September 14, 2011

A strategy to secure India

TUESDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2011 23:55

The recently set up Task Force with the mandate to review the national security system will achieve little unless there’s sweeping change and a new strategy.

Out of the blue, yet still welcome, the Government recently announced its first initiative in its seven years in power on national security. At first thought, it is a tinkering effort. The 14-member Task Force led by Mr Naresh Chandra has been mandated to review existing “processes, procedures and practices in the national security system and suggest measures for strengthening the national security apparatus including non-conventional areas having a bearing on the overall security situation”.

Devoid of a strategic defence and security review, the half-cock attempt will merely plug gaps, improve coordination and introduce best practices without enhancing the fundamentals of national security and providing a system which is more cost effective and delineates clear allocation of responsibility, authority and accountability. That can evolve only from a holistic strategic defence and security review which has never been undertaken in India, nor ever a National Security Strategy Document, nor even a Defence White Paper, forget the non-traditional areas of security. Incidentally China has turned out seven Defence White Papers since 1998 and other security related guidelines.

The last comprehensive appraisal of national security was done in 2001 by a Group of Ministers following the Kargil Review Committee Report. It made several recommendations, many of them were implemented. It was only after the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 that internal security received a fresh scrutiny to spruce up homeland security. But we are nowhere near reaching optimal adequacy in the national security apparatus.

Our earlier reviews were entirely defence focussed and in the aftermath mainly of blunders in war. The 1962 defence re-equipment plan came in the wake of the humiliating defeat by the Chinese. There was no lesson-learning after the 1965 war, nor indeed from any others as Government has suppressed the official war histories.

In 1971, DP Dhar led the Apex One committee to sharpen defence preparedness. But its recommendations were stymied by the oil crisis of 1973. Later, Apex II was headed by PN Haksar which was instrumental in the preparation of the first Five-Year Defence Plan. In the mid-1980s Rajiv Gandhi had set up an informal interdisciplinary committee on defence and security. The fallout of India going nuclear was in a handwritten report given to him.

In 1990, the quintessential Arun Singh chaired the Committee on Defence Expenditure which went beyond cost-cutting and included higher defence management. After Mrs Indira Gandhi first mooted the appointment of a Chief of the Defence Staff in 1972, the Committee on Defence Expenditure strongly recommended its initiation and as a stop-gap arrangement, the creation of the post of a Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff for institutionalising jointness and integration among the three Services and with Government.

The 2001 Group of Ministers, tasked to review the national security system in its entirety, produced the most comprehensive report through four expert Task Forces on higher defence, intelligence, border management and internal security. It gave 340 recommendations and barring one on institutionalising the office of Chief of the Defence Staff, the remaining were accepted by the Cabinet Committee on Security. For instance, the establishment of the National Investigation Agency and the National Security Guard hubs in 2010 was one of the Group of Ministers’ recommendations which languished till Mumbai 26/11 happened.

There is clear recognition by the Government that threats to internal security surpass the challenges posed externally. Yet the Government’s investment in creating capacities falls abysmally short of articulated concerns.

India’s federal set-up makes States primary responders to quelling disturbances. Maoists and terrorists are armed with AK-47s and improvised explosive devices whereas many State police wield lathis and .303 rifles. China spends more money on internal security than external defence.

The post-Mumbai reforms have been confined to Maharashtra and the Centre. The Centre-State partnership to meet these challenges is on weak foundations.

The chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, Mr K Shankar Bajpai, in a ringing indictment of the national security system has written that an inward-looking India which the world thinks is an emerging power is being asked to show leadership while decay in governance, dysfunctional state institutions and poor decision-making have retarded delivery. He mentions how badly defence preparedness has been hit by ineffective procurement procedures and strained civil- military relations.

Although the Task Force led by Mr Naresh Chandra is not comparable with the heavyweight Group of Ministers of 2001, at the very minimum it must recommend the institutionalisation of the post of Chief of the Defence Staff. In no country was there a consensus over this institution, but the Governments there had the political will to appoint one. For better integration between Government and the Services, and between the latter, a Chief of the Defence Staff is imperative. The military’s involvement and role in decision-making has to be institutionalised and civil-military relations made less tenuous.

Denying the Armed Forces appointments in the domain of national security is absurd. These have become reserved jobs for foreign and administrative services. Overall security is a combination of hard and soft power — defence, diplomacy and development. A retired General could not be accommodated as the Deputy National Security Adviser so he was inducted as Military Adviser to the National Security Council secretariat.

The despair among the military over its civilian stranglehold could blow up any day. Already service Chiefs are questioning the quality of governance as it impacts on national security. The new Task Force must recommend that Government provides clear political and strategic guidelines as well as timely matching resources to accomplish assigned missions. The recommendations of the Group of Ministers that are still pending should be implemented within specified time lines.

In 2001, the force and capability ratio vis-a-vis Pakistan for the Army was 1.8 to 1 and the Air Force 3.5 to 1. It has slumped dramatically to 1.2 to 1 and 1.6 to 1. As for the capability index against China, it is a joke. The latest Pentagon report has issued India a warning: Beware of Chinese build-up and strategic encirclement.

The Strike Corps envisaged to deter the Chinese which is still on paper was recommended in Gen K Sundarji’s Army Plan 2000 in 1987. If it is cleared this year it will not be operational for another five years, widening further the vulnerability gap.

We have inherited customs, traditions and habits from Britain, but there is one tradition we have failed to institutionalise — that of periodic security and defence review. We have become habituated to ad hocism. The British have given their military a clear and simple mission : To deter and defeat security threats as far from the homeland as possible.

India has made a habit of waking up after successive hits and humiliations. There was one more terrorist attack this month. The Task Force headed by Mr Naresh Chandra must reinvent the defence and security apparatus to ensure that India can stay on the trajectory of a high growth path

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