TRUSTED 74 YEAR OLD NSA AK DOVAL RE-APPOINTED IN CABINET RANK CO TERMINUS WITH PM MODI IN BJP 2.0 -–WHAT ABOUT A CDS OR IS THERE NEED NOW IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION ?

Cmde Ranjit B Rai (Retd)

In 1977 US Secretary of Defence and nuclear physicist Harold Brown coined the definition of National Security, as ‘the ability to preserve the nation’s physical integrity and territory and to maintain its economic relations’. It was conceived more as protection against military attack and freedom to control trade, that allowed western nations to rise. Today In this globalised world we live in the age of the speed of internet with cyber tools for warfare. Today lethal conventional weapons are in the inventory of most nations and nuclear weapons are with more that the P5 nations. National leaders have to react to crises with alacrity and take urgent action with the use of appropriate intelligence, big data, weapons and diplomatic levers available to the nation.

Hence national security today, embraces non-military dimensions, including the security from terrorism perpetrated by state and non state actors (which afflicts India most), crime which the police battles, economic security and safety and security of its citizens and Institutions and environmental security with the dangers of imminent climate change. Diplomatic action and co-operation with friendly nations, has become critical. This imperative brought in a post called the National Security Adviser to the President or Prime Minister in nations, who support foreign policy by interacting with other NSAs. It is the NSA who co-operates with the Chief of Defence Staff(CDS), and his joint military staff called Purple, who coordinate the fire power and resources of the three services. The CDS is required to execute joint planning and keep contingency and war plans updated, termed jointness for war. India remains without a CDS despite being the world’s fourth largest military with the sixth largest economy to protect.

After Independence in 1947, the post of the Commander in Chief of India (C-in-C) like a CDS was abolished, fearing coups. When the Indian Constitution was passed in 1950, India began to be administered by the Cabinet under Article 75 by the Prime Minister appointed by the President, but despite being Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces as per Article 53 of the Constitution, the President is obliged to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. USA’s brief Constitution enshrines that the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. Pandit Nehru had emphatically stated the President shall have no executive powers. Kautilya in Arthashastra states, ‘The power of the King (PM in India) lies in his mighty arms, the security of the citizens in peace time is very important because ‘State’ is the only savior.’ This makes the Prime Minister the de-facto CDS in absence of one.

Historically, in the 1962 India China war there was no joint one point military advice forthcoming to PM Nehru to bring in the Indian Air Force to avoid the humiliation. In the 1965 war after a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri issued a note to the Navy though Joint Secretary HC Sarin in MOD, not to join the war and remain below the latitude of Porbunder. The Chief of Naval Staff Admiral BS Soman protested, but he could not get audition, almost till the WAR was over.

To India’s fortune in the 1971 war Mrs Indira Gandhi accepted General later Field Marshal SFHJ Manekshaw’s advice to delay action against Pakistan and by the dint of his personality, he acted as a de facto CDS who led the Indian Armed Forces to victory but lessons were not learnt. Despite 73 years of Independence and the experience of five wars and the ‘out of country’ joint military Operation Pawan (1987-91) against the Liberation Tigers in Sri Lanka, when the nation lost 1400 army souls, the reports of Arun Singh, K Subrahmanyam and Naresh Chandra committees and lessons of the wars India lacks a CDS. Such a set up is inescapable in today’s scenario with a hostile nuclear neighbor like Pakistan, as events could lead to war.

Media reports the  multiple surgical strikes in September 2016, and the 73 day Doklam stand off with PLA forces in 2017, and the Balakot air attack on 26th February were under NSA Doval’s watch and the air action the next day, saw loss of an aging MiG-21 and a MI-17V5 helicopter with six persons due to friendly fire, called ‘Blue on Blue’. It happened in the fog of a war in air action, when over 36 war planes with beyond visual range weapons were jostling and launching weapons in a congested air space. Inquires will show the dilemma of the Air Controllers who give the orders, ‘Guns Tight or Guns Free’, to avoid Blue on Blue. This is when a CDS is needed !

In a seminar arranged by Centre for Joint Warfare Studies on 4th June in Delhi with serving officers and DRDO’s missile defence designer as speakers, it came out that only a joint Air and Missile Defence System with tri-service IFF which is identification Friend of Foe electronically designed for command and control could avoid such situations in the future, and the need for a CDS was inescapable. In 1988 when India became a nuclear weapon state  Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee appointed his Principal Secretary Shri Brajesh Misra as the NSA also. The military was kept out of the loop.

In the 1999 Kargil half war with Pakistan under the nuclear threshold, the Chief of Army Staff Gen V P Malik makes it clear in his book on Kargil he kept liaison with the NSA Brajesh Misra to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee after PM had verbally told Malik, “Jo Karna Hai Karo”( Do what is to be done) but it was not in writing, so verbal exchanges took place whether the Line of Control should be crossed with the NSA. Navy was called in late to prepare to starve Pakistan of oil which hastened the withdrawal. After the Kargil war, the Chief of Naval Staff Adm Sushil Kumar almost became the CDS supported by RM George Fernandes. A COSC paper which should be available, was readied, but the IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis was reluctant to sign the COSC paper that Defence Secretary awaited!

As NSAs are not Constitutional appointments they work on contract basis. NSAs have authority to fly in IAF VIP planes like the Chiefs and Commanders. PM Manmohan Singh’s period saw three NSA’s, JN Dixit  from 2002 to 2005, MK Narayanan from 2005 to -2010 and Shivshankar Menon from 2010 to 2014. PM Narendra Modi appointed a former police officer Shri AK Doval who retired as the head of Intelligence Bureau as NSA with the rank of Minister of State. Doval has served in Pakistan as a sleuth, and graduated from Ambedkar University in Delhi and attended the National Defence College. In today’s parlance one would call him a non Lutyen’s product, aptly suited for the task. Last year he was appointed to Chair a committee of the three Chiefs for joint planning.

India’s has a Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee. The incumbent lacks executive or financial powers and is the senior most among the three equal Chiefs of Staff and at times with a brief tenure. To function on joint operations he requires the consensus of the other two Chiefs, and even to put up a joint case to the Minister of Defence (MOD) through the Defence Secretary, who has responsibility for the Defence of India. This leaves a void in jointness, which NSA Doval has been filling since the terrorist attack on Pathankot air base on 2nd January 2016. He took charge of the anti terror operation to connect with Intelligence over the local military forces. Four attackers and two security forces personnel were killed. The NSA has invariably travelled with the Prime Minister and also travelled to Bangkok to meet Pakistan NSA Gen Janjua, and kept track of any shrouds of corruption and established good relations with UAE leadership to seek extradition of suspects. Media reported his influence on internal security decision making and foreign relations, particularly in India’s neighbourhood, far exceeded that of the respective Cabinet ministers who held the portfolios of home and external affairs.

In NDA 2.0 Ajit Kumar Doval nearing 75, will serve as India’s NSA, for another five-year term, co-terminus with the Prime Minister this time in the rank of a Cabinet minister. As per the gazette notification the National Security Council Secretariat(NSCS) will function as a specialized unit under the charge of the NSA in the PMO, and will service the Strategy Policy Group(SPG) and the NSAB. Doval has three deputy NSAs Rajinder Khanna, RN Ravi and Pankaj Saran. The Sardar Patel Bhavan has been vacated of other offices for NSCS’s expansion, which has three retired military officers. Lt Gen VG Khandare is the  military adviser, Lt Gen Rajesh Pant is the new cyber security adviser and Vice Admiral SPS Cheema former Strategic Force Commander also supports, in nuclear submarine matters. Yet a CDS is the call of the day for the Nation’s National Security.

(The writer is a former Director of Naval Intelligence and Operations and Curator of IMF Maritime Museum in New Delhi.)

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