New Delhi: Home minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday proposed a division of his ministry’s functions so that it can focus purely on internal security, and outlined a blueprint to tackle terrorism that, he said, had been influenced by a sense of humiliation felt by the nation over last year’s Mumbai attacks.
Chidambaram, who moved from the finance ministry to the home ministry after the 26 November 2008 attacks, said a new national centre for counterterrorism would be set up by the end of 2010 as he outlined a “new architecture for India’s security” in a speech delivered in New Delhi. He said about a dozen terrorist attacks were foiled this year.
Home truths: Chidambaram says about a dozen terror attacks have been foiled this year. As part of the proposed overhaul of the security set-up, a national centre for counterterrorism will be set up by the end of 2010.Shahbaz Khan/PTI
A division of the current functions of the home ministry is unavoidable given the challenges of the times, the minister said in the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture to intelligence officials and paramilitary officers
“Subjects not directly related to internal security should be dealt with by a separate ministry or should be brought under a separate department in the ministry of home affairs and dealt with by a minister, more or less independently, without referring every issue to the home minister,” he said. “The home minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security.”
The home ministry doesn’t even have a desk for dealing exclusively with forensic science. Yet it has a division dealing with freedom fighters, and divisions or desks dealing with Centre-state relations, disaster management and the census.
“These are undoubtedly important functions and deserve close attention. However, internal security is an equally, if not more, important function that deserves the highest attention,” Chidambaram said.
A total of 166 people were killed in Mumbai when 10 heavily-armed gunmen stormed the city, targeting hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre. The government blames the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group for the attacks, which also left 300 people hurt.
“A billion-plus people felt they had been humiliated and the country had been brought to its knees by a small band of terrorists,” said Chidambaram. “I, therefore, propose a bold, thorough and radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level.”
The new security architecture would consist of political, administrative, intelligence and enforcement elements. The national centre for counterterrorism’s tasks would involve preventing terror strikes, containing any attacks and effectively responding to them.
“Such an organization does not exist today. It has to be created from scratch,” Chidambaram said, noting that the US had been able to set up such a counterterrorism unit within 36 months of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
The national centre for counterterrorism’s mandate should be to respond to violence unleashed by any group—be it insurgents in the North-East or the Maoists in the heartland of India or religious fanatics anywhere in the country—acting on their own or in concert with terrorists outside.
“We may have enhanced the capacity to contain and repulse an attack, but I think that there is still some distance to go before we can claim to have acquired the capacity to respond swiftly and decisively to a terror attack,” Chidambaram said.
He said it was this assessment that led him to argue that the security architecture at the top must be thoroughly and radically restructured.
The minister said some organizations dealing with security issues, including the National Investigation Agency, and the National Security Guards, may have to be brought under the ambit of the counterterrorism centre. He appealed against turf wars.
Chidambaram said 12-13 terror attacks were neutralized in 2009 by security forces with better intelligence. “Luck was also on our side and we will have to be lucky every time,” he said. Yet, there may be another crisis such as the 1999 hijack of Indian Airlines flight 814 to Kandahar, in Afghanistan, or a Mumbai-type terror attack.
“Hence, the time to act is now and I would spell the last word with capitals—NOW,” he said.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Chidambaram’s statement that 12-13 terror strikes had been foiled during this year could spread a feeling of insecurity and pessimism among the people.
“I am absolutely perturbed to hear the statement of the home minster. It is unfortunate and we condemn it. It is an irresponsible statement,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“It is the job of the home minister to ensure that people feel safe and secure. He should create an atmosphere of hope and security.”
AFP contributed to this story.