Besides emphasis on job creation, farmers’ distress, poverty elimination by giving Rs 72,000 per annum to the poorest families, single moderate GST rate and minorities’ welfare, the Congress has laid lot of emphasis on the national security reforms in its manifesto released on 2 April for the 2019 parliamentary elections. It has promised to make the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) as well as the National Security Council (NSC), a government advisory agency, accountable to Parliament if voted to office in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Based on the recommendations of the former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda who played a key role in planning and executing the 2016 surgical strikes was requested to formulate a national security strategy for the party.The Congress has included some of General Hooda and his high profile team’s recommendations in its manifesto on national security including appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), streamlining of National Security Council (NSC), improvement in the allocation of defence budget for modernisation of defence equipment, amendment to Armed Forces Special powers Act (AFSPA) and so on.
Seeking to create a new national security structure, the Congress has promised the appointment of CDS, a long-awaited initiative meant to ensure coordination among the three arms of the military. “The Congress will establish the office of CDS to be the principal adviser to the government on matters relating to defence,” it said.
The Government of India set up the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) under the chairmanship of K. Subrahmanyamon 29 July 1999; three days after the Indian Army announced complete eviction of Pakistani intruders from Kargil, officially bringing the Kargil War to an end. The committee was set up “to examine the sequence of events and make recommendations for the future and to review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir; and to recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security against such armed intrusions.”
The Kargil Review Committee found various shortcomings at multiple levels of intelligence collection, operational procedures and systematic sharing of data. Following the main recommendation of the KRC, that a complete review of the Indian security system should be done, a Group of Ministers (GoM) under the chairmanship of the then Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and task forces were set upby the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on 17 April 2000 to consider the recommendations of KRC report.
From among the recommendations in the GoM report:
• The formation of the post for a CDS was accepted by the CCS, but has not been implemented till now.
• Recommendation related to the creation of additional tri-services organisations resulted in the formations of the Integrated Defence Staff, the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the Nuclear Command Authority, Strategic Forces Command, the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare, the Defence Technology Council and the Defence Acquisition Council.
• The GoM report recommended issuing a multi-purpose identity card to Indian citizens living in the border areas as well as the country. This materialised in the form of the Aadhaar card.
• Various recommendation have not been fully implemented such as entrusting “Internal Security (IS)/Counter Insurgency (CI) duties entirely to Central Para Military Forces and the Rashtriya Rifles, thus de-inducting the Army from these duties, wherever possible”.
Subsequently, ahigh powered committee under the chairmanship of Naresh Chandra was set up in 2011, after initiation by the national security advisor, to review the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee, assess the implementation progress and further suggest new reforms related to national security. The committee submitted its report on 23 May 2012. The task force has recommended:
• Appointment of an additional Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) – four stars General. The Permanent Chairman CoSC will be like CDS but will have a fixed tenure of two years and will be rotated among the three services. This officer will be assisted by the existing Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), headed by a three star General from any of the three services.
• Integration of Service HQ and Ministry of Defence by allowing more cross-postings from three services – Army, Navy and Air Force for better coordination and better efficiency up to the rank of Joint Secretary i.e., Major General.
• Shifting focus of India’s national security strategy from Pakistan to China
• Better Intelligence Coordination between all agencies
• Creation of dedicated financial Institution for access to energy, rare earths and raw materials from across the world
Most of the recommendations of these committees have not been implemented because of bureaucratic hurdles and objections, which are considered supreme in the MoD.
A high powered committee under the chairmanship of Lt. General D. S. Hooda was detailed by the Congress to give recommendations on national security issues the report of which has been partially included in its manifesto.
“The BJP government left the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) in limbo between January 2015 and October 2016 and then truncated the body,” the party added. “Congress will re-establish the NSAB, provide a statutory basis to the body, appoint experts from different disciplines and ensure that it will function as a permanent, professional advisory body advising the NSC and the government,” the manifesto said.
The NSAB is an arm of the NSC that “undertakes long-term analysis and provides perspectives on issues of national security”. The Narendra Modi government has been accused of slashing the strength of the body.“National security is dependent on a sound defence policy, a sound foreign policy and wise leadership. National security is not enhanced by chest-thumping or exaggerated claims,” the party added.
It may be noted that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government established the NSA and NSC. The NSA works directly under the Prime Minister, and the NSC consists of the NSA, the Deputy NSA, The Ministers of Defence, External Affairs, Home and Finance, and the Deputy Chairman of NITI Aayog. However, the three defence services chiefs are not members of the decision making body of the national security which is a serious blunder. Although bringing these institutions under the control of Parliament sounds good, there are inherent problems with the issue. The defence establishment of a country needs to have relative autonomy in taking decisions related to national security. Making the NSA answerable to Parliament will mean that the post will be subject to political interference, which is not desirable. This will mean that the top security official of the country will be answering questions of politicians.
Moreover, the NSA and NSC deal with matters of national security, and such matters can’t be discussed in public. National security issues can’t be a matter of political interference. Another fact is that the security establishments will also not be able to reveal much information to the parliament because such matters are highly confidential and can’t be disclosed in public. They may be able to provide some information to parliamentary committees, but the committee members would not be able to discuss the subject of such meetings in parliament or public. This also has the potential for compromising national security. Therefore, the proposal of the Congress party is worrisome from the national security point of view.
There is a definite requirement of CDS who will be single advisor to the government on strategic defence matters and he should also be member of CCS.
The removal of anomalies in One Rank, One Pension (OROP), a burning issue for military veterans, is among the other promises made by the Congress as it looks to redeem itself from its 2014 defeat, which reduced the party to its lowest-ever Lok Sabha tally of 44 seats.
Among other things, the Congress has promised to reverse the trend of declining defence spending, and ensure that the budget does justice to the requirements of the armed forces.
Over the last two decades the defence budget allocation has been declining since the Kargil battle of 1999. Presently its allocation is 1.44 per cent of the GDP, which is lowest since 1962 war resulting in the serious damage to the modernisation of the armed forces. “We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the armed forces in a transparent manner”, it said.
Signalling a shift in its position on issues related to national security and individual freedom, the Congress, in its election manifesto, promised to repeal the colonial-era sedition law, leave out the IPC section on criminal defamation and “review” the AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act which empower and provide immunity to security forces in areas hit by insurgency and militancy.
Referring to Kashmir, the Congress vowed a review of the controversial AFSPA as well as the Disturbed Areas Act, which give security forces immunity in exceptional situations.But it is the new Congress stand on AFSPA that marks a fundamental shift because the UPA under Manmohan Singh had maintained a studious silence on the recommendations of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee and Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), which had called for the repeal or amendment of the AFSPA which is not fully justified in view of the hostile neighbours.
The party also promised “dialogue” with “all” stakeholders in Kashmir, without explaining whether separatists would be considered stakeholders.“Congress promises the people of J&K talks without pre-conditions. We will appoint the interlocutors drawn from civil society to facilitate such talks,” the manifesto added.
The party said it acknowledged the history of Jammu & Kashmir and the unique circumstances of accession that led to the inclusion of Article 370 in the Constitution, which gives the state autonomy in all matters except those pertaining to defence, finance, foreign affairs and communication.“Nothing will be done or allowed to change the constitutional position,” it said.
The party said it had long held the view that dialogue was the only way to understand the aspirations of people from the state’s three regions, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and find a “honourable solution” to their issues.“We will take that path,” it said, adding that it will adopt a two-pronged approach in government: Firstly, “uncompromising firmness on the border and ending infiltration, and secondly, absolute fairness in dealing with the demands of the people and winning their hearts and minds”.
It said it would review the deployment of armed forces, move more troops to the border to stop infiltration completely, reduce the presence of the Army and central armed police forces in the Kashmir Valley, and entrust more responsibility to the J&K Police for maintaining law and order.