Story behind the FS’ extension in service

That S. Jaishankar would get an extension in service as Foreign Secretary was expected. It ruined the promotion prospects of half a dozen IFS officers. But its official announcement naturally did not reveal the full story.  NSA Ajit Doval. who has had the main hand in installing persons in high posts, especially intelligence and investigative agencies — RAW, IB, CBI, because of his prior police career and presumed expertise in these fields, he has been on a slippery slope where foreign policy is concerned, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi consulting more with Jaishankar on external issues. A tug-of-war is thus on between NSA and FS for establishing proximity to the PM, because it is the perception of nearness to the centre of power which decides their individual clout and influence in the system at-large.

Jaishankar has been a favoured foreign service officer from the start, with good fortune to have K. Subrahmanyam, ex-IAS, the late strategist with whom many PMs in the past consulted, as father. An entirely self-taught person in terms of strategic matters, who initially gained a reputation  at home and abroad for advocating the Bomb for India, Subrahmanyam coupled this, in his later years,  to his reading of international affairs to institutionally root, to the great detriment to national interest, a view in government of a minimalist nuclear deterrence perspective to the extent of urging (along with the rest of the IDSA caboodle, including Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, et al) in the mid-1990s that the government, then under prime minister Deve Gowda, sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty before India even had a semblance of serviceable nuclear weapons. The insufficiently respected and regarded Deve Gowda had the common sense, the native cunning, and the political will to hold his ground, reject such myopic advice, and order the blocking of the CTBT in Geneva.

However, the US Government found Subrahmanyam’s “minimum deterrence” ideas endearing and his case for intimate relations with America based on conforming to Washington’s nonproliferation policy  metrics particularly useful. This aside on Subrahmanyam’s policy tilt is not irrelevant to Jaishankar’s storied rise in the foreign service, which owes not little to the FS’ “career management” by his father.

Subrahmanyam arranged for choicest postings, including as first secretary in the Washington embassy in the mid-80s (which is when I, then also residing in that town, first made his acquaintance) after a stint in Moscow station. Jaishankar’s posting order to Prague as deputy chief of mission in 1996 was changed, for instance, at Subrahmanyam’s request,  to DCM Tokyo. Then the Vajpayee regime initiated the US-leaning policy (eventuating in the Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership) pushed by Subrahmanyam, and importantly, seconded by NSA Brajesh Mishra — the NSSP being the precursor to the nuclear deal.

With Manmohan Singh as PM the policy of intimacy-building with the US gathered heft and momentum, with Subrahmanyam again helping secure for his son the prize post as Joint Secretary (Americas) — pulling him into the MEA from Prague, where now he was  ambassador. As JS he was lead negotiator of the nuclear deal his father forcefully advocated.  Its successful culmination, with promptings from the sidelines and media support generated by Subrahmanyham’s writings, raised  Jaishankar’s profile, leading to the ambassadorship in China, despite having no knowledge of Mandarin, probably the first Indian plenipotentiary to be thus language-challenged. A US-loving Modi in 2014 sent him to Washington and annointed him FS in the nick of time before his retirement, ousting Sujatha Singh mid-tenure.

Now to revert to the beginning of this post:  Modi’s dissatisfaction with Doval’s lack of foreign policy expertise and inability substantively and properly to follow up on the PM’s instincts and intuitions — on which the Indian foreign policy has always been run. The PM banks on Jaishankar to carry out his instructions. This foreign policy bypass has, for obvious reasons, created tension between Doval and Jaishankar. But this actually reflects a serious tussle for nearness to  PM — the secret of Brajesh Mishra’s comprehensive power in the Vajpayee dispensation. While Modi would like to continue with these two horses drawing his chariot, it cannot be sustained. Whence, the extension to Jaishankar as a bridging action to a more enduring system.

But what’s such a system to be? A scheme of two NSAs — one for internal security, the other for external policies, has been mooted, but is inherently unstable and, perhaps, even unworkable, and something Doval is resisting. But he can resist only so long if Modi is intent on having it. The one year, in essence, gives both Doval and Jaishankar time to adjust to an equal standing in PMO or, contrarily, the opportunity to maneuver the other out of pole position. It will be interesting to see how this competition pans out, because, as insider accounts attest, these two are ruthless positional augmenters and bureaucratic in-fighters.

This still leaves a big hole where an expert with military competence and knowledge should be, because neither Doval nor Jaishankar has other than nodding acquaintance with matters military. And this could prove to be a liability, or not, if limping along on the great power path is considered par for the course.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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8 Responses to Story behind the FS’ extension in service

  1. Abhi says:

    Very unfair to Jaishankar, potray’d as if he is w/o talent and his career was made by his father.
    Friction between NSA and FS is figment of imagination

  2. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    The only thing, both of them have in common are the US interests they identify with. And that is not a glue to rely on.

    Both a Modi led NDA and a Sonia led UPA have had a similar glue but that did not stop them from being fatricidal in domestic politics.

    The only glue that can hold them together is the glue of self interest. That time they will hold on to each other for dear life.

    These games have been going on for ever. A person close to power does not like other persons getting closer to the same power source. Part of life.

    You, kind of, have been heavy on Jaishanker. Wasn’t Doval for instance saying something like lets not have tanks because tanks don’t go to Tibet. You also have advocated something along those lines but what is to say that the Chinese will not already have pushed enough heavy equipment into Pakistan well before the things get hot. The world has been talking about a two front war. Surely a two front war is not going to be restricted to the equipment owned only. Can very well be fueled by a lease-operate-dump model or even as an ‘advisors’ led 4th Gen warfare. I am not trying to draw a parallel between your stance and that of Doval even though both are saying the same thing – the path is surely different but from an academic pov the objection remains to both your and to Doval’s ideas. With only Doval getting the brickbats from me because he is the man in charge – for both rights and wrongs and he has delivered more wrongs than rights.

  3. &^%$#@! says:

    This is what India needs:

    I guess much of Lutyen’s Delhi and Raisana Hill will be emptied out if such Laws were enacted and enforced.

  4. Pakistan’s “first successful flight test of Surface to Surface Ballistic Missile Ababeel” has been claimed to be capable of “defeating the enemy’s hostile radars” and aimed at ensuring survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles in the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) environment”. The Press Release by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is implicit of Pakistani bloviation to have reinforced nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis India. In reality, Pakistan is forcing all, starting from its inception, to assume that anything India can do, Pakistan can do (!!!), even if it has “eat grass and leaves, even go hungry”!

    As the MIRVing race has begun, the consequent speculations on stability-instability, first-strike / second-strike or preemption, use them or lose them, the viability of strategic triad, arms race or strategic restraint, etc. will be the core questions of the South Asian nuclear discourse for decades to come. What intriguing is the impetus it would provide for future ‘multiple interceptor missile’ (MIM) programs? This may not be so lucrative for India given its vast ‘strategic depth’, unlike Pakistan. In pursuit of addressing its lack of ‘strategic depth’, and to attain a full circle in it’s proclaimed ‘full spectrum deterrence’, Pakistan may think for MIM program in future given its “self-avowed focus on survivability, even if India’s existing BMD capabilities are quite modest.”

    For full operationalization of its MIRVed missile force, Pakistan has to go a long way. To master the technology and develop the payloads without Chinese hand and technology, Pakistan may have to eat branches and trunks! To compete or respond to India’s future (hypothetical) technological pursuits like CMD or A-sat capability, Pakistan will then have to eat only the remaining roots. If the Cold War MIRV discourse is any guide, Islamabad did not learn it right – the MIRV may be technologically “sweet weapon system” but it, “like a hundred other innovations, never upset the Cold War balance”. To deter India in the real sense, Pakistan needs to attain full-spectrum development and growth, not diverting its scares resources for military purposes.

    Though many argue that MIRV capability with Pakistan bound to change the strategic threat dynamics in India’s neighborhood, Pakistan’s technological claims should be taken with a handful of salt.

    Firstly, the use of MIRV technology in a medium or short-range missile is extremely difficult. Therefore it is “difficult to believe that Pakistan has developed a MIRVed missile with a range of just over 2000km.”

    Secondly, as Leo Sartori argues in an article aptly titled “The Myth of MIRV” (Aug 30, 1969), a MIRVed missile can carry only smaller individual warheads, and their combined yield is less than the yield of the single weapon which the same missile could carry; … “decreased yield is naturally a disadvantage.”

    Thirdly, to penetrate anti-missile defended area, the MIRVed attack strategy has to succeed by firing a larger number of missiles to ensure at least one of the warheads reaches the target. In this case, “MIRV acts as a penetration aid” only; but for this purpose, the difficult strategy of independent targeting is unnecessary. The task of exhausting an ABM defense can be accomplished by less complex system like the multiple-warhead missile or Multiple Re-entry Vehicle (MRV).

    Lastly, high accuracy is extremely essential to master MIRV capability effectively which Pakistan is lacking at this moment. Pakistan depends largely on Chinese GPS satellite system Beidou. Furthermore, it would be impossible for Pakistan to neutralize all Indian silos scattered across its vast geography.

    Moreover, Pakistan has achieved the dubious status of having the fastest growing nuclear weapons inventory. With MIRV program, it is going to invest heavily in the production of warheads and fissile materials, which will increase its size of nuclear arsenal even further. Unless there is still a clandestine procurement channel operating, obtaining the required nuclear fuel and components will be a challenge when Pakistan’s own reserves are meager and open sourcing is difficult.

  5. Shaurya says:

    The answer to the military question is an obvious one. A five star CDS.

  6. Shaurya says:

    But: We also need the NSA to come from the non-bureaucratic core to include civilians and strategists with deep expertise or even ex-military. Another thing i do not like is how the NSA has smartly positioned itself as the executioner of the NCA. It again allows the decision makers to absolve themselves from immersing into the issues of the NCA and understand various scenarios and options they did face with.

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