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HVK Archives: Issues of external instigation and international security

Issues of external instigation and international security - The Asian Age

M. K. Narayanan ()
October 19, 1998

Title: Issues of external instigation and international security
Author: M. K. Narayanan
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: October 19, 1998

It is hardly the best of times, but hopefully it will not lead to
the worst of times. Enmeshed in needless contradictions, an
excess of concern over not so critical issues, and bogged down
over "transparency...... openness" and "unaccountability," the
truth is that too many cooks and too much of interference in the
nation's affairs is spoiling the broth. Armchair critics who
claim to know more than they do have hardly helped.

Several reasons may be adduced for this sorry state of affairs.
The incompetence displayed by successive governments in recent
years and an inept and non-performing bureaucracy have created
the impression of an authority vacuum. The Executive has clearly
been unable to come up with suitable answers, and the void is
sought to be filled by others, including an activist judiciary,
and a supercharged media. In theory, this should not pose
problems, but oftentimes and, in fact, more problems than
solutions have resulted from it.

Even the battle against corruption, for example, has suffered
from an excess of rhetoric, the tendency for self-flagellation
and reiteration of high-sounding principles instead of concrete
steps being taken. These have had little effect on reducing
levels of corruption and only help to create new icons but with
the same feet of clay. A new chief vigilance commissioner has
been appointed, and some of his public declarations on how he
proposes to deal with corruption remind us of a former chief
election commissioner who promised to cleanse the "Augean
stables" of electoral malpractices holding out dire threats
against legislators who failed to conform to his dictates. In
that case, nothing came of it and the threats and warnings are
now a part of the detritus of history. There is hence a feeling
of de javu regarding the CVC's pronouncements about destroying
corruption, root and branch. More circulars and circumlocution or
exercising greater control over the CBI are hardly the answer.
The difficulty lies in the details and in the procedures, and
what is needed is a clearer understanding of the difficulties
rather than the adoption of a judgmental approach.

At the other end of the scale also and while attempting a pro-
active approach, there is need to exercise greater circumspection
and caution lest the initiative gets derailed. Statements on
effecting improvements in the internal security situation should
be made after fully comprehending the intricacies and inherent
difficulties in the situation. Of late, the Union home minister -
no doubt with the best of motives - has held several rounds of
meetings with ministers, officials and others on every possible
range of problems such as insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and the
Northeast, interstate crimes, Naxalite violence, communal and
sectarian tensions. Mr Advani's pro-active mode is a welcome
departure from that of many of his somnambulist predecessors,
whose only interest lay in warming their chair. His firm
declarations of intent clearly send a message that the Centre
means business, but he should avoid the mistake of too much
visibility and of too frequently claiming that the situation is
returning to normal, When this is hardly the case. Such
assertions when proved false can have unintended consequences.
There are no sure-fire remedies for the cornucopia of internal
security problems that Mr Advani has inherited, and he should not
attempt to solve them in one single leap of faith.

Mr Advani should also not be taken in by the fine-tunes responses
or the elegant turn of phrase used in the minutes of the several
meetings he has chaired. These look vaguely familiar, and are not
very different from decisions handed down in similar meetings
held earlier during the Eighties and the Nineties. It is the
absence of calibrated action and not the lack of decisions that
has led the nation into the situation we see today.

It is also imperative to recognise that the internal security
situation - which can be termed as fairly grave - is the
cumulative result of several factors. Some are well outside the
purview of the home ministry, over which the ministry has little
control. The security environment, for instance, is a function of
the situation which exists on-our borders. With Pakistan being
actively engaged in abetting a "proxy war". in Jammu and Kashmir,
trying to revive the embers of terrorism in Punjab, stoking
insurgency in the Northeast, and trying to create flash-points of
conflict -in several pockets of the country such as Uttar
Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and
Kerala. The ubiquitous Inter-Services Intelligence agency of
Pakistan is also a factor, as would have been clearly revealed in
the recent briefings to the home ministry's parliamentary
consultative committee. Yet, not all our internal troubles stem
from Pakistan or the ISI. The mainspring of many of our problems
lie within the country. The tendency to go overboard on external
inspiration and instigation, neglecting other underlying factors,
can lead us to a wrong course of action.

There is yet another aspect which, even if a home minister is in
the driver's seat. he can do little about in the short term. This
is to make up for the inherent inadequacies and inefficiencies of
the administrative and police set-ups in the states - the main
battleground in internal security conflicts. No amount of
exhortation of hallowed principles or the need for better
coordination, sprucing up of the intelligence and investigative
machinery or building up of an effective response mechanism, will
produce the desired results, since the machinery has become

Even states with well-deserved reputations, in the past for
efficiency like Tamil Nadu have come to a sorry pass. It is not
politicisation or corruption alone that is responsible for this
state of affairs. It is the absence of new skills, new knowledge
and professionalism that is responsible. Over the years, both the
administration and police leadership have tended to become
fossilised. Seminars and discussions, even those organised by
the Bureau of Police Research and Development, tend to be
pedestrian and have contributed little to improving the knowledge
base or skills of the police.

Typical of this is the attempt to resurrect the 20-year old
Police Commission Report in the dying days of this century and
which is intended to prepare the police force for the next
millennium. We seem to ignore the fact that we are in the midst
of some of the most revolutionary changes in the history of law
and order maintenance, changes that have fundamentally altered
the character of internal conflict. While other sectors are
making extensive use of technology, including information
technology, to enhance their skills, the law and order
administration is content to live in the past. Apart from the
some pockets of enlightenment, the bulk of the police and law and
order administration have remained untouched by the winds of
change. This has a pernicious effect on its ability to cope with
a new generation of problems.

To expect that the new generation of terrorists and militants,
who routinely employ electronically-activated improvised
explosive devices and state-of-the-art triggering mechanisms, can
be countered by those whose knowledge is limited to that of pipe-
bombs and crude clock-timing device technologies of two
generations ago is a recipe for disaster. Without adequate
knowledge about the progress made in many areas (such as hardly
detectable liquid explosives which can be detonated by
miniaturised and benign looking timers, yet are capable of
wrecking great destruction) law and order forces are at a serious
disadvantage. Bridging the knowledge gap and improving
professionalism is not the responsibility of the home minister or
the political leadership: it is that of professionals and senior
officials. This is one of the imponderables that affects the
situation today.

Where a borne minister - specially one as dynamic, politically
savvy and possessing clout as Mr Advani - can make a difference
is in employing his magic to build a national consensus, and
among all parties and forces on key issues affecting internal
security. All possible political skills need to be employed to
achieve the required degree of cooperation and avoid one-
upmanship in such matters. For instance, we have a situation in
Bihar where those in power are convinced that the empowerment of
the backward classes is the "Holy Grail" of politics and nothing
else, including law and order and governance matters. Meanwhile,
the state is fast descending into anarchy with private militia,
Left wing extremist groups (the MCC and CPI-ML party unity in
particular) and criminal and other forces all battling it out for
supremacy. Overcoming existing political antagonisms and reaching
a modus vivendi will demand political skill of a very high order
from the side of the Centre.

In some ways, the situation in Tamil Nadu is even more serious.
Caste and communal violence have ravaged the western and southern
parts of the state but the ruling DMK and the Opposition AIADMK
are content to indulge in their game of mutual bickering. The
gravity of the situation, with entrenched radical Islamist forces
- of which the al-Umah appears to be merely the tip of the
iceberg - having established a beachhead here with the support of
like-minded elements in the neighbouring Kerala, appears of
little concern to these two regional parties. There is little
time to lose, however, as disclosures of arrested Islamist cadres
about plans to carry out political assassinations including that
of the Union home minister's foretell danger ahead. This then is
a fit case for the home minister to use his considerable
knowledge and the skills at his command to persuade Mr
Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalitha to see reason and enable concerned
agencies to squarely address the problem of eradicating the

(M.K. Narayanan is a former director of the Intelligence Bureau)

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