Originally Published 2004-10-30 04:31:30 Published on Oct 30, 2004
Former Prime Minister Vajpayee¿s government may not have left India shining, but to its credit, it notched up several major achievements on the national security font. Foremost among these was declaring India a nuclear weapons state, a move that unquestionably enhanced India¿s quest for strategic autonomy.
Managing Security An Agenda for the New Government
Former Prime Minister Vajpayee's government may not have left India shining, but to its credit, it notched up several major achievements on the national security font. Foremost among these was declaring India a nuclear weapons state, a move that unquestionably enhanced India's quest for strategic autonomy. The new Central Government undoubtedly has numerous pressing domestic and international issues to deal with after a long holiday from governance due to the long drawn-out electoral process. However, it is in the realm of national security that it needs to move with courage, sagacity and speed to take some major decisions to make the country more secure both externally and internally.

India has for long been internationally perceived and has behaved as a soft state. Otherwise, Pakistan's decade and a half old 'proxy war' in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), would not have gone unchallenged. Also, the ISI would not have been allowed to spread its tentacles to forge links with militant organisations in India's northeastern states and engineer bomb blasts and other acts of terrorism all over the country with impunity through its mercenary marauders. The recent peace overtures notwithstanding, Pakistan's military establishment is seething with feelings of revenge for its comprehensive military defeat in Kargil. Its various state-sponsored terrorist organisations have now become Frankenstein monsters and their writ runs unfettered across international boundaries. Osama bin Laden, a degenerate terrorist warlord, has threatened a holy Jehad against India. The internal security situation is also far from encouraging, with religious extremism once again rearing its ugly head even in progressive states like Gujarat. Fissiparous tendencies in disparate ethnic groups are again coming to the fore. 

The first and foremost requirement for the better management of key national security concerns is to genuinely integrate the three Services headquarters (HQ) with the Ministry of Defence without any further delay. This long-pending reform in the country's defence and security threat perception, analysis, decision-making and policy implementation structure will lead to an exponential improvement in the management of national security. The Services HQ are still 'attached offices' of the Ministry of Defence for all practical purposes and merely re-naming them has served no purpose. All vested interests still opposed to this inescapable reform need to be ruthlessly brushed aside. Besides such integration, other salient recommendations of the Arun Singh task force on higher defence management, such as the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to preside over the recently instituted HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and the delegation of financial powers to the Chiefs of Staff of the army, the navy and the air force to manage their respective revenue budgets, also need to be expeditiously implemented.

A comprehensive Strategic Defence Review is still to be conducted. This must be done post haste. The dangers posed by present and emerging threats to national security, like the threat to India's integrity from the scourge of terrorism and the linked proliferation of small arms, threats from the weapons of mass destruction, information and cyber-warfare, the imperatives of food, energy and water security and the hazards of mass migrations from across India's borders, need to be evaluated and suitable policy options drawn up. A comprehensive national security strategy should then be formulated to deal with the threats on a long- and short-term basis so that the responsibilities of the armed forces and concerned government departments are clearly enunciated. Based on the national security and foreign policy objectives and the responsibilities assigned, a comprehensive, inter-departmental, tri-Service military strategy can then be drawn up. All the concerned departments of the government must know their respective role during war and peace as modern warfare is not the prerogative of the armed forces alone. The three Services can then review their force structures and organisational underpinnings and make suitable recommendations to the government to institute the changes necessary for lean but lethal forces ready to fight the overt and covert wars of the 21st century.

The next important measure the incoming government must adopt is to raise the defence budget from the present abysmally low level of 2.2 per cent of the GDP to 3.5 per cent of the GDP, a figure that has been found by eminent Indian strategists and various think tanks to be sustainable for the Indian economy as well as the minimum necessary to enhance defence preparedness to acceptable levels. If an additional annual outlay over and above 3.5 per cent of the GDP is required to finance India's nuclear force structure for 'credible, minimum deterrence', it will have to be provided. The Kargil intrusions of 1999 forcefully drove home the point that a strong conventional force continues to be necessary to ward off external threats from recalcitrant neighbours and that expenditure on developing a nuclear deterrent cannot compensate the neglect of conventional forces.

The virtues of long-term defence planning do not need to be emphasised. Ad hocism on a year-to-year basis leads to imperfection in decision-making and tends to result in avoidable waste. Only a long-term financial commitment can ensure that systematic and methodical planning can be undertaken for the modernisation of the armed forces. The list of in-service obsolescent equipment is growing rapidly in all three Services. Operational voids in various organisations due to the non-availability of equipment are a major concern and the induction of modern force multipliers has had to be put on the back burner due to lack of budgetary support. All these require the massive infusion of capital funds over a period of two to three defence plans (10 to 15 years). Former Finance Minister Jaswant Singh created history of sorts by instituting a rolling, non-lapsable defence modernisation fund of Rs. 25,000 crores. The new government must ratify this decision by incorporating it in the defence budget. After the clearance of a second aircraft carrier for the navy and advanced jet trainers (AJT) for the air force, some hard decisions still need to be taken regarding weapons acquisitions with large financial outlays. These include the replacement of the remaining old tanks, the acquisition of 155 mm vehicle-towed and self-propelled artillery guns to augment the Bofors howitzers, additional gun locating radars and equipment for low intensity conflict for the army and specialised ground strike aircraft for the air force. These can wait no longer without seriously jeopardising national security.

Very little has apparently been done to create a viable force structure to achieve credible minimum nuclear deterrence since May 1998. Though the National Security Advisory Board of the National Security Council has drawn up a draft nuclear doctrine that is fairly comprehensive and a Strategic Forces Command has been established, the remaining contours of the nuclear force structure, including its targeting, surveillance, early warning and damage assessment system and safety and risk reduction-cum-confidence building measures, are yet to clearly emerge. Transparency in matters of national security is a force multiplier as it enhances the public's awareness of major concerns and helps to build a national consensus. 

The management of internal security is another aspect that has suffered for want of due attention. It is well recognised that the army's prolonged involvement in counter-insurgency operations detracts from its ability to train and prepare for its primary role. However, when the Central and State governments' internal security forces find it difficult to effectively defeat a foreign-sponsored 'proxy war' type of insurgency fought with sophisticated weapons and the incidents begin to spiral out of control, the army has to be finally called out to restore a semblance of normality. This Catch-22 situation could have been overcome by raising a national level counter-insurgency force with the army's ethos, methods of training and, initially, the army's leadership. 

However, the previous government reposed its faith in a 'mix-n-match' policy of committing almost all types of central police forces like the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, along with the army, in counter-insurgency operations. Each of the forces has been raising new battalions in an ad hoc manner. This policy has not produced results commensurate with the force levels employed as counter-insurgency operations require a very high degree of specialisation and higher level coordination. Dealing with the various insurgencies threatening India's security requires a holistic inter-ministerial and inter-departmental approach. Above all, it requires political courage and vision to evolve and implement a comprehensive national policy.

Welfare measures too need immediate attention. Married accommodation continues to be abysmally short. Army units serving in high-stress operational areas are still bearing the cross of the shortage of 13,000 officers. The Services have been justifiably demanding a separate Pay Commission. These are issues the government can easily redress. Pakistan's misadventure in Kargil served as a timely reminder that the policy of drift in national security is dangerous and that the nation cannot bank on the armed forces to deliver the goods unless they are given the wherewithal necessary for them to accomplish the diverse missions that are being increasingly assigned to them. The new government at the Centre must get to work in right earnest if national security is not to be compromised in future.

Courtesy: Statesman, October 21, 2004.

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