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Pointless exercises

Published : Jun 09, 2001 00:00 IST

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The GoM Report on reforming the national security system offers hardly any hope of the real problems the security apparatus faces being resolved or addressed.

AS part of an election manifesto, the Report of the Group of Ministers on Reforming the National Security System (GoM) would have been unexceptionable. As a blueprint for action, however, the GoM Report is sadly devoid of content.

Made public with pomp on May 23, the GoM Report claims to be "the first comprehensive review of our security mechanisms in their entirety". Led by Home Minister L.K. Advani, with former Defence Minister George Fernandes, now-Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha as its members, the GoM completed its work in February. Its recommendations are based on the findings of four Task Forces, on Intelligence, Internal Security, Border Management and Defence respectively. The findings of all these Task Forces, Advani had announced in late February, had been accepted by the government. The entire process was the result of the Kargil Review Committee's call for a full-scale review of national security mechanisms.

At the outset, the GoM Report places its recommendations within the context of the global security environment, as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government understands it. "The hope that the demise of the Cold War era would bring into being a multi-polar world," it notes, "has greatly diminished. Instead, the pre-eminence of the USA in political, economic, military and technological fields is more in evidence today than ever before." "U.S. pre-eminence in the global strategic architecture is unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future," the Report argues. Therefore, "meaningful, broad-based engagement with the United States spanning political, economic and technological interests and commonalities will impact beneficially on our internal security concerns, with a resultant albeit less visible impact on our internal security environment."

From this statement of India's security context, the Report proceeds to spell out its perception of the issues and reforms that need to be addressed. The "possibility of conventional war between two nuclear powered states," the Report records, "cannot be ruled out." "Thus," it continues, "while India needs to ensure credible nuclear deterrence to prevent the possibility of a nuclear misadventure by its potential adversaries, it has to simultaneously maintain adequate and duly modernised conventional forces." These modernised forces must, in particular, be able to deal with high-technology battlefields. In addition, there is "an increase in cross border interference" by Pakistan, feeding a welter of already-existing ethnic, religious and caste fissures. The Report also raises concern about armed Left-wing groups recruiting amongst the poor "by exploiting their sense of economic deprivation."

NONE of these insights in themselves justify the investment of a year of ministerial time, and the deployment of expert Task Forces. Reading through the GoM Report it becomes clear that little effort has been made to come up with new ideas on just what needs to be done about the problem. Much of its content is made up of pious platitudes. "The slow pace of criminal justice is a matter of serious concern," the Report notes, for example. "The law enforcement machinery must be effectively backed by an efficient criminal justice system. Improvements in the investigation and prosecution functions have therefore to be suitably addressed by different wings of the Government. In this context, the provisions of various laws need to be examined and suitably modified wherever necessary." The actual job, however, is left to a three member Minister of Home Affairs Committee already considering the issue.

Similar indisputable assertions, with similar lack of detail or analysis, litter the entire report. We are told on page 45 that the "National Security Council/Cabinet Committee on Security should evolve an effective counter strategy against the security threats posed by the Pak(istan) ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)." There is no effort to explain why neither of these bodies has failed to come up with something of the kind. The Home Minister is, in turn, counselled to "regularly meet and sensitise the Chief Ministers about the need for them to devote the highest priority to security management issues." The Chief Ministers of troubled States ranging from Jammu and Kashmir to Tripura are unlikely to regard such advice as a revelation. The one major proposal made by the GoM, to give the Union a role in State policing, has been unanimously rejected by the Inter State Council.

On occasion, the GoM Report's recommendations verge on the silly. It calls, on page 56, for the creation of "awareness of the duties and responsibilities of citizens, through the introduction of imaginatively conceived modules in the educational curricula in the schools, colleges and professional training institutions." "In this context," it records, "a proposal that it should be made obligatory for youth to either undergo national service, National Cadet Corps, or a stint in the Territorial Army was considered and it was decided that given its financial implications, the entire issue should first be processed in the Committee on Non-Plan Expenditure."

THE consequences of choosing evasion over decision-making are already evident. The Arun Singh-led Task Force on Defence had in its Report called for the creation of a new position at the apex of the armed forces hierarchy, a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The recommendation was made on the assumption that the Chiefs of Staff Committee had proved ineffective, and that the Union government needed a single point of military advice. While the GoM has accepted Arun Singh's recommendation, it left open "details relating to the precise role and function of the CDS". As a result, inter-force feuding has broken out. Speaking in Beijing in late May, Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Anil Tipnis made clear that the Air Force had reservations about the CDS concept. The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sushil Kumar, the probable candidate for the CDS' job should the seniority principle be followed, is believed to have withdrawn from the race as a result of inter-services bickering.

Other problems with the GoM Report's specific recommendations on the armed forces are evident. On page 101 it calls for the CDS to act as the "principal military advisor" to the Defence Minister. Two pages later, in evident deference to Defence Ministry bureaucrats, it mandates that the Defence Secretary shall be the "principal defence advisor" to the Defence Minister. What the subtle difference is between "defence" and "military" is unclear. If the intent of creating the post of CDS was to cut through the Defence Ministry bureaucracy or end civil-military wrangling, juggling designations is unlikely to address the problem.

Obfuscation reaches its most refined levels on page 51. Paragraph 4.64 gives operational planning and command in armed operations to the "senior-most Army officer". The previous paragraph, however, notes that "even while armed forces are deployed to deal with civil agitation and public disorders, the control should remain with the civil authorities/magistracy"!

A preference for bureaucratic manoeuvring, rather than solutions relevant on the ground, are evident in the advice on border management. The major recommendation for the Border Security Force (BSF) is that the organisation "have two wings each under the charge of an Additional Director General, one for guarding the Western borders, and the other for guarding the eastern Borders". How this would result in anything other than the creation of new office space is left unsaid. More pressing issues, including the BSF's alarming age profile, have been evaded. The BSF has long been calling for younger, directly recruited officers, while the Army has sought to post its retired personnel to those jobs. All that the GoM has done is to refer the question to yet another committee. As for field proposals, many of them consist of plans such as border fencing and floodlighting, many of which have been in progress since the mid-1980s. Fencing has been delayed in Jammu and Kashmir not because of the lack of a Report, but firing by Pakistan's forward troops.

EVEN more serious doubts are raised by the GoM Report's failure to lay down a credible time-frame for the implementation of reforms. Curiously, the most important section of the Report, on the intelligence reforms advocated by the Girish Saxena-led Task Force, have been deleted from the Report on security grounds. The deletion is even more mystifying since the contents of the Saxena Report have been made public by Frontline (issue of April 13, 2001). In his Report, Saxena called for a drastic restructuring of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), by means of which it would be freed from the control of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and given overall control of internal security-related intelligence gathering. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the new Defence Intelligence Agency, along with the Bureau, were to be given significant new technological assets and human intelligence capabilities. Saxena had prescribed time-frames, ranging from three to six months, for each item of reform to be carried out.

Since the relevant chapter has been deleted from the GoM Report, there is no way of knowing if Saxena's calls for urgent action were endorsed by its authors. It is now three months since the GoM accepted Saxena's findings, but informed sources in the I.B. said the only action that had been taken so far was the consideration of the creation of an Additional Director's post to supervise the restructuring process. Any follow-up will only become evident after its new Director, K.P. Singh, replaces current I.B. chief Shyamal Dutta at the end of May. Similarly, the sources said, no action had been taken within the military intelligence establishment. With the attention of all three chiefs focussed on the CDS affair, the prospects of intelligence cooperation seem distant. Finally, RAW seems more engrossed in bitter internal recrimination over the fate of its abortive engagement with the Hizbul Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir, rather than long-term planning.

Many of the GoM Report's suggestions need to be implemented quickly. State police forces do need to be upgraded, and the Ministry of Home Affairs needs to push harder for modernisation of technology and the hiring of better personnel. It is also vital that skilled prosecution staff be attached to the police, and that investigative skills and infrastructure be improved. There is a need for a national criminal information database. Solutions need to be found to help State forces deal with insurgencies, and to make the Central Reserve Police Force large and technologically skilled enough to deal with the welter of problems it engages with. No one will dispute the case for a more efficient criminal justice system, measures to end corruption, or laws that address the real problems the Indian security apparatus faces in the conduct of its duties.

The problem is that all these issues have been discussed for the best part of the century - without any meaningful follow-up action. Nothing in the GoM Report is really new: and nothing in it inspires confidence that the fate of its proposals will be different from those made in the past.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jun 09, 2001.)

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