India from independence in 1947 has matured politically, economically and militarily. The nation has been able to ward off major threats in this span of time. Its military capability was initially ignored, as Jawaharlal Nehru felt military power was an unnecessary expenditure since India only desired peace, in spite of the early war of 1947-48 with Pakistan over Kashmir.
However after the rude shock of 1962, he was compelled to change his thought process. Since Independence, India has fought four wars with Pakistan and one with China, in addition to being involved in military operations in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. While militancy in the North-east shows signs of thawing, Pakistan- sponsored terrorism continues unabated in Kashmir. The coming days would only increase security threats. India needs to be prepared to deal with them.
China has always considered India a threat in both the economic and military domains, as India is the only nation in Asia capable of challenging its hegemony. The Indo-Chinese border dispute remains unresolved, though there has been no firing along the border. Chinese intrusions into India, which have increased in the recent past, are under control. Strong response and reaction by India have indicated a no-nonsense attitude. Chinese submarine forays into the Indian Ocean region are also on the increase.
China&’s reluctance to support India&’s entry to the NSG and to ban Pakistan-based terrorist leaders indicates its animosity. In summary, China openly considers India an adversary, though talks continue.
Bangladesh, whenever governed by an anti-India coalition, allows leaders of ULFA to reside and control operations from its soil. A pro-India government in power does the reverse. The vexed enclaves issue stands resolved. The al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has established its roots in Bangladesh. The setting up of bomb manufacturing units in Bengal&’s districts bordering Bangladesh, where a sizeable immigrant population lives, only enhances both nations’ security threats.
With Nepal, there has been a regular swing in relations. The Indo-Nepal treaty forms the bedrock of relations between the two. India resorted to an economic blockade during the renewal of the treaty between 1988-90. Though India was the first to respond after the earthquake last year and sent substantial grants, relations continue to fluctuate. Nepal if permitted to grow closer to China would only enhance Indian vulnerability. The new government in Nepal will aim to balance its relations between India and China.
India-Bhutan relations are ideal, however Assam-based militant groups, mainly the NDFB, have sanctuaries in Bhutan, close to the international border.
India&’s involvement in Sri Lanka at the height of the civil war was a major strategic error on the part of the government. Here again, relations have continued to swing at different ends of the pendulum. Chinese submarine presence in Sri Lankan ports has been a worry for India.
With Pakistan, relations have remained mired in competitiveness and enmity. Its defeat in every war, as also the realisation that war will never enable annexation of Kashmir, has compelled Pakistan to pursue a policy of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’, along with developing a credible nuclear arsenal to counter Indian military superiority. Its continued support to anti-India terror groups, adds to the security threat. Pakistan&’s sole aim as a nation is to reclaim Kashmir, hence India will always remain a sworn enemy.
In South Asia, India is the only growing economic and military power. Therefore within the region there continues to be distrust about India&’s intentions. This results in ‘India bashing’ becoming a norm, rather than an exception. The countries look to China as a balancing power to India, for which China is more than willing. Simultaneously, China seeks to empower and support Pakistan as a counter to India, thus compelling India to divert its attention to its Western borders, while China continues to develop stronger military capabilities.
Internally, the Maoist threat continues. Though restricted in area, it remains a vibrant threat, preventing development. Kashmir continues to be a flashpoint. The militancy in the North East is reasonably under control. The deployment of the army can only limit violence until a political solution materializes. ISIS seeks to expand its base, though its modules continue to be eliminated. This however warrants more vibrant and effective intelligence agencies. Instability across South Asia affects stability in the country. In this context, how secure are we as a nation, when dealing with internal and external threats?
The intelligence agencies, especially the NIA, have been proactive in curtailing and arresting the internal expansion of anti-India groups and the ISIS. The poor performance of the police in every state where there has been disturbance, including Haryana, Gujarat, West Bengal and presently J and K, has highlighted its shortcomings. The states have tended to disregard their training and equipping, and thus enhanced vulnerabilities. The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are marginally better, though their performance has also regularly come under criticism. There is a need for states to concentrate on developing capabilities and training of the police forces.
Externally, while the military has capability and capacity shortcomings, however it remains strong enough to deter both Pakistan and China from launching military misadventures. But it may not deter
Pakistan from continuing its interference in Kashmir and terror attacks on Indian soil. This shortcoming needs immediate resolution. Similarly, the mountain strike corps will be a deterrent against China and hence its raising should be speeded up. Navy and Air Force shortfalls are major and need to be addressed.
Controlling external threats ensures that the nation&’s institutions are secure, which in turn enables economic development, while arresting internal threats increases security of the public. A strong nation gives the world a message of its intentions and abilities. It is only the powerful who are respected in the international arena. We would have been completely secure in an insecure neighbourhood had previous governments implemented suggestions of security experts and devoted funds for capacity building, without fear of accusations on kickbacks.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)