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Should NSA be diplomat or spy?

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Last updated on: January 18, 2005 15:11 IST

A debate is raging in New Delhi between the nation's Intelligence community and foreign affairs experts about the role of the National Security Advisor and division of work in the NSA's office.

The debate flared up after Tariq Aziz, Pakistan's national security advisor, came to India unannounced and did not contact the prime minister's Internal Security Advisor M K Narayanan, who is the officiating National Security Advisor after J N Dixit's death last fortnight.

Aziz came to India to pay condolences to the bereaved family.

It is now being suggested that diplomats are wary of people who have worked with the intelligence department.

Intelligence officers are generally considered to be hawks, and diplomats, who are involved in long-drawn peace talks, are known to feel uncomfortable talking with them.

It is even being argued that it is necessary to appoint a special emissary for back-channel diplomacy with Pakistan and China.

Brajesh Mishra, the NSA during the National Democratic Alliance regime, and Dixit, who succeeded him, had been assigned the task of conducting secret border talks with China and Pakistan.

Dixit's death has suddenly left a huge vacuum.

Mishra and Dixit were both experienced diplomats and Aziz had a smooth equation with them.

Since Tariq Aziz did not have a meeting with Narayanan during his hush-hush trip to Delhi early this week, diplomatic circles also interpret that Prime Minister Singh wants someone else instead of Narayanan to engage in the secret dialogue with Pakistan.

Strategic analysts claim that the prime minister might even redefine the national security advisor's role by having another expert to engage China and Pakistan.

Opinions are divided on the issue.

Many believe that only the national security advisor can carry forward such dialogues to sustain the 'momentum' generated by political breakthroughs in India's long-standing problems with Islamabad and Beijing.

Others believe the NSA should not be burdened with diplomatic negotiations, which are best handled by India's diplomats.

A question that is being asked is whether India's NSA should have a larger role in diplomatic talks with our neighbours. If yes, is a person with an intelligence background suitable to be the NSA?

Since Mishra and Dixit both belonged to the Indian Foreign Service, does it mean that the NSA is exclusively reserved for diplomats?

The argument put forward is that the appointment of diplomats to the post of NSA should not be a rule because too much focus on diplomacy has led to the neglect of internal security issues.

The National Security secretariat in the past has not given due attention to the problems of ethnic, class and religious relations inside the country.

The NSA's duties are many. It includes border management, management of the nuclear arsenal, briefing the prime minister daily on security, coordinating the interface of key ministries, supervision of the Research and Analysis Wing, back-channel talks with Pakistan and being a special representative at the Sino-Indian talks, a job description Dixit had inherited from Mishra.

Narayanan's career was spent on national security and not on "understanding and responding to diplomatic nuances of neighboring countries."

So it is believed that if Narayanan -- a former director of the Intelligence Bureau -- is confirmed as NSA, his office will be radically different and is likely to set a new trend. India's internal security and its larger dimensions will be kept in focus, which is not a diplomat's dominion.

Part II: Does India need National Security Advisor at all?

R Prema and Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi