NATIONAL SECURITY: IMPERATIVE FOR AN INDEPENDENT THINK TANK _____________________________________________________________


Colonel [Dr.] Anil A Athale .


Thirty years after the event, the debacle of the Indian Army in the border conflict of l962 against the Chinese continues to be a mystery. The inquiry report ,prepared by Henderson brooks and Bhagat , is still secret and is kept as top secret . As someone who used the report extensively to write the official history of the 1962 conflict, one can vouch that the report is a highly watered down version of the events. Initially the expectation was that the inquiry will cover a wide ground but Nehru told the parliament on 9 Nov 1962 that the investigation will concern itself only with the operational aspects of the failure of the Army and will not go into the higher direction of war or policy matters. An excellent opportunity to streamline the national security apparatus was thus lost and the systems and mindsets that led to the 1962 disaster were never even identified. The higher direction of defence continued along the same lines. In this respect even the neighboring Pakistan, that has only recently again gone under the shadow of a military dictatorship, has a better record. It has made public the controversial Hamidur Rehman report that dealt with the 1971 debacle of the Pakistani Army.

The subsequent conflicts of 1965 and 1971 went well for the country and therefore status quo continues in field of higher decisionmaking on issues of national security. Under the all pervasive cover provided by the Official Secrets Act 1923, failures continue to be hidden from public gaze.


Almost on the morrow of independence, India got involved in an armed conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir. When the Indian Army under Thimayya was on the verge of clearing the invaders from the valley, the government agreed to a UN sponsored cease-fire on 1 Jan 1949. The decision came as a bolt from the blue even for the senior commanders as they were never consulted on this vital issue. Till today the nation continues to pay a heavy price for this `unfinished business of partition'. The 1962 debacle can be safely attributed to the initial folly of naive diplomacy that believed that the Chinese would never attack. Proceeding further from this assumption the country embarked on an adventurous `forward policy ' of establishing small indefensible posts in the far-flung areas without logistical or military backing. When the conflict erupted the Chinese brushed aside these posts with great ease.

In 1965, Indo-Pak conflicts the pendulum swung to the other extreme. General Chaudhary , the Army Chief, ran the war as an `army' affair. On six, Sep 1965 when the Indian Army attacked across the international border in Punjab, incredibly, there was no air cover air force was not taken into confidence. As a matter of fact the Indian Air Force only came to know `officially' about the war when in the evening the Pakistani aircraft attacked Indian air bases and took a heavy toll of our On ground, within a few hours of the start of the offensive, the surprise achieved was so great that the spearheads of the Army had crossed Icchogil canal and were in the suburbs of Lahore. Equally incredibly, the troops were called back as they had exceeded the objective of reaching the canal. There was no coherent strategy, no war aim and very little inter service co-ordination.

Even in 1971 Indo Pak war that achieved the liberation of Bangla Desh , on the Western front their were glaring errors in decisionmaking. Very large effort was wasted in the plains of Punjab and very little effort put in to gain strategic areas in Kashmir. By inference it becomes clear that decision to retain the captured areas in J & K was an afterthought .A excellent opportunity to sever the Sino Pak nexus by advancing North was wasted. At that time the world opinion was in our favour , Kashmir is a disputed area that India claims and what is more 44 Soviet divisions massed on the Sino-Soviet border prevented even a token interference by the Chinese .

Closer to our times , it needs to be emphasized that the Indian losses in men in the two year peace keeping operation in Sri Lanka were greater than 1962 and 1971 conflicts put together. There is no denying the fact that India had valid reasons to intervene in Sri Lanka to stop the genocidal tactics of the Sinhala Army. No Indian government can afford this in our backyard. The moot point however is, how did we end up fighting the very people for whose help we went there in the first place? It appears that the events of that first week of Sep 1987 were influenced by trivial factors that caused the irreparable breach between the LTTE and India . It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that such crucial decisions have hinged on the larger than life size ego of a diplomat | The Armed Forces brass fared no better and a General declared that the LTTE will be finished in 48 hrs . The General had obviously forgotten that less than 600 Mizo rebels had kept nearly 40,000 troops busy for 20 years befor e peace finally returned to the troubled NorthEast.


Indian Civilization is notorious for neglect of history . It is generally left to the foreigners to write. Deep down this could be attributed to the Indian view of life and death. The Indians do a thorough job in disposing their dead kith and kin. Life returns to normal within 13 days and no trace is left of the dead person. This explains the lack of interest in history that ensures that there is very little institutional memory and continuity in thinking.

Dr. B R Ambedkar had prophetically warned Indians that the cult of `deification' posed a danger to Indian democracy True to his prophecy, the trend continues. In such atmosphere, scrutiny of events and objective analysis of actions is virtually impossible. Truth is naturally the first casualty.

Even if the above given factors are somehow taken care of, there still remains the formidable `establishment'. True to its colonial background, the government establishment has continued with the practice of fostering an image of infallibility. Every effort is thus made to prevent any objective analysis of events, institutions and decisions that could possibly show that the establishment could and did make mistakes. Ironically, the truth is kept hidden by using the very concept of protection of national security when in real fact the greatest damage is being done to it through undue secrecy.

The quick and frequent transfers and changes in job have rendered both the civil and military bureaucracy ineffective and there is very little continuity or specialization. In place of planning there are only knee jerk reactions to events. Each crisis is tackled de-novo. In the South Block, the wheel has been re-invented several times over. Interestingly, continuity does exist at the lower rungs of civil bureaucracy. This has brought about a situation wherein the ubiquitous UDC (upper Division Clerk now renamed Desk Officer} has in reality atleast become THE decsionmaker on issues ranging from nuclear deterrence to manpower ceilings.


To an extent, the above-described scenario exists in most government departments. This is a price the nation has to pay for the status quoist approach that has been adopted. After independence, we have kept most of the erstwhile colonial systems, laws and rules intact. Even our constitution is a pale imitation of the British given Government of India Act of 1935. The very nature of national security makes the situation chaotic

As this is essentially a multi disciplinary activity. National security extends to the areas of internal and external relations, science and technology, economics and behavioral sciences. Governments as a rule work in watertight compartments and multidisciplinary departments or organizations are conspicuous by their absence.

In some countries establishment of national security councils has solved the problem. However, in our situation wherein the entrenched civil and military bureaucracies see this as reduction of their power will resist its effective functioning. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is essentially a decisionmaking body and will need inputs from specialized think tanks .

Additional difficulty is that in our scheme of governance, there are no checks and balances and the power of the executive is supreme. In such environment, the political logic is in charge at the cost of other disciplines. In the field of economics, neglect of economic principles brought the country face to face with bankruptcy. In field of security, it was often fear of domestic repercussions that have primarily decided our course of action, like the 1962 debacle. The cost to the nation has been no lesser than that in the economic field.


India boasts of several public and private institutions in the fields ranging from the natural to social sciences that carry out research and provide useful input to the government. Yet in the all-important arena of security there is just one, the Delhi based Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. Monopoly of advice is bad in principle. In the field of vital concern to the nation's existence, it is positively dangerous. Even the neighboring Pakistan, otherwise lacking developed infrastructure, has atlas half a dozen institutes functioning. Monopoly inevitably brings in complacency. This in turn leads to mediocrity of the out put .On all other major or minor issues of governance the government has the benefit of multiplicity of advice while in the case of national security there is just one institute and at times a single individual.


The world over this vital task of carrying out research into long-term future is carried out either at the universities or in private think tanks, like the UK and the US. In our peculiar circumstances the universities have become highly politicized and are unsuitable for the task. Yet, the multidisciplinary nature of the task needs diverse specialization, available in the universities only. A way out would be to locate such institute in the university but keep it totally autonomous for administration and functioning.

The need for an institute outside the bureaucratic control is felt due to another facet of Indian situation namely the skewed distribution of talents in various fields. It would need no elaborate survey (a look at the matrimonial column is enough) to realize that today the best human material is to be found in either the IITs , IIMs or Medical Colleges . In our tightly knit and all-powerful bureaucracy, lateral entry has not been possible. Thus, the government is deprived of the pool of expertise available outside the system. Our glaring failure on the field of propaganda and family planning is in no small measure due to this proclivity of the govt to ignore the talent outside. Only a non-governmental institute, co-located at the university can do that.

Most importantly, a non-political body like this will be able to somewhat insulates the security issues from the pulls and pressures of domestic electoral politics, our bane in dealing effectively with a host of internal security issues. In fact, most politicians would welcome this as an escape hatch for adopting seemingly `unpopular ' policies that are in nations long-term interest.


At the risk of oversimplification it can be asserted that the demise of Soviet Union caused by economic factors was due to the violation of `economic logic ' and using `social'logic to solve economic problems. The current wave of economic reforms all over the world and in India as well is applying this necessary corrective. Similarly, the issue of national security must give primacy to logic of force. Currently this has been usurped by politics that has become slave to electoral calculations. An independent institute that is not subject to the govt control will fulfill this need .It will provide an alternative channel to the politicians as well as civil and military bureaucrats for strategic planning. A non-political body can more easily build a national consensus on security issues. This will also serve as a necessary adjunct and support system to National Security Council like organization as and when this does materialize.

The changes taking place in the world have made the issue of national security a complex one. The Gulf war and our own low intensity conflict with Pakistan in Punjab and J & K shows that the mankind needs to go a considerable distance before a brave new warless world order is ushered in. In the meantime, prudence demands that we take the minimum necessary steps to rescue Indian decisionmaking on security issues from the disease of ad-hocism.