After the recent twin blasts in Hyderabad, there has been a new push towards setting up the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Earlier attempts to set up an overarching body to deal with counter-terrorism failed mainly because of opposition from states ruled by non-Congress parties. But is this the only obstacle? Are there other serious issues in making the NCTC fully functional?
In 2009, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram outlined his vision for “the broad architecture of a new security system that will serve the country today and in the foreseeable future.” His idea was to institute an umbrella body dedicated to counter terrorism along the lines of the American NCTC, with control over intelligence, operations and the investigation of all matters pertaining to terrorism. The NCTC’s goals, according to Chidambaram, “will include preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack, should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators”.
The need for a body like the NCTC cannot be questioned. India is one of the worst affected countries by terrorism and, in recent times, it has witnessed more terrorist incidents than any other country in the world. India faces a wide spectrum of threats that range from militancy in Jammu & Kashmir, insurgency in the northeast, left-wing extremism in Central India, and jihadi terrorism threatening the hinterland of the country. Over and above the main forms of terrorism, other threats exist, such as illegal migration, drug-trafficking, the smuggling of counterfeit currencies, small arms proliferation, and cyber warfare. These are all varied forms of the kind of terrorism that India confronts today. Yet for all that, the country lacks a single overarching body dedicated to the cause of counter-terrorism. The time limit for constituting the NCTC was initially set for the end of 2010, but is yet to see the light of day. Only recently has the current Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde indicated his readiness “to tweak controversial proposals to break the impasse.”
To avoid replication, Chidambaram wanted all related agencies involved in counter-terrorism (although they are part of different ministries) like the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Aviation Research Centre (ARC), Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA) to report to the proposed NCTC (under the Ministry of Home Affairs) on matters related to terrorism. However, there has been intense resistance to this “submission”. There is a pervasive fear that such an arrangement would lead to the over-centralisation of power in the Home Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs emerging as a kind of “super ministry”.
Although the above apprehension is farfetched, it is the responsibility of the Center to convey, in unambiguous terms, that the focus of the NCTC will be “terrorism only”. In this regard, it should be acknowledged that intelligence/investigation/security agencies have a far wider mandate than terrorism. Even on matters specifically related to terrorism, the methodology of working should be cooperation and coordination and not the subordination of one agency to the other. The final objective is to bring about synergy and cohesion in counter-terrorism efforts, by doing away with overlapping, duplications, bottlenecks and other unnecessary hurdles. To achieve this objective, it is enough if the NCTC functions as an umbrella organisation with representations from intelligence, investigation and security agencies. It should be in a position to integrate all instruments of national power, including diplomatic, economic, social, political, military, intelligence, and law enforcement to ensure a unity of effort. This integration should happen at central, state and local levels. In other words, the tentacles of the NCTC should penetrate deep down up to district levels instead of being another top-heavy organisation.
The NCTC need not follow any international model – US, UK or European – but that which suits India’s capabilities, and caters to the kind of threats the country faces. It has to be innovative and proactive in its approach rather than defensive and reactive. ‘Prevention’ and ‘protection’ should be the main watch words. For this, the Centre should constantly monitor terror/militant groups, their support network, sponsors, sanctuaries, modus operandi, threat potential, and leadership and make periodic threat assessments for policy-makers. In this regard, it can effectively use the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCNTS), National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Central Monitoring System (CMS) and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Personnel for NCTC could be pooled from relevant intelligence, investigation and security agencies headed by the senior most experienced officer on rotation basis with simple command structure. In this way, turf wars could be avoided, with the potential and efficacy of the agencies maximised.