American poet John Godfrey Saxe’s poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” in the 19th century, aptly depicts India’s approach to national security.
“It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind) That each by observation Might satisfy his mind”
The opening verse may well be a description of our lack of holistic understanding of the issue of national security.Though a National Security Council was constituted as early as 1998, we still lack a national security policy document. Sadly, this is the state of affairs in a country that faces a wide range of conventional and non-conventional threats from external and internal sources. The 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that paralysed the nation for three days showed up the chaotic state of internal security management. The 1991 Kargil war showed the aberrations in our handling of hybrid threat. Both the incidents triggered a series of actions after some conventional knee-jerk responses to revamp the national security structure. In typical Indian style, there were many thoughts and ideas on various issues, but their laid-back implementation shows a lack of urgency.
Our halting response to Pakistani terrorist attacks on Pathankot Air Force station in January 2016 and on an army camp in Uri in September 2016 exposed the fact that national security is still a work in progress, perhaps forever, because we do not have a policy in this regard.This formed the theme of a speech by J&K governor NN Vohra recently. He is perhaps the best qualified to analyse the issue, not only because of his 13-year long stint in Jammu and Kashmir, both as an interlocutor and as governor, but because he has been involved in the security management arena for over three decades. His rich experience in the highest echelons of decision making in New Delhi, including as principal secretary to the PM as well as secretary in home and defence ministries, added value to his address.
The advent of terrorism in India has made the effective management of national security as “the most crucial challenge faced by the Union” Vohra said. Unlessthere is a peace and normalcy, it would not be possible to achieve meaningful growth and development for promoting the welfare of our people.
Has our country been able to evolve a comprehensive national policy and the required infrastructure to safeguard it on all fronts? Vohra’s answer: “so far we have neither secured the required Union-State understandings, nor developed a pan-India approach, which would meet the requirements of a National Security Policy” is a damning indictment of the present state of affairs.
Constitutionally, states are “vested with powers to make all required laws, to take all necessary executive decisions for ensuring internal security within their jurisdictions,” while the centre has “the much larger responsibility of protecting against war and external aggression and internal disturbances”. However, in the last nearly three decades, issues relating to the management of internal and external security have got “deeply and inextricably intertwined.”
According to Vohra, after Pakistan’s proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir obliterated “the scope for segregating the management of issues relating to internal and external security.” According to him, it would no longer do to merely focus on defending our frontiers. This is because sources of security threats have extended far beyond our immediate neighbourhood to countries in Southeast Asia, Middle East and the western hemisphere and relate to innumerable targets and activities within our country.
Vohra bemoans the failure of the states to become self-reliant in effectively managing internal security. They need to take urgent steps to carry out long pending police reforms. As a consequence, states have been relying on the Centre for deploying central armed police forces (CAPF) and even the army for restoration of normalcy in the disturbed areas. He also takes states to task for failing to set up Police Complaints Authority and State Security Commission, segregate law and order from investigative functions and to set up separate intelligence and anti-terrorist units.
He is equally hard on them for not providing unstinted support to the Centre’s efforts to safeguard national security, particularly in taking pre-emptive action to deal with emerging internal disturbance. This has probably resulted in the centre refraining from deploying CAPFs, unless the state requests it. He cites the case of demolition of Babri Masjid as a case in point.
He finds the UK Intelligence Services Act (1994), providing for a parliamentary intelligence and security
IT IS WELL KNOWN THAT POLITICAL PARTIES IN POWER, PARTICULARLY IN STATES, USE THE POLICE FOR THEIR OWN POLITICAL ADVANTAGE, RATHER THAN TO AID GOOD GOVERNANCE. VOHRA POINTS TO THE FINDINGS OF THE INTER-MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE ON MUMBAI SERIAL BLASTS, WHICH REVEALED THE UNWHOLESOME NEXUS BETWEEN CORRUPT POLITICIANS, DISHONEST PUBLIC SERVANTS AND ORGANISED CRIME AND CRIMINAL MAFIA OF THE DAWOOD IBRAHIM GANG.
committee to examine the administration and policies of intelligence agencies, worthy of emulation. Intelligence agencies are holy cows and their functioning and accountability continues to be grey areas. This is one area requiring urgent action, as their role in areas that impinge upon national security has increased. But the moot point is, will they be amenable when Parliament has members with questionable security baggage in the house?
When the lines dividing external and internal security are getting increasingly blurred, an understanding between the Centre and States is essential for successful security management. Vohra points to the tortuous course taken to establish the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in the wake of the 26/11 attacks as an example of the lack of understanding between the Centre and States on the imperatives of national security. Unfortunately, with different political parties in power at the Centre and in States, such a suggestion is viewed with distrust and suspicion.
It is well known that political parties in power, particularly in states, use the police for their own political advantage, rather than to aid good governance. Vohra points to the findings of the inter-ministerial committee on Mumbai serial blasts, which revealed the unwholesome nexus between corrupt politicians, dishonest public servants and organised crime and criminal mafia of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. This enabled several tons of RDX to be brought for the blasts. Obviously, unless states implement police reforms, not only will rule of law be vitiated, national security will also be threatened.
Vohra emphasises that to “move towards assured national security management” it is essential to implement reforms and improvements in the entire criminal justice system. Speedy delivery of justice plays an important role in this and the judicial reforms are essential as well. The moot point is, how can the states be compelled to carry out police reforms? Will the political parties set aside their differences and come as one in the interest of national security?
What should be the elements of national security for India? Professor Prabhkaran Paleri in the book National Security: Imperatives and challenges (2008) lists as many as fifteen elements of national security, ranging from military security and energy security to more obscure ethnic security and genome security.Vohra is in sync with Paleri when he says “It has… become extremely essential to safeguard almost every arena and to particularly secure arrangements relating to food, water, energy, nuclear power, science and technology, environment, ecology, finance, business, commerce, banking, cyber space and other important quarters.”
In conclusion, NN Vohra has suggested three viable actions:
- The centre in close consultation with states should evolve and promulgate the National Security Policy and draw up a time bound action plan and establish a national frame work.
- The centre should establish the National Security Administrative Service to run security related organisations and “progressively” the security management apparatus of the states.
- As Union Home Ministry is burdened with the management of disparate subjects and overburdened, a national security affairs ministry should be set up.
In a nutshell, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who should get his act together. But despite enjoying a comfortable majority, his government is facing flak from a desperate Opposition on every initiative. If he can convince them to join hands to craft a national security policy, the nation will be thankful to him.
A veteran of the 1965 and 1971 Indo Pak wars, Col R. Hariharan, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), from 1987 to 90. He was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery in June 1963 when he left his career as a journalist with the Press Trust of India to join the Army in a burst of patriotism. He frequently writes in his areas of specialisation – South Asian neighbourhood and terrorism and insurgency. This article first appeared in www.indialegallive.com on February 5, 2018.