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Where Chidambaram scored and where he lacked

June 27, 2010 20:49 IST

Security expert B Raman analyses Home Minister P Chidambaram's recent visit to Pakistan and points out his hits and misses at the strategic meeting with his counterpart in Islamabad.

Home Minister P Chidambaram exhibited a refreshing firmness during his talks with Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik in Islamabad this week.

He had gone to Islamabad to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation home ministers' meeting, which was held after a gap of over two years, and availed of this opportunity to hold detailed bilateral discussions with Malik on terrorism-related issues.

The focus of the discussions and their media briefings was on terrorism in general and Pakistani action against the Pakistan-based perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes, in Mumbai in particular. He had gone to Islamabad determined to show that the Government of India's willingness to resume the bilateral dialogue on various contentious issues would not mean a dilution of the focus on terrorism.

In his remarks in Islamabad, Chidambaram took care not to directly blame the State of Pakistan for the acts of terrorism in Indian territory committed by the Pakistani organisations, which are now collectively referred to even by Pakistani analysts as the Punjabi Taliban.

However, he did not hesitate to highlight directly or indirectly the inaction or unsatisfactory action of Pakistan against the anti-India terrorists in general and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba in particular.

While keeping up an unrelenting pressure on Pakistan for action against the LeT and its perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, including Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the LeT, Chidambaram made sure that his observations and pressure did not spoil  the current cordial atmosphere in the bilateral relations. He saw to it that it does not come in the way of meaningful, forward-looking discussions during the visit of External Affairs Minister S M Krishnato Islamabad next month.

Keep up the pressure on Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, but at the same time don't allow justified concerns over terrorism stunt fresh thinking on other issues -- that seems to be the new motto of the Government of India.

It is apparent that Chidambaram shares this motto despite his ill-concealed disappointment with Pakistan for failing to do all that it can, and should, to bring to book the Pakistan-based perpetrators of 26/11.

However, despite the refreshing firmness of Chidambaram, one felt disappointed to notice an apparent lack of adequate attention to questions like the establishment of a networking relationship between India's Intelligence Bureau and its Pakistani counterpart, which comes under Malik, between the National Investigation Agency of India and the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan -- both of which are the central investigation agencies for terrorism-related cases and frequent interactions between senior police officers of the two countries.

Malik did speak of the FIA and India's Central Bureau of Investigation, which already interact with each other during International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) meetings, jointly investigating the 26/11 case.

No elucidation on this was forthcoming from Chidambaram, who appeared to be over-focussed on the 26/11 case -- rightly so -- but under-focussed on the need for a web of institutional relationships between the intelligence collection and investigating agencies of our home ministry and Pakistan's interior ministry.

Malik suffers from professional and political handicaps as compared to Chidambaram. De jure, Chidambaram is the political head of only the IB and the NIA. But de facto in counter-terrorism matters all agencies of the Indian intelligence community -- whether civilian or military -- report to him and carry out his instructions, even if they come under the control of the prime minister or the defence minister.

Malik, a former police officer, is the political head of only Pakistan's FIA and the IB, which has only limited powers and resources as compared to the Inter-Services Intelligence and other military intelligence agencies.

In India, the military intelligence agencies play a role in counter-terrorism and in counter-insurgency only in the border areas.

In the rest of the country, it is Chidambaram as the home minister, who is the czar of counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence.

In Pakistan, the Inter State Intelligence and other military intelligence agencies, which have more powers and resources than the interior ministry, do not recognise the overlordship of Malik in  counter-terrorism. They do not always keep him informed of all the intelligence and do not carry out his instructions. The heads of the military intelligence agencies avoid attending meetings convened by him.

Additional problems arise in Pakistan because the army and the ISI do not look upon the LeT as a terrorist organisation.

The LeT is the virtual covert action division of the ISI, and its operations in India and Afghanistan against India are viewed as covert actions in Pakistan's national interests.

If Malik wants to take effective action against the LeT, he cannot do so due to the perception of the LeT as the covert action wing of the ISI.

Despite these limitations of Malik and his interior ministry, we must build up our contacts with them and the Pakistani police, and encourage other countries such as the US and those of the European Union to do so. This will contribute in the medium and long-term to building up the status and powers of the interior ministry in Pakistan's internal security management.

In the years after Pakistan's independence, the internal security ministry used to be the overlord of internal security management. After losing control of East Pakistan in 1971, the army and the ISI have taken over this responsibility, reducing the internal security ministry to a virtual non-entity.

The present civilian government in Pakistan is trying to re-empower the internal security ministry -- a process that all democratic governments should encourage.

China has been doing so. It has given the ministry over US $300 million for capacity building. It had invited Malik twice to China to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation. It has two programmes for counter-terrorism co-operation with Pakistan -- one between the People's Liberation Army and the Pakistan Army, and the other between China's ministry of public security, which is responsible for internal security and intelligence, and Pakistan's interior ministry.

It is hoped that Chidambaram would adopt this objective and work for it in the months to come.
B Raman