal, caste, linguistic and ethnic fault-lines, economic deprivities and disparities, political conflicts and turmoils, need for change with order of a vast population beleaguered by poverty and ignorance and exploitation, etc. are sources of its internal vulnerability. However, this scenario in the last two decades, has undergone a change for the worse. The conventional model, where the causes, instrumentalities, resources and consequences of internal threats were homegrown, in contrast to the external threats where they were of external origin, no more holds good. In the new setting, internal security has become more vulnerable to external stimulants whose politico-strategic objectives, planning, motivation, finances, resources, etc. are of external origin and only the consequences and depredations are domestically experienced. To compound the problem, these external forces often develop connectivity with domestic fault-lines to give them a character of internal security problem as also a degree of deniability to the real perpetrators. This dichotomy presents a serious intelligence challenge as there is a disconnect between the knowledge available (of external factors) but can not be responded in defensive mode and response maneuverability being highly restricted in the area where response is permitted. The vast knowledge available regarding the real sources and causes of troubles becomes empirically non usable for response. It gets further accentuated when weak governments are in power. Further, these externally originated threats have to be responded under the jurisprudence of ordinary criminal law meant for internal disorders where legal processes are designed to determine the conclusivity of evidence rather than finding the truth and upholding legal rights of the delinquent rather than protecting supreme security interests of the state.

India has been a victim of these externally sponsored security threats for long and has paid an un-affordably high price, both in terms of determinable losses to life and property and, more importantly non quantifiable losses to its national will, social cohesion, democratic polity, national image and drain on scarce economic resources.

If there is one point on which there is total unanimity in respect of India’s national security, it is over the fact that internal security is the most vulnerable segment of the country’s national security. This fact was reiterated by the Kargil Committee, the report of the Group of Ministers on national security as also underlined by various domestic and foreign expert studies. Some of the studies which tried to quantify the threat placed it as high as 80 to 85%. It is also undisputedly accepted that the external component today has acquired predominant role in the country’s internal security. While country’s democratic polity, economic growth, and, slow but sure, social transformation are steadily bringing down threats from conventional sources, except probably the Left Wing Extremism, the external factor has raised the vulnerability many notches up.

This changed conflict profile in its matrix embodies serious long-term security implications for India. Their impact can be calamitous which statistical compilations under a law and order paradigm can hardly elucidate. Coping with them will not require intelligence reforms but intelligence transformation as propounded by Deborah Barger in “Towards a revolution in intelligence affairs”, a Rand Corporation sponsored research project. Reforms focus on redressing and correcting past errors, transformation in futuristic – it looks at challenges and opportunities of the future and relates the change to them. India will have to grapple with new realities as they are emerging and not as we wish them to be. Following features of the changing conflict profile, though not exhaustive but illustrative, need a special mention.

(a) With wars increasingly becoming cost-ineffective and high-risk ventures of unpredictable consequences, Covert Action (CA) has emerged as a new instrument of State Policy. It is a low cost sustainable offensive, not only employed by asymmetric powers, too weak to exercise other options but even by the others. Moral pretensions and denials notwithstanding, this low-cost option has been used equally by powerful countries like USA to achieve politico-strategic objectives (like against the Soviets in Afghanistan) and weaker States like Pakistan to bleed India through terrorist violence.

The implied acceptability, if not legitimacy, acquired by the doctrine of ‘protecting supreme national interests’ through Clauswitz’s ‘war through other means’ has, however, bypassed India. This, despite the fact that India has been the worst victim of the foreign covert offensive leading to nearly 70,000 deaths including over 9,000 SF personnel killed. Though beleaguered for nearly two decades, India has failed to develop capabilities and a viable national response to the threat both at strategic and tactical levels. Response has been episodal with short memories and a perspective with time consistency at best lasting till the next elections;

(b) Acquisition of nuclear and missile capability by Pakistan, through most questionable means, has substantially restricted India’s option of utilizing its conventional military superiority to keep Pakistan under check. Nuclearised Pakistan, also, cannot be internationally isolated. While deterrence threshold has substantially come down, tolerance threshold has proportionately increased, at least as estimated by Pakistan. Recent weak-kneed initiatives have only reinforced their estimates. This has to be and can be reversed. It will, however, require non-conventional responses and acquisition of new capabilities;

(c) Pakistan, which, during the Afghan war through Western assistance, had acquired formidable covert capabilities, has repositioned its massive apparatus to bleed and destabilize India. It wanted to replicate Afghan model in Kashmir, hoping to make it a theatre of Jehad for all the Muslims. Though failed in achieving this objective, over the years the Jehadi irregulars have become an integral part of Pakistan’s war-machine as was evident during Kargil war. Pakistan temporarily pegging down violence levels to meet political or diplomatic requirements at any given point of time should be no cause of comfort. Pakistani researchers like Sabina Ahmad have enumerated 11,500 Pakistanis having been killed in India in terrorist operations; though our own estimates are substantially higher. The fact that despite this massive degradation Pakistan is able to sustain steady flow of Jehadis to bleed India, calls for revisiting our response doctrines;

(d) Growth of powerful Jehadi Wahabism, perceiving India as its target, both in India’s western and Eastern neighbourhoods, is a serious security and ideological threat given India’s big Muslim population. While sizeable population of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh has come under its spate, desperate attempts are being made to spread its tentacles within India. Its symbols have started becoming visible in India’s Muslim civil society. Superimposition of this exported variant of Islam has to be countered – ideologically, politically and physically. It is to the credit of Indian Muslims that they have so far, by and large, resisted these ideological onslaughts but the money power, globally vitiating environment emphasizing conflict and incessant subversive propaganda by pan-Islamic forces is bound to have its impact. The September 2006, Malegaon blasts, including one in a mosque, killing nearly 40 Muslims on a Shab-e-barat day, is the extent to which these elements can go to trigger communal divide and strife;

Besides J&K, hundreds of Muslim youth from other parts of the country have been trained and motivated for subversive activities in Pakistan. In last five years, over three hundred Pak ISI modules operating in the country’s hinterland have been unearthed. Many times more may be functioning with impunity of which no credible estimate can be made. A large number of Pakistani youth trained by the ISI and disguised as Indian citizens have been strategically positioned as part of an intricately networked covert apparatus. Mushrooming of Madrasas and Islamic institutions in large numbers propagating an ideology of hate and exclusiveness, particularly in the border areas, is sinister. An imaginative policy initiative and counter measures would have to be taken to counter the menace;

ISI has established anti-India espionage, subversive and saboteurs networks in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Middle East, etc. Intelligence encirclement of India is being attempted to facilitate launching of a multi-pronged covert offensive. Collaborative networking with the underworld, gun runners, drug syndicates, currency counterfeiters, hawala operators, border couriers, etc. are being used to enhance their covert capability to destabilize India. The conventional responses are increasingly proving inadequate in the wake of their global reach, money power, political linkages and ability to suborn the system;

(e) Demographic invasion from Bangladesh, has assumed serious security dimension. In many of the bordering districts it has brought about a total demographic transformation, forcing the original inhabitants to sell their lands and flee. Instead of abating, last two years have witnessed an unprecedented increase in the inflow – the new migrants becoming more abrasive and emboldened, considering their migration almost as a matter of right. Subdued though, voices in support of greater Bangladesh have started surfacing both in Assam and Bangladesh;

The illegal immigrants, who now well exceed over 20 million, are no more confined to seriously affected states like Assam, West Bengal and Bihar but have found new habitations in length and breadth of the country. Most of them have been able to acquire identity documents with local political patronage and connivance of corrupt officials. The local Muslims in some areas are facilitating their settlements and helping them in procurement of ration cards, identity documents, shelters, jobs and political patronage. Following the new rules formed under Foreigners Act immediately after the repeal of IMDT Act by the Supreme Court, the illegal migration has increased substantially. The step has also put the law enforcing agencies on the back-foot and there is hardly any visible police action against the illegal migrants.

This large diaspora is no more only a cause of demographic changes, social conflicts, denial of economic opportunities and civic amenities to our own poor people but has become a terrorist support base. It provides convenient alibi and sheltering facility to the terrorists and fundamentalists who are now increasingly using Bangladesh as a new and safe base. These immigrants also bring with them deeply grouted anti-Indianism and seeds of fundamentalism. The border is porous and the infiltrators get full support from Bangladesh Border Forces. Instances of corruption on Indian side contributing to the menace are also reported. This unending stream of migrants is likely to become much more pronounced in the times to come, given the push factor in Bangladesh and the pull factor on Indian side;

(f) In North-East, Islamic militant groups linked to extremist organizations in Bangladesh like Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Okaye Jote, Jammait-e-Islami Bangladesh, have already formed over dozen militant outfits with highly sinister objectives. Startling revelations made by Kari Salim and his associate, on arrest, which were tabled before the assembly by the Chief Minister, were mind-boggling. Subversion of youth, their training in Bangladesh, stocking of weapons etc. has attracted very attention of the authorities, both by design and default. For tactical reasons, mentors of these groups in Pakistan and Bangladesh have advised them not to strike till fully prepared and equipped and required political environment is created. In the meantime the process of political consolidation of immigrant Muslims, in collaboration with supporting local Muslim leaders has started. A violent uprising with weapons, trained cadres, strategic guidance and financial support coming from across the border in not too distant a future can not be ruled out unless corrective measures are initiated right now.

(g) Next to the money factor, the foreign bases of North-Eastern insurgents in Bangladesh and Myanmar, is today the main sustaining factor of insurgencies in the North-East. Ideology has taken a back bench. In addition to the safe heavens, these countries are being used by insurgents to smuggle weapons, impart training and transit route for their leaders. One of the strategic considerations for Bangladesh to provide sanctuaries to them is the advantage it provides in pushing illegal migrants to India. It makes it difficult for the insurgents to direct their anti outsider agenda against the Bangladeshis. Secondly, it focuses the attention of Security Forces to insurgent activities thereby reducing the pressure on the illegal immigrants.

(h) The CPN (Maoists) becoming equity shareholders in Nepal’s new power dispensation also has implications for India’s internal security particularly in view of their known linkages with Indian Left Wing Extremists. The unfolding political and security scenario in Nepal would have to be closely monitored. Some of the dispositions of Nepalese Maoists vis-à-vis special bilateral relationship between the two countries are a matter of disquiet. The current focus of the Maoists is to get rid of monarchy lock, stock and barrel for which the support of political parties is necessary. Once the monarchy is out and only two power centers are left in Nepal the Maoists may not remain an easy commodity for the political parties to deal with. A new power struggle may ensue in which Maoists may display greater stridency and possibly revival of its revolutionary agenda.

The above scenario presents a formidable intelligence challenge, particularly when seen with other pressing internal problems like Left Wing Extremism, insurgencies in North-East, caste and communal divide, economic conflicts, etc. Maintaining a vigil over a country with a population of over one billion people occupying a land mass of 3 million square kilometers and having treacherous border of 15,000 square kilometers, is no mean a challenge. Easy accessibility of adversial forces to modern technology and huge financial resources, both for executing their plans and defeating counter measures, seriously compounds the problem. Most of the foreign linked groups, enjoy varying degrees of patronage and sponsorship of unfriendly powers which give them access to uninterrupted supply of weapons and explosives, sanctuaries, training facilities, travel documents and financial back up. What is most notable among all the above threats is that dealing with them will require a high intelligence capability. This has to be beyond knowing what ‘is’ and what possibly ‘can happen’ to executive intelligence contribution to ‘what ought to be’.

Numerical response of accretion in force levels, upgradation of the weaponry and equipments of the security force, strengthening protective cover for targeted entities, are important but not adequate. They do reduce the threat levels to some extent but do not change the intentions or degrade the capabilities of our detractors. It is only the crucial intelligence component which is capable of achieving this. Intelligence led smart operations are like heat seeking missiles – chasing their target till the threat is destroyed. In addition, precise and real time intelligence is a high potency force multiplier, a handful of highly dedicated and skilled professionals achieving what the whole brigades and battalions can’t.

The author is a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau
Published in Dialogue, Volume 8, No. 2, (Page Number – 29-36)
October-December, 2006

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