Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hyderabad blasts should force a new debate on NCTC….

It was exactly a year ago (on Feb 19th, 2012) that the political conflagration over the NCTC broke out, with opposition-ruled states opposing the setting up of the NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center), even though they had all “unanimously” voted in favor of the UAPA in 2009. The NCTC is part and parcel of the UAPA. I call it a political conflagration because it was just an example of bad politics; keeping political interests ahead of the country’s. Those were the days when the bogey of federalism was being bandied about a lot to attack the Center. The NCTC could not be set up eventually. And today, we have to grapple with another case of terrorism. Who knows…..if the NCTC had been set up, maybe the “unspecific” intelligence report we had could have been more specific and the attack averted.

I am going to reproduce extensively from my post of that day (“Using federalism to politicize terror…..”) since I find most of my points relevant even today. Here goes:

Several CMs – nine or ten at the last count – are “strongly” opposing the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) that has been set up by the Center. The stated reason for the opposition is that “the states were not consulted” and that “it impacts the federal structure” as provided in the Constitution. Since a major terrorism attack has not happened for a little while now, the CMs have forgotten that India remains under the threat of another attack and that if the next attack does happen, they would have no place to hide.

When the US enacted its own NCTC (first called Terrorist Threat Integration Center) after the 9/11 attacks, most Indians said “See how the Americans fight terror. They take action. We must learn from them”. The NCTC in the US also cuts across state lines and works in a federal manner under the control of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It draws its officers from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon. It tries to ensure that clues about potential attacks are not missed because of turf issues. In fact, the 9/11 commission that was set up to understand why the attacks took place at all made a scathing attack that the US had no clue that the attacks were going to take place. It was in response to this that the NCTC was set up by George Bush.

The story is no different in India. It is post the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai (in 2008) that the UAPA was amended in 2009 and the NCTC was sought to be set up under this act. In the aftermath of the attacks, every political party supported the amendment, not wanting to appear opposed to a strong anti-terrorism act. I am presuming that the amendment would have gone through rounds of debate in Parliament. Every political party – including of course the BJP and the BJD – had the chance to think about federalism at that point in time. Why did they choose to support the amendment then?

Our politicians have to recognize that terrorism is a new threat the world is facing. Terrorism in the current international form has been around for maybe only a couple of decades or so. When the Constitution was written in 1950, the writers had no clue that this sort of terrorism would come around one day. The Constitution thus kept law and order in the state list. There is a need today to change that. Law and Order for normal criminal activity can well remain in the state list. However, the law and order related to terrorist activities should be taken out of the state list and put under the Central list.

Fighting terror requires a unified response. Out here, we have a situation when even normal criminals take advantage of the turf fight between states. There are so many cases when two state police forces cannot coordinate their actions to nab the culprit. Just look at the politicization of the fight against the Maoists. Again, the Central government can do pretty much nothing except request the states to up the ante. Because all states don’t coordinate their efforts, Maoist attackers often jump across from one state to another to escape their capture. Most of the Maoist affected states are poor and don’t even have the sophisticated arms and the trained forces required to take on the Maoists. And yet, when the Center wanted to plan a bigger offensive, it had to tamp it down under similar excuses – that law and order is a state subject. The next time a Maoist attack happens, lets all wring our hands in anger and shame and despair. And let’s make more political attacks on each other.

Terrorists have become extremely sophisticated. As the attack on Mumbai showed, the terrorists came equipped with satellite phones, modern weaponry and the backing of foreign nations and their intelligence agencies. The attack on the Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi recently shows that India can get drawn into a conflict in which it is not even a party. Are we to say that the Delhi Police alone should investigate the probe? And if the biker who supposedly planted the bomb on the diplomat’s car came from say Gujarat or Maharashtra, then the Delhi police must go through the bureaucracy of talking to the state police, no matter how much time it takes? How can terrorism be prevented this way?

The NCTC also doesn’t need the approval of the states. That approval was already taken when the UAPA was amended in 2009. The states had their chance then. Why are they creating a problem now? And what is it that the states are really worried about? Why are they really opposing the NCTC? It’s the power of “search and seizure” that passes onto the central government under which the NCTC will operate. The states are worried that the NCTC will be used by the Congress to browbeat them. If this is the only issue, it can be resolved by better defining the occasions on which the Center can intervene. The UAPA is very specific in defining terrorist organizations – it lists 32 such organizations in its schedule.

The real truth is that we have wasted a year because of the kind of politics we practice in the country. Even a sensitive subject like the NCTC got politicized. Today Hyderabad was attacked. Tomorrow it could be any other city. Our intelligence set-up remains weak. We remain vulnerable. It’s time we raise our voice against such politics. And demand that the NCTC be set up immediately.

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