Gist of The Hindu: June 2016

Gist of The Hindu: June 2016

Our national security mismanagement

National security management under the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime can best be described as the management of systemic inefficiency, with the institutional and ideational foundations of the country’s national security architecture having become weaker since the new government took charge almost two years ago.

In fact, strengthening national security was one of the major electoral planks the BJP used in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections. It is only fair then that we assess its performance on the basis of the key national security promises it made in its 2014 election manifesto: “Reform the National Security Council to make it the hub of all sector-related assessments”, “completely revamp the intelligence gathering system by modernising the intelligence department”, “ensure greater participation of Armed Forces in the decision-making process of the Ministry of Defence”, and “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”. A factual analysis shows that the Modi government’s performance on each of these stated goals has been grossly incompetent.

The National Security Council (NSC), comprising of the members of the Cabinet Committee on Security and the National Security Adviser, which is supposed to be the locus of deliberations and decision-making relating to national security as well as oversee the formulation of the country’s nuclear strategy, hardly ever meets to take stock of the security environment. So with deliberative mechanisms such as the NSAB and NSC not doing their job, the country’s national security management is a one-man show based out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

What about nuclear strategy? The Manmohan Singh government had created a highly specialised Strategy Programme Staff “to work on a perspective plan for India's nuclear deterrent in accordance with a 10-year cycle”. There are legitimate concerns today about the mandate of this body, and how empowered it is to deliberate, strategise and engage in strategic nuclear planning. What is also evident is that despite the BJP’s claims in its 2014 manifesto, the NDA government is showing absolutely no interest in the country’s nuclear strategy. With the advisory/deliberative mechanisms either defunct or not in place, there is a danger of loosening political control over the evolution of the country’s nuclear strategy, potentially even the numerical shape of the arsenal itself. India’s nuclear strategy, as is widely recognised, has a number of doctrinal inadequacies which need to be addressed and corrected by the government, something the BJP specifically referred to in its manifesto. This has so far remained an empty promise. The more India’s nuclear strategy remains unarticulated, the less political control there will be.

What about the intelligence agencies which collect and process raw intelligence and provide policy inputs to the government? Both the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing are short-staffed at every level with acute deficiency reported at the level of foreign language speakers. Despite the threat of the Islamic State and Islamist terror that India has been faced with, the IB has just three Arabic translators! The agencies clearly need a lot more trained personnel today than ever before due to the complexity of challenges and threats that the country faces. But instead of giving state-of-the-art training to the new recruits, the government has actually reduced their training period. These organisations, in short, face a number of challenges today in terms of shortage of sophisticated equipment, inadequate training and staffing, and promotion and career prospects for non-Indian Police Service officers. But nothing has been done by the NDA government to fulfil their promise to “completely revamp the intelligence gathering system by modernising the intelligence department”.
Another key post-26/11 institution that is in trouble today is the NATGRID. Created to function as a metadata intelligence grid by networking multiple datasets available with various agencies, NATGRID, a pet project of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, is neither fully operational nor given adequate importance by the NDA regime — it does not even have a full-time chief since the NDA government refused to renew the contract of its CEO close to two years ago.

Indeed, a number of Parliamentary Standing Committee reports have also expressly supported this. A 2007 Standing Committee report said, “The Government should take the GoM’s recommendations as well as this Committee’s concern in this matter seriously and take the final decision on CDS at the earliest.” Another committee repeated this demand two years later saying it is “of the considered view that the creation of an additional post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to act as Chairman of the CoSC [Chiefs of Staff Committee] is essential to ensure optimum level of jointness among the different wings of the Armed Forces and to provide single-point military advice to the Government”.

Nuclear safety, security and regulation is another key area that the government needs to focus on. Worrying incidents like the recent heavy water leak at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat and India’s ambitious civilian nuclear expansion plans demand utmost priority to civilian nuclear issues. Indeed, various Parliamentary Standing Committees as well as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had recommended the creation of an independent civilian nuclear regulatory authority. Keeping in mind this pressing need to carry out structural reforms in the civilian nuclear sector, the UPA government had presented the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill to the Lok Sabha in 2011. The Bill is currently lapsed, and the new government has done precious little to bring an amended version for consideration of Parliament. Unwillingness to carry out structural reforms can have disastrous implications for the country’s expanding civilian nuclear industry.

Kashmir is back on the boil, this time with far more disenchantment with New Delhi. Radicalisation is on the rise and youngsters are joining the ranks of militancy, not to speak of the growing support for it in the Valley. While anti-India sentiments in Kashmir have been rising for some time now, the BJP’s inability to handle its political alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with sensitivity and statesmanship has only made things worse.

Finally, despite all its claims of giving primacy to strengthening and safeguarding India’s national security, the BJP-led government continues to adopt an unmistakably ham-handed and visionless approach to national security issues and institutions. There has been no attempt so far to reform or strengthen the country’s national security institutions, articulate a much-needed grand strategic approach to national security, and legislate on important national security matters. Despite all its pre-election rhetoric on national security and the ongoing grandstanding on securing and strengthening the nation, the BJP government’s approach to national security has been less than satisfactory. Close to two years in office, it should remember that high-pitched nationalist rhetoric can’t secure the country, but painstaking institutional reforms, legal provisions and a sense of purpose could.

An opportunity for peace in Syria

Vladimir Putin has once again surprised world leaders by ordering the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria. As in the case of Mr. Putin’s other major foreign policy moves in his current term as Russian President, such as the annexation of Crimea and the intervention in Syria, not many had seen this coming. While announcing the decision he said the “principal tasks set for the armed forces of Russia in Syria have been accomplished”, without detailing the achievements. Though Mr. Putin’s claims may sound rhetorical, it is not difficult to understand the rationale behind the move. The five and a half months of Russian intervention has irrevocably changed the course of the Syrian civil war. As Russia started the bombing campaign on September 30, the regime looked fragile after continuous military setbacks. President Bashar al-Assad had publicly acknowledged that his army was struggling with manpower shortages. But since the Russian involvement started, the regime has regained some territory, weakened rebel positions and disrupted rebel supply lines. It even expanded its reach to the outskirts of Aleppo, once considered completely lost to militant groups. The timing of the Russian move is also important. The Geneva peace talks between the regime and the opposition are set to start. For the first time in the five years of the conflict, the prospects of peace look less doomed, if not actually bright. A ceasefire between the rebels and the regime that came into force two weeks ago is still holding, however fragile it might be. By announcing the troop withdrawal, Moscow is putting enormous pressure on the Assad regime to make real compromises in the peace talks. Moreover, Mr. Putin does not want Russia to be dragged into a protracted war, the way the Soviet Union got trapped in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

However, this does not mean Russia is deserting Syria. Mr. Putin has made it clear that Russia would continue to operate the Latakia airbase. Needless to say, the Russian presence at the Tartus naval facility on the Mediterranean Sea will continue. This will allow Russia to quickly deploy troops in Syria in the future if the need arises. So Mr. Putin’s actual plan appears to be to use the momentum created in favour of the regime by the Russian intervention to find a political settlement to the Syrian crisis. This is consistent with Russia’s position towards Syria. From the advent of the crisis, Moscow has been insisting on a political solution. Russia’s concern is less about protecting Mr. Assad than about retaining the core of the Baathist state, which, Moscow believes, is vital for the survival of Syria in the long fight ahead against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. Now it is time for the rebels and their backers, including the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to respond to Russia’s gestures. They should make use of the opportunity at the Geneva talks to push for reconciliation with the regime. Because the only alternative to talks is pushing Syria into war again.

A new beginning in Myanmar

After more than half a century, Myanmar has finally got a democratically elected government with a civilian at the helm. With U Htin Kyaw, the National League for Democracy’s candidate, being elected on March 15, the country will have a new President, a civilian Vice-President, and a Vice-President from the military, albeit under the supervision of the Tatmadaw or Myanmar’s military, which retains a quarter of the seats in Parliament and the power to nominate the three most important ministers: Defence, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs.

And Myanmar has Aung San Suu Kyi, easily the country’s most beloved leader. Even though Ms. Suu Kyi’s NLD won a whopping 77 per cent of the elected seats in Parliament, Amay Suu, or Mother Suu, as she is fondly called, cannot lead the government because of a constitutional provision that bars her since her sons are British and not Myanmar citizens. From the start, Ms. Suu Kyi’s options were limited. In order to amend the Constitution, she needed the vote of more than 75 per cent of MPs, which was impossible without the military’s support. Some even went to the extent of suggesting that she should disown her sons, one of whom has been estranged from her for some time, but that was too much to ask of someone who has often spoken of the brutally hard choice she had to make when she stayed a prisoner in her own country rather than live in exile with her family. The other option, equally untenable, was to have her sons take Myanmar citizenship, as both men grew up outside of the country.

For all these reasons Mr. Htin Kyaw was the perfect choice for President for Ms. Suu Kyi, who has made it clear that she will not give up power even if she cannot occupy the post. “[The appointed President] will have no authority,” she had told a television channel in November 2015. She also dismissed concerns that the dual power centres would affect the government’s functioning. “Why should it affect the functions of the government? The President will be told exactly what he can do,” she said. In addition to holding the strings of power, Ms. Suu Kyi might join the Cabinet as Foreign Minister, or occupy a specially created post of Prime Minister. Yet, despite the complete confidence in her, Ms. Suu Kyi’s path is as challenging and fraught with problems as her past has been. The military, which imprisoned her, and has only agreed very slowly and grudgingly to her rise to power, retains control of Myanmar. By successfully inserting Vice-President-elect (retired) General Myint Swe into the power structure, despite vocal objections from the U.S., Tatmadaw has shown it will not give up even this toehold. Ms. Suu Kyi’s government will also face the challenge of pulling Myanmar out of decades of economic backwardness while addressing ethnic and religious differences. Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Asia: it ranks 149 among 186 nations rated in the 2013 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme. Its forests have been plundered at a fast pace, while very little industrialisation or infrastructure development has taken place outside of its cities. This is where India, which has chosen to make aid to Myanmar a focal point in its development assistance plans this year, must work closer with the country in order to bolster the new government.

The lesson, if there is one, is clear: even the most unambitious appointee may strain at the leash after he is placed in the seat of power. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, wrote Shakespeare for King Henry IV. “Uneasier still are the hands that pull its strings”, he may well have added for the uncrowned queen of Myanmar’s people, as she writes a new chapter in the country’s history.

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Courtesy: The Hindu