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The Rediff Special/Rediff Strategic Affairs Bureau
July 08, 2004
Before the recent election, a Congress (I) policy document on Security, Defence and Foreign Policy, believed to have been largely drafted by J N Dixit (right, above in image), who has since been appointed as the national security adviser said: 'The institutional arrangements made by the BJP-led NDA government have been cosmetic.
'In substance, national security is not underpinned by structured and systematic institutional arrangements. The National Security Council, which was established since 1999, has not functioned with institutional cohesion. Important national security decisions have been taken in an ad hoc manner involving just a few individuals without utilising the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Strategic Policy Group (comprising key secretaries, service chiefs and heads of intelligence agencies) and officials of the National Security Advisory Board.
'There has been no systematic interaction between the Strategic Policy Group and the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Nor there has been any regular interaction between (the) National Security Advisor and the NSAB. The Congress will institutionalise regular meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security. It will ensure systematic and institutional interactions between the National Security Advisor, the Strategic Policy Group and the National Security Advisory Board.'
Meet India's new National Security Adviser
After taking office, the new government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced two major changes in the national security management system as it had evolved under the previous BJP-led government.
First, it split the post of the NSA from that of the principal secretary to the prime minister and appointed Dixit as the NSA with no executive responsibility or powers with regard to running the prime minister's office.
His predecessor, Brajesh Mishra (left, above in image) held both posts. He enjoyed tremendous clout, the like of which no other official had enjoyed in the previous government. His extraordinary clout arose from his personal friendship with then prime minister A B Vajpayee, who reportedly trusted his judgement implicitly, and his acquaintance with many BJP leaders because of his having served as the head of the BJP's foreign affairs cell for many years.
All the PM's Men
In the US too, the NSA enjoys no executive powers or responsibility. He or she is merely the president's coordinator and facilitator in all matters relating to national security. The fact that the NSA does not enjoy executive powers or responsibility does not detract from his/her unique status at the top of the national security management system. Everbody who is somebody in the system knows that without convincing the NSA first, they cannot hope to convince the president.
In our bureaucracy, the power to punish is more important than the power to advice. What gave the extraordinary clout to Mishra was the fact that as the principal secretary, he wielded the big stick against the bureaucracy. It was this big stick and his proximity to Vajpayee which made his role as the NSA as effective as it was. None in the bureaucracy or even in the Council of Ministers questioned his manner of doing what he thought was necessary in the interest of national security.
It remains to be seen whether Dixit, without the powers of the principal secretary, could be as effective an adviser as Mishra was. In matters concerning external security, the effectiveness of an NSA depends on his or her equation with the minister for external affairs.
Despite periodic rumours to the contrary, Mishra had no problems with Jaswant Singh and his successor as the external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha. Both accepted his primacy in the national security management system.
Would Dixit's equation with Natwar Singh, the new foreign minister, remain as smooth?
Both were outstanding officers of the Indian Foreign Service and both had made a name for their competence, expertise and professionalism. But both are also known to be highly assertive individuals with large egos and with strong likes and dislikes.
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A question one often faces in the corridors of New Delhi is how long the honeymoon between two strong personalities like Dixit and Natwar Singh will last?
Will Natwar Singh give him the same leeway as his predecessors had given to Mishra? Or would he assert his primacy in matters relating to India's external relations and try to turn the limelight away from Dixit? These are questions which will assume importance in the months to come.
At a recent press conference, Natwar Singh freely and with great authority answered many questions relating to India's external relations. But when he was asked about India's nuclear doctrine, he was reported to have replied: 'Better go and ask Dixit.'
From this, one could surmise that while he would be willing to concede primacy to Dixit in doctrinal and strategic matters, in matters relating to foreign policy management and tactical maneuvers he would eventually try to assert his primacy.
Under the NDA government, the national security management system was a pyramid with Mishra as the NSA-cum-principal secretary on top of it.
It has become a triangle under the new government with Natwar Singh, Dixit and M K Narayanan, former director, Intelligence Bureau, who has been appointed as the adviser on internal security to the prime minister with the same rank and status as Dixit, occupying the three corners of it.
Dixit: 'India's reaction has been very practical'
The creation of this post is the second innovation of the new government.
From the announcement on Narayanan's appointment, it is evident he would not be a subordinate to Dixit. National security is not just external security alone. It embraces both internal and external security. Particularly in a country like India, where many internal security problems arise from external factors, the two cannot be separated.
In recognition of this reality, Mishra, a retired Indian Foreign Service officer like Dixit, was entrusted with the over-all responsibility for both internal and external security.
The National Security Council Secretariat, which forms part of the Prime Minister's Office and functions under the NSA, was set up in such a manner by Mishra as to be in a position to monitor all developments relating to internal as well as external security and to provide inputs for policy-making. There was no ambiguity about the fact that Mishra constituted the single door through which all advice flowed to the prime minister, whether relating to internal or external security.
An element of confusion has now been introduced by the new government's failure to clarify what would be Dixit and Narayanan's respective roles. Even under the previous government, the late R N Kao, the founding father of the Research and Analysis Wing, had reportedly advised Vajpayee to appoint a retired officer well-versed in internal security and intelligence management as the No 2 to Mishra with the designation of deputy national security adviser, so that he could advise Mishra, who lacked experience in these matters, and not the prime minister directly on these subjects. Kao's advice was not implemented.
By appointing Narayanan as an independent adviser on internal security and not as Dixit's subordinate, the new government might have created a potential source of confusion and friction in the new national security management system.
It is said the two are very close personal friends and hence ego clashes and turf battles are unlikely, but one cannot act in important matters on the basis of such assumptions. Lines of responsibility have to be clearly laid down.
To whom will the NSCS report in internal security matters -- to Narayanan directly or to Dixit directly or to Dixit through Narayanan? Can Narayanan directly entrust a task to the NSCS? With whom will the NSAB interact -- with Dixit only or with both? Can Narayanan directly entrust tasks to the NSAB? Would Dixit be content to act only as the external national security adviser leaving internal security totally in Narayanan's hands?
These are important questions which would need careful consideration.
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Mishra wore a third hat as the coordinator of the functioning of the intelligence agencies. This task was entrusted to him by Vajpayee on the recommendation of the Special Task Force on the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus set up in 2000 under the chairmanship of Girish Chandra 'Gary' Saxena, former head of RAW and ex-governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is said Dixit has inherited this hat from Mishra, with Narayanan, a distinguished intelligence professional of many years standing, apparently not given any responsibility in this matter. Dixit may seek his advice, but in his discretion and not under any rules of procedure.
The new 15-member NSAB (the fifth since its inception in 1998), announced on July 2, has Dixit's unmistakable stamp. It is well-endowed in matters relating to external security, but very weak in internal security expertise. The previous NSAB had three members -- two academics and one retired officer -- with extensive knowledge of J&K and with a wide network of contacts in the political circles there -- in the mainstream political parties as well as in the Hurriyat.
The previous one had, in addition, three retired officers -- one a former director of the Intelligence Bureau, a second from the Indian Police Service and the third from the Indian Administrative Service -- with wide experience of police and internal security management. The total number of internal security experts stands reduced from six in the previous Board to two.
The composition of the new Board strikes one more for what it lacks than for what it has. It lacks hands-on expertise in matters relating to nuclear management, South Asia other than Pakistan, China, counter-terrorism and energy security.
One gets an uncomfortable impression that the new government might have decided to play down the importance of nuclear management. Apart from C Raja Mohan, a former journalist who is now with Jawaharlal Nehru University, who is a reputed non-governmental expert in strategic matters, including their nuclear component, there is none who had made a name for himself or herself in doctrinal and strategic matters in the nuclear establishment or in the government.
The first four boards had the benefit of the expertise and advice of many top guns in this field, including former heads/senior officials of the Atomic Energy Commission and the space department.
In the wake of the Pokhran II nuclear tests of 1998, scientists of the nuclear, missile and space establishments had become the blue-eyed boys of the BJP-led government. But the question marks over the seemingly privileged position enjoyed by them under the previous government should not be allowed to detract from their continued importance in our national security management.
Leena Srivastava, executive director, Energy Resources Institute, an expert on energy security, who was inducted into the previous Board by the NDA government in recognition of the importance of energy security, has been dropped for reasons which are not clear, though she was eligible for a tenure of one more year.
A large reservoir of governmental and non-governmental experts in national security matters is available in other parts of India outside New Delhi. Under the previous governments which held office before 1998, this reservoir remained unutilised or inadequately tapped. Only those based in Delhi close to the eyes and ears of those in power were chosen for advisory roles.
New Delhi was India and India was New Delhi.
After taking over as the NSA in 1998, Mishra made a conscious attempt to dilute the dominance of those based in New Delhi in our national security management system. He inducted seven experts from other parts of India -- governmental and non-governmental -- into the first two NSABs. Even under him, that number started declining from the third Board onwards. In the new one, which is New Delhi-centric, the number of those from other parts of India stands reduced to one.
New Delhi is again becoming India and India is becoming New Delhi.
J N Dixit photograph: RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Uday Kuckian