26 February 2021 12:42 AM




Power without Accountability?

NEW DELHI: The Pathankot debacle has triggered serious debate on India’s national security system, which is a collective term for the defense and foreign relations of a country. As a concept a government, along with its parliament, should protect the state and its citizens against all kind of ‘national’ crises through a variety of power projections, such as political clout, diplomacy, economic strength, military might etc. India does not have a national security architecture that addresses these basics. Everything is ad hoc depending on personal whims and fancies. That is why the incumbent National Security Advisor (NSA) is facing stringent criticism on the Pathankot episode. It could as well turn out to be a blessing in disguise if out of this morass something good emerges.

This ‘good’ should be in the form of a national security doctrine and strategy. Latter flows from the former, both are inter-related but not interchangeable. Doctrine is a set of national principles, indeed ‘a statement of Government policy.’ Political Doctrine is “fundamental Government policy especially in international relations.” A country’s national security policy is determined by many factors, including external threats, geography, political culture, military capabilities, economic needs, elite opinion, popular opinion (in democracies) and its leaders’ perceptions of the country’s interests. This conceptual framework manifests itself as foreign policy or national security ‘doctrine’, which in turn guides leaders in conducting the foreign policy of a country. At its most effective, a national security doctrine is the organizing principle that helps statesmen identify and prioritize that country’s geopolitical interests.

India has no such ‘doctrine’. It is only the Army that has one and it is anchored on Kautilya’s words of wisdom: “There can be four dangers to a state; That which is of external origin and of internal abetment; That which is of internal origin and of external abetment; That which is of external origin and of external abetment; and that which is of internal origin and of internal abetment”. Accordingly Army Doctrine-2004 defines its role in national security. Primary role is to preserve national interests and safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of India against any external threats by deterrence or by waging war. Secondary role is to assist Government agencies to cope with ‘proxy war’ and other internal threats and provide aid to civil authority when requisitioned for the purpose.

To perform this role Army has a command and control structure with the President of India as the Supreme Commander. As in all democracies, Indian Army is controlled by the elected political leadership of the nation (Government of India). Executive control is exercised sequentially through the Union Cabinet, the Defence Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Ministry of Defence handles matters related to personnel, financial and resource management.

At the national level there is no such structure. We have Ministries of Home (MHA) and External Affairs (MEA) responsible for internal security and foreign affairs respectively. But we have no geopolitical-based foreign policy or national security doctrine/system. From independence till the late nineties some hard-nosed intelligence sleuths have functioned as principal security advisors to the prime ministers.

In 1998, during the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the post of National Security Advisor (NSA) was created. Brajesh Mishra of the Indian Foreign Service was the first person to occupy this post with additional charge of Principal Secretary to PM. After him JN Dixit of the IFS was NSA for a brief period. He breathed his last and was succeeded by MK Narayanan of the Indian Police Service. He brought in Shiv Shankar Menon of the IFS to take his place. Now we have Ajit Doval of the IPS as NSA running the PMO where all powers are concentrated, with the MHA and MEA playing second fiddle!

Over these years our diplomacy has stumbled and India has ended up alienating all its neighbours and antagonising some like Nepal and Sri Lanka. With the Armed Forces being meddled with and marginalised our national security is in disarray. NSA is the product of the spoils system and not part of the institutional structure of governance. In the US where the spoils system prevails in the upper echelons of government, the NSA post fits in. But not in India where governance is a combination of elected leaders and professional civil servants and the armed forces. Besides we have a fairly well structured Foreign Service and persons of outstanding merit can be laterally inducted if need be.

The rationale offered for the position of NSA was that (a) a nuclear power needed a professional adviser who would synthesise intelligence inputs and advise the PM and (b) the proliferating intelligence agencies needed a coordinating head who would provide inputs to PM on a continuous basis. Since NSAs have a critical position and enjoy complete confidence of the prime minister, they tend to acquire a great deal of informal authority. This is at the cost of institutional heads, particularly the foreign, defence and home ministers and cabinet secretary.

The NSA office is not backed by any legislative provisions nor has parliamentary accountability. So there is a lot of power being exercised by this office without any responsibility. Our system does not provide for any formal forum in which the NSA can express his opinion and which can be challenged by the civil service institutions. Thus his views do not appear in any file which can be the subject of Parliamentary scrutiny. It is only the Ministers and Secretaries who remain responsible and answerable to Parliament either in Committees (Secretaries) or the House (Ministers). Because of this structural defect and the concomitant decline of formal arrangements like the Crisis Management Group the system can never deliver results and will always create unforeseen problems. This is precisely what happened in Pathankot.

Under such chaos national security has become a sort of plaything for the Delhi Durbar comprising of vested interests from across political and business spectrum enjoying great camaraderie. This is evident from the sudden sound-byte from the Congress busybody Manish Tiwari, a former Union Minister in the midst of the pathetic Pathankot episode. He was testifying the obnoxious Indian Express news story on April 4, 2012 alleging attempted coup by the Indian Army then headed by General VK Singh who is now a Union Minister in the Modi Cabinet. Says Tiwari: "At that time, I used to serve in the Standing Committee of Defence. And it's unfortunate, but the story was true. The story was correct." Tiwari’s objective seems to be to dent the credibility of the Indian Army at this critical time and undermine its role in ensuring the nation’s security.

A brief recap. Within days of his assuming the office of Army Chief in 2010, the Durbar started hounding General Singh, who was not part of their preferred ‘line of succession’, for disturbing their cozy relationship with the arms, drugs and other lobbies. The concocted coup story was the first major open salvo to discredit the office of the Army Chief and belittle the Indian Army as an institution. By linking the Hissar (Haryana) troop movement to the 1984 perceived ‘mutiny’ of some Sikh units in the wake of Operation Bluestar, Shekhar Gupta was suggesting that General Singh was doing the same because of his grievance on the Date of Birth issue. This is a clear case of abetting mutiny punishable under Section 131 Indian Penal Code. This act being prejudicial to the defence of India and the security of the State also attracts Sections 3 (1) and (2) of the National Security Act 1980. Crime of sedition under Section 124A of IPC could also be applicable. Nothing of that sort happened because those pulling the strings were celebrities running the state by proxy!

Then there was this concoction on Technical Service Division (TSD) which was a covert operation agency set-up by General Singh, with activities directly related to the safety of the soldiers fighting on the borders, retribution on the enemy and the security of the citizens. By its very nature TSD operation was ‘top secret’. In that event, even the existence of TSD should never have been publicised. Further, if there is exposure of the actual working of the top-secret unit, leaking information about it could be treacherous, regardless of whether information is true or not. Yet this is what the media persons affiliated to the Delhi Durbar did with impunity only to hound General Singh.

Earlier, in March, 2012, someone in the UPA Government deliberately leaked out a top-secret letter from the Army Chief to the Prime Minister about the woeful deficiency in defence preparedness. Though the leakage was traced to an official in the Cabinet Secretariat this serious act of treason has gone unpunished.

As can be seen, the above shenanigans of the ‘Delhi Durbar’ have serious criminal content impacting the effectiveness of the Armed Forces in protecting citizens and safeguarding the nation’s security. Sensing the gravity of the matter General VK Singh lodged a formal complaint with the MHA in November/December 2013 categorically stating that these serious offences have been committed due to abetment and conspiracy indulged in by vested interests with corrupt intentions. According to him only thorough investigation would bring out the truth about who these persons are and what is their motive for indulging in activities aimed at destabilizing India and endangering its sovereignty.

Nothing has been done in the last over two years, even 18 months into the BJP led NDA regime which is supposed to be nationalistic and patriotic. Corruption, perfidy and treason are the worst forms of threat to national security that have caused countries and governments to crumble and fall asunder. When these go hand-in-hand it is the deadliest of combinations that could destroy any nation or people. Such combine has been in place in India for long with the blessings of the powers-that-be. Pathankot, which is a mix of corruption, perfidy and treachery, is proof enough.

Be that as it may, the immediate requirement is to put together a National Security Doctrine that should have political consensus, publicly transparent and should reflect the complex challenges facing the country. The doctrine must be accompanied by a national security strategy that spells out the command and control structures for meeting eventualities such as terror strikes, so that Pathankot-like situation never happens again. Such a strategy should be in tune with the Army Doctrine and the role of Armed Forces which is the last bastion for safeguarding the nation’s security, sovereignty and integrity. MEA also should play its rightful role in shaping a foreign policy based on India’s geopolitical concerns. These are the basics that need to be addressed without any further loss of time.

[Writer is a former Army & IAS Officer]

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