Indian Decade

Terrorism Center Failure

The problems that have hit plans for a new counter-terrorism center reflect broader Congress Party failings.

The brainchild Home Affairs Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center, has as has been noted here run afoul of the sentiments of a number of Indian states.

Their chief ministers, mostly from non-Congress Party governments, have argued with some force that such an entity, with nationwide powers of investigation and arrest, would violate the principles of Indian federalism. Yet this argument, though seemingly plausible, is mostly a red herring.

India already has one entity, the National Investigation Agency, with nationwide jurisdiction. In the wake of its swift creation after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, there had been some similar grumbling about its countrywide reach. However, those protests for the most part soon subsided and haven’t been subsequently raised with any vigor. Consequently, the expressed concerns about the possible erosion of federalism actually reflects the unhappiness of various non-Congress regimes about the failure of the central government over prior consultation before announcing its intent to create such an organization.

Sadly, this is hardly the first time that the current coalition regime in New Delhi has been so remiss. In recent months it has seen a host of other proposals ranging from opening the country up to multi-brand retail to the reform of pension plans run aground over opposition both within the national parliament and beyond because of its lack of prior consultation. Obviously, it has yet to take heed of the need to reach out to parliamentary opposition, coalition partners and chief ministers of rival parties in various states.

The real issues, which a handful of security and intelligence experts have highlighted, are quite different. They deal with the powers of investigation and enforcement that might be vested in this new entity. They argue that such powers would needlessly expose the operatives of this new body to public scrutiny and thereby undermine its effectiveness. Also, some of them argue that combining the tasks of intelligence collection and counter-terrorism in the same agency is undesirable. Instead, they contend that it would be best to have the new organization simply focus on the task of intelligence collection and analysis, leaving the enforcement mechanisms to other bodies.

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Given the abrupt groundswell of opposition both from non-Congress run governments and the criticisms of intelligence and counter-terror specialists, the regime would be well-advised to re-assess the organizational design of the proposed institution  and start a round of consultations. There’s little question India could use an apex body that collects, collates and analyzes terrorist threats. However, creating such an organization in haste may well prove to be less useful than waiting to create one that engenders both popular support and obtains the endorsement of counter-terrorism specialists.