Sunday, December 28, 2008

11/26, NOT SECURITY AWARENESS, PREVENTS IPI DISASTER

Why does it always take a serious crisis to wake this country to security threats that are visible even to bats? Can this country continue to afford to persist with an ignorant and bumbling politico-bureaucratic security infrastructure that has repeatedly been caught flat-footed and unprepared by Pakistan? How many more disasters will this country face before fundamental systemic changes are made to the complete security apparatus? What will it take to induct professionals at all levels and remove generalist career bureaucrats from the controlling positions they have usurped and for which the country has repeatedly paid a heavy price?

For the last few years, India has been working closely with a very co-operative Pakistan to make the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline a reality. The proposed $7 billion pipeline coming to India from Iran via 707 kms in Pakistan will, according to one report, carry 150 million cubic meters of gas per day, 100 million cubic meters for India. When fully operational, it will contribute to creation of an additional revenue of more than $10 billion per year in North India.

Great economic benefits no doubt, but should there have ever been any doubts that the security risks and costs that it carried were far greater? Surprisingly, not only were they not analysed and understood properly but were dismissively 'taken care of' on the basis of laughable checks and balances by none other than the erstwhile Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who pushed the project really hard, as if he had a hidden personal agenda. In fact, had he not been removed from the ministry in time, the project may well have been a reality today.

Aiyar is not just another politician from the hinterland who was made a minister solely due to political considerations. He is a well-informed former civil servant who was a career diplomat. With that background he is expected to have at least some understanding of the impending disaster that the IPI will be for India. But, no, he virtually rubbished all talk of any risk to India's energy security from the pipeline passing through Pakistani territory

That the IPI has not yet taken off is primarily due to the opposition of the US which does not want a hostile Iran to gain any strategic advantage in the region. Just because the US is opposing the IPI, India's communists have been pushing the government to go ahead and not succumb to the hegemonic designs of the US. And, not to be outdone, other politicians and analysts too have been looking at the pipeline as a way of building mutual trust with Pakistan. That they hope will minimise the risk of supplies being disrupted by Pakistan or by terrorists operating in Baluchistan and Sind.

No one in this country who matters, it seems, is seriously educated or concerned about matters concerning national security. And this ignorance and callousness could have cost India heavily in the IPI case too.

In October 2007, I had written a detailed post analysing comprehensively the dangers that the IPI posed to India and highlighting that India should not go in for it under any circumstances. I cannot believe that the kind of analysis that I had done over a couple of days had not been carried out by anyone in the many national security organs that have been created by the Centre. This was one of the most straightforward security issues whose proper analysis would have given one unambiguous answer, as a reading of my analysis will reveal. I was obviously wrong, because the project is offically still very much on.

Mumbai 11/26 has rudely woken up at least some analysts to the grave danger that getting gas through Pakistan poses to India. Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, writing in The Times of India of December 28, 2008, says that after 26/11, the project is dead. "No Indian government can proceed with a deal that will give Pakistan a knife at India's energy throat. Far from promoting our energy security, it would be a source of immense national insecurity." Those are his telling words, words that should have been uttered long back by India's National Security Advisor and other key actors involved in making India more secure.

It has taken an attack on Mumbai to get even Swaminathan Aiyar to paint a frightening scenario about what may have happened had the IPI been functioning today. Now has come the realisation that "non state actors" could easily have been used by Pakistan to blow up the pipeline and then claim helplessness since it was itself a "victim of terror". Now has come the clarity that making North India so critically energy dependent on Pakistan would have been a total disaster.

Was the attack on Mumbai a totally surprising development out of the blue? Had Pakistan sponsored terrorist attacks not been taking place for years? Should anyone in the know have been under any illusion about what Pakistan was up to? Had any outstanding issue between the two countries been resolved? Even as we were in the process of making ourselves dependent on and vulnerable to Pakistan through the IPI, was Pakistan equally foolishly making itself even remotely dependent on India by increasing bilateral trade, though it can import almost everything it needs from India much cheaper than from almost anywhere else?

Let us not forget that India is in an undeclared state of war. Mumbai may have brought that war into the homes of Indians with faces and voices for the first time, but it has been there all the time for a long time. You and I may not know what India is up against and what it needs to do to protect itself. But if those who are supposed to know and are responsible for making India strong and secure are equally ignorant, and do not ask questions that are begging to be asked, then we have a lot to worry about.

The IPI disaster that has fortuitously been averted by Mumbai 11/26 should shake the government out of its slumber. India's security can no longer be left in the hands of a few ill-informed politicians and generalist career bureaucrats. Now is the time to ruthlessly weed out parasitic dead-wood and professionalise and de-politicise the whole national security apparatus. If we again miss this opportunity that the tragedy of Mumbai has opened up, then be sure that much bigger tragedies will keep showing their hands till we are forced to act. Good luck alone cannot keep saving us every second time.
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Readers may also read:
1. Iran-Pak-India pipeline: an impending security disaster
2. India is just gas in the Great Game
3. Undersea: the real peace pipeline