June 28, 2011

The Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security: A Timely Step

Arvind Gupta

According to media reports, the government has set up a task force of experts under Mr. Naresh Chandra, the former cabinet secretary, to review national security against the backdrop of a rapidly changing international security environment and fresh challenges to India’s security. This is a welcome and much needed step.

Previous Reform Efforts

After the Kargil Review Committee submitted its report in 2000, the government had set up four task forces to go into different aspects of national security. These task forces reviewed internal security, intelligence, border management and higher defence reforms. Based on the recommendations of the task forces, a Group of Ministers (GoM) came up with a report in 2001 consisting of about 300 recommendations for reforming the national security management structures. These recommendations initiated a comprehensive reform of the national security management in India’s post-independence history. Although successive governments have continued to implement these reforms, the reform process has run out of speed. The country needs fresh thinking by fresh minds to take a measure of the extent of national security challenges and devise steps to address them. The earlier GoM had in fact recommended periodic review after every five years.

The next big impetus for national security reform came after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008, when the government undertook some steps to strengthen internal security. The most important of these reforms was the setting up of a National Investigation agency and a national counter terrorism centre. These have been partially implemented at best.

How successful were the reforms initiated in 2002? An objective assessment must be made. No doubt, the government has spent a large amount of resources on police modernisation, strengthening of intelligence agencies and setting up of new institutions like the National Disaster Management Agency, National Technical Research Organisation, Defence Intelligence Agency and Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN). Some steps towards integration of the armed forces with the defence ministry have also been undertaken. The Nuclear Command Authority and Strategic Force Command and the Andaman and Nicobar tri-service joint command have also been set up. Defence acquisitions have been streamlined. The government has come out with several editions of the defence acquisition and offsets policy.

The need for a fresh round of reforms

But some crucial big ticket items have been missed out. For instance, the setting up of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has been stalled. This has impeded the full integration of the armed forces into the defence ministry structures. As a consequence the debate on civil-military relations has become shriller.

The new national security institutions that were set up after Kargil are working at below par capabilities. They are neither adequately staffed nor resourced. In some cases debilitating turf wars have broken out. Some have simply been neglected to the point of atrophy.

On the internal security front, despite high expenditure on police modernisation, the Maoist menace has grown with no end in sight. The state polices’ capacity to deal with the Maoists is doubtful. Threat from terrorism remains potent as Pakistan begins to slide into anarchy. The violence in Kashmir has come down but recurrent unrest there remains a matter of concern. The situation in the North East has shown some positive signs of improvement but long term solutions to the numerous problems there are eluding. Despite a lot of talk about the establishment of integrated check posts on the border, such posts have not been constructed. The India-Nepal border has become criminalised. India’s borders remain vulnerable despite the adoption of the ‘one border one force’ principle. The performance of the paramilitary forces needs a fresh look. The rapid creation of high quality infrastructure by China in Tibet has created pressure on India’s northern borders.

Organised crime, drug trafficking and trafficking in women and children were not considered in the previous edition of national security reforms. Nor was the threat to national security from rampant corruption. Food, water, energy and climate change, pandemics, land acquisition practices, and the clash between the needs of the environment and development have already emerged as big issues impacting India’s security. The previous GOM had not made any specific recommendations on these issues.

Technological security must also be looked at in some depth. In this context, cyber security and space security must get due attention. Maritime issues, particularly the issue of piracy and China’s ambitious naval expansion programme, need to be given urgent attention.

The bane of Indian security reforms has not been so much the dearth of resources but the lack of strong institutions and effective coordination. In this context, the performance of the National Security Council and its structures must be thoroughly reviewed. The role of the NSC has been advisory. The NSC has not been able to come out with a comprehensive national security strategy for the country. This is required urgently. The coordination role of the NSC remains weak and has grown weaker. The role and authority of the NSA must be strengthened if NSC structures are to deliver. The NSC should be put on a legal footing through a parliamentary bill. The performance of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) needs to be evaluated in the light of its de facto separation from the National Security Council Secretariat. The government also needs to consider suggestions to bring intelligence agencies under parliamentary scrutiny.

The country’s diplomatic structures are in urgent need of reform too. India simply does not have enough diplomatic resources to meet the new challenges. The government needs to have strong universities and think thanks where thinking on national security, foreign policy and international security is done. Think tanks must be strengthened and encouraged to participate in foreign policy debates. Careers in national security for young minds should be created. Security agencies should be professionalized. The government’s interface with the public through coordinated public diplomacy must be encouraged.

It is not clear from media reports what the precise scope of the Naresh Chandra task force is. If its scope is to review national security in a holistic manner, then it may like to consider some of the issues outlined above. It is hoped that it will conduct wide ranging consultations with all sections of the public and that its recommendations will be made public.

The author holds the Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair at the IDSA, New Delhi. The views expressed here are personal.

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