Thursday, November 11, 2010

U.S.-India: Comments on Obama's visit - Counter-Terrorism, the next step forward

See also:

During the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington DC in November,2009, there was considerable hype regarding the agreement on a Counter-Terrorism Initiative reached during the visit. It was projected as a major achievement of the visit. This was followed by a Memorandum of Understanding on the subject reached by the officials of the two countries in July last.

2. Since then, there has been a certain disenchantment on this subject in the Indian security community due to its dissatisfaction over the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to keep it informed of the visits to India by David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). His visits were meant to collect operational intelligence for the LET to facilitate its 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.

3. This disenchantment is still lingering. As a result, there was a noticeable lack of hype during the visit of Obama on the subject of counter-terrorism co-operation. There were only brief and passing references to the subject by Obama at the joint press conference with the Prime Minister on the conclusion of the formal talks on November 8,2010, and in the Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit later that day.

4.Obama said at the press conference: “ To ensure the safety of our citizens, we’re deepening our efforts to prevent terrorism. Cooperation between our countries’ intelligence and law enforcement communities has already reached unprecedented levels. And today, we’re taking another step -- a new effort between our Department of Homeland Security and the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs to improve security at our ports, our airports, and our borders.”

5. The Joint Statement said: “Building upon the Counter Terrorism Initiative signed in July 2010, the two leaders announced a new Homeland Security Dialogue between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security and agreed to further deepen operational cooperation, counter-terrorism technology transfers and capacity building. The two leaders also emphasized the importance of close cooperation in combating terrorist financing and in protecting the international financial system.”

6. The idea of a Homeland Security Dialogue between the USA’s Department of Homeland Security and India’s Ministry of Home Affairs was born following the visit of P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister, to Washington DC in June during which he had detailed discussions on how the DHS functions. While intelligence-sharing between the agencies of the two countries is still unsatisfactory, there has been considerable improvement in US assistance for capacity building to strengthen our physical security. Even before Obama’s visit there was intense interaction between the physical security agencies of the two countries in matters like megacity policing, security of urban transport , security against terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction material, cyber security etc.

7.This co-operation is now expected to be enhanced under the proposed Homeland Security Dialogue. Obama mentioned specifically improving security at ports, airports and borders as an objective of the proposed Dialogue. Even in the past, there had been interactions between the security experts of the two countries on strengthening security at airports and ports. What will be new is interaction on strengthening security measures on the border to prevent infiltrations by terrorists. This indicates a willingness by the US to help India in strengthening anti-infiltration security measures which could be applied to the Pakistan as well as Bangladesh borders.

8. Another interesting idea is “further deepening operational co-operation”. In the past, Indian intelligence and security agencies had been reluctant to agree to operational co-operation in the form of joint operations with their Western counterparts. Joint operations involve a quid pro quo, which could be politically embarrassing. Examples of possible quid pro quos are: India helping the US in its operations against Al Qaeda in return for US help in Indian operations against the LET, US assistance for India in meeting threats from Pakistan in return for Indian assistance to the US in meeting threats from countries of concern to the US etc. Have the Indian agencies got over their mental reservations on joint operations with their US counterparts? It seems to be so.

9. Counter-terrorism technology transfers is another unexplored area so far. So is the idea of co-operation in the research and development of counter-terrorism and homeland security technologies. These are areas which offer considerable scope for co-operation between the security agencies of the two countries.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.