The former Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) who also served as the Director General of the BSF and Police Commissioner, Delhi and is currently a member of the National Security Advisory Bureau, was on Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath recently. Full transcript.
Nagendar Sharma : What needs to be done to ensure the security of the citizens of India in the wake of recent happenings that have shaken the country -- bomb blasts in Mumbai, militant attacks in Srinagar and the seizure of explosives in capital Delhi?
Arun Bhagat : Ups and downs will be there, but all efforts have to be made by the states as well as is being headed by the Deputy Prime Minister of the country to ensure coordination between different intelligence agencies. I can tell you with my experience that this work continues all the time. All relevant information is passed on to the states, (the police and the states intelligence) and there are such groups even at the regional level.
But I think that it would be a folly to think that terrorism would be rooted out in a day or two, it requires an enormous effort. The government and the security forces are on the job, but it would take time.
BBC listener from Delhi : The recent attacks in Mumbai and Srinagar, and the arrest in Delhi have shown that the terrorist organizations are alive and kicking, no matter what you have to say. When the terrorists can reach the Parliament, what is the guarantee of security for the common man ?
Arun Bhagat : The advantage is always with the terrorist organizations, because they are the ones who attack, -- this is a world wide phenomenon.
Look at Israel, it is a small country, which guards itself so well and has a well spread out security and intelligence network. It has heavily guarded small borders, but despite all this and the fact that its a small country, with a small population, it cannot prevent the fidayeen (suicide) attacks and other violent happenings.
So the citizens of the country should not be afraid because of these attacks. This is an unequal fight. The fight against terrorism is an asymmetric warfare. If there is a war, I hope that all of you understand there would be some loss, which we would have to take in our stride.
In this fight against terrorism, if one citizen is killed, let us not forget that the security forces do not allow the terrorists to get away, they kill such elements. We would have to be ready for some losses, and remember that the fight against terrorism is now not only India’s fight but an international issue.
Nagendar Sharma : Mr. Bhagat, you have said that the terrorist organizations come up with new styles of attack each time. Why is it that the intelligence agencies begin the probe into the entire matter after the attack has taken place ? Why are the terrorist organizations one step ahead always ?
Arun Bhagat : This is because they enjoy the advantage of throwing a surprise every time with a fresh attack. This is the major advantage they have. One Irish terrorist had once said the chances of our success are 99 percent, as compared to that of one percent chance that the security forces have .So they have an advantage as they choose the target, especially in a democratic country like India, where anyone is free to go anywhere. Infact it was this freedom only, which was misused even in the 9/11 WTC attacks. Last month the blasts took place even in Saudi Arabia, the country which has one of the tightest governmental controls.
Therefore the advantage is always with the unforeseen enemy, that is the terrorists, and each and every incident cannot be prevented, it is very unfortunate, but this is the truth.
BBC listener from Mohali (Punjab) : Mr. Bhagat, after the blasts in Mumbai, the media showered praise on the people of Mumbai for the help in returning the city to normalcy and not panicking. The administration is also drawing satisfaction from this fact. But I feel that this has another aspect also. Are we not becoming insensitive to the deaths of so many innocents ?
Arun Bhagat : See, the fight against militancy would have to be a long one and we would have to be ready to suffer losses also. But the government on its part, if it keeps on getting cooperation from its citizens would be able to curb this menace. This has become an international issue now, even the United Nations has passed resolutions to fight militancy, you have international agreements between the countries to fight militancy.
You belong to Punjab, the state that is worst affected by militancy in the decade of 80s, and you have seen how that has state successfully fought it off. This was because the people of Punjab came forward to protect their state.
I firmly believe the successes of security forces in the recent days have dealt a firm blow to the Islamic militant organizations, and this structure would be soon dismantled. The international pressure on Pakistan, which is helping such organizations would force it to stop this.
BBC listener from Mumbai : The geographical situation of Mumbai is such that the common man has to travel by the local train or buses daily. The happenings as the one on 25th August (Last Monday), have shaken the confidence of the public, how safe is the common man, when the intelligence agencies fail totally in even warning the public ?
Arun Bhagat : See, you cannot prevent each and every militant strike. But please have a look at the figures of last year which indicate that more than 250 cells of such organizations were busted and many arrests made. Not going back much, look at the recent successes in Srinagar and the success of the Delhi police on Saturday night, these all show that efforts are being made, but see this is a long drawn battle because the centres of militant organizations are outside the country, from where they get all possible help - training, money - we have not been able to reach the centres outside the country.
But the international cooperation against terrorism is increasing, I am hopeful that all the countries would sign an agreement that action would be taken against any country supporting or promoting international terrorism. I am short of words to praise the citizens of Mumbai for their calm and self-confidence in keeping the city calm.
BBC listener from Rajasthan : Do you think that the inquiries into riots or terrorist attacks done by the intelligence agencies are free and fair, since in riots there is a role of some political elements also ? And should such probes not be free from the control of the Home Ministry to have the truth unearthed ?
Arun Bhagat : You are right to an extent. The police force is under the control of the state governments led by different political parties. It is misused is an open fact, I do not deny this. If you remember, few years back, a National Police Commission was set up under the chairmanship of Shri Dharamvira ICS.
This commission had recommended that the appointments, transfers, postings and promotions in the police, should be taken away from the state government and given to an authority called the State Security Commission. It was suggested that the members of such a commission be - leader of the opposition, chief minister/home minister, chief secretary, director general of police, eminent citizens like retired army officers, judges etc,.
Now, no political party is ready to accept these recommendations, despite best efforts. Impartiality is crucial for any investigation, and it has to be free of political influence. I appeal to all the citizens of the country to see that this process is implemented and the investigation agency does not come under any political influence and becomes an arm of the judicial process. This is what we have not been able to do in more than five decades of independent India.
Nagendar Sharma : Mr. Bhagat, you have praised the citizens of Mumbai, but the recent attacks show clearly that police and other forces cannot be present everywhere. In such situation, why has there been no proper planning to involve the common public in internal security affairs ?
Arun Bhagat : See, this would have to be a localized effort, any central order would not help. The lead would have to be taken at the police station level. This has been happening in some states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra - where small groups have been formed at the police station/tehsil level, they are getting support from the people.
Police does make attempts to involve the public as in metros for example, campaigns have been run to tell the public that if they are selling a car, they should take care to have all the details of the buyer. Similarly, if one is keeping tenants, you should have all the details - whether he is an Indian citizen or not. Remember that small leads are the key for intelligence agencies to proceed.
BBC listener from Varanasi : There has been talk that our intelligence agencies are not well equipped, and do not have a proper information network. An IB official himself, special secretary in the IB Malay Krishan Dhar had said that the Indian intelligence agencies have not been modernized since 70s, so is the entire fight against militancy being done superficially ?
Arun Bhagat : See the fight is on at all levels. I would like to tell you that a Group of Ministers was formed to look into this very aspect, and some portion of this group’s report was also made public. It looked into how to improve the intelligence network in the country.
But you would have to bear in mind that the terrorist organizations come up with a new style of attack each time, and anticipating it is the challenge for the intelligence agencies, even then there is no let up in this work what so ever .
BBC listener from Saudi Arabia : Communal hatred is exploited by the criminal elements to incite riots, which have led to attacks on religious and public places killing a large number of innocents. Why no steps have been taken at the governmental and law enforcing agencies level to minimize communal hatred, so that happenings like those of Mumbai and Kashmir are not repeated ?
Arun Bhagat : I would totally agree with you, infact my entire experience after having worked in different capacities is this that it is the criminal elements who have always incited communal hatred. Common man has always stayed away from this. This is the real challenge for our country, what is needed is a nationwide alliance to fight this.
I also feel that we are a country with a lot of ancient cultural heritage, but as a nation state, we are still an infant, which has adopted a difficult style of governance. As enshrined in our constitution, we have a long way to go, but we are succeeding. Except Gujarat in the recent times, we have now learnt to discard communal violence.
BBC listener from Kanpur : In the past, the Indian government had taken steps to develop a system of civil defence. It was used in the wars of 1962 and 65, have we discarded this now or the media is not giving it prominence ? Also are the NCC and others left for only ceremonial occasions like parades ?
Arun Bhagat : No, this system of civil defence and the Home Guards is very much there and volunteers are coming forward. You also have the Territorial Army, which takes over the maintenance of essential services in the hours of crisis, like the riots, floods, accidents etc. I agree with this that such organizations do not come into the media limelight, they should get prominence in the media.
Nagendar Sharma : Mr. Bhagat, there has been a charge on the intelligence agencies that they are used by the ruling parties to gather political information about the rivals and this hampers the real work of intelligence agencies. How far do you agree with this ?
Arun Bhagat : See, I do not know much about the states, but I can tell you that at the Central level, no intelligence agency has ever violated its charter. My own experience has been that I have dealt with Prime Ministers, and never was I asked to do any political work. I assure you that intelligence agencies work within their charters.
Nagendar Sharma : Mr. Bhagat, if the intelligences do not violate their charter, they are not hampered in their work, how is it that the militants managed to reach the Parliament, whose responsibility was it to ensure the safety of the country’s top parliamentary institution ?
Arun Bhagat : Well it is everyone’s responsibility. See if an operation of this scale like the attack on the Parliament takes place, on the part of attackers it requires - training, motivators, equipments, explosives, money and shelter. When this sort of a complex network is involved, which one intelligence agency would you blame ?
It is true, that it is the duty of the intelligence agencies to provide the information, but no intelligence agency in world can reach each and every conspiracy !
Look at America, it is now, after two years that the failure of intelligence agencies in the 9/11 attack has been pointed out in a report.
Transcript courtesy, BBC Hindi Radio