In the first of a two-part interview with with Deputy Managing Editor Ramananda Sengupta, Dhar, who retired as joint director, Intelligence Bureau, after 30 years in the organisation, explains what needs to be done to avoid such incidents in the future.
Would you attribute the Mumbai blasts to a failure of intelligence?
There has been intelligence, operational and normal policing failure. The Intelligence Bureau had some intelligence based on the interrogation of jihadis arrested in Kashmir and from other sources that the jihadis were planning stunning action in Maharashtra and Mumbai. They had no tactical details.
The IB did not work out the operational details of the information by activating ground operatives, human assets and technical operations to monitor subterranean plans, induction of explosives, monitoring of clandestine communications and placing watch on the known and suspected 'modules' and 'cells' of the identified jihadi tanzeems (associations).
The Mumbai police and Maharashtra police also failed in all these sectors. They had no human intelligence at all to warn that they were sitting on a volcano. They all miserably failed.
What steps can the government/intelligence take to prevent such incidents?
In a nutshell, both IB and State intelligence and police forces should
- Generate Human Intelligence.
- Penetrate the jihadist modules.
- Penetrate the electronic and line communication systems of the jihadis like cell phones, satellite phones, the WWW jungle, fax, phones and coded e-mail communications. They do not have adequate resources to monitor this large volume. They do post-mortem analysis.
- Generate intelligence on pan-India connectivity of the jihadi tanzeems and decipher their transactions with Pakistani, Bangladeshi tanzeems and global jiahdist tanzeems like Al Qaeda.
- The agencies should be allowed to function without political interference.
- Adequate preventive laws should enacted to empower the intelligence and police community and the discarded 'local khabri (informer)', 'mohalla nighrani (neighbourhood watch)' and 'community policing' systems should be revived.
- Legal measures should be taken to make it compulsory for local self-government officials and their employees at all levels to report all suspicious movements in their areas to the police post.
- Create specialised police strike forces like the Anti Terrorism Squad in every district and insulate it from day to day policing. These units should work in close liaison with IB and state intelligence units.
- Educate people about the threat quantum from the jihadists and advise them to interact with police and intelligence fearlessly.
- The National Security Council and other national nodal bodies to carry out quarterly national intelligence and threat assessment reviews and advise government to empower its agencies adequately. This system is not in position.
- Fastest possible communication between the central and state agencies.
- Assess and augment border security and coastal security and intelligence system.
What objective do you think the perpetrators of this attack had?
I would like to shout: 'You idiots, it is not ballot box and communal strife. It is an all out invasion of India.' Civility does not permit that. Politicians on either side of the 'secular fence' should tell people that Pakistan has now attacked the heartland and peninsular India after targeting the northeast, Punjab and Kashmir.
It is an extension of the international Islamist jihad of which the high priests are the Jamia al Salafia, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda Inc, Pakistan's ISI and over 35 tanzeems operating from Pakistani and Bangladeshi soil.
There are over 25 such collaborative tanzeems in India. These forces are trying to create ferment and alienation amongst Indian Muslims and drag them to the arena of global Islamist jihad, leading to demands for more 'partition of India'.
The political, bureaucratic and even intellectual minds are missing out that point. I have highlighted this aspect to some extent in my book Fulcrum of Evil-ISI-CIA-Al Qaeda Nexus.
Do you agree with the notion that this is the price we are paying for getting close to the US?
I do not agree. This is a India-specific global jihadist thrust. It is a continuation of the 'two nation war' and 'war for a Muslim homeland.' All Indians, irrespective of religious affiliation, should fight it. It existed when we were poles apart from the US.
We should take help from the US and other countries to combat this menace and win this war. This war is waged by the International Islamist Inc from their bases in Pakistan and Bangladesh often using Nepal as a transit point.
From the time that you retired as joint director IB, to now, do you see any changes in the Bureau?
One thing I have noticed is that there has been a proliferation in senior-level posts. The other thing I have noticed is that the organisation is facing much more complicated challenges compared to what it may have been 10 years back.
Another thing is that the organisation still suffers from an in-built contradiction, which is that it is not accountable to the topmost authority of the country, which is Parliament, but is accountable only to the prime minister or maybe to the home minister. That reduces its effectiveness and credibility.
Given the great technological advances over the past decades, how important is human intelligence in the Intelligence profession?
Technology application in intelligence gathering is an important aspect, nobody can deny that. And there have been tremendous advances in this field over the past 15 years. But all said and done, if you have seen the Americans working in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, you will find that human intelligence still continues to be supreme.
All the advanced American technologies have failed to give it the so-called edge over terrorists, particularly the most heinous attack on America on 9/11. Unless you have superior quality of human penetration, human assets, you cannot just do with technology. It can only supplement human intelligence.
During your time, you were responsible for stopping several aggressive moves by Pakistan. How do you rate the relationship now?
Our relationship with Pakistan is a very peculiar one. Sometimes we dress up like brides and grooms, dance around each other, and for a short period we think things are hunky dory between us. But in effect, nothing has basically changed. Because the main points of contradiction between India and Pakistan continue to dog us.
The only thing that has made some difference is that America's Afghanistan war, America's Iraq war, and the so-called Islamic war against American interests all over the world has created a new security dimension in the region in which India and Pakistan are being forced to live together for some time in a make-believe world of cooperation. But the basic flash points continue to be as they were in the past.
What is the real role of an intelligence agency?
An intelligence agency is a system and tool of governance. It has various roles. One, we have diplomacy as a weapon. To maintain relationship with a country, or to fight a war with a country. Or even to place yourself vis-à-vis that country in a geo-political situation. Sometimes when you cannot do that through diplomacy or statesmanship, you have to take recourse to intelligence agencies to do a part of that job. So that your diplomacy and statesmanship are supplemented by this. This is the geo-political role of an intelligence agency.
As far as the internal situation is concerned, in a country like India, where there are several fault lines, historical fault lines as well as fault lines created by ourselves, our ruling system and governing system, we have to have a very strong intelligence systems to keep the people who govern this country informed and tell them what is going wrong where and what should be done. Irrespective of who may be their political masters.
Therefore, I think in our country there is enough reason to strengthen the intelligence system by a hundredfold from the strength and resources it has got now. Because we are being engulfed by more and more complicated problems inside the country as well as outside.
So is the intelligence system a kind of a watchdog?
No, it is not a watchdog. It is a tool in the hands of the people, maybe the hand of the government. But basically a tool in the hand of the people to save themselves from certain security related situations, both internal and external.
India now aspires to be power on the world stage. How realistic are those aspirations?
Let me not start with a pessimistic note. Since China is emerging as a world superpower, it is imperative on our part to strive to emerge as a superpower otherwise we will be reduced to an non-entity as far as our international and national existence is concerned.
By compulsion, we have to grow as fast as possible. But not just economically. Along with the economy, we also have to grow militarily, not only for attacking others, but to defend ourselves from certain forces which are well known to us.
Without a strong defence, a strong economy is meaningless. And without a strong economy, a strong military is meaningless, like the Russian situation. They had a strong defence system, but didn't have a good economy. We have to have a marriage of both.
And do we have that?
At present we don't. But we are inching towards that direction, not striding towards it like China is. We have to accelerate the process. To do that, we have to forego some of our conservative economic thinking, we have to bring about a perfect marriage between our global economy and our rural economy. Because if only the urban areas think about growth while the rural areas don't, this country has no future.
Is that happening?
That is not happening, I am sure about that. Half the nation is dependent on the begging system. The government will give dole, in this form or that form, through this relief or that relief, so almost 35 to 40 percent of our people will survive on dole and will become beggars. This is unthinkable. We must have everybody productive in this country, like China is trying to do. If everybody is productive, the productivity adds to the GDP of the country. Then only can we reach what China is doing today.
Given the two disparate economic and political systems, is the comparison between India and China valid?
There are two points of view. One is our national point of view, another is the global point of view. India and China are emerging as the biggest markets of the world. Whenever they talk of China, they don't appreciate that China is emerging as a stronger nation. They appreciate that China is becoming a bigger market for them. Similarly they appreciate India if it becomes a big market for them. But not as a competitor.
Therefore, they would like India to develop in such a manner that it becomes a good market for them. And to absorb their marketing system, we have to have a strong economy of our own. And our own strategic point of view is that if China becomes stronger and stronger with their own resources and foreign money coming in so rapidly, we don't have any chance to survive in this region of the world.
But what I was asking is, given the different economic and political systems, what are we comparing?
It is not a question of economic or political systems. China pursues its own political system, we are pursuing our own system. Our political system is more akin to the American system, the British German and French systems. Are they not prospering? So what is the problem with us?
There might be a big gaps between our political and economic systems. That means our political economy and the economy of elections are not matching, unlike in the countries I just mentioned. Our politicians and our economists need to sit down and think about whether the two systems are matching properly or not.
As far as China is concerned, their political and economic systems are matching well. Because people are not looking beyond the present political system at the present point of time. At a later date, they will find their own solution, we cannot impose a system on them. Our political system is not far removed from the systems of the really advanced countries. If they can advance, why can't we?
I don't think we cannot develop the way China is doing even if we have a different political system.