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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 41 New Delhi October 1, 2016

National Security — Will it Remain a Chimera?

Monday 3 October 2016, by S G Vombatkere


Following the September 18 attack on the Army’s Uri camp, the government is reportedly contemplating strong diplomatic-military initiatives to counter Pakistan’s growing audacity. But strangely, the Home Minister and the National Security Advisor (NSA) appear to be taking all the initiatives, ordering the NIA to investigate the attack, and leaving a rather subdued Defence Minister, while the External Affairs Minister is not even in the scene.

If the internal civil unrest with over 70 continuous days of shutdown in Kashmir is to be handled as a political problem (presuming that realisation finally dawns on the govern-ment), the Home Ministry doubtless needs to take the initiative. But even there, “In reality, ... the government directed the Army to create conditions on the ground that would hopefully enable the return of paramilitary forces and police who have fled their posts and were forced to concede large tracts of territory to protestors”. [Ref. 1] The local police are vulnerable since their families can and do become targets, though the CAPF abandoning their posts cannot be justified. Thus, “the Army’s task is rather curious—namely, re-energise the police and paramilitary forces and restore their self-confidence, morale and operational viability ...[and] also reviving the demoralised police machinery and protecting it from the wrath of the people”. [Ref. 1]

In these circumstances, and especially following the attack on the Uri camp, neglecting the vital role played by the Army when the chips are down, is to deliberately denigrate the institution and drag it down. In this, it is difficult not to suspect the role of the IAS-IPS lobby, which has diligently diddled the Defence Services out of benefits which they grant to themselves, by keeping military representation out of successive CPCs. But “keeping down” the defence services apart, this unwritten policy goes directly against the national security interest.

In difficult times such as these, the Prime Minister (PM), chairing the National Security Council (NSC), bears the responsibility to consult the NSC members (Ministers of Defence, Finance, Home and External Affairs, and the NSA) to weigh the options and work out a strategy on how to force Pakistan to behave itself, along with restoring some semblance of governance and genuine peace in the Kashmir Valley. The political-strategic decision-responsibility is finally that of the PM, so he would engage in consultation with all NSC members. But the NSC does not include a military representative to render advice to the PM, advice which is vital in assessing the situation and working out a plan of strategic action, in a military environment which is increasingly complex and calling for joint Army-Navy-Air Force operations (joint ops).

The problem with calling for military advice in today’s circumstance is that any one of the three Service Chiefs, being responsible for his own Service, cannot adequately render advice to include the operational capabilities of the other two Services. It is precisely to cater for times like this, that the PM needs single-point military advice to include joint ops capabilities—advice which only a military officer who does not have direct responsibility for any one Service, can render.

This advisor has to be a military officer superior to the three Service Chiefs, so that he can call for reports and information from them in order to advise the executive head of the nation (PM). This role can be filled only by a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who answers to the PM, a position created by every country except India. It cannot be assumed by an IFS/IAS/IPS officer (for example, the NSA) who may have only passing acquaintance with the military. Lack of a CDS constitutes a very serious shortcoming in national strategic planning capability, and this is evident that in 18 years of the existence of the NSC, India’s apex agency for political, economic, energy and strategic security, there is no national strategic document.

Even with an undisputable need for a CDS, and a case having been made out years ago, bureaucrats have stalled it because the CDS would become superior to the Cabinet Secretary in precedence, and weaken traditional bureaucratic hegemony over the Defence Services.

But what is really amazing is that retired senior military officers holding positions in think-tanks which advise government, have not been able to penetrate the bureaucratic screen to get the national interest angle of the CDS understood by successive PMs. Or else, successive PMs, having heard, are unable to appreciate the gravity of the matter.

The PM receives information and advice from his PMO, which is manned by bureaucrats, one of whose necessary duties is to filter the enormous masses of daily correspondence and information, so as not to overload the PM. The PMO in turn reaches to think-tanks and other sources. The Vivekananda Foundation, a think-tank reportedly ideologically close to the present dispensation, is perhaps one of the major sources, especially since it was founded by A. Doval, who is currently the NSA, and the PM’s PS and Additional PS are both from this think-tank. There are other reputed Indian defence think-tanks (IDSA, CLAWS and ORF) named among the world’s top 65, besides the United Service Institution (USI)—all staffed with competent senior military officers.

Since the call for the creation of the post of the CDS is one that began decades ago from within the Defence Services, and serving Generals can only go so far in pushing the matter, one would assume that retired senior military officers within these think-tanks would have pushed the matter (along with relevant facts and studies) to successive governments over the years.

If at all they have, it is clear that their argu-ments have not succeeded in overcoming the bureaucratic filters in the PMO. Or else, successive PMs, A.B. Vajpayee, Dr Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi, aware of the arguments for creating a CDS but unable to see the national (security) interest angle, have succumbed to the devious bureaucratic argu-ments against it.

Thus, due to a hitherto unbeatable combination of bureaucratic machinations, timidity or co-option of retired Generals, and lack of strategic understanding among politicians engrossed in domestic or petty politics, India remains with an ineffective NSC without a CDS, to the continuing detriment of national security. PM Narendra Modi can make history if he institutionally strengthens the NSC by immediately overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to appoint a CDS, especially at this juncture when a mere raid by the fidayeen forces on the Uri Army camp threatens wider international military dimensions. Serendipitously, the nation may also receive a national strategic document.

The souls of soldiers killed in the Uri attack will rest only when Pakistan receives a carefully thought-out strategic response, taking into account India’s and Pakistan’s military and diplomatic strengths and weaknesses, to put an end to Pakistan’s habitual, unacceptable intransigence. Such a response will not be possible if military strategy is left to a civilian.

Dear, respected Prime Minister, the ball of national security is in your court. The world is watching how you play the ball. Jai Hind!


Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as an Additional DG Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. He is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). With over 500 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.

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