Sunday, January 24, 2010

Do we need another NSA?

Do we really need a national security adviser? Will we be any worse off without another one? Over the past week there has been a spate of analyses, most of it overblown, reverential, wide-eyed, accolade-laden, sycophantic accounts of what a great job the NSA had done in the years he had occupied that position. This is patently illogical. Consider for an intelligence person who occupied that position for so long he could not even fix the intelligence and now P Chidambaram has to do it all over again. If the NSA was doing such a great job then why did he have to leave so seemingly suddenly? The Union home minister P Chidambaram is on record (Hindustan Times, January 21) saying that the Kolkata retirement plan for M K Narayanan was presented to him in December, almost a month before it was formally announced. And Chidambaram, who reveals his wife shares a birthday with M K Narayanan, says that at that time he (Chidambaram) was in the dark about the prime minister’s retirement offer to NSA. Which probably explains some of the analyses that sought to put the spin that the governorship of West Bengal was somehow more important a job and more crucial a task than continuing as the NSA. If you analysed their subtext, it went as follows: Some people are born to become governors; some people achieve governorship; some people have governorships thrust upon them; but M K Narayanan, he is special — he had all three working for him. (I find that a little difficult to believe, frankly, considering the inordinate amount of time the NSA spent on doing political intelligence while being the NSA; political skullduggery was inbuilt in terms of the job skills Narayanan brought with him, a spillover from his hey days in the Intelligence Bureau which for most part is focused on political intelligence.) But newspapers reported that at the Army Day function at General Deepak Kapoor’s house NSA “looked directly” at Chidambaram and quipped: “Am I being sacked?” He was not sacked, really; he was just given a VRS that he couldn’t refuse, which (some argue) could be a reflection of character.

Between the offer and the acceptance and the ultimate announcement there elapsed a considerable period of time, considering that Gopal Gandhi hosted his farewell tea on December 13, 2009 and by then the Congress political managers would have zeroed in on the governor’s successor. Ideally Narayanan’s successor ought to have been announced the same day but it wasn’t. This is pure guesswork: consider the fact that the prime minister has made up his mind that Narayanan should exit the PMO and for some reason the UPA chairperson is also on the same page on this, a strange and inexplicable confluence of stars, considering especially what a brilliant job he had been doing. Why then did it take such a long time to announce the successor? Is it because they cannot find someone big enough to fill Narayanan’s shoes? Or is it because Narayanan’s shoe size had increased because of on the job training to such an extent that it distorted the nature of his job? We have had three NSAs so far. The first one (Brajesh Mishra) lost the job not because he refused a governorship but because his party lost the election; the next didn’t live long enough to accept a governorship — J N Dixit died in harness; the third one got promoted as governor. If the governor’s job is bigger than the NSA’s and governors are dime a dozen and there is only one NSA then ipso facto, we don’t really need an NSA. Might as well scrap the post.

When a prime minister like Manmohan Singh looks for an NSA he doesn’t really look for someone who can call a spade a spade and make his decision making generally more nuanced and difficult; he looks for someone who whines to a foreign publication that the Chinese are hacking into his computer; he looks for someone who does not raise the bar high enough when you negotiate the 123 agreement with the US, which is why you have a civil nuclear agreement where we have full civil nuclear co-operation with the US minus the reprocessing technology and heavy water component; the prime minister looks for science advisers who can make him say completely unrealistically, that we can achieve 40,000 MW of nuclear power in 20 years, that we can achieve 20,000 MW of solar power in 10 years and other similar things that you will not find even in fairy tales; he is looking for a national security adviser who understands his mind and his style of functioning. If we are to go by what Chidambaram is telling us, then you are looking at a prime minister and a party chairperson who do not tell their home minister that they are offering the job of governorship to the national security adviser. Which probably explains why it took a long time to find the next national security advisor.Now that they have zeroed in on Shiv Shankar Menon, till very recently our foreign secretary, what we will see in the coming days is the emergence of a super foreign secretary, just like the way Narayanan was a super DIB and RAW chief rolled into one (with one crucial difference — he was accountable to no one). Menon was the one who initially postulated that India and Pakistan are both equal victims of terrorism in a diplomatic stratagem to revive the Indo-Pak process after the Havana non aligned summit soon after the Mumbai train blasts; he was the one credited off the record with coming up with that delightful joint terror mechanism that blew up in our face; he was the one who fell on the sword by taking the blame for incorporating the word Balochistan in the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement (while Narayanan mysteriously escaped the media opprobrium — was he on another planet when the joint statement was being drafted or is it that large sections of our media become automatically blind when it comes to our NSAs?); so the prime minister had good reasons to give him the job. Menon has to finish the job he left halfway. But it will have the effect of forcing the Ministry of External Affairs further into the role of a protocol division whereas it is supposed to be the repository of expertise on a range of subjects. It would have been better, however, for the prime minister, not to get bogged down by nomenclature and appoint instead a pool of experts in relevant subjects to advise him and take particular plans forward to fruition. That way it will meet some NREG (national retired officers employment guarantee scheme) targets as well. If you can have more than one deputy NSA there is no reason why you cannot have more one national adviser for each of the highly nuanced segments of the security spectrum.

Army plans induction of BrahMos with 'surgical strike' option


NEW DELHI: Army is going in for a major induction of BrahMos Block-II land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), which have been designed as "precision strike weapons" capable of hitting small targets in cluttered urban environments.

Sources say the defence ministry will ``soon'' approach the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for the green signal to arm the Army with two regiments of the BrahMos Block-II land-attack cruise missiles (LACM).

Swift induction of BrahMos Block-II is necessary because Pakistan Army is inducting its nuclear-capable Babur LACM, developed with China's help to have a 500-km strike range, in large numbers. BrahMos-II can potentially be used for ``surgical strikes'' at terror training camps across the border without causing collateral damage.

One regiment of the 290-km range BrahMos-I variant, which consists of 67 missiles, five mobile autonomous launchers on 12x12 Tatra vehicles and two mobile command posts, among other equipment, is already operational in the Army. It had earlier ordered two BrahMos regiments in the first phase at a cost of Rs 8,352 crore.

The BrahMos Block-II variant has been developed to take out a specific small target, with a low radar cross-section, in a multi-target environment.

The air-breathing missile, which flies at speeds up to 2.8 Mach (almost three times the speed of sound), of course, does not come cheap. With `multi-spectral seekers' for `target-discriminating capabilities', each missile costs upwards of Rs 25 crore.

Incidentally, Indian Navy too has inducted BrahMos's naval variant on some warships, having earlier placed orders worth Rs 711 crore for 49 firing units.

While these missiles are fired from `inclined launchers', Navy is also gearing up to induct `vertical launchers'.

This is significant since `vertical launchers' are fitted under the warship's deck, protecting them from the atmospheric conditions and imparting some stealth to the weapon system. It also allows the missile to be fired in any direction.

Two such modules, with 16 missiles, are to fitted in each of the three Kolkata-class P-15A destroyers being built at Mazagon Docks at a cost of Rs 11,662 crore.

BrahMos will also arm the three more Talwar-class `stealth' frigates being built at Yantar shipyard in Kaliningrad (Russia) under a Rs 5,514-crore project.

But the work on submarine and air-launched versions of BrahMos is still going quite slow. While talks with Russia are now in the final stages for BrahMos' integration with Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, the missile will be tested for the first time from submersible pontoon launchers this year in preparation for their induction on submarines.

India and Russia have also begun preliminary work on a ``hypersonic'' BrahMos-2 missile capable of flying at a speed between 5 and 7 Mach, as reported earlier.

The armed forces' eventual plan, of course, is to have nuclear-tipped LACMs, with strike ranges over 1,500 km. Unlike ballistic missiles like Agni, cruise missiles do not leave the atmosphere and are powered and guided throughout their flight path.

Cruise missiles, which can evade enemy radars and air defence systems since they fly at low altitudes, are also much cheaper as well as more accurate and easier to operate than ballistic missiles.

Our army way behind China’s: Indian general


The Indian Army lags far behind China in military infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). “We lag far behind in infrastructure development,” General Officer Commanding, Northern Command, Lieutenant General BS Jaswal, told Hindustan Times.

China has built all-weather metalled roads leading right up to its border posts facing Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and Demchok and Fukche in Ladakh. It can, thus, move troops and material very easily to the border.

Indian troops, on the other hand, often have to march miles to the front. Roads, where they exist, are dotted with potholes, with long stretches of boulders and slush, leading to accidents that slow down movement.

Better connectivity allows the Chinese to cover 400 km a day. The Indian army finds it difficult to cover more than 200 km a day in the forward areas.

The Indian armed forces have activated three airfields at Daulat Beg Oldi, Fukche and Nyoma, about 220-250 km east of Leh since May 31, 2008. But only AN 32 transport planes can land there. “They have little operational value,” another senior army officer said.

The only airfield near the China border from where India can deploy warplanes is at Tezpur in Assam, where it has stationed its frontline Sukhoi 30 planes.

Chinese military aircraft, however, can reach Shimla, Chandigarh and Leh within five minutes and New Delhi within 20 minutes of taking off from their forward base in Gar Gunsa, across the border, from Demchok in Tibet.

It has five such airfields in Tibet where it has stationed warplanes.

After the 1962 India-China war, India pursued a policy not to develop infrastructure, especially roads, near the Line of Actual Control.

Reason: in the event of Chinese troops breaking through Indian defences, they would be greeted by hostile roads and infrastructure.

This strategy was reversed in 2005.

Accordingly, the government of India woke up to the need to build infrastructure along the 4,057-km LAC from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir (north) to Himachal Pradesh (west), Uttarakhand (middle region) and Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim (east) sectors of the border with China.

Twenty-seven projects for construction of roads were sanctioned, but only six of them have been commissioned.

Each kilometer of road in the mountainous areas along the Line of Actual Control costs Rs 15 crore. “The Indian Army is improving its infrastructure and capacity building on a massive scale and we are prepared to meet any eventuality if the need arises,” the Northern Command chief said.

After hijack threat, now LeT paragliders


A day after it was revealed that terrorist organizations were planning to hijack an airplane — probably an Air India or Indian Airlines aircraft flying to, or from, a SAARC country — comes another intelligence input: that the Lashkar-e-Toiba has shopped for over 50 sets of paragliding equipment in Europe.

The equipment has been bought to carry out airborne attacks using suicide bombers, government sources said Friday.

They said intelligence agencies were picking up information about plans to carry out aerial strikes on important buildings and installations around Republic Day.

Consequently, security forces have been put on high alert and security around all vital installations has been tightened. Mock drills are on to thwart a possible aerial attack, sources said. The Indian Express was the first to report on Thursday that intelligence agencies had picked up specific information on plans to hijack an Air India or Indian Airlines flight anytime “in the near future”. Following the inputs, the government had deployed sky marshals on all AI/IC flights in the SAARC region, and advised all airlines to conduct a mandatory “100 per cent secondary ladder point check”.

Alert after breach in J&K border fence


JAMMU: Taking advantage of dense fog, terrorists from across the border, for the first time, cut a part of the barbed-wire fence along Abdullian post in RS Pura early Saturday in an attempt to push infiltrators into the Indian territory. Security forces, however, have ruled out any infiltration.

‘‘There are less chances of militants sneaking into this side as there is another fence 500 meters behind the zero line which is intact,’’ said a senior BSF officer, adding, ‘‘no foot-prints have been seen.’’

The incident ahead of Republic Day prompted authorities to sound a high alert. ‘‘Troops have been asked to check the fence every three to four hours, set up ambushes at vulnerable places, use electronic surveillance and manual patrolling round the clock,’’ the BSF officer said.

Sources said the terrorists had cut nine wires on the Pakistan side and 10 on this side between Pillar Nos. 851 and 852 to facilitate infiltration. A BSF patrol party found that the fence has been cut. BSF, CRPF, police and Army soon launched combing operation along the border belt.

There have been 13 infiltration bids and four ceasefire violations along the border this month alone. There were 433 infiltration attempts in 2009 — 91 more than in 2008. Meanwhile, terrorists managed to escape after firing at security forces in Mendhar in Poonch district, according to SSP Poonch Manmohan Singh.

Antony: threat of infiltration growing


NEW DELHI: Amid an assessment by the Union government that Jammu and Kashmir will continue to face increased threat of terror attacks and attempts at infiltration, Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Saturday said the country would take measures to foil and defeat such designs.

“The attempts to infiltrate are increasing and our assessment is that this trend will continue because people who are inimical to our country feel that the situation in Jammu & Kashmir is improving. Normality is returning… they cannot tolerate,” the Minister said on the sidelines of a function here.

“So, they want to change the trend. There are more attempts of terrorist attack....Our armed forces are always taking precautions. So, rest assured that we will take whatever steps are needed to prevent and defeat this,” he said.

He said the assessment was that forces inimical to the country wanted to alter the situation, and the government anticipated attempts to disturb the peace by launching terror attacks. Earlier this week, the Minister mentioned that at least half a dozen serious infiltration attempts from across the border were made. He reiterated that the country’s armed forces were taking all steps to prevent and defeat such moves. The armed forces maintain a multi-tier security ring in the State and the state of alert is always higher during occasions like the Republic Day.