Big chinks in our security armour

India faces complex external and internal security threats and new challenges are emerging on the horizon. Unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, insurgencies in Jammu & Kashmir and the northeastern states, the rising tide of left-wing extremism and the growing spectre of urban terrorism have vitiated India's security environment and slowed down socio-economic growth. Yet, as the recent serial blasts at Mumbai have once again indicated, India's national security continues to be sub-optimally managed. Strategic reviews need to be undertaken periodically to evolve a comprehensive national security strategy. 

In 1999, the Kargil review committee headed by the late K Subrahmanyam had been asked to " 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." Though it had been given a very narrow and limited charter, the committee looked holistically at the threats and challenges and examined the loopholes in the management of national security. The committee was of the view that the "political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo". It made far-reaching recommendations on the development of India's nuclear deterrence, higher defence organizations, intelligence reforms, border management, the defence budget, the use of air power, counter-insurgency operations, integrated manpower policy, defence research and development, and media relations. The committee's report was tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2000.

The Cabinet Committee on Security appointed a Group of Ministers (GoM) to study the Kargil review committee report and recommend measures for implementation. The GoM, headed by home minister L K Advani, set up four task forces on intelligence reforms, internal security, border management and defence management to undertake in-depth analysis of various facets of the management of national security. 

The GoM recommended sweeping reforms in the existing national security management system. On May 11, 2001, the CCS accepted all its recommendations, including one for the establishment of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) - which has still not been implemented. A tri-Service Andaman and Nicobar Command and a Strategic Forces Command were established. Other salient measures included the establishment of HQ Integrated Defence Staff; the Defence Intelligence Agency; the establishment of a Defence Acquisition Council headed by the defence minister with two wings: the Defence Procurement Board and the Defence Technology Board; and, the setting up of the National Technical Research Organization. The CCS also issued a directive that India's borders with different countries be managed by a single agency - "one border, one force" and nominated the CRPF as India's primary force for counter-insurgency operations. 

Ten years later, many lacunae remain in the management of national security. The lack of inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination on issues like border management and Centre-state disagreements over the handling of internal security are particularly alarming. In order to review the progress of the implementation of the proposals approved by the CCS in 2001, the government has now appointed a Task Force on National Security which has been given six months to submit its report. 

It must review the performance of the National Security Council (NSC), which is responsible for long-term threat assessment and the formulation of comprehensive perspective plans designed to upgrade the capabilities of the security forces to meet future threats and challenges. The NSC, comprising all the members of the CCS and the National Security Adviser (NSA), rarely meets. It has been unable to find the time to deliberate upon critically important national security issues and long-term planning is being neglected. The task force must also consider whether the NSA should continue to remain only an adviser or he should be given limited executive functions, particularly for counter-terrorism operations, including covert cross-border operations, and intelligence coordination and assessment. Cyber security and offensive cyberwar operations also require apex-level policy guidance and oversight. 

The integration of the armed forces HQ with the MoD continues to remain cosmetic and needs to be revisited. An issue that needs no further debate is the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff as the principal military adviser to the government. It is an idea whose time has come. However, the appointment of a CDS should be followed by the establishment of tri-Service integrated theatre commands for greater synergy in the planning and execution of military operations and aid to civil authority. Another key requirement is for the immediate raising of an integrated cyber, aerospace and Special Forces command. 

The task force must also consider whether it is necessary to appoint a National Security Commission to oversee the day-to-day management of national security in this era of strategic uncertainty and threats. 

(The writer is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal)