‘NDA’s national security response has been more optical than substantial’

In his book ‘10 flashpoints-20 years’, released by former national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, Congress MP Manish Tewari has analysed the major security challenges that India faced in the past. He tells TOI’s Subodh Ghildiyal that India has to resolve its issues with neighbours to achieve its development potential

How do you assess the performances of Congress and BJP on national security front?

The NDA-BJP government’s response has been more optical than substantial… because the quintessential dilemmas with regard to use of conventional force against non-state actors continue to remain as complex as it was before BJP came to power. BJP tried to normalise ties with Pakistan, and then had Pathankot and Uri attacks. The government asked Pakistan’s ISI to probe its own handiwork. There were Uri surgical strikes, but did it change Pakistan’s behaviour? If it had, then Pulwama wouldn’t have happened. When you initiated a more aggressive response in Balakot, you went on an escalatory ramp and it had no off-ramps. It didn’t escalate then, but there is no guarantee it won’t next time.

You have lauded the government for Doklam confrontation, but accused it of caving in later…

Unfortunately, 2014 onwards, ties with China have been steadily going down. During UPA, to Prime M Manmohan Singh’s credit, he managed the relationship with China in a mature and sensitive manner. In 2013, there was an intrusion into Depsang, but it was ensured that it was vacated in 13 days. But in 2014, during President Xi Jinping’s visit, the first after Narendra Modi became PM, the Chumar transgression occurred concurrently. In Doklam, while the Chinese agreed to disengage, China has since taken substantial control of the Doklam plateau. What did India gain? If at the end of four years, China is better placed in Doklam, what was that confrontation all about? The other example is the all-party meeting after the Galwan clashes where the PM made the statement that no Chinese have transgressed into Indian territory. So, did India transgress?

The book has already made headlines for your comments that the UPA government should have responded militarily to 26/11 attacks…

The reference to 26/11 is not really a criticism of UPA, and much less of Manmohan Singh. The Modi government can pat itself on the back on Uri or Balakot strikes, but has it brought about a behavioural change in Pakistan on terror? No. To that extent, 26/11 represented a time when a kinetic response to the depredations of the Pakistan “deep state” would have resonated with influential countries around the world.

Why do you say that Wuhan-Mammallapuram Xi-Modi summits created a false sense of security?

They have exposed the limits of personalised summitry. If they were a success, then we would not have seen the subsequent events (Galwan and Ladakh intrusions). It’s time for us to look beyond conflict and find a more substantive modus vivendi with China and Pakistan.

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