Modi Isn’t the Only ‘Chowkidar’, He Can Learn from Hooda Report
The release on Sunday, 21 April, of a national security strategy document by the Congress party was, perhaps, inevitable – given the BJP’s decision to make national security its key re-election plan.
A key element of the 44-page document entitled ‘India’s National Security Strategy’ (INSS) is the view that India must be prepared for unilateral, limited military actions against terror groups in Pakistan, as it can be assured of peace only if it demonstrates its capability to defend national interests through the use of force.
The man who led the task force to draft the document is Lt Gen (retd) D S Hooda, under whose watch the Army carried out its surgical strike following the Uri attack in 2016.
The Congress Party says that elements of the document have been incorporated in its manifesto. This is a welcome development since it suggests that a political party is willing to put its ideas on security to pen and paper. Equally, that the Congress has no intention of ceding political space to the BJP on the issue of national security.
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Hooda Document Emphasizes Need for Long-Term Resolution to Kashmir Conflict
As far as documents go, the INSS is not exceptional. Few will argue with the five key tenets upon which an Indian national security strategy should be pegged – global affairs, a secure neighbourhood, internal conflicts, protecting people, and strengthening capabilities. Or that India's military preparedness will have to cater to a range of response options, from surgical strikes to an all-out conflict.
It makes an important political point by emphasizing the need for a long-term resolution to the difficult problem of the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, and the need to counter radicalisation in the state. The panel also called for cooperation with China, and strengthening India’s military preparedness through more budgetary allocation and modernisation in the defence sector.
Hopefully, we will see a BJP version of such a document as well. Though national security had, indeed, figured in various party manifestos, it would be difficult to find a single comprehensive strategy document of the type put out by the Congress. The party’s record of handling national security has been a poor one. On its watch, major terrorist attacks have occurred— Pathankot, Uri, Nagrota, Sunjuwan, Pulwama I, and the more recent Pulwama II, the highest casualty attack in the Kashmiri insurgency.
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Kashmir Policy – Biggest ‘Disaster’ Under BJP Rule
The bigger disaster has been in Kashmir, though. In Kashmir, particularly its southern districts, recruitment of locals to the militancy has been burgeoning, from some 21 and 16 in 2012 and 2013, it has shot up to 88 and 126 in 2016 and 2017. Where there were 170 incidents in 2013 – resulting in 53 security personnel and 15 civilians’ death – in 2017 the number shot up to 342, with 80 security personnel and 40 civilians killed.
Because it did not have a coherent policy, its strategy has veered from one extreme to another. The best example being the Pakistan policy in 2015-2016, that veered from ‘embrace’ to ‘enmity’.
BJP’s Tendency of Making Strategic Policy Decisions Pre-Polls
As the BJP had no coherent document as a reference guide, it missed out on many of the five tenets laid out by the Hooda document. Its strategy of building national security capabilities remained the slogan it was, promising the elusive “Make in India” policy to deliver the goods. In actual fact, the capabilities of the armed forces steadily declined, confronted by shrinking budgets and neglect.
Instead of providing political direction and leadership, the government left it to a committee of bureaucrats headed by the national security adviser, to deliver the ‘goods’ through the Defence Planning Committee. But more dangerous has been the tendency of the government to make strategic policies on the fly, usually when elections are around.
The response to the Uri attack—the surgical strikes—was a sound response. However, it was simply not followed up, and subsequent attacks by the Jaish-e-Mohammed were left unanswered, thereby, perhaps enabling the Pulwama disaster.
More recently, this tendency has resurfaced. While the attack on Balakot was a path-breaking one—striking inside Pakistan and doing so in one area where we have the edge, air power – it has been undermined by excessive claims such as the belief that Pakistan’s fear of India compelled them to release Wing Commander Abhinandan. If so, one wonders, why does Modi not procure the release of Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav?
Modi’s Unthinking Nuclear Threat to Pakistan
But perhaps the most dangerous aspect of making policy on the fly has been the recent nuclear threat the prime minister has made to Pakistan. This is a dangerous game. PM Modi should have no doubt in his mind, that this is the path to perdition. If there is one area in which Pakistan can give as good as it gets, it is in the area of nuclear weapons. And here we are in playing with a fire that can and will consume both of us, and there should be no doubts about that.
Given all this, you may wonder whether Mr Modi even understands what security means. It is not about death and destruction, since in the subcontinental balance it would eventually lead to Mutual and Assured Destruction (MAD). It means, possessing the ability that will prevent war, through a mix of active diplomacy and effective deterrence.
This is something that the Hooda document has spelt out clearly, and it would be useful if the BJP came out with something like this of its own.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow Observer Research Foundation and a member of Naresh Chandra Task Force on Defence Reforms. 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.)