The Big Picture (HT, 09 Jan 2022) by Raghu Raman, the founding CEO of NATGRID, alludes to India’s burgeoning internal “half front”, which may prove to be our “Achille’s Heel”. The half front that he is referring to are the internal issues that are causing fissures and cracks in the hugely diverse Indian society, which in turn could be/ are being exploited by our adversaries. Terrorists, insurgents, disgruntled elements, proxy actors, etc are the means employed to achieve this end. Raghu Raman ends his article on a sombre note, stating, “if its expansion is not arrested immediately, and unless that happens, there is no way we can meaningfully address even one of our major threats – let alone two”. The two external threats to India are from China and Pakistan.
China and Pakistan are what they term themselves as, “iron brothers”, and thus it is a given that they would support each other, directly or indirectly in any conflict with India, forcing India to plan for a two-front war. Both these adversaries are not in a classic conventional war with India, but have through their actions, past and present, tied up a large number of Indian forces on the northern and western borders. The Indian forces are employed in a stand-off against the Chinese in the Ladakh region; in counter-terrorism operations in the Kashmir valley, and now increasingly in the Punjab region also to counter-narcotics, weapons, electronic and psychological warfare, which is primarily aided and abetted by Pakistan. These standoffs contribute to increased economic and human costs to maintain even the status quo on the borders; economic costs that could have been more gainfully employed in bettering the lives of the citizens.
Chinese Threat. Relative peace prevailed on the Northern border with China, since 1987. This was shattered during the COVID epidemic, 2020. A conflict at the Galwan valley on 15 Jun 2020 led to the tragic loss of lives on both sides. The armies of both, India and China have been in a military standoff in the Ladakh region since 2020. The two countries have conducted 14 rounds of military-level talks to resolve the standoff; some progress has been made but the stand-off continues, with both sides focussing on building infrastructure to support the eventuality of war. India has been a late entrant to building the needed infrastructure in the region, with China being way ahead on this account. Latest reports indicate that China is building a 500m bridge across the Pangong Tso, connecting the Northern and Southern ends of the lake. This and other visible indicators from China make it clear that war as a possibility cannot be ruled out completely. The Army Chief reiterated the Indian resolve to safeguard its territorial integrity, on the eve of the Army day – 15 Jan 2022. He said, “We stand firm to counter any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo along our borders. Our response to such attempts has been swift, calibrated and decisive as was seen when the situation so demanded”. The COAS also said that the Army had instituted additional safeguards to prevent any further attempts at military brinkmanship. The COAS further emphasised “that the differences in perceptions and disputes are best resolved through established norms based on the principle of equal and mutual security”. He further stressed that “our desire for peace and tranquillity is born out of our inherent strength. It should not be mistaken otherwise”.
Pakistani Threat. Pakistan is the other adversary that continues to persist with a policy of cross border, state-sponsored terrorism with India. The COAS stated that “our actions have demonstrated our capability and willingness to strike at the source of terrorism”. He was clear that “in the year gone by, the Indian Army has resolutely executed its responsibilities and was steadfast in safeguarding the security and territorial integrity of the nation”. “India’s active borders were guarded with resolve and resilience” he mentioned. Commending the personnel of the Army he stated that “our brave officers, JCOs, and soldiers, have faced adversaries and adversity with courage and fortitude even to the extent to laying down their lives in the highest traditions of the Indian Army”. He was categorical in stating that “the Indian Army remains at a high state of operational readiness to face ongoing and future challenges”, with the strengthening of “institutional mechanisms and safeguards to counter state-sponsored terrorism”, both along the borders and in the hinterland. He was clear that “these mechanisms and safeguards have proven effective in lowering the levels of violence”.
Indian Capability and Resolve. The Army Chief’s clear message is that our army is ready and capable to tackle the two-front external threat to the nation’s security. Actions over the past couple of years have demonstrated that none of the countries involved wants a full-blown conventional war. However, war is always a possibility under such circumstances. The assurance by the COAS is based on the preparedness and capability of the army when India is in a ‘sub-conventional war situation’. The other defence forces too have similar levels of preparedness and capability in this situation. The country’s political leadership too has, through its words and actions, shown resolve and political will, to face any such external threat to our national security. This implies that the external threat is well understood, and the nation also has the will to tackle it; the needed capability also exists to counter any unforeseen situation that may arise in such a standoff. This capability is being further enhanced, to deter the adversaries from precipitating any situation, which may lead to war. However, building military capability, especially in a largely arms import scenario, is an expensive and time-consuming process, besides other factors. Geostrategic considerations have finally forced India to step up efforts towards self-reliance in this critical field, by encouraging participation by the private sector, and by revamping the defence sector military-industrial complex, through the Atmanirbhar project. Induction of the LCA into the IAF; the indigenous satellites & missiles; the 1000 drone swarm display on 29 Jan 2022 are some of the positive indicators, on this account. However, external threats are not the only worrisome aspect that has an impact on national security, at this juncture.
There are internal issues that have an impact on national security, as these provide fault lines to our external adversaries to exploit, to further their nefarious tasks. Internal issues can lead to volatile situations. This happens with ease, and much quicker, in the information era, with the widely distributed and accessible technology as well as the global reach of social media platforms. Recent examples of this kind of flare-up/ violence are epitomised in the BLM movement violence across cities, the Capitol Hill rioting in the USA, as well as the violence at the Red fort in Delhi, while the country was celebrating Republic day.
Human Security. Internal issues can best be understood as “human security” issues, a term introduced into the international security dialogue following a 1994 Human Development Report by the UNDP. The report rightly brought out the fact that “for too long, the concept of security has been shaped by the potential for conflict between states. For too long, security has been equated with threats to a country’s borders. For too long, nations have sought arms to protect their security. For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security, and security from crime – these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world. The report further identified six main threats to human security: unchecked population growth, disparities in economic opportunities, migration processes, environmental degradation, drug trafficking, and international terrorism.” A large number of these issues are at play within India.
Indian News Headlines
Indian news headlines these days are full of internal issues, be it the COVID pandemic, sporadic disturbances due to local issues, insurgents in the North East, Maoist elements, drugs/ unaccounted wealth hauls, unemployment, economic slowdown, feelings of insecurity/ exclusion, regionalism, and to top it all the “divisive narratives” often led by our politicians, which tend to increase in frequency and shrillness during the election season. Every issue, during election rallies/ time, is kosher for partisan politics. To score political points over their opponents, politicians are unsparing of even the democratic institutions that are the bedrock of democracy. This leads to a loss of trust in the institutions and in turn in democracy, as well as creates an environment of divisions within the society. To make matters worse, elections in India are an ongoing feature, leading to no respite from the “divisive narratives” that has become the bane of Indian politics.
A representative sample of print media (HT) headlines of 14 Jan 2022 reflect some issues that have a bearing on national security; “Be proactive but don’t panic, Modi tells CMs”, “Third Minister quits UP cabinet in 3 days”, India-China military talks fail to yield positive results”, “2.5 KG RDX, Ammo recovered in Gurdaspur”, “Ludhiana court blast: NIA sleuths take over probe”, “Channi recites verse to Modi long life”, “Army chief talks tough on China”, “2022 polls: It’s back to divisive politics” and “India’s armed forces are apolitical: Ensure that they remain so”. Of the nine headlines that are listed here, only two refer to an external threat by China; the rest are all internal events that too have a direct impact on our national security.
Globalisation has increased economic liberalisation, trade, international supply chains, financial flows and interdependence between nations. It has also led to the increase in the illegal flow of drugs, weapons, migrants, as also as increased health and environmental issues. India is afflicted with most problems listed above. India’s northern states are faced with illegal drugs/ weapons challenges; cross border inspired/ supported terrorism in the Kashmir valley; illegal immigration by Rohingyas, Bangladeshis leading to demographic and other challenges, in the Eastern parts; COVID pandemic, besides health, affected the economy and employment across the entire country. Thus national security is rather complex, as, besides military threats, there are threats to the economy, terrorism, subversion, cyber threats, and biological threats that cause pandemics, which besides impacting health, also adversely impact the economy.
Conclusion Even though the probability of a full-blown war is low, the possibility always exists. In such a scenario, it is the internal threats that gain prominence in this globalised and interconnected world, with technology providing the means to globalise local issues, as also to localise global issues. These issues are in the non-military domain of the nation. Military forces are still relevant, and the nation needs to have the capability and will to neutralise any external threat. At the same time, it is equally important to ensure that non-traditional security matters that impinge on national security, like illegal drugs, weapons, divisive political narratives, poverty, terrorism, insurgency, unemployment, etc do not create opportunities for external forces to exploit. National security can only be ensured if all citizens feel secure and ready to wholeheartedly work towards countering external threats. Military power, good foreign relations, and alliances continue to be needed to secure the nation from external threats; national unity and internal stability are the foundational building blocks on which national security rests. Good governance, rule of law, institutions and structures that are responsive to the citizen’s needs create an environment that provides internal stability; these need strengthening. Electoral and educational reforms that can help to shift the focus on to the attitudes, identity, and well being of the citizen, who happens to be the raison d’etre of this hugely diverse Indian democracy, can help foster national unity, and bring about an end to divisive narratives, creating a win-win situation for every citizen.
Author: Wing Commander JP Joshi (Retd) was a fighter pilot in Indian Air Force, and has done Command and Staff College in the USA. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Header Image Source: Daily Excelsior