‘India mishandled hostage situation’ said the Jerusalem Post with good reason, while the Melbourne Herald Sun’s headline says it all: Mumbai: a failure of intelligence. With reports of Israeli hostages having been killed at Nariman House at the time of going to press, the Israeli media’s view can hardly be questioned, considering the growing feeling within India itself of the complete ineptitude of the Indian government in anticipating terror strikes and having an effective mechanism in place to deal with a terror strike when it does happen.
Even though the international media came out in sympathy for India, there were growing rumbles that this could have been prevented, that India has shot itself in the foot by not dealing with terrorism effectively and not having enough security measure in place to have even halfway decent actionable intelligence.
And while sympathy is being offered there are growing signs that India is no longer seen as a hapless victim of circumstances and nefarious designs but more of a victim of the apathy of its own government. Israeli security officials the Jerusalem Post spoke to said that while Indian forces don’t lack training they ‘failed to gather sufficient intelligence before engaging the terrorists.’
Intelligence gathering has been the biggest weakness of Indian agencies in dealing with terror threats. This has mainly because of a lack of political will in giving importance to collation of intelligence, either because votebank politics or because of the incompetence of elected officials.
The Guardian asked the question ‘Can India put party political differences aside and reach a consensus on tackling terrorism?’ The foreign media too seems to have realized the lack of political will has translated into a drought of intelligence good enough to be acted upon. The Sydney Morning Herald said, ‘A successful counter-terrorism campaign requires that two things be done well: investigation and intelligence to catch those involved and pre-empt attacks, and alleviation of the conditions that give rise to terrorism. India’s record in the first of these has been patchy. Investigatory and forensic skills have not, on the whole, been well honed.’ The Wall Street Journal called India an ‘easy target’ because of ‘understaffed and under-resourced intelligence units’ as well as ‘lack of coordination between state police forces’, not missing the ‘lack of political leadership’. Even the Daily Star of Bangladesh has called it a ‘massive intelligence failure’.
We don’t need a newspaper in Bangladesh to tell us that. But this growing opinion of India being a laggard when it comes to security matters is embarrassing and more importantly tragic, with the number of lives lost. With politicians becoming Home Ministers simply because they are the least unacceptable to coalition partners in the government, merit has clearly gone and taken two running jumps into the coldest, deepest and muddiest parts of the Arabian Sea.
When politically convenient Home Ministers make security boo-boos by revealing operational details of anti-terror actions they compound their stupidity and leave the inevitable conclusion that India’s intelligence agencies are completely deprived of motivation and direction right from the top. Intelligence alerts are therefore general and CYA-type in nature. General alerst are never taken seriously because they are not actionable and specific alerts don’t exist as far as Indian intelligence agencies are concerned because that would mean actually doing something besides playing faction politics in the intelligence agencies. So the police, the army, civil services all resent each other and lack professional intelligence operations training, a clear result of the absence of a equivalent dedicated service cadre for RAW and IB.
The headlines will be the same the next time.