The noted American strategic analyst George Tanham succinctly expressed some years back that “Indian elites show little evidence of having thought coherently and systematically about strategy.” It is indeed paradoxical that an ancient profound civilization surviving the vicissitudes of time and countless upheavals, now a 65 years young nation, located geographically in one of the most violent expanses of the world and having fought five externally foisted wars since its independence , has in reality, hardly looked into its defence needs in an institutionalized and systematic manner. The status-quo and pacifist mentality of the Indian psyche is, perhaps, reflective of a primordial and philosophical adherence to outdated moorings which are inconsistent with the security challenges which India now confronts in a seriously troubled and politically unstable neighbourhood.
The KRC did a commendable job in comprehensively analyzing and recommending measures to tone up security in India in all its myriad nuances and complexities.
The serious debacle and ignominy suffered by the nation in 1962 at the hands of the Chinese had prompted the then government to constitute the Henderson Brookes Committee to go into the reasons of the defeat. Their Report, even 50 years after the event, still remains shrouded, inexplicably, in secrecy for reasons which are difficult to gauge. Despite the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan or even with Pakistan becoming a nuclear state in 1998, continuing border and maritime tensions with an increasingly powerful and belligerent China, no periodic security reviews were ever undertaken. However, the 1999 Pak perfidy in Kargil which definitely did surprise the Indian establishment, prompted the government to form an all encompassing high powered commission, the Kargil Review Committee(KRC) under the widely respected K Subramanyam to delve deeply into all aspects of Indian security. The latter, in one of his last interviews before his demise had expressed that “ India has lacked an ability to formulate future-oriented defence policies, managing only because of short-term measures, blunders by its adversaries and force superiority in its favour.”
The KRC did a commendable job in comprehensively analyzing and recommending measures to tone up security in India in all its myriad nuances and complexities. Most of the major recommendations of the KRC, further streamlined by a specially constituted Group of Ministers Committee in 2001, mercifully, have been implemented in letter if not in total altruistic spirit! Some critics of the KRC have, however, opined that its reforms “had failed to deliver.”
Ten years having elapsed since India’s first comprehensive security review and increasing multi-faceted security problems both within and external in the country, led the present government constituting the Naresh Chandra Committee on Security Reforms. This 14 member Task Force was mandated to review the unfinished tasks of the KRC Report and make suggestions relating to the higher defence management structure of the nation and also examine why some of the critical recommendations relating to intelligence and border management were found wanting. It is pertinent to note that the KRC had previously observed that “ the political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status-quo.”
…the political establishment is totally relying on the feedback of Defence Ministry civil servants, drawn from diverse professional backgrounds not even remotely connected with security matters.
The Naresh Chandra Committee commenced work in mid 2011 and has very recently submitted its report to the government. Its findings have yet not been made public and its Report is currently under consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Security(CCS). Nevertheless, like most state secrets in India, some of its major recommendations have found their way into the public domain and are currently under animated discussion among security analysts, think tanks and the media. Though it will be grossly unfair to carry out much meaningful appraisal of the Report, without the entire review being made public, some initial comments on some of the vital issues raised will be in order.
A major observation of the Naresh Chandra Committee has been that uniformed officers from the three services must be posted to the Defence Ministry in adequate numbers for the uniformed community must have a greater say in matters of national security. It has lamented that despite the Service Chiefs and the highly specialized Services Headquarters staff being at their disposal for advice in the management of national security, the political establishment is totally relying on the feedback of Defence Ministry civil servants, drawn from diverse professional backgrounds not even remotely connected with security matters.
According to media sources, to include and enhance the status of Service Chiefs in the national security decision making processes, the Task Force has also recommended amendments in the Business Rules, namely the ‘Government of India Allocation of Business Rules’ and the ‘ Government of India Transaction of Business Rules’ framed in 1961. Surprisingly, under these enactments, the Service Chiefs do not even find a mention and the Defence Secretary, under these Rules is responsible for the “ Defence of India and every part thereof.” In addition, the Defence Secretary is deemed to represent the three service chiefs in most forums ! To any objective bystander or an ordinary citizen of India, such glaring and basic omissions are more than unacceptable.
One of the major and widely endorsed recommendations of the KRC had been the establishment of the office of the Chief of Defence Staff, a five star rank officer, to act as a single point military adviser to the government and handle the tri-services commands including the vital Strategic Nuclear Forces Command(SFC), Andaman and Nicobar Command, the Defence Intelligence Agency etc. However, the Naresh Chandra Committee has, surprisingly, recommended a slightly toned down version of the CDS by suggesting another 4 star rank officer from any of the three services ( making it a total of four 4 star officers) to act as a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) and according to media reports, this appointment will also replace the Defence Secretary to render tri-service advice to the government— an aspect which will now naturally meet with stiff resistance from South Block ‘babus’ . Among the three services, as is widely known, the Indian Air Force, for not very professional reasons, has been in opposition to the CDS concept ( mentioned to me also personally some years back by a former senior Cabinet Minister), a posture which also suits Defence Ministry bureaucrats. Even the government currently has stated its position on the CDS that “ the views of political parties are being ascertained.” Thus in the absence of total unanimity on the decision to have a 5 star rank CDS, some feel that the committee’s recommendation can be temporarily agreed to and utilized, in the interim, in creating more cohesion among the three services. The Special Operations Command, which this Task Force has recommended for synergizing the special operations of the three services, could also be put directly under command of the COSC as also the urgently needed tri-service Cyber Command as and when it will be raised ( not recommended by the Task Force yet).
The Naresh Chandra Committee opined that Pakistan remains unable and unwilling to set its house in order. Its Army continues with its myopic and self destructive policies of using Islamic terror groups to promote terrorism in India…
To all those in this country, in uniform and out of it, must appreciate the simple fact that large armed forces encompassing multi-dimensional strategic forces including land, sea, nuclear and aero space, cannot be left to the whims and fancies of any single service and have to be deployed and operationally employed in an integrated manner for which jointness, unity and economy of effort among the three services is sine-qua-non. This is only possible with a CDS overseeing the entire gamut of operations and other aspects of all the three services as is the practice in the powerful military nations of the world. One day, I pray that a dedicated pan India political leader, will address the problem of true jointness for the Indian Armed Forces, over-ride any individual service parochialism and get the three services to truly integrate for the larger national good—— where are you Indira Gandhi.
The Naresh Chandra Committee has reportedly made many more useful recommendations. It correctly has opined that India must prepare militarily to deal with an assertive China as it simultaneously seeks to enhance cooperation in diverse fields with it. It notes that China will continue to utilize Pakistan as part of its grand strategy for containing India in a “South Asian box.”It has suggested that the Indian Army be given management of the Indo-Chinese borders and retain overall operational control over all forces deployed on the Sino-Indian border.
The Naresh Chandra Committee, has further opined that Pakistan remains unable and unwilling to set its house in order. Its Army continues with its myopic and self destructive policies of using Islamic terror groups to promote terrorism in India and Afghanistan and seeks strategic depth in the latter. The committee has recommended that India must employ all political diplomatic, economic and military measures to ensure that Afghanistan does not fall a victim to Pakistani efforts to convert Afghanistan into a fundamentalist vassal state.
The Naresh Chandra Committee has also made sound recommendations regarding better liaison between the MOD and the other ministries like the MHA and MEA by various institutionalized measures. This committee has also stressed the need for an agency to tackle militancy and terrorist activities across the nation—perhaps alluding to a set-up like the widely debated National Counter Terrorism Centre which most states have been opposing till date.
With the Report being studied by various ministries and relevant organs of the government, it will be in order that the Report is made available to the public at large so that concerned think tanks and analysts could also give their considered views on matters of vital national import. Importantly, the government, once the CCS clears the Report and any other suggestions for improving national security are formally approved, must ensure its speedy and faithful implementation. A few days back, the Prime Minister at the DRDO Awards function, had himself expressed that “ as we look around us, a net deterioration in the international strategic and security environment becomes too obvious.” It is time the Indian state not only becomes sensitive to the many formidable security challenges it will face in the foreseeable future but more than prepared to successfully confront them as it gears itself for a larger regional and global role.