HTLS 2019: How to make India secure, inside its territory and out
At the outset, Hindustan Times is to be commended for initiating this set of conversations for a “better tomorrow”. It would be a motherhood and apple-pie consensus that every citizen of India must feel sufficiently “secure”. The bandwidth of security concerns for the individual is wide and inclusive.
At the macro level, external security threats to national sovereignty and territorial integrity must be managed in an effective and affordable manner even while the internal security fabric ought to be of the requisite texture such that the ‘yogakshema’ (well-being) of the citizen that Chanakya dwelt upon as the ultimate responsibility of the ruler (now the elected leader), is assured by the various organs of the state.
The word “environment” is a useful one to trigger a conversation about how secure India is currently. The run-up to the 11th anniversary of the November 26, 2008 terror attack on Mumbai (26/11) is a reminder about the nature of the security challenges that India faces, and the manner in which the external and the internal strands are braided.
The Indian state and its territorial integrity and sanctity that are deemed to be inviolable were assaulted — albeit briefly — by a state-sponsored terrorist attack in November 2008. Earlier, in the summer of 1999, the Pakistan army-ISI combine carried out an audacious intrusion in the craggy heights of Kargil. Yes, this was repulsed but at considerable cost in life and blood.
Going further back to the early decades of independent India, the short October 1962 war with China exposed India’s security inadequacies at the highest political level, its poor army leadership and the glaring gaps in higher defence management. The [Jawaharlal] Nehru-[VK Krishna] Menon-[VM] Thapar debacle that culminated in the abject humiliation of India is a useful reference from the past to frame a meaningful conversation about how to nurture a more secure future for India’s composite military security. Nehru was the prime minister, Menon, the defence minister and Thapar, the Army chief at the time of the war.
The need for a holistic review and rewiring of India’s entire military and intelligence infrastructure was acknowledged by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on whose watch the 1999 intrusions took place. This study, led by the late K Subrahmanyam, was formally submitted to the government as the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) Report.
The findings of the KRC are stark. Noting that there “are many grave deficiencies in India’s security management system”, the report adds gravely: “National Security management recedes into the background in time of peace ...the Committee strongly feels that the Kargil experience, the continuing proxy war and the prevailing nuclearised security environment justify a thorough review of the national security system in its entirety.”
However, this deep structural review of India’s military security domain and the larger ecosystem that includes defence production, research and development (R&D), ordnance factories, technology et al has remained elusive. It is only now, a good 19 years later, that the Narendra Modi-led NDA government has picked up the gauntlet.
Prime Minister Modi, in his August 15 address to the nation, announced the decision to create the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). An implementation committee headed by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been constituted, and it is understood that the first CDS will be appointed in December. Preliminary reports suggest that the CDS will be the single-point military advisor to the government. But much will depend on how much space and visibility this office will be accorded in the multi-layered maze of Indian governance and its deeply entrenched civil-military dissonance.
Currently, when it comes to the rules of business and relevance in the decision-making process, the service chiefs are akin to the “three invisible men”, in former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash’s pithy turn of phrase. One hopes that the CDS, when announced, will not become an unwitting fourth.
Yet another strand for extended conversation — hopefully in Parliament — is the allocation of resources for military inventory, domestic R&D and production, and the induction of new technologies. India’s self-image as a leading power or its claim to strategic autonomy are untenable when it is among the world’s top importers of military equipment.
Apropos the neighbourhood, Delhi’s ability to cope with diverse regional challenges, including the orientation of China, will be high priority. Concurrently, the internal security dynamic is problematic. As of March 2019, India had lost almost 20,000 civilians and security personnel to the scourge of terror and the internal situation in a truncated Jammu and Kashmir remains opaque. The next summer could thrown up complex security challenges. A secure future for India is predicated on comprehensive national capabilities. Apart from tangible economic and military indicators, political resolve, institutional integrity and objective commitment towards national security compulsions are imperative.
C Uday Bhaskar is a retired commodore of the Indian Navy and is currently director, Society for Policy Studies. The views expressed are personal