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'Bangladeshi infiltration is the biggest threat'

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: April 26, 2006 12:45 IST
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Ajit Doval is one of the most decorated officers of the Indian Police Service. He is the first police officer to get the Kirti Chakra, the second highest gallantry award after the Param Vir Chakra.

He belongs to the 1968 batch of the Kerala cadre and retired as chief of the Intelligence Bureau in January 2005.

Doval, who belongs to Garhwal, has outstanding credentials as an operations man. He made his name as a field operative in the Mizoram insurgency where he broke rebel leader Ladenga's hold over his private army. In 1989, he lead an IB team along with the Punjab police and National Security Guards in Operation Black Thunder to evacuate terrorists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

For many years he led many important teams within IB which included the important operations against Islamic terrorism in India. He also led the team set up to capture underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim after the Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993.

He has also served in Pakistan when J N Dixit was India's high commissioner.

He was also one the three negotiators along with diplomat Vivek Katju and C D Sahay, intelligence officer of the Research and Analysis Wing, to negotiate the release the passengers of IC 184 flight that was hijacked to Khandhar.

Few men in the IPS know India's internal security problems as well as Doval.

In an exclusive interview with's Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt, he speaks his mind.

What are the challenges before India on matters related to internal security?

In the last decade a series of studies have been carried out in India and abroad to figure out what exactly are India's security vulnerabilities. All studies agree on one point -- that India's internal vulnerabilities are much higher than its external vulnerabilities. You read the report of the Group of Ministers Task force, the report of the National Security Advisory Board or the US State Department's assessments -- all say internal security vulnerability is at 75 to 80 percent.

In the global context, after World War II very few countries have lost their territory, their constitution, their economy because of external factors. East Timor, Bangladesh and the breaking up of the Soviet Union was because of internal factors that lead to civil war or breakdown of law. India is an old civilization which is converting into a new nation state. This is highly exothermic. This heat is necessary because this leads to amalgamation.

But the process makes fault lines fluid. India has got all the fault lines -- ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic and caste. The synthesis is on but there has yet to be amalgamation. The transition is a difficult phase. I expect that in 2050, due to education, the economy and development the fault lines will vanish. India's internal vulnerability is also because of political factors.

Political leaders' fortunes lie in exploiting these fault lines. While all political leaders want to strengthen national unity, their future lies in exploiting the fault lines. Here lie the contradictions. To get the vote of a particular community I'll need to accentuate their favours. If the minority or majority are not afraid of each other then there is no vote-bank. So politicians have to give voters an imaginary or real perception of fear. The genius of politics lies in exploitation of fears and invention of new ones.

But there are very positive, competent and determined people inside and outside government who will bridge these fault lines.

This is the broader picture but can you tell us how you see the micro issues? Which is the most prominent issue threatening India's internal security?

I consider infiltration of Bangladeshis the biggest internal security problem. It's the biggest because the government feels that it can do nothing about it. There is no military response, diplomatic responses have failed, border management is not effective and the legal response is not doable because two crore illegal people's adjudication will take 200 years. Even then, you can take those adjudicated outsiders to the border, Bangladesh may not accept them. And even when they are accepted they come back after 15 days to a new destination in India. When an Indian court convicts somebody as a Bangladeshi his government escort buys him a ticket, gives him food and takes him to the border. But in a large number of cases the Bangladesh Rifles refuse to accept India's evidence. Bangladeshis enjoy a paid holiday in this country!

Even if he is accepted, by paying touts around Rs 3,000 in Dhaka he can get back on a border-bound bus.

Why Bangladesh hates India

India's problem is how to fight subversion or sabotage if you have a support base of two crore people who are from outside. It is difficult to infiltrate five terrorists or 50 saboteurs or 200 persons who indulge in communal violence. Pakistan will be never able to send in 200 people at a time at the border. From Bangladesh 2,000 persons can get in if you pay Rs 3,000 per head. It is just not possible to stop them.

I'll tell you an interesting incident of a person arrested in Guwahati. His name was Salim Kari, who was born blind. He belonged to Muzzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. He ran militant operations for nine years while living in Kupwara, Kashmir. He was the mastermind behind many terrorist operations. When we zeroed on him he slipped into Pakistan. There was no trace of him, thereafter. He was a member of a body which is into the 'bleed India' activities. Salim surfaced in Guwahati with five other terrorists and fortunately he was arrested. You should read his revelations that were made public by the then chief minister of Assam in the state assembly.

He spoke about the number of Indian Muslims taken to Bangladesh and Pakistan. He talked about modules they are building in different places in India. He revealed how Bangladeshis in different parts of India are targeted by them to do their job. Lots of Bangladeshis are actively involved in espionage work. Lashkar-e-Tayiba's modules also use illegal Bangladeshis in India to do their dirty job.

Bangladesh: The next terror frontier?

For India, the eye-opener was in 2001during the Tabligh e Jamat congregation in Dhaka. It was the biggest congregation after the Haj in Mecca. More than 40 lakh Muslims gathered there. An amazing number of people went from India. We had never heard so many anti-India speeches before at any such congregation. These speeches were made at the event attended by the prime minister, chief justice and many other top leaders of Bangladesh. The entire environment being created there is that India is the enemy country. The Jamat Islami hates India the most. The influx is giving a fillip to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. It is also a route for weapons smuggling and helps north-eastern insurgency. Bangladesh supports the demographic invasion of India. The complexion of a large number of constituencies are changing due to this.

Later on, political compulsions will restrict politicians from taking decisions in India's best interests.

In this scenario what are India's options?

Somebody has to be given the task. Find the man and assign the task to him. Ask his team to deliver. Monitor how many Bangladeshis return. Even if 20 to 30 percent return it will make an impact. You must remember that all over India more than 200 constituencies are such that politicians will be tempted to take decisions favouring immigrants and compromise national security. Bangladesh infiltration will lead to politics of communalism.

Why India is concerned about Bangladesh

India's intelligence infrastructure should have done the job of sending illegal migrants back.

Intelligence infrastructure is a part of the larger system. No such part can overtake the larger system. Nuts and bolts can't overtake the engine that is driving the system!

Why were the effective measures not taken during the National Democratic Alliance rule to control Bangladeshis influx?

You are presuming that I don't know evils of smoking so I am smoking. But may be I know evils but still smoke. Knowledge per se is no guarantee of action.  

But when you were in IB, in various senior positions, what did you do?

A series of steps were taken during the NDA rule which were then not pursued with vigour. The identity card system was introduced. A pilot project was completed; a large amount of money was spent on the system that would have helped in strengthening national security. If you go to a hotel, if you fly, if you buy a home – almost anything you do you would need that I-card. It was a response to a national threat.

192 terror camps in Bangladesh: BSF

Then, for the first time a Task Force on Internal Security was created and a multiple-agency centre was created. For the first time an integrated national security understanding was developed.

But why were you not effective on the issue of Bangladeshi infiltration?

I was part of the team that had 11 players in the field. You have to play from a particular position. On such issues the team captain decides. The policy execution is always a subordinate function to the government's policy formulation.

Which are the other issues adversely affecting India's internal security?

Border management is a grave problem area. The management of Indian borders, both in the north and even the coastal borders, deserves more attention. It's being given attention but we need more vigil. India has more than 15,000 km of land border and some 7,500 km of coastal border. Remember, if the border with Pakistan was secure there would not have been any insurgency in Punjab. The Kashmir problem would have been much less if the huge amounts of arms and ammunition would not have come in via the border. We know for sure that 54,000 AK series rifles have been seized so we know that most of these arms come in via the Indo-Pak border. More than 1,000 kg of RDX seized by India means that more than 100 truckloads of goods have come in without detection.

Imagine, if these arms and RDX have come in, then how many people have infiltrated through Pakistan carrying this stuff? More than 15,000 people have gone to Pakistan for training and returned with arms.

Also, 200 km out to sea we have exclusive zones which have a great strategic and economic significance. The Indian Ocean is becoming an area of competition.

We need national priority for internal security management and once the policy is decided we should execute it. If it's not executed then it means India is a soft state.

Part II: 'Why do you say Maoists are not terrorists?'

Photograph: Sondeep Shankar/Saab Pictures

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi