The creation of the post of CDS is a comment on the security environment

The creation of the post of the Chief of the Defence Staff, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in his Independence Day address, fulfils a long-felt and consistently articulated need to strengthen India’s defence posture. Considering that the Prime Minister underlined this announcement by saying that this was an “important” development, it gives legitimate pause to wonder why this has taken so many decades. Indeed, Manohar Parrikar, as Defence Minister, had said this was on the cards. Yet, two Defence Ministers came and went, Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sitharaman, and this logical step was not taken. Since this is to be a ‘single-point’ advisory position to the government, there must have been entrenched opposition to this becoming reality. Ultimately the decision must have been thrust centre stage by the current strategic environment. What was always desirable became an urgent necessity. Pulwama and Balakot, the repeated offers for mediation in Kashmir by the U.S. President, the imminent pull-out of American troops from Afghanistan, which would leave Pakistan and its proxies the dominant players on the ground with a strong chance of blowback into Kashmir, as well as the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, are factors that have come together to confer urgency to taking this step. The forces will no doubt have to be on a heightened sense of alert and in a seamless state of coordination to meet the challenges.

Now, the ambit of the office, the tenure, and who will hold the post, will have to be decided soon. Consider briefly what transpired during Kargil, after which the Kargil Review Committee strongly recommended setting up the CDS: It took a fortnight after the incursions were initially detected before the Indian Air Force (IAF) could be pressed into countermeasures: the then Indian Army Chief was away on a foreign tour, there was inadequate appreciation of the ground situation by the Indian Army, and poor sharing of intelligence, and the squabbling between the IAF and the Indian Army over whether to use helicopters or fixed wing aircraft and how and who should call the shots, comprehensively blunted the initial response. The CDS is expected to bridge such dangerous gaps and reduce response time. It is envisaged he will keep the Defence Minister, continuously and fully briefed and effectively advised, be part of the adjunct apparatus of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs, and better link the three services in terms of planning, coordination and execution. It will certainly leave the three service chiefs to focus on running their arms of the forces more efficiently. This move will no doubt bring the strategic forces under the CDS as well. The government should use the opportunity to ramp up the intelligence apparatus that is concomitant to this office.