As the die appears cast and Modi 2.0 comes into being, it should be an assumption that he will work on everything that could not be achieved or where work remains in progress and reinforce areas where it achieved much.
Much was achieved in the strategic domain, especially foreign policy, with India’s stature many notches higher than it was ever before. In the domain of military related security the few occasions that they got a chance, the Indian Armed Forces performed optimally with Doklam 2017 being the flagship.
Trans LoC/border operations, too, were not sub-optimal, but they got mired in political controversy thus robbing them off the sheen of unqualified success.
What should be the priorities for NDA-3 in the field of national security as related to the military domain? I am being careful not to use the term border security because there is a tendency to then gloss over many other aspects of military security.
Evolve a National Security Strategy And Promote Strategic Culture in Public
It commences with what one said with UPA-1, UPA-2, NDA-1 and NDA-2, the necessity of evolving a National Security Strategy (NSS) and publicly making available the unclassified part of it. This would facilitate better strategic guidance of scores of countrymen in many domains which actually constitute comprehensive national security. I am led to believe that an exercise has been on for long but it must culminate with a level of transparency on the first ever NSS document in the public domain. It must become a point of reference for examinations and interviews to help evolve a better Indian strategic culture.
In the same breath I would exhort NDA-3 to make the National Defence University (NDU) a priority so that it does see the light of day within next two years. 18 years after its recommendation by the Group of Ministers it still languishes because of lack of energy and will to promote Indian strategic culture.
I would greatly appreciate the Prime Minister if he begins with a note of promise on this.
On the war-fighting front it’s a dream situation for professional soldiers to think of a replication of the Brass Tacks series of exercises 1987 involving the entire Central Government. General Sundarji had convinced the then government that there was such a need to educate stakeholders on the dynamics of war should India be subjected to one. With collusive threats looming on the horizon, NDA-3 will do yeoman service to the nation by conducting at least two national exercises to bring awareness and preparedness where it should exist.
Why Delay Restructuring and Jointness?
Going back to 2014 there is still the whole gamut of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and its restructuring, once again recommended by the Group of Ministers in 2001 based upon the Kargil Review Committee report. The HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) set up in 2001 is not even the quarter-way mark to effectiveness. The MoD needs expertise from the Armed Forces and needs to be integrated.
I have no doubt that it will happen; India just cannot afford to do without the international model which exists in every other country of worth. However, why delay it is something inexplicable and NDA-3 needs to score over NDA-2 in this field. Five years in power is sufficient for a party to comprehend the weaknesses in the security structure.
The need for jointness in functioning, integration and theatrization is just being postponed on the basis of resistance by the bureaucracy and individual services.
I would love to see NDA-3 cast aside all objections and much like the legendary Goldwater Nichols Act 1986 of the US Congress, draft and pass a legislation making all aspects of integration and joint functioning a legal necessity. This should include the entry of uniformed officers into the MoD too.
NDA-3 should examine the possibility of inducting some professional and strategically-oriented people directly to the MoD on an experimental basis, and witness the difference. Despite the best intentions and efforts of Manohar Parrikar (NDA-3 needs a man of his caliber to head the MoD), the procurement and acquisitions procedures remain cumbersome with so much bureaucratic scrutiny and service related idealism that it’s a question of vendor stamina more than the quality of the equipment he sells that is of significance.
Address the Budget Needs Immediately
There is a huge review and reorganization underway in the Army with an attempt to cut flab and make it lean and mean. It’s good to reorganize on the basis of threats and evolved doctrine but not on unrealistic budget constraints. No doubt, the capital budget gets starved due to the size of the revenue component.
This calls for a full review of the defence budgeting procedure; 1.47 percent of GDP is as unrealistic a defence budget as can be.
Yes, there are unexpended monies from the capital budget at the end of the financial year. This is where realism is demanded from NDA-3.
All three services have a pressing budget need. The Navy needs it for expansion as mandated by fresh responsibilities for the Indo Pacific. The Air Force can not progress towards the mandated 42 squadron (if not 45) force without more monies. The Army needs to look at new platforms and, most importantly, develop its command and control, artificial intelligence (AI), surveillance and reconnaissance capability.
The lack of appreciation of information as an entity in all kinds of warfare has disadvantaged India both in the conventional and hybrid domain. Considering proliferating social media, fake news and disinformation the entire domain of influence and information operations needs to be studied afresh and a suitable body evolved to handle this.
Personnel Management Needs Immediate Attention and Course Correction
On personnel management NDA-2 did not score a victory, leaving a sore Armed Forces community seething on issues such as status vis-à-vis other government services, non-functional financial upgradation (NFFU), and Sixth and Seventh Pay Commission issues. Apart from that, there is anger about disability cases being fought despite orders to the contrary by ministers and management of Armed Forces Tribunals and their validity.
A Veterans Commission is, perhaps, warranted as the veteran community is now playing an increasing role. NDA-2 achieved much with OROP but somehow could not reap the dividend in terms of positive perception. The issue of yearly increments in pensions as against five years needs to be satisfactorily resolved through a compromise under NDA-3.
The management of cantonments and defence land is also a contentious issue which has upset many in the service community. Political decisions involving the military way of life and culture should preferably be taken in consultation with the community.
That is a lesson NDA-3 should learn from its predecessor.
The MoD needs a good and communicative minister as its head, someone who is transparent and willing to engage more informally with the service community. Parrikar was progressing so well in NDA-2 that he is most positively remembered. Openness to new ideas and a demeanor of total respect for military professionals was Parrikar’s way and it was no doubt a very effective one.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now the Chancellor of Kashmir University. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)