Dixit on foreign policy

Take leadership, please

National Security Advisor J N Dixit outlines the new government’s foreign policy in an op-ed in the Calcutta Telegraph

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. [Telegraph]

The reality of his appointment has not sunk in yet he repeatedly refers to the foreign policy as that of ‘the Congress’.

Institutions vs Bureaucracy

His vision of institutionalising the national security apparatus is welcome; but over-institutionalisation especially in a country like India, could very well end up with red-tapism and bureaucratic stupor. Dixit is not wrong when he accuses the previous government of individualism, but he does not prove that individualism and absence of formal meetings of the national security council actually damaged security. As he notes, the world today is in ferment, but it is nothing like what it was in the previous four years. During extenuating circumstances, what national security most requires is leadership and the ability to take quick decisions – the Prime Minister must lead from the front. Faceless bureaucrats working in an institutional manner inspire little confidence in confused times.

Pakistan

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 to India’s defence requirements, and being firm in responding to any threats emanating from Pakistan [emphasis mine]

Surely, I hope this does not mean Dixit intends to ignore the developments under the Vajpayee government, not because Vajpayee’s decisions were right or wrong but because they are realities. What good is Dixit’s commitment to institutionalising national security arrangements if he himself sees no reason to credit and continue the policies of previous governments.

In his article, Dixit put nuclear confidence-building measures with China and Pakistan in the same paragraph as ‘giving the policy of non-alignment a new dimension’. Nuclear CBMs are important. Non-alignment is irrelevant. Hitching the two together is alright as long as it is the nuclear CBMs that drag the wagon along, not the othe way around.

Terrorism and Internal Security

It is in this respect that the new government’s ability to combat terrorism and insurgencies will be challenged by its political commitments to repeal anti-terror legislation.

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 modernized and streamlined, paying particular attention to intelligence- gathering, respect for fundamental rights and sustainable social and economic development which reinforce successful security operations.

Respect for fundamental rights, social and economic development are general duties of the government. While these could help solve insurgency-related problems in the long-term, especially in the North-Eastern states, they are slow-acting medicines. One of the major tasks before the new government is to prevent acts of terrorism before they happen. Another is to investigate, apprehend and sentence terrorists promptly and expeditously. The new government cannot afford to ignore these priorities.

Perhaps Mr Dixit will see these realities much more clearly once he gets out of election mode and outgrows that Congress hat of his.