Security concerns

Published : Jan 28, 2005 00:00 IST

The challenges before the new National Security Adviser.

MANI DIXIT's departure within a year of the Manmohan Singh government assuming office is tragic beyond words. As the National Security Adviser (NSA) with ease and aplomb, and by all accounts, liked every minute of his stay. Here is one instance where the often dishonestly used expression "irreparable loss" is most truthful and appropriate. To say he had the confidence of the Prime Minister will be stating the obvious. What is uniquely relevant is that here was a man who believed he was eminently cut out for the job and successfully disseminated the impression all around him. In addition, he started producing an impact in quick time. His style was different from that of his predecessor, Brajesh Mishra, in that Mani did not suffer either the imbecile or the incompetent.

Fate has willed that M.K. Narayanan (affectionately known as MK) should step into Mani's shoes, however reluctant he may have been. The tragedy is that Dixit and he complemented each other so well without any hang-up about seniority - Narayanan is senior by three years, if you go by the bureaucracy's horoscope that the civil list is - and without indulging in any oneupmanship that the civil service is so notorious for. The task of finding another personality who will gel with Narayanan so admirably as Dixit did is a major task for Manmohan Singh. My hunch is that the enormity of this exercise will alone persuade the Prime Minister not to rush into appointing a successor. But how long he can so dodge is a matter for debate. This is because the NSA's position makes a monstrous demand of the incumbent's time and energy, and it will be unfair to ask a single person to carry on with the twin responsibilities of monitoring both external and internal threats to the country.

My association with Narayanan extends to more than 30 years. This includes nearly four years as one of his staff officers in the Intelligence Bureau (I.B). These were momentous years when I learnt a lot from him. His capacity for work is something monumental. His quick comprehension and brilliant analysis marked him out from the others in the Bureau, many of whom, despite being outstanding officers themselves, looked pedestrian in his company. Incidentally, to this day, he has not forgiven me for leaving the I.B. in pursuit of academics in the U.S., a decision, he thought and which he made known in no uncertain terms to others at every conceivable opportunity, that was downright stupid because I was, by sheer seniority, bound to become Director of the I.B. when my turn came! The number of junior officers in both the I.B. and outside who benefited from his counsel is enormous. The goodwill that he carries from the civil service as a whole is likely to help him greatly in his tenure as the NSA. I know personally that many of India's Ambassadors who came home on leave or for consultation invariably dropped in at his North Block office to seek his advice on a wide variety of problems.

Strange as it may seem, Narayanan was in the limbo for nearly a decade after he retired from service in 1992. He does not, however, bear a grudge against those responsible for it. With his extreme faith in the Almighty - he makes an annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala and worships at Guruvayur more frequently - he probably feels he is accountable to God directly, rather than to any mortal!

What do you expect MK to do from the dizzy heights at which he is now perched? There are many speculations. It will be preposterous, nay irreverent, on my part to suggest or predict what will be on his agenda. Nevertheless, as a citizen I suppose I can indulge in the exercise at least to inform the average reader on what he should look for. There are some obvious areas that will require Narayanan's immediate attention. Pakistan and Kashmir will figure high in the list. There have been very positive developments on this front, thanks to the pragmatism shown by both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, aided by Brajesh Mishra and Mani Dixit. The first task will be to nurse these, instead of frittering them away in reaction to any occasional fireworks on the border, resulting from juvenile rhetoric and misadventure from those who are extremely unhappy at the bonhomie displayed by policymakers on both sides. I am sure, cautious optimism without alienating our right to respond to any occasional unilateral military tactics from Islamabad, will dictate Narayanan's view of things on this sensitive subject. Many former and present Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and I.B. experts among his disciples in the intelligence community should be of great assistance to him. I consider that the requirement here is one of conserving the gains already made and not seeking further immediate improvement of relations between the two countries. While this is strictly the turf of the Ministry of External Affairs, the NSA will be a guiding hand while making course corrections whenever needed.

RELATIONSHIP with China has greatly improved in the recent past. Here also the Vajpayee government should take major credit. Hearteningly, whatever has been initiated by it has been continued, buttressing the established position that political changes in the life of a nation, especially in a stable democracy as ours, hardly lead to sweeping changes in foreign policy.

MK has a supreme advantage here. He began life in the I.B. three years before the Chinese invasion, and quickly became an expert analyst of communism. He continued to focus on this until the early 1970s when he moved out of the I.B. headquarters for a five-year spell in Chennai, when all the southern States came under his charge. This distraction did not blunt his passion for studying the Soviet Union and China clinically, and his inestimable contacts in both West Bengal and Kerala helped him retain his passion. When he returned to New Delhi, it was a question of just picking up the thread and not one of any new learning. He will, therefore, not be a novice, but a mature policymaker, if one was needed in respect of China.

The continued unrest in Nepal fomented by the Maoists is a matter of concern to us. The Chinese hand in this imbroglio is often discussed. It has serious connotations for India if only you will reckon the influence of geopolitics. How to tell Beijing that any direct support to those responsible for the current disorder in that Himalayan Kingdom will be unwelcome to India requires great ingenuity at a time when India and China are well on the road to settling their boundary disputes and expanding existing trade relations.

Here again, as in the case of Pakistan, there is just only a thin line of distinction between the roles of the NSA and the Foreign Secretary. Narayanan's sobriety and wisdom should ensure a smooth understanding between the two vital government functionaries. Pettiness in approach that sometimes marks the relationship between officials belonging to two different streams - here the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) - will hardly be allowed to dominate if I know MK well.

What should be most worrying to us is the growing violence in some regions of the country. The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) which has a going relationship with the Maoists in Nepal, namely, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and is able to strike at will in Bihar and neighbourhood, needs increased attention. And so is the People's War (P.W.), that has spread its tentacles in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh and has formed a formidable triumvirate with the Maoists in Bihar and Nepal, is no less a worrying phenomenon. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) continues its forays into Assam, inflicting heavy casualties. Narayanan brings to his job a sound knowledge of Left extremism in the country. He derives this from his intimate knowledge of Communism and its fall-out in the form of Naxalism and the numerous splinters from Charu Mazumdar's Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Police and para-military action to quell extremism has paid only partial dividends. It will be a real test of MK's ingenuity on how he seeks to blunt the edge of the wide spectrum of mavericks who don the extremist mantle in our country.

OUR Sri Lanka policy has unfortunately been intertwined with Tamil Nadu politics. I have always held the view that policymakers in Delhi were unduly obsessed with sensitivities in Tamil Nadu while moving every inch forward. I do not for a moment underrate the need to carry those who matter in the State polity while devising moves to regulate our relationship with the government in the island state or with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But to be dictated by those who want to make capital out of an issue that is of limited strategic importance to the country as a whole is something to ponder in the days to come.

Jayalalithaa's non-emotional approach and her pragmatism in the matter are something of an advantage to New Delhi. Also, Narayanan knows Sri Lanka like the back of his hand, and I do not believe that he will spend disproportionate time realigning current policy. He would rather opt to watch what Oslo is able to achieve, instead of carving out an obtrusive role to bring about a truce between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and LTTE leader V. Prabakaran. He knows the latter only too well to be pressurised into committing India to a pro-active role in the ongoing process. Prabakaran's uninhibited lack of contrition for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination is something that is difficult to dismiss even 15 years after the dastardly act. He is, therefore, better left alone to sort out his problem with the Sri Lankan government without us showing any undue interest.

MANY of us in the evening of our lives should be rightly exercised over the depths to which our polity has sunk, thanks to criminalisation and unabashed corruption among the political executive and the bureaucracy. Except for the occasional pronouncements of the apex court and noises made by some columnists, there is little evidence that anybody cares. This has serious implications for national security. There are individuals in the polity who are not averse to pledging national security for monetary gains. How are we going to check this distressing tendency of installing men with criminal record in vital positions such as law-making? It will be disastrous to ignore this in the belief that these elements do not pose a threat to national security. Many of us who know MK will be disappointed if he cannot persuade the present government into acting to place a system that will at least partially take care of the situation. The dictates of coalition politics have impelled the Prime Minister to ignore the questionable background of some of his colleagues in government who have a positively poor public image and been hauled up in court, not on insubstantial grounds. If such elements are going to rule the roost in our country, more and more men and women of character will shun public office. It will be asking for the moon if we want MK to act in this area. However, I am sure he has the moral stature to help bring about a political consensus through a well-meaning Prime Minister. If I am expanding the charter of the NSA, it is only for a national cause.

Politics and corruption no doubt go hand in hand the world over. This is, however, poor consolation to Indians. What they are more concerned about is the soul-killing civil servant's cradle-to-grave corruption at the cutting edge. Is it not amusing that in India we have to pay a `price' for getting a birth as well as a death certificate? By all accounts, the problem has exacerbated in the past few years. It is being blind to believe that this has no impact on national security. We had the case of a senior customs official allowing a consignment of explosives into the west coast that was used in the Bombay blast of 1993. The Telgi scam had the potential to wreck our economy, and therefore national security. Misbehaviour on the part of our paramilitary forces in the India-Pakistan border allowing contraband into India also carries the danger of compromising our security. The case of a senior RAW official fleeing to the U.S. is still wrapped in mystery. Many uncomfortable questions are being asked by the media, for which the government may have to provide satisfactory answers sooner than later. MK may have to give some attention to this if he wants to invest the NSA's role with greater meaning.

Finally, I will be interested to find out what MK's views are, on reforming the intelligence apparatus. This is not for reform's sake but to take into account the contours of the post-9/11 scene. The U.S. has taken several bold steps, including the creation of a National Intelligence Director. Do we require one of this kind? MK is best fitted to suggest a major reorganisation. If nothing happens now, it will never. The relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI-and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the U.S. has not always been cordial. The ties between the Central Bureau of Investigation, CBI-IB have also had their ups and downs. This is something that should not be left to the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of individual chiefs. Even after providing for ego clashes, there is a case for a system whereby the two meet often and exchange information. Such a rapport sends the right signal down the ranks in the two vital organisations. Given MK's moral authority, I expect to see this placed on a firm footing in the days to come.

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