Addressing the 73rd batch of IPS probationers in Hyderabad last week, the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, stated, “Wars have ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable and at the same time, there is uncertainty about their outcome. But it is the civil society that can be subverted, that can be divided, that can be manipulated to hurt the interest of a nation.”
In a nuclear environment, as prevails in the subcontinent, wars would be short, swift and localized. Objectives would be shallow. At the same time, loss of territory is unacceptable. As the Chinese intrusions in May 2020 confirmed, unless armed forces are well equipped and prepared, adversaries will exploit weaknesses. Hence, national security would imply handling internal and external threats simultaneously, with security agencies operating in cohesion, rather than in isolation as is being projected.
Two earlier definitions of national security are its essence. Late Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence, from 1961 to 1968 stated, “Security is not military hardware, though it may include it. It is not military force, though it may encompass it. Security is development and without development there is no security.” Development flows only when a nation is secure. Further, development implies providing employment, raising standards of living, inviting FDI and enhancing purchasing power of the populace. Nothing unites the national fabric better than low unemployment rates and a high standard of living.
The late K Subrahmanyam, a prominent strategic affairs analyst who also headed the Kargil Committee, stated, “National security does not mean merely safeguarding India’s territorial integrity. It means also ensuring that that the country is industrialised rapidly, has a cohesive egalitarian and technological society. Anything which comes in the way of this development internally or externally is a threat to India’s national security.”
Internal turmoil and a divided society impact development in the same manner as external threats. Hence, a secure nation implies its institutions and ideals are not compromised. The losses the nation suffered from agitations over the last few years enforces this fact. An article in January 2021 in the Economic Times stated that the farmers’ agitation caused a loss of over Rs 50,000 crore. Another article in the same newspaper stated that Assam lost over Rs 1000 crore in two months, in the tourism sector alone, due to the anti-CAA agitation in the state.
The jury is still out on whether these agitations were a fallout of hybrid warfare being played by Indian adversaries or were a genuine reaction to central legislations. Hybrid warfare, which prevails during periods of peace and war, includes cyber and informational hostilities, support to secessionist groups and breaking the fabric of society by spreading fake news and false propaganda. These can severely damage a nation from within.
There have been multiple occasions when Pakistan has attempted to generate incidents leading to sectarian violence thereby dividing Indian society. Simultaneously, strong armed forces are essential for keeping inimical nations at bay.
Late President APJ Abdul Kalam, while addressing passing out cadets of the Indian Military Academy on 9 December 2006 stated, “National security is born out of two important components. One is economic growth and prosperity; second is the capability to defend the nation against all types of threats. India is progressing on both fronts.”
He added, “There are however forces operating to derail this process. They do not want India to succeed economically and become self-reliant in military capability. There will always be a dynamic environment along our borders needing eternal vigilance by our Armed Forces.”
India faces two hostile neighbours, China and Pakistan, both of whom would seek to exploit weakness in Indian defence preparedness, while backing anti-national groups within, damaging national cohesion. Pakistan has been backing terrorist groups which operate in Kashmir, while China supports some NE insurgencies. The redeployment of troops from counterinsurgency to the LAC has led to a slow resurgence of militancy in the NE. Terrorist groups behind the recent ambush targeting the Commanding Officer of 46 Assam Rifles and his family are most likely funded by China.
The Editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, had stated in a recent tweet, “They (India) must know that we could support separatist forces in NE India.” The intention of both adversaries is to compel India to expend resources containing terrorist groups as also break the national fabric.
One tactical error by Indian forces in an anti-terrorist operation leading to civilian deaths could result in a global negative image projection, led by our adversaries. The Chinese intruded in Ladakh as India, preoccupied with Covid, had not deployed sufficient forces to counter their annual exercises. China always adopts the Sun Tzu concept of ‘subduing an enemy without fighting.’
Hence, its strategy is salami slicing, supporting secessionist movements and information warfare in times of peace with emphasis on non-contact warfare during hostilities, as it seeks to avoid challenging experienced and battle-hardened Indian forces in conventional operations. Pakistan lacks the capability to directly target India and therefore supports terrorism while enhancing a religious divide within.
If India has to handle this multitude of threats, then it needs to have its security agencies working in close unison. This coordination falls squarely on the National Security Council (NSC).
The cabinet secretariat resolution of 16 April 1999, which created the NSC, stated, “The Central Government recognizes that national security management requires integrated thinking and coordinated application of the political, military, diplomatic, scientific and technological resources of the state to protect and promote national security goals and objectives. National security in the context of the nation, needs to be viewed not only in military terms but also in terms of internal security, economic security, technological strength, and foreign policy.”
The NSC must be re-constituted with representatives of all elements of power, rather than be dominated by one service. Further, internal and external threats should never be considered in isolation. Both are equally damaging and mutually interdependent, needing a whole-of-government approach to tackle. Ignoring one for the other is a risky strategy.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)