|OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT|
|New Delhi, Dec. 2: P. Chidambaram today accused the Narendra Modi regime of increasing India's vulnerability to terror attacks like the one in Nagrota this week by dismantling a coordination mechanism the UPA had introduced after the 2008 Mumbai strikes.|
Chidambaram, who had taken over as home minister days after the Mumbai attacks, had put in place a "unified command" that met every working day to analyse and respond to terror threats - which he credited for India's success in reducing Pakistan-sponsored strikes from 2008 to 2013.
That "unified command" - consisting of the national security adviser, home secretary and the chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing apart from the home minister - was dismantled after the Modi administration came to power.
"Stopping that practice - 45 minutes every single working day around 10am - has had an impact, it appears to me," Chidambaram said at the launch of former NSA and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon's book, Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy. "That practice helped us to coordinate our analysis and our response." Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the book.
India, the target of frequent Pakistan-sponsored attacks in the years leading up to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, did not suffer a single cross-border terror strike after that till 2013, Chidambaram said. Terror attacks that did occur, like the German Bakery blast in Pune in 2010, were traced to local perpetrators, he said.
Chidambaram and Menon - who was foreign secretary from 2006 to 2009 and NSA from 2009 to 2014 - also questioned the gains from the Modi government's decision to go public with what the former diplomat called "the so called surgical strikes" on September 29.
Menon, whose book examines six tough choices Indian governments have had to make in foreign policy, has written that after the Mumbai attacks, he had recommended an operation targeting the Lashkar-e-Toiba headquarters in Muridke, Pakistan.
But on reflection, Menon today said, he had concluded that his initial reaction had been an "emotional" one and, if acted on, would have given the terrorists "exactly what they wanted" - to provoke a reaction.
"The world would have apportioned blame to both India and Pakistan and treated it like another instance of these 'two children bickering' again," Menon said.
To imagine that the surgical strikes - or any cross-border operation - would stop terror attacks would be naïve, Menon suggested. "The problem is structural in Pakistan," he said.
Going public with surgical strikes also involves risks, both Menon and Chidambaram said.
"Once you go public with what you are doing, you lose control of the escalation ladder," Menon said. "I can understand playing politics - everyone does - but beyond a point you need to keep control."
Chidambaram said India was limiting its strategic options with Pakistan by going public with the surgical strikes. The former home minister said he too had advocated restraint following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. That restraint, he said, had won India respect globally.
"Eventually, you have to live with your neighbours," Chidambaram said. "Yes, you must be on your guard, but the answer is to engage Pakistan."
Chidambaram also suggested that governments, while listening to the voice of the people, also needed to provide leadership - when asked whether Prime Minister Modi, by going ahead with the surgical strikes, had responded to the will of the people.
"I believe that political leaders must heed public opinion," Chidambaram said. "But there are occasions when political leaders must also lead public opinion."
Menon argued that the assumption that the Indian public was necessarily baying for blood might be wrong.
He referred to the BJP's campaign rhetoric in January 2009 ahead of the Lok Sabha elections - without naming the party - criticising the UPA administration of the time for not hitting back militarily at Pakistan after the Mumbai strikes.
The BJP lost the election and the Congress, which was leading the UPA, gained over its 2004 numbers. "We underestimate the wisdom of our people," Menon said.