India’s national security scene has witnessed changes – attributable both to geopolitical transitions as well as the situation developing in our neighbourhood.
The post-Cold War era apparently marked a shift from open warfare to ‘asymmetric wars’ — India came at the receiving end of the Pak-sponsored ‘proxy war’ which relied on cross border terrorism and used Islamic militants as its instrument.
This became the biggest security threat to this country not only in Kashmir but elsewhere too. Success of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan led by Pakistan, the ‘front line ally’ of the US, on the war cry of Jehad that was endorsed by the West, encouraged Pakistan’s ISI to try to replicate the Afghan Jehad in Kashmir and draft Islamic radicals of Taliban in the covert offensive from across PoK, way back in 1993.
Cross-border terrorism in Kashmir was kept up ever since – and active military support of China, by way of supply of drones for cross-border operations of Pakistan, is now adding fuel to the fire.
ISI intensified its effort to radicalise Kashmiri youth through online indoctrination and succeeded in raising new sleeper cells and even ‘lone wolves’ to target non-locals and police personnel in the Valley.
Kashmir remains a major challenge for our intelligence set up but the direct rule of the Centre – consequent on the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution by the Indian Parliament and conversion of Kashmir into a Union Territory – has enabled India to step up development work and take to more effective methods of countering cross-border terrorism.
The pro-Pakistan activities of many corrupt leaders of the Valley-based political parties who ruled the state earlier had obstructed the growth of Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre is free of this handicap for the present.
The Pak-sponsored terror is now becoming multi-dimensional in terms of the targeting it is doing in India – from instigating militancy on the communal front and extending the arc of radicalisation across this country to reviving the ‘Khalistani’ movement in Punjab.
The border districts of Punjab and the traffic on Kartarpur corridor require close vigilance. Pakistan is alleging that ‘Hindutva politics’ of the Modi regime has put the safety of Muslim minority in jeopardy and building a narrative that Indian Muslims need help from outside as a part of ‘Ummah’.
This is how Pakistan sought the intervention of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to demand national apology from India for the insult allegedly caused to Prophet Mohammad by a spokesperson of the ruling party during a TV debate.
This event is being exploited by ISI for prompting radical elements to target the BJP leadership. The average Muslim in India is content with the democratic freedoms granted to all communities by the Indian Constitution, but the community goes along with Ulema and the communal elite that had traditionally dominated it politically.
This makes the work of pro-Pak elements in Kashmir as well as in the rest of the country easy. Considering that terrorism by definition is ‘resort to covert violence for a perceived political cause’ and that a ’cause’ needs ‘commitment’ which in turn is determined by ‘motivation’, the terror fostered by Pakistan is ‘faith-based’ and hence much stronger in motivation compared to an ‘ideological base’ which was the case with Naxalism or assertion of ‘ethnic identity’ as was seen in the Northeast insurgencies.
By putting Indo-Pak relations in a Hindu-Muslim framework and invoking Islam to justify the ‘proxy war’ in Kashmir, Pakistan has enlarged its mischief potential of fishing in India’s domestic scene by seeking to push communal militancy towards Islamic terror.
Intelligence collection has to be taken closer to the ground to uncover potential terrorists and Pak agents. It is extremely important that the enormous resources of district intelligence are better utilised for internal security by putting them under operational guidance of the Intelligence Bureau. At the same time, representative Muslim for in India and the democratic world in general have to be persuaded to speak up against Jehad and faith-based terror.
Developments in Afghanistan leading to the return of Taliban Emirate in Kabul and the operation of Sino-Pak axis in Afghanistan, Kashmir and in fact at the global level as well, have added a new dimension to India’s national security. The alliance of these two adversaries has to be countered externally as also on our borders as well as on our own territory where they indulge in subversive operations.
A special security requirement at present is to demographically correct and strengthen Indian presence all along the border belt, particularly on the LAC with the aim of improving the information flow and making joint civil-military responses there more effective.
Pakistan has to be kept in check by using the retaliatory threat of ‘surgical strike’ as a deterrent and the Chinese aggressiveness has to be met upfront on the LAC. India has to actively support countervailing forces like the multilateral forum of Quad to counter the Chinese threat on the marine front.
In the final analysis, India has to depend on its own military, economic and diplomatic strategy to deal with China on land and in the Indian Ocean. A highly successful security initiative taken by our NSA was to firm up the outreach to Russia and Central Asian Republics to balance out against Pakistan in Afghanistan and also keep China in check.
The appearance of a new Cold War between the US and China had a large economic dimension resulting in President Joe Biden announcing the formation of Indo Pacific Economic Cooperation for Prosperity (IPEC) at the Tokyo summit of Quad, joined in by nine other Asian countries besides the four Quad members.
India did well to fully support the move. This is part of the global strategy of India to lead the democratic world together with the US – as the two largest democracies – for countering the dangers emanating from the alliance of Marxist China with the fundamentalist Pakistan. In spite of the ouster of PTI chief Imran Khan from power, this alliance will continue with its basic thrust against India. Prime Minister Shehbaj Sharif is, unlike his predecessor, trying to be on the right side of President Biden and it is possible therefore that Pakistan’s anti-India stance might not attract much notice of the US policy makers.
India’s national security set up has to wield the new thrust areas of information sourcing – social media, cyber space and remote sensing technology. The adversary can tame these avenues for planning its covert offensive and even try to be ahead of the target, posing a serious challenge for the intelligence agencies in terms of both ‘coverage’ and data analytics.
Our agencies have rapidly progressed, particularly in scanning social media and suspect websites, and exposed in many cases the sources of ‘radicalisation’ located in Pakistan.
Three major shifts in the security scenario can be noticed presently – external threats are translating into threats to internal security, technological means have facilitated remotely controlled operations of the enemy and there is a rise of ‘information warfare’ in which anti-India civil society groups in league with international lobbies are playing a significant part.
In hard core areas of security, ‘human intelligence’ remains the most prized source of information but now there is so much of enlargement of the collectivity of ‘open sources’ that a much bigger part of the Intelligence effort presently is to be devoted to garnering crucial information from the same.
Further, a corollary of the growing importance of local Intelligence is that it would greatly help the cause of national security if the citizens are fully informed of the nature of threats facing the nation and made aware of their own contribution to security by way of sharing information of relevance coming their way, with the concerned authority. Homeland Security in the US has made arrangements for receiving information from the enlightened citizens, pertaining to national security. More work done in this regard in the Indian context will help security a great deal.
Non-traditional aspects of national security coming to the fore – economic relations, technological advances in communication, cyber warfare, injection of religion in international politics and demographic shifts – are demanding new bench marks in inter-agency cooperation, analysis and assessment and coordinated responses.
The National Security Council Secretariat under the Prime Minister has already ensured that all intelligence reaches an apex where a competent assessment making would fix the long-term threats and their strategic handling – in addition to day-to-day consultation that is on for operational action through the instrumentality of Multi Agency Centre (MAC) run by the Intelligence Bureau.
The National Security Advisor (NSA), the top aide of the Prime Minister, determines the threat assessment and the nation’s response needed across the spectrum of governance.
In the Modi regime, the success of security and foreign policies is in a major way attributable to an extremely competent NSA (Ajit Doval), whose deep professional background, understanding of geopolitics, complete knowledge of India’s adversaries, bold initiatives and untiring effort to enhance institutional growth of the country’s national security set up, have helped the Prime Minister keep India safe and secure in these difficult times.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)