At a time when Pakistan, the state responsible for engineering terror strikes against India, is hugely on the back-foot because of Osama bin Laden’s surprise killing by elite US commandos, India has committed a colossal blunder. Instead of availing the opportunity to highlight its genuine concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan, it has created a most erroneous stand. The blunder in the 50 Most Wanted List, apart from exposing our own commitment to bring justice to the victims of 26/11, also shows institutional, procedural and coordination problems among the various agencies, which has resulted in the current mess. Most of all, it demonstrates our lackluster approach to counter-terrorism measures.
The first ‘mistake’, as the Home Minister puts it, occurred when the name of one Wazhul Kamar Khan, a terror suspect living on bail with his family in Thane, Maharashtra, was included in the list of wanted fugitives who are known to have taken shelter in Pakistan. This list, which was handed over to the Interior Ministry of Pakistan by India in March this year, was released to the media after the Abbottabad operation. The purpose of releasing the list was to put pressure on Pakistan to expedite action against these wanted men. Before the matter could be settled over the first mistake, another blunder surfaced. This time, one Feroz Rashid Khan, named in the list of terrorists allegedly hiding in Pakistan, was found to be in Arthur Road Jail facing trial in the 1993 serial blasts case. These errors were discovered not by the counter-terrorism agencies of India or Pakistan, but by an Indian journalist.
As usual, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) transferred two mid-ranking officers and suspended an inspector-level man from its Interpol Division, implicitly blaming them for the goof-ups in the terror list. The CBI has also withdrawn the ‘Red Corner List’ from its website. But is this enough to repair the damage? The list, as we can assume, must have passed through many senior bureaucrats before reaching the Home Minister. It can also be assumed that none of them even attempted to go through it meticulously and verify its authenticity. No one took responsibility for or was entrusted with the onus of actualizing any effective supervision of the process. Suspending a few junior officers, therefore, is only indicative of a token gesture where those dispensable are forsaken for the bigger guns. Somewhere, someone must take accountability, which is yet to happen.
This goof-up gives rise to many pertinent questions. Are we really serious about countering terrorism? Are we too enthusiastic to blame Pakistan without doing our homework first? Does sluggishness of operation characterize our agencies? And, how long shall we suffer from a lack of mutual coordination among these agencies? Despite pointing a finger at Pakistan, the stakeholders have been unable to make a case against Pakistan. Post-26/11, the Home Minister, P Chidambaram, suggested drastic changes in the security set-up, including the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). However, these changes have only occurred on paper. Inter and intra-organization turf wars for supremacy among the agencies have caused the current faux pas.
It has been reported that a CBI officer claimed that he had named 40 suspected terrorists for the Most Wanted list, of which the NIA included 10. This is one example of lack of coordination. This case has undoubtedly put India’s credibility among international intelligence and investigating agencies at stake. Furthermore, Pakistan may exploit this situation to their advantage. By dismissing it as a mere human error will therefore not serve the purpose, nor will a blame-game among analysts and observers.
The US presents a strong case-in-point of successful counter-terrorism activity post 9/11, which India would do well to emulate. Not only has the US reformed and revamped its security structure, it has also created a well-coordinated chain of agencies entrusted with accountability. It has given due focus to quality research and the updating of databases, which India lacks miserably. There was a growing demand for retaliatory strikes on terror infrastructure in Pakistan after 26/11. The question, thus, is whether India was equipped with accurate and updated terrorism data that could have assisted its strategy. In our enthusiasm to embarrass Pakistan, the whole exercise has been conducted in a very slapdash manner. In the future, if such a scenario occurs again, India may be compelled to go on strike for which the availability of concrete information will be absolutely crucial.