Right ideas on national security

Right ideas on national security
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First Published: Sun, Jan 04 2009. 09 51 PM IST

Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
Updated: Sun, Jan 04 2009. 09 51 PM IST
After 26/11, there have been various corporate and private initiatives aiming to improve security within the country. While this enthusiasm and participative spirit is good, it is important that this energy be channelled optimally. Haranguing the government or offering ill thought through “advice” can be counterproductive. Civil government initiatives on internal security need to follow some basic principles of conjoined working to make a meaningful and sustained difference.
Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
For instance, there is great potential to get assistance of experts from countries such as the US, Israel and the UK, who have developed evolved frameworks of counterterrorism. It will be easier for companies to commission, say, an assignment of developing a “safe city plan”, rather than the government, which will have to follow time-consuming bureaucratic procedures.
Another example is the need to set up security training facilities. Companies can make investments to create such facilities in a matter of months and operate them far more efficiently than the government.
All initiatives must be designed and committed for the long term. This has two aspects. Firstly, companies and citizens should take adequate structural steps to ensure that the current high momentum does not die down. For instance, the media should categorically allocate a certain number of hours/news space for the subject of “safer India” (the American hostage crisis in Iran in 1979 was kept on the front page of a leading US daily for 444 days after the siege to affirm that they would not allow it to be forgotten). Companies must set aside a corpus of resources and personnel as a contribution towards this cause.
Secondly, we must work towards a longer horizon. For example, a critical issue facing our preparedness against terror and threats to national security is the lack of junior leadership in the defence forces. Merely asking for an increase of, say, the National Security Guards (NSG) is meaningless without the realization that these crack units are under-officered by a horrifying 25-30%. Our security forces, be they the Army, CISF, BSF or CRPF, are all stretched beyond belief.
Companies must realize that there is a draining of talent from the defence forces into the private sector. If they consciously affirm that they will encourage youngsters leaving for a tour of duty of five years in the defence forces and be accepted back at their prorate position in the organization when they return, there can be sufficient takers among the aware youth.
Companies and communities are not islands. They are interdependent and need to work in mutual support. For instance, when terrorists entered the Trident hotel, the CCTV cameras became useless for any counterterrorist measures. So ideally, the adjoining Air India building should have had cameras watching over the Trident’s entrance. Similarly, the floor plans of a building should be available with neighbouring ones. Entire business zones must have a concerted defence mechanism that pool resources and talent. For instance, the first line of defence for, say, BKC or parts of Gurgaon need to be a unified group instead of each company having a separate first line of defence.
After 26/11, most establishments including the ones attacked have understandably stepped up security. Metal detectors, X-ray machines and physical searches form a part of this new “defence”. Unfortunately, they are completely pointless. The attackers stormed the Oberoi and the Taj with AK47s (made of metal) firing bullets (also made of metal). So, having metal detectors at the gate wouldn’t have been much of a deterrent even during that attack. The AK47 is an assault rifle used by professional armies. Expecting unarmed guards to put up even a temporary resistance against such firepower is naïve. Existing legislations, designed in a different era to cater to different threats, need to be modified to face current scenarios.
The concerns that accompany arming of private security guards can be addressed through structured parameters. Ironically, an ex-serviceman from a combat unit has probably handled more firearms in a year than an average policeman would in his career. While this skill set is available to the community, it is not being used because of antiquated laws.
Internal defence of the nation cannot be outsourced to just one profession. Terrorists make no distinctions between civilians and defence forces other than attacking the former as they are softer targets. This means the civilian population needs to be systematically involved in a defensive strategy. Our nation needs education on internal conflicts, nature of urban warfare and consciousness of what our defence and paramilitary forces are doing to protect them. The state of awareness on security issues is so appalling that most demands are naïve and actually detrimental to the state of security.
For instance, after 26/11, there have been incessant demands for moving NSG to all metros. Consider the fallacy of this. Special forces and crack units are not a numbers game. In the Indian Army, of at least a million soldiers, there are barely 5,000 special forces (NSG is a complement of about 900 active combatants of whom half are deployed on aviation security and anti-hijack, hostage rescue duties). The lethal efficiency of NSG is a result of at least 24 years of training in a world-class facility, excellent leadership from the Army and the experience of battle-hardened troops. NSG is an elite force because it is kept as a single unit and even that faces shortages in junior leadership. So, asking for a detachment of NSG to be placed in Mumbai is like asking for the best heart surgeon to sit in the office lobby because you are a cardiac patient. The reason that the heart surgeon is the best is because she constantly trains to be at that peak level. What we should be asking for, instead, is integral transport to give this force high mobility; which, incidentally, is what NSG has been asking for all along.
In the absence of “education”, the citizenry will ask for the wrong things and the government will end up pacifying the electorate and giving them exactly that. The one silver lining of 26/11 is possibly of a national rallying against terrorism. It is critical that this energy is intelligently focused on specific long-term results rather than dissipating it in strident cries of short-term measures. Companies have possibly more at stake than either the polity or the bureaucracy to ensure that we are safe. And this time, they also have a say in the matter.
It would be a pity if they didn’t say it right.
The author is CEO of Mahindra Special Services Group, India’s leading corporate risk consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Jan 04 2009. 09 51 PM IST
More Topics: National Security Guards | Army | CISF | BSF | CRPF |