March 02, 2013
The Hindu of February 26,2013, has carried an article titled No Solace In This Quantum of Accountability written by Samir Saran, Vice-President, and Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Programme Co-Ordinstor of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). It is about the accountability of the intelligence agencies.
My views on accountability are well known and I do not feel the need to repeat them. I wanted to comment on the following observation by the two writers: " If folklore has it right, if R&AW had a charter, it would have legally pre-empted a former Prime Minister's order to abandon operations in Pakistan. It cost India 30 years worth of accumulated ground assets and priceless reach."
The reference is apparently to former Prime Minister Inder Gujral. It is not correct that Gujral ordered the R&AW operations in Pakistan to be abandoned. The R&AW had two kinds of operations in Pakistan— for intelligence collection and covert action.
He ordered only the operations for covert action to be closed since he felt that such a gesture might facilitate his efforts to improve relations with Pakistan under the so-called Gujral Doctrine. He did not order the intelligence collection operations to be discontinued. It would have been stupid on his part to have done so. He, like all our Prime Ministers before and after him, understood the importance of a good intelligence collection capability in Pakistan. What he ordered to be closed accounted for only about 15 per cent of the R&AW's operations in Pakistan. He encouraged the remaining 85 per cent to continue.
There was a debate in the intelligence community over the wisdom of his order to wind up the covert action operations. Many senior officers met him and explained to him that building a covert action capability took a long time. If one day the government felt the need for resuming covert actions, there would be no trained and experienced assets on the ground. It was suggested to him that if he felt strongly on the subject, the covert action operations should be suspended, but not discontinued. He could not be convinced.
When the NDA government under Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee came to office, the intelligence community was hoping that he would cancel Gujral's decision and order the resumption of covert action operations in Pakistan. To their surprise, they found that Vajpayee too, like Gujral, wanted the R&AW to focus on intelligence collection in Pakistan and avoid operations for covert action.
Some serving officers, who felt disappointed by the reluctance of Vajpayee to resume covert actions, arranged a meeting for me with Brajesh Mishra, the then National Security Adviser. I met him in his office in New Delhi, and explained to him the importance of resuming our covert action operations in Pakistan.
He gave me a patient hearing and said: " I am already convinced. You don't have to convince me. But the Prime Minister (Vajpayee) thinks otherwise. We have to carry out his wishes."
There the matter ended. Even if the R&AW had a charter, there was no question of its being able to pre-empt Gujral's orders. As R.N.Kao used to say, the R&AW and the IB are the two clandestine swords of the Prime Minister. It is up to him to decide how they will be used. His desires and orders have to be observed. No intelligence chief can overlook them—charter or no charter.
In our preoccupation with the anti-India activities of the Pakistani jihadi organisations, we should not overlook the positive factors that have brought a ray of hope not only to Pakistan, but to the region as a whole.
2. The most positive factor is the fact that the mainstream political class in Pakistan---with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif in the forefront--- have been showing for the last five years since the last elections were held a greater sense of political balance and maturity than ever before in the history of Pakistan.
3. The past habit of political leaders of running to the Army as an institution or to individual Army officers for help in countering the activities of their political opponents is slowly fading away. There is a welcome realization in the mainstream political class that it cannot escape its share of responsibility for the Army acquiring the role of an arbiter in political matters.
4.All mainstream political parties now realize that to curb the political role of the Army and to promote genuine democracy, it is important that the political parties fight out their differences in the legislatures and town halls and should not take them to the army for arbitration.
5. It is this balance, maturity and self-restraint that contributed to the present PPP-led coalition being able to complete its normal tenure of five years. The credit for the remarkable fact that the elected National Assembly and the civilian Government have been able to complete their tenure of five years should go not only to the mainstream political parties but also to the senior Army leadership headed by Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff, who resisted the temptation to intervene on occasions when they could have done so without creating a public outcry.
6. The controversy over the role of Mr.Hussain Haqqani as the Pakistani Ambassador to the US was one such occasion when the Army leadership was under considerable provocation to act to express its indignation over the back-channel assurances allegedly conveyed to the US by Haqqani regarding the steps which the Asif Zardari Government would be prepared to take in return for the US support to the civilian leadership.
7. The fact that Kayani resisted the temptation and urge to intervene reflected well on him and the senior officers under him. By exercising self-restraint, the Army under Kayani contributed to the continuance of the elected civilian leadership for its normal term of five years.
8. The Army still claims for itself the primacy of decision-making in matters concerning national security in general and relations with India in particular. It is still not prepared to allow the civilian leadership a role in monitoring and supervising the functioning of the Armed Forces. But, it is now prepared to keep away from politics if its primacy in decision-making in these matters is respected by the elected leadership.
9.This unwritten code of compromise between the political and military leadership can be an important first step towards the evolution of Pakistan as a genuine democracy.
10. Despite sectarian and jihadi violence, Pakistan is not a failed State. Despite its economic difficulties, Pakistan is not a failing State. The last five years have shown that Pakistan is an evolving State. It is still an ideological State. It is still attached to the ideology of its founding fathers. But it is an ideology tempered by political maturity, balance and pragmatism. It is in the interest of all of us to encourage this evolution. ( 3-3-13)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director. Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter @SORBONNE75 )