India’s Strategic Security Challenges

  • Maj. Gen. R.K. Kaushal (Retd.)
  • India
  • May 23, 2014



After a very long and contentious election campaign, the BJP-led NDA alliance has won a decisive victory. Despite the national priorities projected by various parties to allure the voters, there has been no informed debate on internal security and the national defence. Even in the post-election scenario no national channel has taken this up - which speaks volumes of our strategic culture. The Modi government has to contend with internal insurgencies as well as conventional threats from the adversaries on our borders, on priority. Let us take the threat of terrorism first. After a brief ‘lull’ in terrorism from across the border there are reasons to believe that it will get intensified by the end of this year. Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, after the withdrawal of US Forces from Afghanistan will be reinforced by the battle-hardened Taliban. Jamaat-ud-Dawah Chief, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, has in January this year asserted in Islamabad that India will have to leave Kashmir, just like the United States has been compelled to pull out from Afghanistan - albeit with full support and connivance of ISI and Pakistan Army. The recent statement of the Pakistan Army Chief, calling Kashmir a ‘jugular vein’ of his country, is a loaded statement and portends the events to follow. We may come to a stage of ‘proxy war’ with Pakistan, which would like to re-kindle the Kashmir issue in the United Nations Security Council and also raise it as a ‘human rights violation’. If ever the new Government wishes to abrogate Article 370 and change the status quo, it will vitiate the environment in the entire Valley and even the mainstream parties will oppose this tooth and nail. The combination of a proxy war with Pakistan, the ‘activation’ of the Line of Control and internal strife will be a very challenging situation for the Armed forces. Undoubtedly Kashmir is a part and parcel of India, but the disaffected populace of the Valley needs to be better integrated. We need to root out the deep-seated corruption and give the highest priority to development. If the new Government has the will and sees this as a national priority, we would have won the battle and Article 370 will stand ‘neutralised’. 


On China, even though our countries agreed to maintain peace and tranquility along the border during the 17th round of talks between our Special Representatives on the Boundary question (in February this year), our triangular strategic partnership with Japan and the US is anathema to China. They have been registering their protest against the Malabar series of exercises being undertaken by our Navy along with Japan. We will have to keenly watch Beijing’s reaction to our joint Naval exercise with the Japanese Self-Defence Navy in the Pacific Ocean later this year. The People’s Liberation Army may reactively resort to an occupation of a larger tract of ‘disputed’ area in Arunachal or Ladakh. We must be prepared for these contingencies, but not be provocative in our actions. Learning from the past, we have to be very patient while dealing with China.

The Maoist movement is another serious threat in almost nine eastern States of the country. It is not a mere law and order problem but a full-fledged war against the nation. More than 4,800 people, including about 2,850 civilians, have been killed nationwide since 2008, in what Manmohan Singh has called India’s biggest internal security threat (though he seems to have done little to tackle it). The Maoists are ideologically against the idea of a Democratic Indian State. They allegedly believe that Indians have yet to gain freedom from hunger and deprivation and from the exploitation of the poor by the rich classes of landlords, industrialists and traders who control the economy. However, rather than fighting for the rights of the locals, the Maoists have been exploiting the poor adivasis for their own ends and targeting the developmental programmes. The Maoists know well that if the Government were able to provide the locals the basic amenities, they would lose their relevance. Over the last decade the Maoists have gained ground and strength, as the Government has failed to introduce the much-needed systemic reforms in policing and has not been able to adopt a unified approach for tackling this problem. Our State police forces and Central paramilitary forces, in their present form, are not capable of effectively dealing with this threat (except maybe a force like the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh). If we have to win this ‘war’ against the Maoists, we have to ensure that our police and paramilitary Forces are well officered, trained, motivated and properly equipped. The new Government will have act fast, before some outside forces start meddling in this affair. A silver lining has been the large-scale participation of the people in the Assembly and General elections, despite the boycott calls by the Maoists. This initiative on the part of the people must be followed up by the Government, which must initiate measures to solve this problem politically, with the help of the newly-elected representatives of the people. There is a need to open talks with the Maoist hierarchy. The Maoists need to be cajoled them into the democratic process. The large corporates that are working in these areas, especially for mining natural resources, should also contribute more for the development of the local people and the region.

Under ‘conventional’ threats, while India is faced by nuclear-armed adversaries, it has the capability to respond to any threat. However, in this (nuclear) backdrop, conventional war has an important relevance, and we have to be fully prepared for it. Unfortunately we are currently strategically vulnerable. The Army is deficient in critical munitions, has poor Air Defence systems and outdated artillery guns. The Special Forces and the premier fighting arm, the Infantry, are neither equipped with state-of-the-art weapons nor good support equipment. The underwater arm of the Navy today stands crippled. The Air Force has an ageing fighter fleet and outdated helicopters. This state of the Armed Forces has come about due to the lackadaisical attitude of the UPA Government towards modernisation, our archaic procurement procedures and corruption at high places. The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has also failed to create the indigenous technical base for conventional weapon systems. India requires a strong Defence industrial base with high-end skilled workers, for only then can the Armed Forces get sustained supplies of quality equipment. We need to involve private industry and allow FDI in the Defence sector. On a most important strategic front, the government has dithered for a decade on the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and also on many other far-sighted recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee - ostensibly because of bureaucratic resistance and inter-Service rivalry. Under these circumstances we would need to review the oft-quoted Israeli strategy, of ‘hot pursuit’ and striking at the bases of militants, in a pragmatic manner. The doctrines of ‘Cold Start’ and ‘Two-front War’ would also need to be re-evaluated. Now that our own MP, Rao Inderjit Singh, who has been Union Minister of State for Defence Production, and former General VK Singh, are also (the ruling Party) BJP MPs, we hope there would be urgent and appropriate decisions taken on Defence matters. Our new Government will have to address the ground realities and exhort the citizens of India to tighten their belts and be alive to higher national imperatives. 


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