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Prime minister's pet task force

November 21, 2005 20:23 IST

The task force on 'Global Strategic Developments' to be headed by K Subrahmanyam -- a distinguished strategic affairs analyst -- has aroused a lot of curiosity because it reflects Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's political ambition.

Dr Singh wants the Indo-US relationship, as envisaged in the July 18 agreement signed in Washington by him and US President George Bush, to move to the next level. The task force is likely to put the prime minister's thinking in perspective.

Dr Singh had constituted a task force on November 4. It is believed that Subrahmanyam has been chosen to get "credible endorsement" for the prime minister's political thinking on the issue.

Subrahmanyam told, "With India and the US entering into a strategic partnership, it's time to think realistically. Why are we doing it? Remember, it's not just a relationship, but the partnership. Our work is to give inputs to the government on a range of issues, including the understanding of long term interests of India."

Since the last many years, Subrahmanyam has been a harsh critic of the National Security Council. Now, he is asked to do some global strategic thinking.

The members of the task force include Professor P Rama Rao, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. He has extensive experience in the atomic energy sector of India; Dr R K Pachauri, director of The Energy & Resources Institute, a world-renowned authority on energy issues; Dr Arvind Virmani, director of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, is a friend of Dr Singh and a liberal economist; Tarun Das, former director-general, Confederation of Indian Industry is in sync with Dr Singh's thinking on global economy. Air Marshal (Retired) Vinod Patney is well versed with global air forces, including American. Professor M S Ananth, director of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras is exposed to the US system having spent some time there; Amitabh Mattoo, vice chancellor of the University of Jammu is an expert on Jammu and Kashmir and nuclear issues of South Asia and Commodore Uday Bhaskar, deputy director-general of Institute of Defence Studies & Analysis, who is also a member-secretary of the task force, is the foremost supporter of Indo-US relations.

The Prime Minister's Office press release had said that the task force will examine various aspects of global trends in strategic affairs. It will be serviced by the National Security Council Secretariat and is expected to submit its report within six months.

One of the members claim that this task force is the first of its kind. Never before has any prime minister asked for "holistic input" on strategic matters.

"Dr Singh is looking forward to the Rand Corporation type of approach. We should offer insight into the issues at hand, ie. Indo-US relationship. It should help policy makers to take decisions in the interest of India by stating the advantages and disadvantages of the issue," he said.

"We are thinking about all aspects relating to co-operating with the US on democracy initiatives, on the energy issue, on how to deal with terrorists and weapons of mass destruction," said Subramanyam.

A strategic expert based in New Delhi thinks that Dr Singh is looking forward to some kind of validation of his US policy through such a task force. He wants at hand intense logic to support his diplomatic thinking. The critics claim that all the members are more or less in sync with Dr Singh's US policy.

When asked if this task force is US-centric he said, "We are dealing with a range of issues, including India's neighbours, China, European Union, Russia and the US."

However, a member of the task force explained, "The most important recent development is the nature of partnership between India and America. It's such a contrast from the past history between the two nations. It's necessary to understand why the US is doing it. What's in India's interest at it goes ahead."

Subrahmanyam said that he has never justified the American invasion in Iraq nor does he agree with US policy on terrorism, but argues that analytical Indian brains should not be prejudiced against the US because the focus should be on what lies in India's long-term national interest.

He said that his think tank would like to understand the implications of global realties on India's future. China has opposed the Indo-US nuclear agreement. "We must seriously assess China's opposition. China opposes India's attempt to get civil nuclear energy. Why does China not want India to grow faster?"

When asked if his work is different from that of the minister of external affairs' input to the PMO, he said, "MEA and others are pre-occupied in day-to-day affairs."

He said the whole idea behind the task force is to debate intensely India's long-term future.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi