Maloy Krishna Dhar worked with the Indian Intelligence Bureau for nearly thirty years, during which he conducted and witnessed innumerable counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and political operations. He also specialised in counter-intelligence measures to meet Pakistan's overt and covert aggression. Dhar became a freelance journalist after retirement, and also published three novels - We The People of India, a story of gangland democracy, Black Thunder, and Operation Triple X that details the ISI-CIA-Al Qaeda nexus.
His book on the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Open Secrets, recommends the creation of a centralised intelligence agency and coastal security force, equipped with modern boats and surveillance equipments. He is also a strong advocate for more accountability to be brought into the system. In Singapore on a private visit, Dhar talks to Susheela Menon on terrorism, changes needed in the IB, and the power of the masses in bringing about these changes.
Susheela Menon: At this moment, what's at the top of your mind when you think about what happened in Mumbai?
Maloy Krishna Dhar: Pakistan allowed the ISI and its affiliate jihadi movements, like the Lashkar, to train these men for over a year. The underlying psychology of the leadership of the Pakistani army and some sections of the political system is to recapture India. They believe that the agenda of partition can be repeated.
Indian agencies were aware of the infiltration from the moment these men started from Karachi but they lost track of the ship. They did relay it to the state but there was no proper co-ordination and no action was taken. They were not aware of the hijacking of the trawler and its journey to Colaba beach. Intelligence provided by the IB was not followed up by state police intelligence; there was no coastal policing or even effective coastal surveillance by the Coast Guard and the Navy. The people are so enraged that ministers had to quit. I would have been happy if some bureaucrats were pushed out, though, as it was a big failure on their part too.
SM: One always hears the criticism that the Indian government is being too soft. Do you agree? Do we need to be more aggressive?
MKD: As far as I know, Pakistan has 150 to 200 nuclear warheads and the control of some lies with corps commanders. The final trigger is with the army chief. Theirs is an unstable country and their no-first-use promise can't be believed. Secondly, the world is going through recession but India is fairly ok as of now. If it indulges in war, the nation may be affected deeply.
"The common man can help by campaigning to remodel our criminal justice system for the police themselves to believe in law."
SM: You were with the IB for nearly three decades. Tell us about the bureau.
MKD: The IB is the nation's main internal intelligence agency. India is a populated nation with endless problems. Manpower is scarce in the IB and intelligence agents can't be everywhere. Today, we must have at least 30,000 cutting edge intelligence generating manpower whereas we have only about 10,000 now. Technical, satellite, photographical and communication equipment have to be modernised. I understand the problems of procuring equipment, as I have faced the tardiness of the government in sanctioning the budget when I was in charge with the technical wing. The procurement process is difficult. The IB is an efficient agency, but government support is very poor.
SM: What can the agency do to revamp itself and attract recruits?
MKD: The IB has to be made more attractive through restoration of the earmarking scheme for officers, where officers are picked for the agency from the IPS. Give it a totally different identity. Give higher pay and allowances, speedier promotions and more incentives. Let the IB have its own system of hierarchy. If we continue to equate it with normal administration, we would be doing injustice to it. There must be greater integration between the intelligence, police, and state governments, and law and order, if need be, must be made a concurrent subject so that state governments don't meddle with it in the name of religion or vote banks.
SM: How can we strengthen ourselves, restore confidence in the people and make the common man more aware and active?
MKD: The public is the foundation stone of the system. Public opinion must be modulated with a realistic understanding. You have to take into perspective the broader aspects of a populace and build a holistic view rather than be sectarian. India does not require more violence or divisions. We are already too divided. There is not a single organisation in India that is not casteist or political or sectarian in some way or the other. The people of India must rise above all these and mobilise opinion and action with all aspects of social behaviour and standing in view.
The common man can help by campaigning to remodel our criminal justice system for the police themselves to believe in law. Police reforms are essential too. More autonomy must be granted to the police. If you hire a force, give it a good system to operate in so that it doesn't violate you. No police reform has taken place; the police still take money from the public and hawkers on the streets. State intelligence units are staffed with almost discarded police personnel who lack dedication or motivation. A state like Maharashtra is at the front lines. The IB had given fair information this time and if the Maharashtra state intelligence and state police had been well equipped, they could have at least detected the landing. They did not know anything though till the attacks took place. These have to be explained to the people. Campaign for reforms for adding quality to the police system.
You have to put pressure on the governments to have exclusive, dedicated intelligence units as good as the IB, and develop a mechanism of speedy coordination with the IB. Every state is vulnerable these days. People like Mayawati, Mulayam Singh or Laloo see Muslims as vote banks. They will never agree that Islamic fundamentalism exists in their states. We have to address this issue too.
Social organisations can keep up the pressure on vital points. At the end of the day, the ordinary man has to earn his bread and move on. He can't be superman overnight. If you champion a cause, please champion it after taking into consideration the canvas of the society. The common man can then take the initiative. Educating the public is difficult but it can happen with the help of social groups that look beyond ideologies or religion. Take the broader, national perspective. Sadly, holistic views exist no more. It all ultimately comes down to caste, religion and vote banks.
SM: It has been suggested that terrorism issues should be taught as a subject in schools. Do we need to educate our children on this?
MKD: I don't believe in that. I don't think it's right at all. We can't shade their minds and create more hatred in the world. Terrorism is part of politics and part of social realities today, but it needn't be taught to young children in schools.
SM: Is terrorism here to stay?
MKD: History has its own life cycle. Terrorism will continue till the jihadis understand that they can embarrass India or even the US, but they can't defeat these nations. The US is quiet now but once they consolidate Afghanistan, they will take on Pakistan. India has enough superiority to tell Pakistan that it can't get away with anything, but it must improve so that it can fight terror all by itself. It also has sufficient allies in the world to ensure that Pakistan behaves.
SM: What message do you have for the people of India?
MKD: Be democratic and patient. Don't feel helpless. Use the electoral system to fortify machines that fight terror. Strengthen your determination and force the government to function better. Keep up the pressure on leaders to arm our forces and to remove loopholes in the system that some exploit to take the law into their own hands. To the youth, I would like to say that reorientation is needed. Focus less on malls and gadgets; be more patriotic. Good governance in a democracy is the best solution.
SM: What about the media?
MKD: Some sections of the press went berserk but the mainstream media has been sober. Yes, there should have been more control. Relaying commando operations live was a big mistake.
SM: Where do you see India a decade from now?
MKD: I see it as an economically stable and strong nation. I see it as a country that values its electoral politics, and for that, I would like to see a strong, unified government in the centre with broader public support irrespective of religious, linguistic and caste divisions. A united and strong India is the final answer to instability in the entire world, especially in South, South East and Pacific Asia.