Better Security Takes Money and Willpower

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, if there is one thing we take up with seriousness, I hope that is upgrading our internal security – police, NSG, intelligence – and other organizations that contribute to it.

After Mumbai, my friends have been burning the wires online and on the phones. There is anguish, some anger but the overwhelming reaction is that we need to do something. A couple of my friends are IPS officers. Much of this post will be quoting them or channeling them.

This new style of terrorism – sophisticated yet brazen – requires higher levels of sophistication in battling it. The terrorists who are used to finding chinks in the armor of the American security apparatus, are the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai and made it look so easy. Don’t be fooled by the name they gave the media. Laskhar, Taliban, al Qaeda – they are all names given to different parts of a terrorist cooperative that shares weaponry, training, technology and indoctrination.

The question then becomes – can we tackle global terrorism with a third world police force?

India has 1-2 policemen per 1000 people. The US has over 5 per thousand. That itself would have been a gap we could have worked with, except that a US policeman is supported by over $100,000 worth of equipment. His squad car for example, is modified to be fast, sturdy and replete with on-board computing and communications gear that makes him very effective in fighting crime. And the Indian policeman? Well, I’ll quote one of my IPS friends,

You will be surprised to know that even today many of our police stations do not have vehicles. As for connectivity amongst police stations is concerned, while police stations (PS) have radio communication sets (RT sets), in some states the PS do not have an extra battery to keep the sets working! This means that they switch on their RT sets every two hours to check if there is any event of any consequence!!! This is when even the poor in our country can afford mobile sets!!! We still have weapons that are outdated. We have no centralized database to check on the identity of the person detained. This implies that if I detain a suspicious person in Delhi and he says that he belongs to some village Begumangalam in district Nalgonda in AP, I have no way to immediately verify his identity – unlike the US where a centralized databank will let you check his antecedents in a matter of few seconds.

The situation at our Intelligence agencies is worse.

IB and R&AW have suffered 40% vacancies in top-level supervisors
(IPS officers) for more than a decade now and 50% vacancies at levels
of SI and Inspector!

Much of this needs money, of course. But it also needs a change in outlook. Central and state police departments are not used to sharing information with each other. How long should we wait before they can overcome their turn issues.

In 2000, post-Kargil a Group of Ministers made a report to realign and resolve India’s security infrastructure – red tape killed it. To get over the red tape, the PM in 2005 announced the Police Mission to reform the police system – red tape killed that too.

Organizational change needs strong leadership. Or a crisis. We had to wait for the latter to happen.

In spite of all this, terrorists and criminals are still apprehended. What happens when they are? For a long time, nothing.

We kept Maulana Masood Azhar in our jails as an undertrial for 6 yrs and released him to the Kandahar hijackers. He is the current big boss of the LeT in Pakistan. Why did the judiciary take so much time?

That has got to be the most depressing thing for a police force – to see a dangerous terrorist, that they worked so hard to catch, released because we took our own sweet time in trying him.

To clear that backlog of cases again takes money and willpower.

I don’t think this is due to a paucity of funds. I think it is a matter of priorities.

Why was Karkare’s BP jacket inferior to the NSG BP jacket in this day and age when Indian citizens pay Rs. 5 trillion in taxes?

How this money is allocated should be based upon national priorities. Which vested interests do we force our rulers to abandon should be based upon national priorities. And clearly, the number one national priority today is security.

photo credit Roochster


  1. Siddharth says:

    I think real-time detection is the best mechanism of deterence. Following the US driver license system is trying to play catch up. The road ahead lies in Biometrics, face recognition, voice analyzer techniques. Law enforcement has to be made cost-effective by investing in sustainable solutions.

    Our security setup caters to politicians who make good use of police being a state subject. Ask your IPS friends about their performance reviews. They are also less concerned about lack of professionalism in public “service”.

    Security of a society is dependdent on Economic well being of all its citizens. That in turn depends on Education and Nutrition.

    So, moral of the story is eat well, study well, and then if you can, try to build a solution for a socio-economic problem. Good example – Mr. Mohammad Yunus


  2. safi says:

    thats an excellent post. lets keep repeating these points continually and resolve not to loose steam. we need to improve our security infrastructure and capability and fast. these terrorists will keep coming, given the numbers that have been trained in pakistan. we have to build our defences like the walls of a fortress.


  3. Nikesh says:

    Dear Basab,

    I take the points you make. It is a resource led issue as far as policing is concerned.

    May I add a few more points to what you have written?

    1. India shares physical boundary with at least 3 state actors who are inimical to India’s interest. With one state actor which is not inimical, Nepal, there are no visa restrictions between them and India. This implies that the Nepal route can be taken if someone wants to walk into India. Therefore, even if we do have a lot of internal security you will not be able to do anything because people can walk through without any documents.
    Between Bangladesh and India the border is porous and BSF used to charge 100 bucks per person for migrating into India. I presume the rate has gone up slightly now. Pakistan has a longish border which is mercifully fenced but there again there is a large coastline which is not patrolled nor is it possible to patrol it in the same fashion as to make it infiltration proof.

    China is the only country that has not been direct in its attempts to destabilise India.

    2. Our internal security and external security are inertwined. By strengthening our internal security we do not increase the costs of aggression against the state of India. We only create deterrence. We do not eliminate the threat. Therefore, while all the steps we are talking about must be taken, the focus must shift from internal to external security.

    3. While it is true that it is not in our interest to fight with Pakistan, as you have mentioned in your earlier mail, you must realise that it is in their interest to fight us covertly. Given the current war on terror that they are forced to fight as an “ally” of the US, they have converted their own backyard into an internal security issue. All of FATA and areas that abut it are up in arms against the Pakistani army for doing the dirty work of Uncle Sam. The significant increase in the suicide bombing inside Pakistan is directly correlated to the increase in Pakistani military presence in FATA. The western border was supposedly the “strategic depth” that Pakistan had. It has now been converted into a nightmare. The pressure on the army from the US is large. Ergo, if they want to do something to rid themselves of this burden, it has to be in “spreme national interest” no less. Thus, if India masses troops on the border it makes sense for Pakistan to pull troops from its western border. US can do precious little about it then.

    4. The United States is a superpower whose ambition swings between isolationism and global dominance. We have to deal with where the US stands and how it affects our long term strategic national interest. Right now, unfortunately, it is not aligned with us. It will counsel us (mark the swift move of Condi to India) to show restraint.

    Our policies have to be in line with these imperatives.

    More later.


  4. K V Srinivasan says:

    The challenge in India is one of establishing the true identity of our citizens/residents since we tend to have multiple PAN cards,voter ID etc. No de dupe technology is foolproof. The only foolproof ID possible in India is through biometrics. There are organisations that have launched biometric based smart cards for payments and fund transfers. (for example, there is an ICICI promoted organisation called FINO) This can easily be extended to ID as well. It is not expensive or difficult to implement. This could be used as the single ID proof.

    We also really need to ask ourselves how a policeman getting hardly enough salary to stay in a slum (most stay in slums or chawls if lucky) function effectively. His mind will naturally be in making end meet through whatever means. I don’t think the issue is density of policemen v population, but of their level of motivation and involvement. Their salary levels need to be improved through “volume based” incentives or equivalents. Say, I am a traffic constable and get incentives based on fines collected (say, 50% of all fine comes to me), obviously I will become stricter. This would also be cost neutral for the Govt since any way most of us “settle” with the police guy when caught.


  5. Nikesh says:

    So what are our policies?

    1. WE want our borders to be peaceful and beyond question by neighbours. This implies that both Jammu and Kashmir as well as “disputed” territory of Arunachal Pradesh are not disputed any more.

    2. We want our sphere of influence to grow from what it is currently to roughly what the Curzonian vision was. This would be the space between Gulf of Aden to the Straits of Malacca. Part of our policing of the Gulf of Aden is in sync with this vision.

    3. We would like our economic strength to enhance our military and political strengths. Perhaps, we would want to see ourselves as the natural inheritors of the US democratic tradition.

    4. In the comity of nations we would want our rightful place as being one of the top 5 countries of the world in real terms.

    So where do we go from here?


  6. Basab says:

    KV, I agree with you on ID cards. Approaches in India so far have suffered from being fragmented and “opt-in”. Fringe elements who don’t want to be on the grid will simply opt-out. For a successful ID card, there needs to be one that is unified (or single) and has the weight of necessity behind it. You shouldn’t be able to get any government or private service without it.

    Nikesh, your points as always are well made. But I would differ with you on how hawkish we should be in ‘external security’. Better intelligence, yes. Strong armed forces as a deterrent, yes. But I wouldn’t recommend a confrontation with Pakistan.


  7. Nikesh says:


    I am with you when it comes to confrontation with Pakistan. It does not help. In general, wars have a tendency to move in directions we never factored in. Unfortunately, a nation does not take positions on defined lines only to be repeatedly challenged. Being hawkish is to take an aggressive posture but being hawkish in the face of a hawkish neighbour is what I would call an appropriate response.

    That much said, once we are clear about the fact that we have an external security dimension to our internal security how do we handle this in a manner that we achieve our goals?

    1. The army is central to Pakistan’s foreign policy. While there is a lot of charade that politics determines Pakistan’s foreign policy, in fact, after the Afghan war, this is determined by the army through its hand maiden the ISI,either overtly or covertly. A simple case in point: The Bosnian government opens a school in Pak occupied Kashmir in a ceremony presided over by the Lt. Gen incharge of the place. The liaison was done by the army directly without politicians being involved. This was yesterday.
    This has to change. The centrality has to be firmly with democratic parties. What can we do? Both India and the US have to tackle the ISI alongwith the Pakistani democratic forces. This fundamental to our existence as well as the existence of the US.

    2. Our relationship with Pakistan has to be asymmetric. It is in our interest to open trade opportunities. It is our interest to open cultural opportunities. If I were the PM right now, I would have bailed out Pakistan through its current economic crisis by giving them money they so desperately needed. This creates a nucleus in Pakistan which will speak not for India but for democratic traditions in Pakistan. We have to kick start the middle start and its love for democracy there. This also serves as a strong alternative to China.

    3. We must increase our startegic partnership with the United States. It is not just the nuclear deal, but all other possibilities where the two states must collaborate. This gives us two levers: a) Access to US power paradigm vis a vis Pakistan and more important b) it has the power to break the hyphenation(India-Pakistan) that the US has in its South Asia policy.

    4. Our challenge then is to become a regional superpower which does not overtly threaten anyone but people respect it because if it so wishes, it can threaten anyone.


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