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Show of Strength

India needs a strong national security advisory board with a mandate to draw up a national security doctrine and strategic roadmap

THE deadly attacks on strategic military establishments by Pakistan army in Pathankot, Uri and the series of border violations, shelling of civilian targets, cover firing for sneaking terrorists are indications of not just hostile acts but a serious breach of our national security mechanism. While India has successfully retaliated and inflicted heavy cost on Islamabad, that alone is no reason for New Delhi to let the guard down.

Border security and all other aspects of external security are a significant yet a fraction of the larger national security and strategy planning. National security is a multi-dimensional concept primarily concerned with ensuring comprehensive national strength and, in the process, gaining toe-hold in the strategic sphere, hitherto lost or not obtained in the first place. Long-term security planning involves a deeper understanding of not just external military threats but also internal fault lines, traditional and non-traditional security threats and the strategic moves of countries that play bigger games in the geo-political arena.

In the colonial past, Her Majesty’s Government decided the foreign policy and the strategic outreach of India. For example, it was in the interest of Great Britain to keep Communist USSR out of Indian Ocean and hence they created Pakistan. (Ref: The untold story of India’s Partition, Narendra Singh Sarila, Ch: The Great Game, pp: 16-22).

After Independence, India’s foreign policy thrust was influenced by Gandhian ideals of non-violence and non-alignment and Nehruvian socialistic values and the idea of ‘Panchsheel’. This could also be seen as India’s soft-power projection in the region. Unfortunately, this neither changed India’s image in its neighbourhood nor internationally. We emerged as a weak nation unsure of our strength as there was no national security or strategic policy in place.

Long term security planning involves a deeper understanding of not just external military threats but also internal fault lines, traditional and nontraditional security threats and the strategic moves of countries that play bigger games in the geo-political arena

The very first test of national security came in the form of Pakistan’s attack on Jammu and Kashmir. A totally unprepared government could barely manage to halt the attack but not before losing prime territory and taking the resolution of the issue to the UN. The entire episode exposed two chinks in our frail security armour—our military unpreparedness and total lack of strategic outlook. The fact that Nehru believed the UN as an independent and just jury, rather than depending on national strength to win back the lost territory is evident from the reality that the issue still hangs fire and stands out as a sore thumb.

The next hole in our national security preparedness came in the 1950s when China unabashedly occupied Tibet and India played host to HH, the Dalai Lama, and his subjects. More importantly, India lost the strategic area in the Himalayas which is proving to be detrimental to our security till date. Another blow to our external security came in 1962 in the form of Chinese aggression that totally exposed our vulnerability to the world. We stood before the world as a loser, disgraced, weak nation with a soft underbelly, with no friends on our side.

The 1965 misadventure by Pakistan gave us the first opportunity to re-define our priorities and reverse the series of setbacks since Independence. It was a coincidence that the Nehruvian era had just ended but the vacuum was effectively filled by a strong, determined but little known leadership, though unfortunately short lived. The military victory in 1965 (Indian army hoisted the Tricolour in Lahore for more than a week), boosted the morale of the armed forces and laid the basic foundations for a new military thinking. Yet we were far from any long-term strategic plan or vision to undo the wrongs of immediate past history. Our magnanimity in victory was touted as being more important than strategically bargaining for the return of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, including the areas illegally ceded to China by Pakistan. The Tashkent Agreement was projected as a pat on our ethically upright back but in reality it turned out to be a sharp and lethal stab.

Realising the fact that ethics and values serve little in foreign policy in a rapidly changing global security environment, Indira Gandhi tried a pragmatic approach towards the neighbours. The liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 through direct Indian military intervention demonstrated India’s ability to exercise hard-power in its foreign policy and security options. Since then, military power has been an indispensible component of India’s foreign policy. But India’s national security challenges continued to persist despite a strong military and show of strength.

Even at this stage of effective show of military strength, diplomatic outreach and successful strategy in the breakup of Pakistan, New Delhi did not realise the importance of using effective leverage to get back territory instead of retaining 93,000 prisoners of war, which in any case we sent back with full honour. The victory gained by the army on the ground was frittered away on the negotiating table.

ABSOLUTE lack of long-term security planning, clear and unambiguous idea of our national interest and strategic thinking are some of the reasons for this abysmal lack of vision in dealing with our highly inimical western neighbour.

Another important factor in security planning was that we ignored to our detriment the role and involvement of stakeholders. There was a time when the defence and paramilitary forces were enough to tackle any security threat. But this was long before Pakistan decided to inflict a thousand cuts and bleed us to death. Pakistan with three power centres, the army, the political establishment and the clergy, has vowed to balkanise India through terror attacks using the so-called non-state actors. We seem to be totally unprepared for this kind of proxy war and it is only now, after almost hundreds of terror attacks and loss of lives and a change in the political leadership that we seem to be taking the security act more seriously.

Long-term security and strategic planning needs a coordinated working between internal and external security systems. External security is linked not only to internal strength but also involves the active participation of the people. External threats can be countered by effective diplomacy and defense preparedness. Contrary to external threats, internal challenges have assumed greater and wide ranging proportions. Every aspect of the society such as economy, agriculture, transportation, cyber systems, etc., has become greatly vulnerable to jeopardy and open to tampering causing chaos of grave magnitude. Pumping counterfeit currency in to the market has thrown the entire banking system and the economy into disarray forcing demonitisation. The challenge to national security is in an integrated form and. therefore, the solutions also need to be integrated.

In the changed situation internal security needs a stable government, decisive leadership, strong judiciary, responsible media, robust economy, egalitarian social system and all such aspects of good governance. Above all, the need for zero corruption in the body politic, especially in the defence establishment and the law enforcing authority, is a very vital template in planning a strong security apparatus. We seem to be witnessing all these in full measure under the Modi-led NDA.

We still need a strong national security advisory board, armed to teeth with expertise and mandate to draw up a national security doctrine and strategic roadmap.

The author is Secretary General of Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). Email: charidr.fins@gmail.com

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