Thursday, 13 September 2012

Do we need a Chief Warlord?

10 Sep 12

IN A recent article, former Chief of Army Staff,
General Deepak Kapoor, has weighed in against
the idea of a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of
Staff Committee. One among a series of selective
leaks of the Naresh Chandra Task Force report
suggests that the task force has recommended making the
appointment of the head of the cosc a permanent one.
The leaks are themselves trial balloons sent up by a
government unable to arrive at decisions on the merits.
Aware of lacking the political heft to implement these
even if it could do so, the leaks create a storm that it can
then point to for lack of consensus and consequently a
decision. It does not see its role as exerting to create the
consensus. In this case, Deepak Kapoor’s article, taken
as reflecting the position of his former service, will help
forestall decisions, since he would be seen as voicing the
army’s position. That would be a pity, since holding out
for a cds as Deepak Kapoor’s ‘all or nothing’ position has
it, is the worse option.
This owes to the nuclear context and the ever-present
possibility of war, brought home most recently in the foreign
minister’s remark on the eve of his meeting with his
Pakistani counterpart, ‘The consequences for Pakistan
would be disastrous.’ This was to reinforce India’s deterrence
of terror provocation. However, the problem is in
India being hoist by its own petard, which in theory is the
‘commitment trap’. To ensure that such disaster for Pakistan
does not also turn into a disaster for India, there is
a need to have a military bridge between India’s conventional
and nuclear capabilities.
Currently, none exists. The Strategic Forces Command
manages India’s nuclear deterrent. However, its C-in-C
has two masters. In theory, he reports to the Chairman
Chiefs of Staff Committee. It is hard to see how the Chairman
cosc, a rotating appointment that Naresh Chandra
seeks to make permanent, can possibly oversee the sfc.
While challenging enough in peacetime with the chairman,
double-hatted as boss of his service alongside, it
would be quite a tall order in war.
He would require conducting the operations of his
service, integrating those of the three services for a joint
campaign, and also overseeing the nuclear-conventional
interface. It is for this reason that Naresh Chandra perhaps
wants a permanent incumbent. At least he would not
be straddled with overseeing any particular service and
would, hopefully, be beyond its parochialism in order to
serve as a single point source of advice to the civilian master.
While the discussion could benefit by reflection, such
as General Kapoor’s, on the demerits of the organisational
reform, it would need to take on board the advantage. The
primary one is in monitoring impact on the nuclear level of
what is going on militarily on the conventional level in war.
Currently, it is possible that in practice the National Security
Adviser oversees the sfc in his capacity as head of
the Executive Council of the Nuclear Command Authority.
This is, to say the least, a strange arrangement. Nuclear
watcher Bharat Karnad, in a recent expose of the arrangement
suggests that the NSA relies on a retired head of sfc
for fulfilling his nuclear-related role. This arrangement
clearly calls for further institutionalisation. Naresh Chandra
possibly has an answer.
SM Krishna’s terse observation, if not threat, recounted
above suggests that India is preparing a military counter
to any major terror attack by Pakistan. In such a case, escalation
could occur depending on the Pakistani counter.
If this results in a conventional tryst, then limitation
needs being foregrounded. Advice on this, alongside
linked nuclear related reactions, would be required. This
has to be done at a mechanism one step removed from the
action, such as by a permanent chairman of the cosc.
He would be on the Executive Council to both advise
the Political Council alongside the nsa and work the nuclear-
relevant reaction as ordered by the Political Council
through the nsa. This way there is a military link between
the Nuclear Command Authority and the sfc. Secondly,
the headless hqs Integrated Defence Staff would gain a
leader and an agenda. It could provide the control staff for
the sfc since a line headquarter as is the sfc cannot also
be its own judge.
LASTLY, KAPOOR’S cds, imagined as a warlord
over all three services, has an underside. He would
not be in a position to advise the government since
it would amount to judging his own case. Such an appointment
has potential for a folly of Hindenberg-Ludendorf
proportions, praetorian figures from Germany’s
World War I past.
Therefore, to write off the task force report may not do
for the government. It will have to demonstrate it exists.
If it fears that push comes to shove as its foreign minister
thinks, then it had better emerge from somnolence.
Better still would be if it gives up threats and settles
with Pakistan through getting SM Krishna to talk meaningfully.
Then it would not manufacture a threat where
none need exist.
Ali Ahmed is Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela
Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia