Chinks in our armour

  • Prasenjit Chowdhury

    June 9, 2017 | 02:17 AM

(Photo: AFP)

As many as 26 CRPF personnel from the 74th battalion, deployed to oversee an under-construction road project at Sukma in Chhattisgarh, died recently in an ambush by some 300-400 Maoists.

While the failure of Intelligence is palpable, an explosive situation prevails in several areas of the state, notably Bastar, Bijapur, Sukma and Dantewada.

There is an inherent danger in the ubiquitous presence of central forces. Which is one major reason why police and paramilitary forces are targeted in Kashmir.

The Maoist commander, who allegedly masterminded the massacre in Sukma, operated a network of dedicated informers across the region and was perhaps privy to the movement of the forces. In Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, or any other volatile region, it is the security forces who are the victims despite their training in the use of sophisticated weapons and guerrilla warfare.

In an interesting book titled The New Face of War: How War Will Be Fought in the 21st Century Bruce Berkowitz has argued that the ability to gather, process and protect information is the most important factor defining military power ~ “Stealth trumps armour, precision trumps explosive force, and being able to react faster than your opponent trumps speed”. Berkowitz’s prescription is simple ~ If you want to defeat your opponent, you must first win the information war. Prakash Singh, former Director-General, BSF and an expert in tackling Left-wing extremism, mentioned multiple factors ~ “from leadership failure to loopholes in the functioning of the security forces”, thus leading to the recent Sukma ambush.

“The most unfortunate part is that despite repeated incidents, no lessons are being learned,” he was quoted as saying. A decade ago, Moloy Krishna Dhar, a former Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau, pointed out that the government’s “cutting edge internal security tool” is not prepared to combat the aggressive operations of Pakistan’s ISI or Islamist tanzeems.

There is a lack of trained manpower at the operative level, lacunae in training to combat acts of terrorism and insurgency, and lack of electronic and technical intelligence equipment.

Even if the problem of poor technology can be addressed, intelligence failure is difficult to be condoned as it involves the loss of precious lives, be it in Mumbai, Uri, Pathankot, Pampore or Sukma. Intelligence reform is direly imperative. But the government responds only after an offensive.

For instance, the Directorate-General of Security (DGS) was set up only after the war with China in 1962. R&AW was entrusted with the responsibility to collect external intelligence ~ formerly a remit of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) ~ following the IndoPak war of 1965 and the Mizo revolt in 1966.

In the aftermath of the Kargil operations in 1999, an enquiry by Kargil Review Committee led to the setting up of the GC Saxena Special Task Force which recommended the creation of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) as the nodal point for processing all militaryrelated intelligence.

A Group of Ministers (GoM) was formed on 17 April 2000 to re-examine the issues of security and intelligence. Accordingly Task Forces were set up for intelligence, internal security, border management and defence. Though the GoM forwarded its recommendations to the Prime Minister on 19 February 2001, it is now evident that followthrough action was not taken either by the NDA or the UPA dispensations... till the Mumbai outrage on 26 November 2008 jolted the nation to its foundations.

There was talk of a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Within the bureaucracy, there was little or coordination. According to a paper crafted by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), near-total ignorance about Chinese intentions and capabilities in Tibet and their designs against India in the 1950s led to serial disasters.

Notably, the alienation of Kashmiris through repeated changes in state governments since the early 1950s and, more specifically, during 1986-87; Pakistani subversion plans in the name of religion in the 70s, and the proselytising activities of the Deobandi/Wahabi sect in the Valley in the mid-80s, recruitment of Kashmiri youth for arms training in Pakistan and their infiltration into the Valley to launch the ‘Kashmiri jihad’ in the late 80s, and terrorist attacks within India either directly by Pakistani players or their Indian proxies, especially the Mumbai attack of 26/11. Intelligence failures continue to rattle India.

The Henderson Brooks report on the massive intelligence failures in 1962 underlines the lack of coordination among the agencies concerned, fragile credibility of sources, and inconsistent feedback. All this resulted in India’s humiliating defeat against China.

There appears to be a distressing continuity in India’s track record. Take the instance of the Kargil misadventure. Experts have pointed out how India was ‘clueless’ about briefings and authorisations made in Islamabad and Rawalpindi months in advance, about field officers recruited to train the force in the Baltistan heights of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), about equipment and supplies being stocked in Pakistan army garrisons at Skardu and Astor before being sent to camps close to the Line of Control (LoC). The government failed to foresee the scale of intrusion because of several factors, most importantly the fact that the Pakistan Army made excellent use of stealth and deception in the run-up to the operation.

The Uri attack is believed to have been facilitated by one of the various agents who the Indian forces had been using to collect information on the Pakistan Army’s logistics.

Apart from the need for international cooperation, crossborder intelligence cooperation guided by persuasive diplomacy with friendly neighbours is essential in the fight against international terrorism.

At least five states ~ West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram ~ and five ministries, namely External Affairs, Home, Water Resources, Commerce and Development of Northeast Region; and four security and intelligence organizations ~ Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW ), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Border Security Force (BSF) ~ are pivotal in dealings with Bangladesh.

Nepal is an important centre for intelligence and subversive operations by foreign powers as well as nonstate actors against India.

The writer is a Kolkatabased commentator on politics, development and cultural issues.