Saturday, August 15, 2009

A public-private response to tackle terror

Private guarding business is the second largest employer after manufacturing
industryCross Hairs |

Raghu Raman Last week, Mint carried a front page story on 75 companies lining up to avail the services of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
While it is indeed a sign of our times that companies have to pay to get the security that they should have had in the first place, I believe this could be a paradigm shift in the way public-private partnerships address the issue of terrorism and internal security.

The willingness of firms to make investments in security is a heartening sign of their readiness and concern to be active participants rather than passive stakeholders. However, this strategy needs to be thought through its implications and dimensions to be leveraged optimally.

Firstly, companies must realize that CISF or any such force is essentially a quick reaction team. The key word here is reaction. Hence, the police or private security cannot abdicate their responsibility to control, access or gather pre-emptive intelligence.

Grass roots security and first response will continue to be a police responsibility simply because the police force is closest to the community and can consequently spot weak signals first. Therefore, all initiatives to modernize them with superior intelligence gathering tools and immediate response equipment need to proceed on a fast track.

Secondly, CISF, like any other government force, is already stretched. As a matter of fact, it is yet to cover its current set of responsibilities with national assets such as airports because scaling up and maintaining high quality is a universal challenge.

Also, while the police force intends to augment strength by 10,000 every year, recruiting and churning out such numbers is a daunting task. CISF competes with the same catchment pool as the army and all other paramilitary forces, which are also increasing their strength rapidly.

However, the key issue that must be addressed by the private sector is—security at what cost? It is unarguable that government assets cost the exchequer around three times that of privately provisioned resources.

The private guarding business in India is the second largest employer of manpower after the manufacturing industry. Despite that, most of the guarding companies have an unsavoury reputation and the few that tend to adhere to standards are hobbled by the antiquated laws with regard to carriage of arms, thus adversely affecting their efficacy.

Taking a conceptual cue from the ministry of defence which has, in keeping with global practices, opened its resource pool to include the private sector, a public-private partnership could also be forged to tackle homeland security in India.
There are several reasons to do this.

Internal security in India is heading towards the perfect storm. Indian security forces are planning to launch the largest ever offensive action against Naxalites within the next few weeks. By sheer scale and spread, this operation will suck in several thousand government forces across scores of districts for the next three-four years.

Other environmental drivers such as intensification of the US operations in Pakistan and its fallout on infiltration of terrorists into India, resource deployment for Commonwealth Games, and deterioration of security situation because of sub optimal monsoons will have the government resources stretched to their tethers.

Selective and structured privatization of the security value chain has been proven as an economic and efficient model in several countries. Most public installations, including airports, in developed countries are secured by private agencies under government oversight.

Australia outsources its prison and correction facilities. Israeli diplomats and even ministers are protected by private security firms. The US has farmed out entire chunks of the security value chain such as convoy protection, guarding of critical installations, maintaining lines of communications and the like even in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the Indian context, the public-private partnership has potential in several areas. For instance, training is one of the major challenges faced by the security forces. Training establishments are expensive to run and resource-hungry. They divert hundreds of officers and men who are desperately needed in operations into administrative roles.

The private sector could create world class training facilities, equip and man them, thus freeing the serving security forces from administrative and cost overheads.
Similar models have been used in the US to rapidly meet the demands of specialist skills required in urban warfare, counterterrorist operations and intelligence gathering. The Israeli armed forces partner with private firms to train entire battalions and brigades.

This model also leverages the incredible pool of talent that is wasted away when servicemen retire with decades of operational experience behind them.
Consulting and project management is another domain where such partnerships can revolutionize efficiencies. Security establishments need expertise in areas of analytics, communication infrastructure, network centric warfare, and complex project management. Almost all of such work is outsourced to the private sector in developed nations. Given the nature of terrorism, much of such collaboration has to be in place in any case, because the terrorists use infrastructure such as telecom, Internet, public transportation and financial networks to wage war against the state.
In the last decade, conflicts have undergone a paradigm shift. Battlefronts have moved from the borders into the cities, civilian assets are as vulnerable as military targets and hostile states partner with non-state players to inflict damage on the economy—instead of capturing geographical territory.

It is also time for India to react to this shift and reorganize our resources from a traditionally government oriented format into a public-private coalition.
The key question is whether the government is ready for the mindset change required for a co-creative model and creating the environment for such participation.
Raghu Raman is chief executive of corporate risk consulting firm Mahindra Special Services Group that advises companies and organizations on threat assessments and risk-mitigation strategies. Respond to this column at crosshairs@livemint.com

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