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NEW! Generals involved in national security talks

By SANJEEV NAYYAR
October 26, 2020 17:25 IST
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The future can only get better if we continue to break silos and work as integrated teams focussed on promoting national interests, recommends Sanjeev Nayyar.

IMAGE: Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan's high council for national reconciliation, front, centre, flanked by India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to his left and Chief of the Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat to his right, along with other Indian and Afghan officials at Hyderabad House, October 14, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo.
 

The political events of the last few weeks have overshadowed two key developments.

One is the visit to Mynamar of Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

Two is National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's meeting with Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the high council on national reconciliation of Afghanistan (and the chief negotiator with the Taliban).

It was also attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, General Naravane, Deputy NSA Pankaj Saran, military adviser to the National Security Council Secretariat, Lieutenant General V G Khandare, among the NSA's delegation members.

The composition of India's delegation to these meetings was unique and indicates a new thinking.

Take the meeting with Myanmar, where having the army chief present with the foreign secretary was truly a remarkable development.

Power in Myanmar is shared between the elected government and the army. Some 25% of the MPs are from the army. So any government to government meetings must also include a general as an Indian representative, because two army men would be more comfortable talking to each other and naturally so.

In the past India always had problems because our defence ministry officers did not integrate well with the military and we were compelled to deal with Myanmar not in an integrated manner.

For once, we are dealing in an integrated way on security, international and economic issues.

The challenges in Myanmar are both political and military. We both face similar problems with separatist groups. Myanmar assists India in dealing with north east separatist groups that seek refuge there, like the NSCN (Khaplang)

For Myanmar their separatist groups cross the borders and take refuge in China's Yunan province.

Again, two men in uniform, facing a similar problem, will relate to each other better than, say, a babu and a general.

The second meeting was even more interesting.

From Afghanistan it had Dr Abdullah, and from India many members of the national security secretariat, the CDS and army chief. Such composition from the Indian side was unheard of earlier.

Is the army chief's involvement an indication that the government wants to now involve the armed forces in the national security decision-making structure?

Is the involvement of the CDS and army chief an indication that India might move men into Afghanistan after the US troop numbers are reduced in November?

While it is part of speculation, were it to happen it would disturb China's brother in arms on our western border.

As part of the deal to place Indian troops in Afghanistan in a peace-keeping role, if Indian troops are also placed in the Wakhan Corridor (a wedge between Pakistan and Tajikistan) they might be close to the Karakoram highway (that links Kashgar in Xinjiang to Islamabad).

What these two meetings indicate is the breaking of silos between government departments. In corporate jargon, this represents the formation of cross-functional teams to solve problems.

I am surprised these moves have not got the appropriate attention. It would be interesting to know who is behind this innovative thinking.

Further, due to the preoccupation with the Ladakh standoff, the existence of the chief of defence staff has gone unnoticed.

It took 72 years for India to have a CDS. He is to be the single point military advisor to the defence minister and heads the department of military affairs.

This department would promote jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the three services through joint planning and integration of their requirements. We have seen some of this during the Ladakh stand-off when the the Indian Navy's MiG29K were pressed into service.

The department has an additional secretary, joint secretaries and deputy/under secretaries. While it is premature to comment on the success or failure of the CDS position, what is important is that many babus now report to a former army chief.

Cynics might see this as limited progress but consider that it took India 72 years to even get here.

The future can only get better if we continue to break silos and work as integrated teams focussed on promoting national interests.

Also note that India has launched six missile system tests in the month gone by (HSTDV, LGATGM, Shaurya, SMART, Rudram-1, Brahmos ER), a clear message to India's friends. Their timing are part of India's psychological warfare.

After all, today's wars are also economic and psychological. Having said that, India has not used these tools of warfare extensively in the past. This shows that India is now taking an integrated approach to national security.

Irrespective of the outcome in the Ladakh stand-off, an integrated approach to national security is the way to go.

Sanjeev Nayyar is a chartered accountant and founder www.esamskriti.com.

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