Millennium Post

Incompetence and howlers

The Naresh Chandra-led ‘Task Force’ on National Security’s report on the strategic review of the Indian defence posture could have been written by an undersecretary in the ministry of defence given three days off with access to some of the files that passed through his desk.

But the undersecretary would have lacked the skills in manipulating an unquestioning, pliant media, which continue to aid the ‘task force’ in leaking portions of the still classified document, to give an impression that much work has gone into it.

Naresh Chandra is a former cabinet secretary, ably aided by a few glory-hunting former chiefs of the services and another bunch of ubiquitous busy bodies, who claim to think about the country’s security and make it seem that in their absence the country would be in dire straits.But let us not be distracted by the shenanigans of a few oracles from examining what has been suggested in the report. For example, the committee/task force  has touted the idea of a permanent chairman, chiefs of staff committee (CCOS) as a grand solution to the problem of appointing a chief of defence staff (CDS).

For, the main objection to the CDS idea arises from the political class based on their fear that there will be a super-general, who could become the overlord of the armed forces, thus loosening the civilian control of the armed forces. The Naresh Chandra report, in its leaked portions, does not reflect any appreciation of this problem.

The other big idea of the ‘task force’ is to restrict the functioning Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) director general, who also triples up as a Secretary (Defence R&D) and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister. Naresh Chandra ‘task force’ now wants this triple hatted gentleman to shed one his crucial hats. They advocate the SA to defence minister should be a different person who would only be ‘futuristic!’

This future gazing, which presumably is the opposite of navel gazing, is a sure-fire way to create more mission confusion than that already exists in the defence scientific arena.

But read with another suggestion of the ‘task force,’ about how not to punish the foreign contractors who bribe their way through the defence procurement process, it raises the question whether this ‘futuristic’ clairvoyant would fight the rearguard operation in favour of these subversive  contractors, when they get into trouble.

The ‘task force’ is completely silent on the requirement of a generic National Security Strategy document that would underpin the military and diplomatic exertions of the country; or that the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan of the armed forces should not take a decade to be cleared by the political leadership.

The ‘task force’ wants a preparedness report to be made annually by the chairman, chiefs of staff committee; and discussed and cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security.

The Naresh Chandra ‘task force’ is unique as an important panel whose mandate was unknown to the country. The terms of reference of the ‘task force’ remained under wraps. And its own operation remained limited to presentations by the three service headquarters and a few other constituents of the defence sector.

The expanse of the Kargil Review Committee was sorely missing with this panel. While the K Subramanyam-led panel had met a wide array of people in the political and administrative arena, no one knows whom the Naresh Chandra ‘task force’ met.

‘In this process, it [the Subramanyam committee] met former President R Venkataraman, Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, ex-Prime Ministers V P Singh, P V Narasimha Rao and I K Gujral, the Home Minister, External Affairs Minister, Defence Minister, the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, the Governor and the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Adviser, the Cabinet Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and a host of other officials and non-officials, including media persons.’

The Naresh Chandra panel seems to be an afterthought of a government beset with unrest in the armed forces and public demands for its failure to manage the forces and,  thus, the national security, effectively. So, by setting up the ‘task force’ the Manmohan Singh government wanted to show that they were in action mode.

Unfortunately, the protagonists it chose were found to be wanting in terms of abilities, and became an illustration of the government’s ‘faulty judgment.’

Now, the story being bandied about to curb the public outrage is that the report has two parts: one, the unclassified part from which information is being leaked and two, there is also a classified part that is with the government. But, considering the quality of the so called ‘unclassified part,’ one does not have much faith that the ‘classified’ part would be any better. For, the classification policy of the government of India is based on the principles, that ‘hide your incompetences, howlers and chicanery’ by classifying them as ‘Top Secret.’

Pinaki Bhattacharya is a senior journalist.
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