India’s national security doctrine-need of the hour

The Pathankot terror attacks have exposed the gaps in our security apparatus and the urgent need to have a well articulated national security doctrine.

The recent terror attacks in Pathankot have, once again highlighted the gaps in our security apparatus. The jury is still out on what should have been the best response. But certainly, battling five or six terrorists for over 80 hours does not justify the response structure. The 26/11 attacks about seven years ago seemed to be the moment of epiphany. The government of the day immediately set about the task and established a National Counter Terror Centre (NCTC), National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid). NIA has taken off well but the Natgrid is far from fruition and has got embroiled in a turf war. The NCTC ran into major challenges with some of the states opposing it.

How does the the government go about the job of enumerating its national security doctrine? Doctrine, by definition is a stated principle of government policy mainly in foreign or military affairs. The difference between doctrine and strategy is that doctrine is only prescriptive in nature; strategy is descriptive — it describes on a broad perspective on how resources are to be used to achieve some goal. The best example to understand the difference is the Gulf War ’91 in which the US practised a doctrine titled AirLand operations.The US commanders used this doctrine to articulate their strategy for a decisive victory. Therefore, the AirLand doctrine was the stated policy of the US government. Doctrines evolve after a strategic review. The debacle in Vietnam compelled the US to carry out a soul searing review which resulted in a coherent doctrine. It is an intellectual exercise involving multiple stakeholders in the government, armed forces, academia and think tanks backed by a rigorous iterative process. This is not to argue that we delve into specifics. No government announces as to how its special forces will be deployed and secrecy needs to be maintained. A doctrine will not spell out how a raid will be carried out.

Shashi Tharoor in his book ‘Pax Indica’ rues about the fact that India still has not carried out a strategic review (a review carried out in 1999 was given a quiet burial because it mentioned China). It is interesting to note that even usually secretive communist China publishes a defence white paper every two years. The question that needs to be asked is ‘Why is there so much of reluctance to articulate a national security doctrine?’ The US appointed a director of Homeland security in White House within eleven days of the 9/11. Such was the sense of urgency. The Indian government has done well to immediately consider the formation of a department or ministry of homeland security. But the task will remain incomplete if it is not complemented by a well articulated national security doctrine. This can be in two parts—one in the open domain, and the second, a classified part. This will surely be a robust mechanism of setting our house in order urgently. Finally.

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.