During his May 27 meeting with Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, raised the issue of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and insisted that the perpetrators be brought to book without delay. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has thus made it sufficiently clear that Pakistan’s soil must not be used for the export of terror to India and attacks on its assets in the neighbourhood must stop if a dialogue is to take place. Reference to the Mumbai attack has also brought the focus back to India’s worst intelligence failure in recent memory. The Modi government has a special reason to thank its stars — and the Afghan self-defence forces — for averting a major embarrassment even as it was being sworn in. The Afghans have ‘credible intelligence’ to suggest that the attack on India’s Herat consulate was a Laskhar-e-Toiba operation and was aimed at creating a hostage situation a la Kandahar just before Modi’s swearing-in with all South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation leaders in tow. That should make revamping of India’s intelligence a huge priority for Modi.
From the Kargil intrusions to the Kandahar hijack, from the attack on Parliament to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the list of intelligence failures is long and embarrassing. And it cuts across regimes to indicate serious systemic malaise. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government set up the Subrahmanyam committee after Kargil, the Manmohan Singh government restricted itself to replacing the home minister, Shivraj Patil, and the national security advisor, M.K. Narayanan, after the 26/11 attacks. But neither went in for any structural reforms to improve the functioning of intelligence.
It is in the fitness of things that a prime minister with as clear a mandate and as strong a resolve as Modi must take firm and concrete — if necessary some out-of-the-box — steps to modernize India’s intelligence machinery and make it worth the taxpayers’ money spent on it.
The task of getting Indian intelligence to deliver will fall on Modi’s NSA, Ajit Doval. The former chief of the Intelligence Bureau is a highly decorated officer with an enviable track record. One of India’s greatest spymasters , B.B. Nandi, once narrated how one of his immediate subordinates (who later went to become the Research and Analysis Wing chief) asked him once after having completed two foreign postings about how a source can be enticed with money. Unlike such over-rated czars, Doval is a hands-on operative, not someone who would spend a whole career without having ever run a single effective source in their target region or organization. And though an IB officer with focus on domestic intelligence (and counter-intelligence), Doval has also served in foreign postings including Pakistan. One would expect him to be free of the ‘agency bias’ that afflicted some of his predecessors and created serious problems in functioning.
There are five challenges for Doval.