Why Did CCS Not Meet Through Pathankot Terror Attack?

The lack of coordination at the ministerial level was reflected on the ground in Pathankot.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
The lack of coordination at the ministerial level was reflected on the ground in Pathankot.<b> </b>(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

The fact that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has met only on a few occasions – to approve large defence acquisitions – since the Narendra Modi government assumed power, indicates this regime’s disregard for institutions vital for collective decision making, especially during crisis situations.

While the CCS did not meet in the course of the three days when a battalion-strong group of soldiers muddled their way before finally eliminating six terrorists in the Pathankot air force base, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval alone took operational decisions, choosing to wear a general’s hat rather than an advisor’s.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee was not instructed to convene to strategise all possible means to engage and liquidate the terrorists in the shortest possible time.

Earlier, the CCS did not meet during the July 2015 terror strike in Dinanagar in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. It was also dispensed with during the Pathankot attack, which is the gravest national security challenge the Modi government has encountered in the 19 months it has been in power.

Also watch Our Salute to the Pathankot Martyrs

Lack of Coordination

The Cabinet Committee on Security, under the Narendra Modi regime, has met on very few occasions.  (Photo: PTI)
The Cabinet Committee on Security, under the Narendra Modi regime, has met on very few occasions. (Photo: PTI)

The ministries concerned appeared to hold separate meetings of their officials – there was no concerted attempt at any kind of joint coordination. This lack of harmonious combination of efforts was reflected in the battleground in Pathankot.

Worse still was that the Prime Minister, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley were not seen even once sitting together at the table of collective decision making. The PM was away from Delhi, the Home Minister was despatched to Manipur (but not his deputy, Kiren Rijiju) and the defence minister was in his balmy home state of Goa the day the terrorists struck.

An Operation in Disarray

What we saw in the course of those three tense days as the confused soldiers battled the tenacious terrorists was a picture of disarray. Premature congratulatory messages of the valour of the security forces and divergent accounts of terrorists slain was followed by awkward silence of some of the ministers concerned.

The army chief, General Dalbir Singh Suhag who, soon after his appointment had said that India’s response to any aggression from Pakistan will be “more than adequate, intense and immediate” was robbed off the opportunity to fulfil his promise, thanks to Doval’s directive that an NSG unit would be sufficient to take on the terrorists.

Snapshot

Doing Away With Institutions

  • In the Narendra Modi regime, Cabinet Committee on Security has met on very few occasions.
  • What has raised eyebrows is that the full CCS did not meet in the three days that the Pathankot terror attack lasted.
  • No meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee was convened.
  • Almost all operational decisions were taken by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
  • The lack of coordination at the ministerial level was reflected on the ground in Pathankot.
  • During the Kargil war, CCS met several times. Defence services’ chiefs briefed the CCS but PM Vajpayee took all decisions.

The Kargil Crisis

Despite suggestions by the armed forces’ chiefs that Indian troops should cross the Line of Control when the Kargil war broke out, former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee stood firm that his government would not precipitate the situation.  (Photo: Reuters)
Despite suggestions by the armed forces’ chiefs that Indian troops should cross the Line of Control when the Kargil war broke out, former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee stood firm that his government would not precipitate the situation. (Photo: Reuters)

What has baffled past senior armed forces chiefs, who were an integral part of the CCS under the chairmanship of former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, is the current dispensation’s disregard for government institutions.

A former top navy commander recalled that in one particular meeting of the CCS at the height of the Kargil war, the defence services’ chiefs provided their assessment of the situation, leaving the political leadership to take the decision on whether to cross the Line of Control and the international border or not.

“The defence chiefs, as well as Jaswant Singh, were in favour of Indian troops crossing the LoC, but Vajpayee was firm – under no circumstances would either the army or the air force transgress either the LoC or the international border. He simply instructed us to continue briefing him twice daily,” the naval officer said, adding that the then NSA Brajesh Mishra played the advisory role without being the sole arbiter in operational matters.

The supremacy of the collective political leadership at that time played a singular role in India’s ability to effectively, responsibly and democratically wield military power as a tool of foreign policy.

No Objective Goal

National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion Amitabh Kant leaves after a Cabinet meeting in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)
National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion Amitabh Kant leaves after a Cabinet meeting in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

Pathankot also exposed that Doval could not objectively define which type of military operation would be the most effective in liquidating the terrorists in the shortest possible time and with a minimum body count.

In recent times, France has been the target of deadly terrorist strikes but the manner in which the French authorities maintained calm and operationalised a focused and determined strategy to take out the ISIS operatives exemplified high levels of professionalism, which was sorely lacking in Pathankot.

Also read Probing Suspect Gurdaspur SP May Open Can of Worms

Pathankot Attack: Questions Swirl Around Gurdaspur SP’s Role

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