ISSUES BEFORE THE NATION
SECURITY, DEFENCE AND FOREIGN POLICY
I. The BJP/NDA Failures
The BJP-led NDA Government has a record of grave failures on the management of national security, foreign policy and defence. The NDA Government has subjected the national defence forces to avoidable crises, whether it is in Kargil or futile deployment of our armed forces on the Indo-Pakistan border for nearly a year and at enormous expense.
The BJP/NDA Government has not taken any steps to reform and reorganize the defence forces, despite a series of recommendations made by expert committees, which it set up after the Kargil war.
The BJP/NDA Government has failed to modernize and update the equipment and logistical facilities of our defence forces. It has failed to reorganize and restructure the institutions of higher command of our defence forces, despite there being national consensus for such reforms and restructuring after the Kargil war. It has failed even to effectively utilize resources amounting to nearly Rs 24,000 crore sanctioned by Parliament to modernize our defence systems. Despite tall claims about high priority being given to defence, expenditure on defence as a proportion of GDP has fallen to an all-time low of 2.12%. There has been a massive neglect of maintenance, leading to very large number of accidents to airforce planes and fire accidents in ordnance depots.
The BJP/NDA Government’s management of India’s national intelligence institutions has been equally abysmal. There was the unpardonable failure in acquisition and utilization of advance intelligence about the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar, and about pre-empting the intrusions of the Pakistani Army into Kargil.
The BJP/NDA Government failed to ensure necessary connectivity between intelligence agencies and the armed forces and the Ministry of External Affairs. Suggestions to remedy these failures made by expert groups, like the Subrahmanyam Committee, are languishing on the shelves, with no action taken.
The BJP/NDA Government’s policies related to Pakistan have been a saga of contradictions and confusion. Whether in Lahore or at Agra, the BJP/NDA Government showed a singular lack of advance preparation leading to disastrous consequences. Because of this lack of foresight, Lahore was followed by Kargil and Agra led to a fresh phase of accelerated tensions in Indo-Pak relations. The BJP/NDA Government completely failed in containing and countering terrorism sponsored by Pakistan.
The BJP/NDA Government’s Pakistan policy has been full of contradictory extremisms and ambiguities. Prime Minister Vajpayee’s trip to Lahore was followed by Pakistan’s perfidy at Kargil. Despite this, General Musharraf was invited to the Agra Summit, which was a fiasco. This was followed by the terrorist attack on Parliament, resulting in Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee declaring: “Now India would fight the Pakistani menace to the finish.” A few months later, all of a sudden a peace initiative with Pakistan was undertaken. The claim of the Prime Minister that normalization of relations with Pakistan is his most important achievement is ludicrous. The fact is that the Prime Minister and his government have lacked clarity, consistency and conviction while dealing with Pakistan.
Of equal concern has been the BJP/NDA Government’s policies towards the USA. They have been charcterised by a lack of transparency. Till this day, the country has never been taken into confidence about the outcome of several rounds of discussions which Shri Jaswant Singh as Minister of External Affairs had with Mr. Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State of the USA. Sadly, a great country like India has been reduced to having a subordinate relationship with the USA where the USA takes India for granted. This is the result of the BJP/NDA Government’s willingness to adjust the US priorities and policies without giving due attention to India’s own vital foreign policy and national security interests. The declaration of Pakistan as a non-NATO ally by the USA recently exposed the BJP’s claim of a “paradigm shift” in Indo-US relations. This declaration caught the Government of India by surprise. The subsequent protests by the Government of India have been very weak and have lacked credibility and conviction. The BJP/NDA Government has failed to take the country into confidence about the national security implications of the new tie-up between Pakistan and the USA. It has also failed to dispel the widely-held fears that India has accepted the mediator role for the USA in Indo-Pakistan relations.
There has been no clarity in the BJP/NDA Government’s Jammu & Kashmir policy. At one time, its thinking was that the principal problem in J&K was Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism and proxy war and that there could be no meaningful discussions on the subject unless cross-border terrorism was stopped. Yet both at Lahore and more recently at Islamabad, the BJP/NDA Government has agreed to discuss the territorial status of J&K with Pakistan. As regards talks with diverse shades of public opinion in J&K itself, once again there has been no consistency or transparency in approach. From time to time, the BJP/NDA Government has appointed a series of special envoys to discuss the future of J&K with various political groups. However, the country has never been taken into confidence with regard to their mandate and terms of reference. No wonder, the atmosphere of serious discussions has been missing and talks with separatist groups like the Hurriyat have not made any headway.
Finally, the BJP/NDA Government has deliberately and mischievously used tensions with Pakistan to polarise our own society and call into question the patriotic credentials of a very large number of our countrymen and women. The Deputy Prime Minister is on record as having said that only the BJP can make peace with Pakistan because that would make it acceptable to the religious majority in our country. This is a dangerous and pernicious argument and is an extension of the “two-nation” theory first put forward by the RSS almost eight decades back. The fact is that it is the Jan Sangh/BJP/RSS that has always stymied serious efforts made in the past to bring about reconciliation with Pakistan (and China). This obstructionist past cannot be disowned.
II. THE CONGRESS AGENDA
Safeguarding India’s territorial integrity and unity against overt or covert external aggression is the supreme responsibility of the Government. Fashioning clear defense policies with precise consensus in priorities is required for the purpose. Keeping the nation’s armed forces fully prepared, backed up by necessary resources is important.
The Congress, if elected to power, will:
1. Speedily implement the recommendations made for the reforms and reconstructing of defense organizations and the armed forces of the country.
2. Congress will integrate the Defense Military with the Headquarters of the three services (Army, Navy, and the Air Force) with uniformed officers being given a participatory role in the formulation of defence policies and the higher management of national defence.
3. The Congress will allocate necessary financial resources for the defence of the country. Including special allocations for research and development and modernization of defence technology for the country. The functioning of the DRDO will be reviewed so as to impart a new element of dynamism.
4. The Congress will take steps to develop and deploy human resources for national defence.
5. The Congress will take necessary steps to fine tune the higher command for India’s nuclear and missile capacities.
6. The Congress will safeguard and maintain these capacities at appropriate level in the context of changing security environments, particularly in the Asian region.
7. The Congress will improve the terms of service and serving conditions of the armed forces personnel.
8. The Congress will also give special attention to the re-settlement and welfare of retired personnel from the armed forces of the country and their families. A separate Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare will be established in the Ministry of Defence and cooperatives of ex-servicemen will be mobilized extensively in tasks of nation-building like afforestation, literacy, management of ration shops, etc.
9. The Congress will attend to organizational problems, which have for long affected the armed forces, and will take purposive action to resolve these problems in terms of recruitment, ensuring of appropriate levels in the armed forces establishments.
10. The Congress will rationalize the salary and pension payments to the armed forces with the objective of maximum benefit to armed forces personnel, responsive to the higher responsibilities of national defence which they discharge.
The Congress perceives the national security not within the narrow prism of the purely military context. It has political, economic, social and developmental dimensions.
The Congress will formulate and implement a comprehensive multi-dimensional national security policy, which will cover vital aspects of energy security, food security, good governance and countering centrifugal trends affecting the country.
The institutional arrangements made by the BJP-led NDA Government have been cosmetic. In substance, national security is not underpinned by structured and systematic institutional arrangements. The National Security Council, which was established since 1999, has not functioned with institutional cohesion. Important national security decisions have been taken in an ad hoc manner involving just a few individuals without utilizing the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Strategic Policy Group (comprising key secretaries, service chiefs and heads of intelligence agencies) and officials of the National Security Advisory Board. There has been no systematic interaction between the Strategic Policy Group and the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Nor there has been any regular interaction between National Security Advisor and the NSAB.
The Congress will institutionalize regular meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security. It will ensure systematic and institutional interactions between the National Security Advisor, the Strategic Policy Group and the National Security Advisory Board.
The Congress will ensure necessary connectivity between the intelligence agencies of the Government of India and the National Security Advisory Board, as well as between the intelligence agencies and the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs.
The Congress will undertake periodic functional audits and reforms of various institutions responsible for national security. In particular, it will undertake a restructuring of the intelligence agencies of the Government of India to improve its human resource basis with multi-dimensional expertise. It will ensure modernization of functional capabilities of the intelligence agencies with appropriate modern technological equipment and facilities.
The recommendations made by the Experts Group to reform the Intelligence Agencies after the Kargil War, and which have been hanging fire for the last four years, will be speedily implemented. The Congress will ensure not only efficiency of but also accountability by the intelligence agencies.
Terrorism and insurgency have emerged as serious security concerns in several parts of India. The activities of extremist groups in the North-East and in the tribal regions of Central India pose a serious challenge. The Congress will implement a comprehensive multi-faceted strategy to cope effectively with the twin challenges of terrorism and insurgency. The national security network will be modernised and streamlined, paying particular attention to intelligence gathering, respect for fundamental human rights and sustainable social and economic development which reinforces successful security operations.
The most important task of the Congress would be to retain for India freedom of options in conducting its foreign relations, in response to India’s national interests in a world which is in transition and ferment. This is the essence of India’s foreign policy on which Jawaharlal Nehru built a national consensus, a consensus that has been eroded during the tenure of the BJP-led NDA government.
The Congress will fashion a foreign policy rooted in the abiding principles of equality among states, commitment to peace, attention to economic well-being and to the defence of the country.
The Congress will infuse Indian foreign policy with political realism and calibration, making it responsive to the changes in international situation and global power equations.
The Congress will attach the highest importance to fashioning equations between India and the major powers of the world, for mutual benefit, for tempering trends of unilateralism, and for creating a world order for maintaining equilibrium in interstate relations.
The Congress will attach high importance to India’s relations with the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, China, Japan and the ASEAN countries.
The Congress will allocate the highest priority to nurturing and expanding relations between India and its approximate neighbours in all respects.
The Congress will strengthen and expand the activities of SAARC to make it an effective regional organization, serving the objectives of peace, stability and well being of the peoples of the South Asian Region. It will work toward the establishment of a South Asian Parliament. It will take up major regional projects in water management, energy and other vital areas.
The Congress will improve and expand strategic relations between India, on the one hand, and the USA, European Union, Russia, Japan and the ASEAN region, on the other.
The Congress will give particular attention to fashioning a stable, working, cooperative relationship with Pakistan under the framework of the historic Shimla Agreement of 1972 and subsequent agreements and confidence-building measures initiated by later Congress governments well upto 1996, while remaining alert about India’s defence requirement, and being firm in responding to any threats emanating from Pakistan.
Keeping in mind the special relevance of Central Asia, West Asia and the Gulf, the Congress will work for enhanced cooperation in political, economic and technological spheres with countries of these regions.
The Congress will continue the process of normalizing, strengthening and expanding India’s relations with China, which is the most important factor affecting Asian security and stability. The Congress will continue and increase the momentum of the initiative that the Congress Government took between 1988 and 1996 to ensure a stable and mutually cooperative and beneficial relationship with China. The Congress will move forward purposively to resolving the boundary issue with China in a practical manner, by systematic and continuous negotiations.
The Congress is deeply committed to the UN and its ideals and objectives. The Congress considers reforming the UN system, restoring its central role in the maintenance of international peace and security, and in making organs of the UN more representative, in conformity with its enhanced membership, on matters of high importance and priority. The Congress, if voted to power, will forge purposeful consultations for this purpose with other member countries of the United Nations to meet these objectives.
The Congress will give the policy of non-alignment a new direction keeping in view political and economic changes that are taking place in our region and elsewhere.
Management of India’s relations with other nuclear weapons powers is an important task, given India’s nuclear weapons and missiles capacities. Special attention would be given to enhance India’s credibility as a responsible nuclear weapons power and for forging equations with other such powers, to stabilize the international security environment. The Congress will take the initiative to have credible, transparent and verifiable confidence-building measures in treaty form to minimize the risk of nuclear and missile conflict with Pakistan and China. While doing this, the Congress remains committed to an agreement on a time-bound non-discriminatory international agreement on elimination of weapons of mass destruction. The Congress would participate in consultations and negotiations to put in place effective international agreements for this purpose.
The Congress considers international terrorism a phenomenon of high and critical concern. The Congress will support all efforts at international action to counter this menace in any form.
The Congress will be firm and decisive and prompt in responding to terrorist violence structured against India. The Congress will give special attention to cultivating relations with countries in Africa, South America and Latin America. Equal attention would be given to nurturing relations with countries of the Asia Pacific region, like Australia and New Zealand.
The Congress will revive purposeful efforts to strengthen India’s relations with other regional groups like ASEAN and APEC. The Congress will strive to create an international economic order in which processes of globalization under the WTO arrangements will be devoid of the aberrations that have characterized the process over the last decade. The effort would be to ensure that the orientations of the globalization process are also responsive to the requirements of development and distributive justice amongst the developing countries of the world.
A Final Word
The fundamental objective of India’s foreign policy would be to safeguard India’s security and vital strategic interests. The endeavour would be to form a national foreign policy based on informed national consensus, particularly on important issues of development, defence, nuclear issues and the requirements of a stable and secure international order.