The politics of being NSA

The politics of being NSA

In a country where bureaucratic tangles and political turf wars often trump effective policymaking, a focused role for the national security adviser (NSA) is a strategic necessity. As a new NSA takes office, there is a danger that his role will be politicized to suit the administration’s whims.

The office of the NSA is essentially an apolitical institution; governance is not its mandate. Its institutional nature suffers if its role keeps changing at the behest of its political masters, or if it is used to fill holes in the government.

This overarching nature of the NSA has rarely been kept in sight. In more than a decade since it was created, the office of the NSA has evolved into a multitasking behemoth straddling foreign policy and long-term strategy. That culminated during M.K. Narayanan’s tenure: Even as a weak home ministry under Shivraj Patil slept on the job, internal security matters such as Kashmir, the North-East and Naxalism were heaped on Narayanan’s plate.

The NSA needs to retain his role as a strategy innovator who can effectively analyse present and future threats and provide policy options to deal with these. That function has to transcend short-term political priorities.

Things changed after 26/11, which brought to the fore serious gaps in India’s security and intelligence framework. Now, with P. Chidambaram’s home ministry looking to have a stronger say in matters of internal security, the new NSA can turn to his most urgent task—designing a long-term security strategy for the country.

India’s geopolitical situation and fraught borders pose various concerns for the country. The omnipresent threat of terrorism, compounded by instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is one. Increasing high-handedness on the part of China based on its economic and political clout in the region is another. India urgently needs a long-term strategy to counter both if it is to maintain its own integrity as well as expand its presence in South Asia.

As Shivshankar Menon takes over as NSA, this must be at the forefront of his agenda. India cannot afford any more short-sightedness; nor can it risk policy goof-ups of the Sharm-el-Sheikh kind.

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