Review of deployment of armed forces in counter-infiltration role on Line of Control and in counter terrorist operations in the hinterland is not fresh approach, as it is undertaken regularly, under the Unified Command and by commanders on the spot.
By Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma (retd)
There is a shift, a momentous one in electoral politics in India. National Security issues that remained of lip-service in 2009 and 2014 in the electoral arena are at fore-front in 2019. This transition of conversing at policy positions and projecting broad statement of a five-year National Security agenda is evident in the Indian National Congress (INC) Manifesto – with a crisp assurance that ‘Congress will Deliver’. That would settle the belief that though manifestoes are insincere statements. The intelligent electorate would henceforth seek fructification of promises!
Contextually, unlike the last-page afterthought in 2014, the INC manifesto of 2019 has certain clear positions on National Security. In contemplation of this document, the fear remains of enhancing expectations. The manifesto however, takes some strong and candid positions on National Security issues. As a first there is a mention of a ‘sound defence policy’, accepting an expanded concept of National Security and providing statutory basis to National Security Advisor (NSA) and the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Acceptance of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as a principal advisor is also significant. What can be safely gleaned is that after seventy years of experimenting and dithering, finally, there would be a clearly enunciated National Security Strategy and Defence Policy. By itself this is most noteworthy will provide direction to National Security discourse.
The position taken on Jammu and Kashmir is an admixture of platitudes of yore, and fresh formulations. Review of deployment of armed forces in counter-infiltration role on Line of Control and in counter terrorist operations in the hinterland is not fresh approach, as it is undertaken regularly, under the Unified Command and by commanders on the spot. On increased responsibility to J&K Police, review of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to balance the requirements of security and protection of human rights, and ‘eschewing muscular militarism’ is treading on thin ice. Indeed, the situation in J&K demands broad based and long term political initiatives. The formulations in the manifesto gives rise to speculation that currently there is an excessive muscular approach that causes excessive hardships to the populace, and grave laxities exist in protecting human rights. These are largely untrue, and such mention will provide ammunition to inimical elements and the human rights organizations, and project the security forces in bad light.
AFSPA was applied consequent to promulgation of the Disturbed Areas Act and has been favorably opined by the Supreme Court. Even in 2019, it has been appreciated that over 250 terrorists exist in J&K, intense radicalization is leading to more youth joining the tanzeems, stone-pelting and terrorist initiated incidents against the security forces continue. At this juncture, wherein the security forces are extended and spread thin on ground in discharging onerous responsibilities, such formulations will only proceed to encourage hostile organizations/ peoples, and discourage those combating this. Some prudence in enunciating prospective policy on intransigent issue as J&K would have been advantageous! ‘Three interlocutors’ is old wine in old bottle; even the previous reports gather dust! Again, holding immediate elections is fine, mention of ‘free and fair’ elections reflects on 1987 and challenges the fairness of the processes thereafter. As has been pointed out, the plight of the Pandits purged post 1990, and their rehabilitation plan should have been mentioned. Studied silence on the role of Pakistan in fanning the terrorism in J&K, and policy thereof– except a passing reference on Foreign Policy – is inexplicable.
On matters Internal Security, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) had been put on ‘deep freeze’ by the then Home Minister in 2013 – facing opposition from states. Assurance of setting up in three months is important, though it will face same anxieties. Police reforms have been procrastinated for very long, and have similar distance in thoughts between the Centre and the States – again prejudiced issues. The enunciated increase in CAPF and border guarding forces also requires prudence – though better modernization and training are imperatives.
The INC manifesto has also delved into some Ex-Servicemen (ESM) issues, without addressing the increased distance between the civil and the military. Removal of anomalies of One Rank One Pension is welcome. Lateral entry of ESM into civil services and in Central Armed Police Forces which was strongly recommended by the Sixth Central Pay Commission is welcome, though it was rejected by the UPA itself previously. There might arise anomalous understanding of the promise to substantially expand the capacity of the Armed Forces Medical Corps and hospitals to cater to the needs of ESM and their families. The ESM Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) commenced in 2004, as the Military Hospitals were unable to cater for ESM. This Scheme has now over 52 Lakh dependency. Any amount of capacity building of Military Hospitals – already immensely stretched with the Services and their families – will not be able to address the woes of the ESM. The answer is to largely strengthen the ECHS itself – which suffers from manifold tribulations – and not expansion of Service Hospitals.
The INC has in a key pledge stated that it will expedite all modernisation programmes of the Armed Forces in a transparent manner. The armed forces modernization has been hostage to tedious procurement processes that invariably succumb to extraneous pressures and manufacturer rivalries. The threat of investigation into Rafale procurement will singularly constrain the armed forces, and will be ominous of past cancelled projects, that have brought the armed forces to a difficult pass. The modernization processes themselves require serious revitalization, if the armed forces have to be prepared for the future.
In sum, no manifesto can lay down the total direction that National Security regime to follow in the ensuing five years and thereafter. The INC manifesto has opened vistas for discussion and debate on matters National Security. In that, it is a welcome progress. In the interim, till the electoral processes are complete, National Security challenges will continue as hithertofore and the armed forces will continue to face the brunt. Maybe a few clarifications and reassurances to the men and women in uniform and then nation at large are mandated – lest the election manifesto is seriously misconstrued by the cutting edge of National Security.
(The author is Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, retd. Views expressed are the author’s own.)