January 25, 2005

NSA's job: Dixit fitted into the role well

Title: NSA's job: Dixit fitted into the role well

Author: SWAPAN DASGUPTA

Publication: Free Press Journal

Date: January 24, 2005

The mismatch between conviction and action is a necessary part of
democratic politics which few, apart from starry-eyed idealists,
begrudge. Yet, it says something for the ingrained cynicism of some members
of the Manmohan Singh Government that the lavish praises showered on the
former National Security Adviser J.N. "Mani" Dixit after his sudden
death earlier this month has also been accompanied by a concerted attempt
to undermine almost everything he stood for.

On paper, Dixit has been lauded as an original thinker, a realist
and even an upholder of the grand imperial vision. The Minister of
External Affairs, his former colleague in the Foreign Service, who was
almost in tears when providing the TV bytes on January 3, has even
announced an annual lecture in his memory. The lecture, unless it is hijacked
by family retainers to preach the continuing relevance of Jawaharlal
Nehru, will no doubt become an important occasion in Delhi's diplomatic
and think-tank calendar.

It may be presumptuous on my part to suggest the theme and
speaker for the inaugural lecture. However, if the political grapevine in the
Capital is anything to go by, it would not be inopportune for K. Natwar
Singh to do the honours himself, with Home Minister Shivraj Patil
presiding over the function. And the topic- `Why India does not need an
NSA'-will be something both ministers should warm up to instantly.

That, in the seven months he was NSA, Dixit was a thorn in the
flesh for both ministers is no great secret. The Home Minister, and, for
that matter, the present officiating NSA, perceived him as a pesky
intruder who was eloquent in his opposition to the mindless appeasement of
every Naxalite and secessionist group in the country.

For Dixit, containing and defeating terrorism was an important
obligation of the state, more important than accommodating the imaginary
roots of extremist disorder. His intense unhappiness at the cringing
way the PMO responded to some vague offer from the secessionist ULFA for
a cease-fire was well known.

The External Affairs Minister imagined him an interloper bent on
shaping the contours of both neighbourhood diplomacy and relations with
the superpower. Dixit's realism and his stress on continuity were in
sharp contrast to Natwar's belief that India should turn its back on the
entire six years the NDA was in power.

For Dixit, India's nuclear status was a reality that had to be
intelligently leveraged; to the Minister, it was a horrible mistake. The
External Affairs Minister's shameful interview to a Korean newspaper,
for which Manmohan had to make amends in Parliament, was not a stray act
of indiscretion. Anyone reading Natwar's late-night intervention in the
April 1999 no-confidence motion debate will instantly realise that a
disavowal of India's nuclear policy comes from his heart.

For Dixit, the Islamabad declaration of January 2004 was an
important milestone in Indo-Pakistan relations; to Natwar, the Shimla
Agreement of 1972 was the mandatory reference point. Dixit was troubled that
Atal Behari Vajpayee was a bit too placatory towards Pakistan; his
minister was miffed that Vajpayee was there at all.

The differences didn't stem from the fact that Dixit was a
patriot first and a Congressman incidentally. It was also based on his
understanding of what the job of NSA involved. It didn't, according to him,
involve merely reading intelligence reports or taking an exceptional
interest in promotions and appointments in the intelligence agencies-in
short, conducting himself like a super chief of the IB.

Apart from closely monitoring the sensitive area of nuclear
policy, which neither the MEA nor the Home Ministry is privy to, the job of
the NSA involved using the weight of the Prime Minister's Office to
take a more rounded and panoramic view of national security, and guide the
Prime Minister accordingly.

The NSA fulfills a special role in the diplomatic and security
establishments. It was the former NSA Brajesh Mishra and his Pakistani
counterpart Tariq Aiz, not the Foreign Ministers of the two countries,
who hammered out the Islamabad Declaration.

Equally, it should not be forgotten that the Next Steps in
Strategic Partnership, which took Indo-US relations to a new plane, was
negotiated by two NSAs, bypassing the entrenched positions of the MEA and
the State Department. On his part, Dixit played a quiet but pivotal role
in persuading the authorities in Iran that it would be
counter-productive to confront the West on the issue of nuclear proliferation.

In recent months, Dixit played a very major role in ensuring that
the Prime Minister's foreign policy pronouncements were a shade more
responsible and sophisticated than anything his External Affairs Minister
uttered.

Of course, he didn't always succeed. India got itself into an
embarrassing position when Natwar told Parliament that India would never
accept permanent membership of the UN Security Council without veto
powers. A multilateral issue was sought to be made an instrument of
grandstanding.

Dixit and a few others tut-tutted but the damage had been done.
Dixit realised India was an emerging great power that had to weigh its
words and position with care. The External Affairs Minister still
imagined India was a Third World power fighting some anticolonial movement.

For every problem, he sought solutions in the Collected Works of
Jawaharlal Nehru. Dixit wasn't weighed down by ghosts from the past. He
was forward looking; Natwar insisted on remaining imprisoned by
history. The NSA's job, it is clear, involves a deep and clear understanding
of national interests.

It does not involve substituting reasoned arguments with the
nonchalant assertion that "this is what Madam desires", as if the
ubiquitous lady holds the key to national self-realisation and enlightenment. It
certainly necessitates an individual who, at the very least, has the
requisite competence to conduct a one-to-one dialogue with Tariq Aziz. It
definitely involves finding someone who can counter the dangerous
woolly-headedness of those who are caught in a time warp
.

Dixit fulfilled these roles. This is why they want to either
abolish his job or hand it over to someone who diminishes its dignity.
Either way, Manmohan Singh's authority is further weakened.

No comments: