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India should focus on its defence preparedness

opinionIndia should focus on its defence preparedness

It is strange but not surprising that nations think only of military when compelled to plan for augmenting their protection against the adversaries. The words “defence” and “security” both mean safeguarding the country, but they are not synonymous. Defence is protection against an “open” attack of the enemy, which would conventionally be repelled by the nation’s Army, Navy and the Air Force—appropriately called the defence forces. Security by definition is protection against the “covert” attacks of the adversary on the three assets of a target organisation or country—vital establishments, people and sensitive information. In professional terms, these assaults of the “unseen” enemy are categorised as sabotage, subversion and espionage. Armed forces in uniform take on the visible enemy violating our borders, air space and maritime boundaries—they are not expected to identify and locate enemy agents who used camouflage to reach the target’s doorsteps. The nation needs intelligence agencies to get to this invisible enemy in time for neutralising the threat. Defence is a counter offensive against an open attack, while security is the skilful set of measures designed to prevent a planned but hidden attack from the hostile quarters.

We live in an unsafe world that is witnessing newer methods of how a country would be required to deal with its enemies. First of all, the end of Cold War may have diminished the possibility of another World War, but the geo-political transformation set off a new trend of the countries—big and small—witnessing a far greater number of cross border conflicts, insurgencies and wars by proxies. Post-Cold War, a new trend is that “proxy wars” have tended to replace conventional open warfare. Weapons of “proxy war” range from undercover saboteurs to technology-driven attacks from unidentified locations.

The second new dimension of the present day warfare connects with the rise of the global threat of faith-based terrorism originally from Afghanistan—a country that had witnessed the defeat of the Soviet army at the hands of militants who had raised the war cry of jihad. Afghanistan soon came under the sway of the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine with all its radical content and which immediately opened up its anti-West and anti-US fangs because of reasons that are both historical and ideological. The US-led West felt compelled to oust it from power there. Afghanistan thereafter became the reason why 9/11 was planned by Al Qaeda radicals and this, in turn, set off the “war on terror”, which was to push the world to the era of “asymmetric war”, in which terror including suicide bombing would be the chief weapon of offence. India came at the receiving end of this new war as Pakistan attempted to replicate the Afghan jihad in Kashmir by infiltrating armed militants of outfits under the ISI’s control such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen from across the LOC. Today, the US on one hand and India on the other are the major targets of Islamic terror.

Terrorism has created an entirely new set of paradigms for India’s security and defence that call for the closest coordination between the security agencies and the armed forces of the country. Terrorism by definition is the “use of covert violence for a perceived political cause”—without the “cause” it will be mere criminality—and that is why terrorism relies on a “commitment” to the aim it works for. The cause may be ideological as in the case of Naxalites or ethnic independence as seen in the Northeast insurgencies. However, it is the faith-based commitment—known to be particularly strong in Islam—that is behind the jihad-driven terrorist violence threatening many parts of the democratic world including India. Islamic terror has now become a major instrument of Pakistan’s India policy and this calls for a strategic reorientation of our defence to ensure that our armed forces handle counter-terrorism operations in complete conjunction with the intelligence agencies. The security orientation of the defence forces engaged in action against terrorists in a state like Jammu and Kashmir has to be taken to a new level as only intelligence-based operations minimise collateral damage. Today even an open attack by the enemy comes at the end of a planned preparation about which intelligence should be forthcoming so that an effective counter-attack could be organised. Frederick the Great famously said, “It is pardonable to be defeated but not to be surprised.” The security set-up producing intelligence and the armed forces responding with decisive action are equally important and the nation must invest in both.

A third dimension of defence of the nation is connected with the advent of the Age of Information, which in turn was a consequence of the success of the IT Revolution in the early 1990s. This created a new world of instant connectivity, borderless transactions and IP based operations and systems. Cyberspace emerged as the new frontier of warfare and several countries have since adopted the strategy of integrating cyber warfare with general warfare to enable the cyber operations to play a decisive role. India must invest in an overarching national cyber strategy, prioritise the objectives in an evolving environment and achieve synergy between different stakeholders to enable them to work together in war and peace. The national cyber strategy should be a part of national security strategy. The Parliamentary Committee on cyber security took note of the country’s continuing dependence on imported IT products and websites existing outside and recommended that as far as possible government should take measures to locate internet servers for critical sectors within the country. It also called for speedy action to remove the acute shortage of trained manpower and cyber experts.

The geo-strategic environ around India puts the focus on Sino-Pak military alliance as the most important cause of concern for our national security. Today there is complete convergence between US and India on the issues of terror as President Donald Trump has unequivocally condemned Pakistan for providing safe havens to Islamic terrorists of all hues. He has upheld India’s opposition to CPEC and acknowledged the importance of India as a part of the strategic quad along with US, Japan and Australia to safeguard the Indo-Pacific maritime region. On the ground, however, Pakistan and China are likely to become aggressive on our vast land borders, which should call for a further build-up of our security and defence capabilities. The Pakistan army believes that its tactical nuclear weapons now act as a deterrent against a conventional war and is, therefore, being unabashed about stepping up its “proxy war” in Kashmir through the instrumentality of terror and internal subversion. Pakistan is now effectively ruled by the combine of army and Islamic militants and is recalcitrant towards the US or international pressures. The defence preparedness of India, including the necessary enlargement and consolidation of the security set-up and intelligence agencies needs to remain in constant focus of the government.

D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau

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