Brajesh Mishra, the first National Security Adviser of India, passed away on 29 September 2012. Having occupied the post from 1998 to 2004, he set up and nurtured the national security management system in the country. Not only did he help set up the National Security Council and its associated structures, but he also handled complicated and complex diplomatic assignments during his five year tenure. He was involved in the rebuilding of key diplomatic relations after the Pokhran tests when India faced sanctions. His formidable diplomatic skills were used in ending India’s diplomatic isolation and bringing the country to the centre stage of international affairs.
India had tried to set up a national security council in the early 1990s but that experiment was still born. However, Brajesh Mishra midwifed a fairly robust NSC structure, which consists of a political body headed by the Prime Minster called the National Security Council, a secretariat to the council known as the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), a Strategic Planning Group (SPG) under the Cabinet Secretary and a National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), a group of eminent national security experts who are not from the government. In addition, the NSC has also set up numerous task forces over the years. This system has taken roots and is evolving. The credit goes to Brajesh Mishra for nurturing the system in the early years and not letting it die.
As a result of the setting up of the NSC and its associate structures, the understanding in India that national security is a much broader concept than merely defence and military affairs has gained recognition. The first NSAB headed by the late K. Subrahmanyam produced a draft nuclear doctrine for the country, a national defence review and a national security review. These documents have provided the foundation of national security thinking in the country. Brajesh Mishra was instrumental in the implementation of many recommendations contained in these documents. For instance, in 2003, the government made public a succinct nuclear doctrine which still remains current. The national security review produced by the NSAB treated security as a holistic concept and brought in the notions of environmental, technological and economic security in the fold of overall national security.
Brajesh Mishra played an important role in the setting up of the Kargil Review Committee under the late K. Subrahmanyam and implementing its numerous recommendations. Following the KRC recommendations, four task forces and a group of ministers were set up which did a thorough job of national security review. Again, Brajesh Mishra was instrumental in the implementation of many of the latter’s recommendations.
During Brajesh Mishra’s watch many new institutions emerged including the National Information Board, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), and Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). The GOM report also gave fillip to the overhaul of the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) and the setting up of a Defence Acquisition agency. Intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces underwent many reforms. Without Brajesh Mishra’s bureaucratic acumen and closeness to the Prime Minister, this would not have been possible. Brajesh Mishra was unable to see through the institution of Chief of Defence Staff due to differences among political parties. Thus higher defence reforms remain incomplete.
Brajesh Mishra’s second legacy was in the realm of foreign policy and diplomacy. His imprint is there to see in the foreign policy of those years. The Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 fundamentally changed India’s foreign policy. India came under sanctions and the immediate tasks before the government was to end its diplomatic isolation, rebuild its relations with key countries such as the US, Pakistan and China. Brajesh Mishra was deeply involved in these projects.
The Lahore Declaration and the Lahore visit of Prime Minister Vajpayee was a result of behind the scenes contact between India and Pakistan. The normalisation process received a setback when Pakistan responded to Indian overtures with the military intrusions in Kargil in the summer of 1999. The military coup in Pakistan by Gen. Musharraf made the situation even worse. Relations with Pakistan deteriorated after Kargil, which was followed by the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar and the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. In response, India mobilised its armed forces for nine months under Op Parakram. Pakistan took resort to nuclear blackmail. The government had to deal with a very difficult situation which could have led to a major conflict between India and Pakistan. Brajesh Mishra’s imprint on India’s Pakistan policy, which resulted in the Agra summit (2002) and Musharraf’s commitment that Pakistan will not allow the use of its territory for terrorist activity (2004) was due to Brajesh Mishra’s diplomatic skills.
He was also instrumental in initiating the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with the US, which culminated in the Indo-US nuclear deal during the tenure of the UPA-I government a few years later. Although Brajesh Mishra was initially opposed to the deal, later on he changed his mind and supported the building of a strategic partnership with the US.
India could not remain immune to the challenge of a rising China. Several steps were initiated during Brajesh Mishra’s time to deepen engagement with China. PM Vajpayee visited China in 2003. Brajesh Mishra was made India’s Special Representative to conduct political talks with the Chinese counterpart on border issues.
Most governments and diplomats were aware of Brajesh Mishra’s formidable influence on foreign policy during those days. He personally knew many leaders in the US, Russia, Europe, and Central Asia. He used the office of national security adviser to initiate important contacts with other countries. He was in constant touch with the US and Russian national security advisers. Many Indo-Russian defence and economic deals were initiated and progressed during these discussions. Security talks between India and other countries were formalised during his watch. He was responsible for developing the security dimension of India’s foreign policy and diplomacy in a big way.
His undoubted success as a National Security Adviser was due to his proximity to the Prime Minister. Many people criticised him for wearing the dual hat of Principal Secretary to PM and National Security Adviser thus concentrating power in his hands. But in hindsight it would appear that the system worked well. He was able to cut through the red tape and implement the decisions on security and foreign policy. After he left, some fragmentation of the national security system has taken place.
In a democracy, the national security system must be accountable. Presently, the NSC, set up by an executive order, is not accountable to the parliament. There are often debilitating turf wars among numerous establishments involved in national security issues. Brajesh Mishra was able to resolve many of these issues because of the unique circumstance of his appointment. After he had retired, he would often say that the institution of national security adviser should be recast. The NSA should be a minister rank person with accountability to parliament on national security issues.
Brajesh Mishra was an affable if formidable personality. He visited the IDSA a few times in recent years and took part in some round table discussions on intelligence reforms. He was supportive of young researchers and willing to share his experience with them.
In hindsight one can say that due to a combination of circumstances, Brajesh Mishra and K. Subrahmanyam came together at an important juncture in India’s history. Brajesh Mishra was the national security adviser when K. Subrahmanyam headed the first NSAB and also the Kargil Review Committee. Subrahmanyam helped conceptualise national security management, while Brajesh Mishra played a key role in implementing some of these ideas. The two had independent ideas and did not always agree but they also complemented each other. As the first national security adviser of India, Brajesh Mishra’s contribution towards building a viable national security management system will always be remembered.
The author is Director General of IDSA, New Delhi. He worked at the National Security Council Secretariat during 1999-2007. The views expressed here are personal.