With his finger” on India’s “nuclear button” PM Modi has assumed the charge of the political council of India’s Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).  The NCA serves as “the nodal agency” for all decisions concerning India’s nuclear weapons. It also has the power to authorise a nuclear attack in retaliation

In the absence of an “elaborate nuclear command, control and communications system,” India uses a “collegiate process” to authorise the use of nuclear weapons. The NCA’s political council plays an integral role in this mechanism. Its members include the Prime Minister and also the country’s defence, finance, home and external affairs ministers. Its “executive council” is second only to the political council and is headed by the national security advisor. It also includes the three Service chiefs, top DRDO officials and several other important officials.

Ajit Doval, the former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau has been named India’s new National Security Advisor. Ironically Doval’s “claims to fame” include covert operations in Pakistan. According to critics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to appoint Doval hints at a “more muscular” policy towards Pakistan. That he remains wary of Pakistan’s motives is a foregone conclusion. After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assumed power, Doval, then associated with a right wing think tank in Delhi had noted, “the government should not assume that the new Pak PM, Nawaz Sharif, is committed to improving ties with India. Our consulate in Jalalabad has been subject to a terrorist attack for the first time, raising serious questions about the timing.” Referring to the 2008 Mumbai attacks he urged the new Indian government to enforce ‘zero tolerance’ for acts of violence.

Doval will be India’s second National Security Adviser from the intelligence community. India’s National Security Adviser MK Narayanan was also from the Intelligence service. His opinion concerning India-Pakistan views are best summed up in his interview following the 2008 Indian Embassy attack in Kabul, “Talk-talk is better than fight-fight,” he said, “but it hasn’t worked. I think we need to pay back in the same coin.” Fortunately he never got the political consent to target Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed on Pakistani territory. The issue didn’t end in 2008.

During his election campaign PM Narendra Modi suggested that he might authorise offensive covert operations against terrorists. Criticising Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s revelation of joint efforts by India and the US to arrest Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi, he had asked, “Do these things happen through the medium of newspapers? Did the United States issue a press note before they killed Osama bin Laden?”

Commentators have suggested that the Indian intelligence community is becoming increasingly convinced that India needs to learn a “new language of killing.” Can the use of covert action inside Pakistan become an option once again? A wrong decision made by India’s new security establishment whether in terms of a nuclear attack or a covert one can spell disaster for South Asia.


Image: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Flickr

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