New Delhi: The Congress has promised to make the office of the National Security Adviser as well as the National Security Council (NSC), a government advisory agency, accountable to Parliament if voted to office in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
“Their powers and functions will be defined under the law and both authorities, and the agencies under them, will be accountable to Parliament,” the grand old party stated in its manifesto, which was released Tuesday.
Seeking to create a new national security structure, the Congress has also promised a greater fund allocation for defence, and the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff, a long-awaited initiative meant to ensure coordination among the three arms of the military.
The removal of anomalies in One Rank, One Pension (OROP), a burning issue for military veterans, is among the other promises made by the Congress as it looks to redeem itself from its 2014 defeat, which reduced the party to its lowest-ever Lok Sabha tally of 44 seats.
Dialogue in Kashmir
The Congress had engaged former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda, who played a key role in planning and executing the 2016 surgical strikes, to formulate a national security strategy for the party.
Referring to Kashmir, the Congress vowed a review of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as well as the Disturbed Areas Act, which give security forces immunity in exceptional situations.
The party also promised “dialogue” with “all” stakeholders in Kashmir, without explaining whether separatists would be considered stakeholders.
“Congress promises the people of J&K talks without pre-conditions. We will appoint the interlocutors drawn from civil society to facilitate such talks,” the manifesto added.
The party said it acknowledged the history of Jammu & Kashmir and the unique circumstances of accession that led to the inclusion of Article 370 in the Constitution, which gives the state autonomy in all matters except those pertaining to defence, finance, foreign affairs and communication.
“Nothing will be done or allowed to change the constitutional position,” it said.
The constitutional validity of Article 370 has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
The party said it had long held the view that dialogue was the only way to understand the aspirations of people from the state’s three regions, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and find an “honourable solution” to their issues.
“We will take that path,” it said, adding that it will adopt a two-pronged approach in government: Firstly, “uncompromising firmness on the border and ending infiltration, and secondly, absolute fairness in dealing with the demands of the people and winning their hearts and minds”.
It said it would review the deployment of armed forces, move more troops to the border to stop infiltration completely, reduce the presence of the Army and central armed police forces in the Kashmir Valley, and entrust more responsibility to the J&K Police for maintaining law and order.
However, it’s pertinent to note that law and order is even now handled by J&K Police, and all central police forces deployed in the Valley come under their command and control.
Defence and national security
Among other things, the Congress has promised to reverse the trend of declining defence spending, and ensure that the budget does justice to the requirements of the armed forces.
“We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the armed forces in a transparent manner… The Congress will establish the office of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to be the principal adviser to the government on matters relating to defence,” it said.
“The BJP government left the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) in limbo between January 2015 and October 2016 and then truncated the body,” the party added. “Congress will re-establish the NSAB, provide a statutory basis to the body, appoint experts from different disciplines and ensure that it will function as a permanent, professional advisory body advising the NSC and the government,” the manifesto said.
The NSAB is an arm of the NSC that “undertakes long-term analysis and provides perspectives on issues of national security”. The Narendra Modi government has been accused of slashing the strength of the body, which got three new members earlier this year.
“National security is dependent on a sound defence policy, a sound foreign policy and wise leadership. National security is not enhanced by chest-thumping or exaggerated claims,” the party added.