Can we have zero tolerance, rather than accept ‘human error’?
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Can we have zero tolerance, rather than accept ‘human error’?

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has finally accepted as “genuine oversight” and “human error” an embarrassing goof-up that is not likely to be forgotten by Pakistan −  ever. I don’t think the explanation washes even with Indians. We may be blundering fools in many aspects of governance but surely we cannot condone callous handling of issues involving terror and sensitive foreign relationships.

In March, India submitted a “Most Wanted List” to Pakistan listing as many as 50 “fugitives,” led by Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Hafiz Saeed. It released the list to the Indian media only weeks ago, after the killing of Osama bin Laden, apparently to add to the pressures on Pakistan. But that led to heightened media scrutiny and the eventual discovery by The Times of India that one man on that list, Wazhul Kamar Khan, lived just outside Mumbai, and was not hiding in Pakistan.

Khan was first arrested last year by Mumbai police for his alleged role in the 2003 Mulund train blasts but was almost immediately granted bail and has lived a free man. His arrest apparently was never communicated to the Home Ministry by either Mumbai police or the Intelligence Bureau. Consequently, the CBI and the National Investigation Agency, which was formed after the Mumbai terror attacks to bolster national security, remained in the dark about Khan.

But that is only half the story. According to The Times, Khan has not been charged with any crime in the case despite his arrest. If that is true, and Chidambaram has not yet responded to this revelation, the embarrassment for India is far worse because it suggests many more things than a simple human error.

What that means is this: India not only allowed a simple lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies to allow Khan’s name to stay on the list, but actually carried out no proper investigation on Khan to justify his inclusion in the list in the first place. That being the case, Pakistan could very easily question each and every man on that list with a measure of justification, not that it has needed any to claim, for example, that Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim is not on Pakistani soil.

Chidambaram was handed the Home Ministry, once Shivraj Patil had to go as terrorist attacks were being carried out unabated, mainly because of his perceived efficiency. To his credit, Chidambaram’s tenure has more or less brought an end to terror attacks but substantive infrastructural changes have not happened. Nearly a decade after 9/11, and nearly a decade after the attack on India’s Parliament, India’s security establishment is a disparate force, rather than a monolithic unit that is required to fight modern-day terrorists.

Chidambaram needs to do a lot more. For a start, how about zero tolerance for such goof-ups?