By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)
The media hype on the five Rafale aircraft like a cyclone swept away the threat of COVID-19 and the Chinese intrusions. Over the next few days, the focus will be on the ‘Formal Induction’ of the French fighter into the Indian Air Force (IAF) followed by the Bhoomi Poojan at Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram Mandir.
Media is an important pillar of any government and is the watchdog that reports facts to the citizens on all acts of commissions and omissions by the government.
The Government itself has many agencies to keep abreast with things happening within the country, its immediate neighbourhood and it extends globally.
So who are the eyes and ears of the government?
Let’s start from the top, we have the National Security Advisor(NSA) who advises the Prime Minister on all matters of strategic importance to the Nation. He is assisted in this onerous task by the Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing(R&AW); Secretary, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO); Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB); Director General, Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) – duly supported by the Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI), Air and Naval Intelligence. The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have their intelligence setups and also gain their intelligence inputs by their personnel on the ground.
R&AW has an organisation called the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) and the communication squadron of the IAF has aircraft modified for looking deep into the enemy territory.
The IAF and Army along with Border Security Force have Battle Field Surveillance Radars as well as drones to look across.
India has defence cooperation with many friendly foreign countries and has intelligence-sharing agreements too. The Indian Intelligence agencies have shared real-time intelligence in the past of assassination attempts of the current Bangladesh Prime Minister and the former Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan Pervez Musharaff.
The Indian Navy’s long-range maritime patrol and strike aircraft P8I has been deployed for gathering intelligence of the Chinese deployment in the Indian Ocean Region.
The Indian Army too has its intelligence units deployed and has counter intelligence units too.
The states have their intelligence setups under the IB and counter intelligence under R&AW. The states too have the CID units, economic offences wings, customs in the Border States.
At the macro level Signal Intelligence, Communication Intelligence, Technical Intelligence, Cybersecurity and hackers to gain information in a network-centric environment are gaining data. The likes of Google, Facebook, mobile applications are gathering and transmitting information and data in real-time. The cell phone is a primary source of information. Artificial Intelligence algorithms pick up keywords, data which trigger the information gathering sequence too convert into real-time intelligence.
In a country like India, which faces multiple internal and external threats, is always on its toes to prevent any untoward incidents.
This augmented by the eyes in the Skies with geostationary/synchronous satellites with capabilities to read the number plate of a moving car.
India also has the highest number of mobile phone users. All the calls are recorded and a few that the law enforcement agencies tag for information are shared by the cellular companies.
In remote areas which are not yet invaded by technology – the age-old method of a foot patrol to gain information is used and relied upon. Like the nerves in a human body wherein each micro millimetre of information is processed by the brain; likewise, the information is collected and processed by respective agencies and at the decision making levels the voids left – impacts the safety and security of the country.
Somewhere vested interests, turf wars, one up man ship leaves a gap through which the enemy can slip in.
Taking 1962 as the base year, the intelligence picture developed by the then decision-makers was biased by misreading the intent of the Chinese leadership by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his advisors.
In recent times, there have been articles on the bravado of IAF pilot’s who flew over the Tibet region and reported the Chinese build-up. The information shared at the highest levels at the force headquarters were ignored and reliance on ‘gut feel’ cost us a heavy price.
There were sycophants around then too, ‘yes men’ who rushed an illustrious performer army of World War II into operation leading it to a disastrous defeat.
The moot point is that intelligence failures lead to ‘bravado’ that killed the brave soldiers, who had nothing but raw courage and “Naam, Namak aur Nishaan” of their units as their flag bearers to lay down their lives for in an inhospitable land and climate.
Today, Indian has come to a situation where it is correct to have an examining committee, something like what mature democracies in the world has, where decision-makers are examined by a committee for their handling of the situation.
Since independence, we have been having our debacles and shortcomings at all levels, and the humble soldier pays, with his life. These are intelligence, political and military leadership failures in 1962, 1965, Op Blue Star 1984, Op Pawan 1987, Op Vijay 1999 and the Chinese intrusions 2020, governance failures in J&K, North East and the Red Corridor. No one has ever been held accountable in a democracy which has matured over Seventy years.
Heads should roll, be it political, bureaucrats, intelligence, military or anyone else. Kalmadi was sacked for corruption and mishandling of commonwealth games, then why not people responsible for acts which lead to situations of National importance.
Governance in India is a matter of managing perceptions. Quite often decision makers are declared by their adherents as too big to fail and that is when brushing under the carpet or in today's world, spin and disinformation step in. You are already seeing it in action.
Rule of law and expectations of national character determine transparency and strict decisions. Till mid-sixties conscience did play a role, Gen P N Thapar resigned on his own, Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as Minister for railways after a major train accident.
A few questions need to be answered.
Does the complete intelligence gathering and disseminating apparatus need a Magnetic Resonance Imaging to find out where is the damage?
Are the organisations bent to paint a picture which the political master’s want to see? Are their ‘sleeper cells’ which project a certain viewpoint thus preventing decisions on Kinetic action?
A deep look into the future threats on all issues that impinge national security is the job of the National Security Council (NSC), the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and the National Security Advisor (NSA) along with the Department of Military Affairs.
On the other hand, the military doesn’t have the intellectual or political heft to get its voice heard in such discussions. So they’ve resorted to making the defence minister’s operational directive which is a useless document as far as the national security establishment is concerned but for the boys in Perspective Planning and Military Operations, it is an orgasm generating document.
Thus the diplomats and bureaucrats plan their security objectives while military keeps raising troops for a mythic two-front war. But when the Chinese challenge emerges there is on gumption to suggest counter grabs with all strength sitting around elsewhere. This is the unpalatable truth.
So, where do we begin as the system is corroded and exploited for short term gains while compromising on long-term national objectives? This has been going on since independence. As a result, we haven’t been able to solve any of our strategic problems and the newer challenges are emerging.
The crystal ball remains hazy and clouded for the time being. The elephant in the room is the politicians and bureaucrats who need to step out for professional work to be done by experts who can deliver. It must be perform or perish world.
*Author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed here are personal.