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Will the greatest future security threats to India

be from inside or outside the country?

Indias Security Challenges A Futuristic Perspective

An essay by Ram Sevak, IIM Bangalore, Bangalore
If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you
do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know
your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle
The Art of War, Sun Tzu (6th Century BC), Chinese general and military strategist
India is widely believed to have arrived on the global stage. In fact, if one goes by the popular press
both domestic and foreign, it is very difficult to not get swayed by the euphony being generated about
India and her inevitable ascendance to rightful place in the comity of nations. Nonetheless this essay
attempts to desist from merely joining the self-congratulatory chorus and instead objectively
analyses the security threats - external, internal, covert and overt, state and non-state - posed to our
country. Therefore at the outset, it must be emphasized though I am a strong believer in the idea of
India, her resilience and ability to resurrect from every conceivable threat she has faced in the last
two millennia; the essay tries to adopt a pragmatic strategists approach in the analysis of countrys
security environment.
As most of the armies of the world adopt, the paper bases the quantum of threat posed by a security
threat through its capability and interest and not by purported intention. We will explicitly list all
security threats as well as economic, social, political and technological factors that can give rise to an
increased security threat level. We will first analyze external and then internal security threats
before evaluating which of the two, if at all, be more threatening to India in the coming decades.
India has the disadvantage of being situated in close proximity to what is being described as the
epicenter of global terrorism . Tribal region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is constantly
drawing attention of Americas Global War on Terror (GWOT) since 2001. Indias increasing
relevance to the US strategic canvas, troubled relationship with Pakistan since the independence of
the country, deteriorating and unpredictable relationship with China, unstable political climate in
Nepal along with Maoist insurgency, mistrustful relationship with Bangladesh, civil-war ravaged and
still-healing Sri Lanka, authoritarian Myanmar have rendered any fair estimation of Indian
preparedness to deal with these security challenges an onerous task. We will now analyze
capabilities and interests of each of these players and then asses their influence on Indias strategic
Indias relationship with the sole military and economic superpower of the world has been on the
rise during the previous decade. A new shift in Indo-US relations was witnessed during President
Clintons visit in 2000, fortified by Presidents Bush and Obamas visit to the country. That said,
although India remains ideologically non-committal to signing the CTBT and NPT regime; there has

although India remains ideologically non-committal to signing the CTBT and NPT regime; there has
been tremendous improvement in the nuclear energy field through singing the Indo-US Nuclear
Treaty in 2006.
The US has always been a practitioner of hard real-politick, its policies have always been defined by
its own interests in the region. The US support to Pakistans military through CEATO arrangements in
1960s, later President Nixons visit to China in Feb 1972 which was secretly facilitated by Pakistan
and resulted in melting the ice between the two nations, support to Pakistans defense apparatus and
Taliban through 1980s and now military offensive in the Af-Pak tribal region have all been calibrated
on the US self-interests. All these steps have had a profound impact on Indias external security
environment. The continued US presence in our North-West border is cited to be one of the main
reasons behind Pakistans belligerent attitude in the aftermath of the Parliament attack in 2001 and
26/11mayhem in 2008. The Pakistani Army knows Indian options are severely limited to strike across
Pakistani territory owing to military assistance she is providing to GWOT. Apart from limiting Indias
punitive capability against Pakistan for its sponsoring terrorist attacks and their infrastructure in
India, the US has also provided substantial financial and military to Pakistan which have adverse
consequences to our strategic calculations.
Nonetheless the US is likely to dominate world affairs for at least another two decades. India has to
work towards minimizing adverse impact of the US-Pak assistance on our external security. On a
lighter note, India should emphasize to the US that for fighting tribal insurgents in its North-Western
region; Pakistan does not need F-16s and nuclear submarines!
Indo-China relations have been marked with distrust and fear on both sides after 1962 border clash
which resulted in China usurping Aksai Chin area in J&K giving it easy road access from the Tibetan
plateau to remote Xinxiang region in the West. Additionally Chinas rise in the past three decades has
given it tremendous weight in international political and security circles. China has patiently been
working towards building military-economic and political alliances around Indias periphery
termed as strings of pearl strategy. China remains Indias number one security threat. It has
provided consistent military assistance to Pakistan for use against India, funded armed rebels in the
North-East and has continued to up the ante in diplomatic circles through stapled visas, visa denials
and spying on Tibetan Diaspora in India.
Although India needs to be sensitive towards Chinese sensitivities towards Tibet, India has failed to
play an assertive role in communicating its interests to the Chinese side. On the other hand, China
has built up superior civilian and military infrastructure along Indo-Tibet border. Our defense
preparedness vis--vis China leaves much to be desired. As has rightly been enunciated by one of our
Army Chiefs , the possibility of Two-Front War scenario with both Pakistan and China should be
factored in while preparing our doctrine of war and operational readiness.
To match Chinas might and thwart any misadventure from our Northern neighbor, we should invest
heavily in our infrastructure in border areas, phase out obsolete military hardware, raise at least 3
mountain divisions for the Eastern sector and shore up anti-ballistic missile capability through
expedited Agni programs. Fortunately Indian economys healthy growth in the past decade has
ensured greater defense outlay but even now our defense budget at 2.1% is way below 4.5% and
4.7% of Pakistani and Chinese budgets as % of their respective GDP and even the allocated funds do
not get fully utilized for modernizing the forces but for the lack of speedy and transparent
procurement procedures.
A look at the following chart shows the yawning gap between the defense expenditures of China and
India . China is widely known to have unders tated its publicly announced defense budgets. The
defense expenditure for Pakistan does not include capital outlay hence actual spending should be
higher than shown here. Hence the need to selectively utilize our limited defense outlay for
maximizing lethality of our forces.

To that end recent successful trial of indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Aircraft
(LCA) Tejas is a welcome development. Similarly other big-ticket purchases for example C130s and
Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCAs) should also be expedited for induction into the Indian
Air Force. Indian Navys recent announcement of forming an Andaman specific command is a right
step towards influencing Malacca strait area which can be one of the pressure points on the Chinese
Navy in the event of a prolonged conflict. But our Navy needs much awaited aircraft career to project
military power away from the shores. Unfortunately Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov is waiting for
about a decade for acquisition. Other steps should be towards economically integrating countries in
our immediate neighborhood to balance strategic Chinese investment in these countries. A strong
political will is required to transform the forces and provide them necessary resources to successfully
face the challenges on the external front.
The perennial challenge before Indian defense apparatus to manage external covert and overt threat
from Pakistan does not need any emphasis. Since the birth of that country, we have fought them four
times in war - 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1998. Besides the country is facing low intensity conflict in J&K
abetted and sponsored by Pakistani military, in the North-East and through support to various fringe
extremist group within the country. The country also faces huge challenge before its economy in the
form of fake rackets being operated from Karachi and Dubai and widely believed to have blessings of
Pakistans infamous Inter-Services Intelligence its external spy agency.
As the following chart shows, though in absolute terms terrorism related deaths in India have shown
a decline; the potential for disturbing communal harmony within the country through such
machinations cannot be underestimated. The fatalities here include all three kinds of death
civilians, security forces personnel and the terrorists . We will during the later part of the article
explore how external agencies with covert or overt support from nefarious elements within the
country can potentially destabilize the security situation.

Thus Pakistan remains one of our principle worries at both external and internal security fronts.
Besides on the basis of its long-standing strategic partnership with China, it can stretch our armed
forces capabilities in the Eastern sector. The modernization plans of Karakoram highway, the
development of Gwadar as a n aval port by the Chinese Navy and covert assistance to Pakistans
nuclear and missile program are on the anvil; these two countries should be watched very carefully
in our defense planning. Rapid implementation of the mooted Cold-Start Strategy should be pursued
by the forces to neutralize Pakistani threat quickly in a two-front war scenario and deny the bigger
neighbor to our North an advantage from the Western sector.
Unfortunately our other neighbors with the exception of Bhutan also dont provide any succor to
military planners and political leaders and are equally as challenging as China and Pakistan. While
Nepal is in the grip of political turmoil since the ouster of unpopular King Gyanendra, India has to
play its cards carefully lest it be seen with a big brother agenda. India and Nepal share an open
boundary with free exchange of people and currency across the borders. Although few contentious
points remain in the Indo-Nepalese relations; they should not be allowed to obstruct our efforts in
ensuring political stability in this strategically important neighbor of hours. Perhaps Indian leftist
parties can be utilized by the Central government to persuade Maoist leadership in Nepal to desist
from mollycoddling too much with the Chinese to our and Nepals detriment.
Bangladesh on the other hand is showing signs of delivering on the stated policy of the Government
of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of not letting her countrys soil for anti-India activities. Bangladesh
has recently handed over many high profile terrorist leaders hiding in their country. India has also
reciprocated with huge USD 1 billion economic assistance in the form of line of credit to Bangladesh .
But India should actively continue to manage her somewhat uneasy relationship with the Opposition
leader in Bangladesh former PM Mrs. Begum Khalida Zia. Seeking active Bangladeshi cooperation in
destroying the terrorist infrastructure of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HuJI) remains a challenge for
Indian security agencies.
Although India at first neglected their relationship with Burmese military rulers, there have been
improvements in the past few years in our bilateral relations. China has been investing in Kyaukryu
and Sittwe as commercial ports on the west coast close to our NE states. Both of these ports can be
used as a naval base and should be a cause of concern. India also needs to co-opt Myanmar for
curbing the North Eastern rebel groups e.g. NSCN, ULFA and Manipur rebels which find shelter in
dense forests along the international border. For that increased economic and military cooperation
without inviting international limelight is a challenge as recently the US has started objecting to our
strengthening relationship with the junta.
India also faces competition from China in keeping Sri Lanka attuned to our interests. The recently
finished Civil War in the North-East Sri Lanka has incurred huge emotional and economic costs for
the Indian Tamils. Thus encouraging cordial linguistic relations in Sri Lanka through persuading
Lankan government towards equitable distribution of resources and fair treatment of ethnic
minorities is a priority for Indian foreign policy mandarins. Bhutan has demonstrated sensibilities to

minorities is a priority for Indian foreign policy mandarins. Bhutan has demonstrated sensibilities to
our concerns by wiping off ULFA rebels in their territory in 2003 and India rightly assists in their
economic, social and defense developments. Similarly India should also manage our closest ally
during the Cold War era Russia to counterbalance China and procuring critical defense supplies.
Indias internal security challenges can be categorized under two heads insurgency and extremism.
We will explore the internal security threats to India in these lines.
India faces huge challenges in dousing the insurgency fires in many parts of the country from the
dense forests of Central India covering Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, few districts in Uttar Pradesh, West
Bengal, few parts of Andhra Pradesh (so called Red Corridor) to North-East India. We all know the
Pakistani sponsored and mooted terrorist activities in the state of J&K since 1989. Besides there are
dozens of militant groups in ethnically diverse North Eastern part of the country. Indian strategy so
far has been to first let a state handle its law and order situation and intervene only in cases of
extreme urgency. This strategy needs a rethink because of signs of consolidation among many of the
freedom-seekers e.g. there are indications that Maoists have tried to forge ties with Kashmiri
separatists and ULFA to synergize their activities. Furthermore as Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) in
India stretches has their proximity to important cities and both north-south and east west lines of
communication - termed as potentially dangerous by the Indian Army . Therefore for successfully
tackling the menace of LWE, two pronged strategy needs to be adopted focus on socio-economic
uplift of the affected areas as it is unfulfilled promise of the Indian state to her citizens (aka Directive
Principles of the State) and secondly this is one of the root-causes of the rise of Naxal movement in
the Indian hinterland. Sincere efforts must be taken to implement inclusive growth as an objective of
public policy. On fighting the insurgency, inter-state cooperation is a must and jurisdictional issues
should not be allowed to tackle a nation-wide insurgency. Failing which, it must be emphasized India
will face sever governance crisis internally and might even descend into chaos.
Insurgency in NE part of the country goes till 1950s and has its genesis in the way those states were
integrated into the Indian Union. Much water has since flown down the river Brahmaputra to
reverse the flow of time. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony should be maintained in the highly
sensitive region through grass-root level participation of people. Besides illegal migration from
Bangladesh rightly fuels resentment among the rightful Indian citizens and there should be no votebank politics with this critical development in Assam and other states. Otherwise changed
demographics of these states can wreck havoc on the internal security of the country in the coming
For tackling the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, numerous tomes have been written. But in a nutshell,
the issue requires firm handling from the Centre. It is widely documented that Pakistani state fuels
the seeds of alienation among the Kashmiri youth. Even within the state of J&K, Jammu and Ladakh
have not shown secessionist movements and are well-integrated into the mainstream. It is only the
Kashmir Valley which has seen such activities and adequate focus should be given towards job
creation in this region.
Religious extremism is other main internal security threat to the country. Without establishing causeand-effect for this phenomenon as do most of the Right and Left wing intellectuals, there is urgency
to tackle this issue. Fair and transparent law enforcement and quick, efficient judicial apparatus are
required to stem the tide of religious extremism in the country both minority as well as majority.
Recent rhetorical statements from the politicians of certain political spectrum to milk this challenge
for their advantage are indeed unfortunate.
Other challenges to internal security are astoundingly high level of corruption, political factionalism
and caste wars all of which require seasoned and firm political vision.
It is indeed a complex task to determine which of the two threats will be greater for India. In fact, in
highly dynamic external security situation and rapidly evolving internal socio-economic
developments, the relative strengths of these challenges cannot be determined with certainty. But
one can say that an internally weak nation cannot fight an external adversary successfully. So

one can say that an internally weak nation cannot fight an external adversary successfully. So
tackling internal insurgency successfully is a greater and immediate challenge than fighting wars
abroad. Continued insurgency can provide a fillip to external aggression from our adversaries
sensing internal weakness. For example, left wing ultras can cripple rail and road infrastructure in
the event of war and our enemies can very well factor this into their calculations. Similarly
insurgencies in India are abetted and supported by our adversaries and the impact of the two
challenges cannot be isolated per se.
As has been argued throughout this article, in area as humongous as national security it is difficult to
ascertain which of the two threats external or internal will pose greater security threat to the
country going forward. But if we take nation as an organism, to fight an external adversary internal
strength is prerequisite. Internal cohesion and external defense preparedness is what gives a nation
lethal power to deter a potential aggressor and preserve freedom. Indian history has shown
throughout millennia, we have lost our freedom and riches by neglecting our frontiers or through
internal factionalism. Any nation which is getting rich without paying adequate focus on defense
invites aggression. Are our policymakers ready for the challenge to steward safely an ascendant India
of the 21st Century?
The essay posted here represents the views of the author only and not of INDIA Future of Change.
This is one of the winning essays from the INDIA Future of Change Essay-Writing Contest 2010-11
as evaluated by Financial Times, the knowledge partner for the contest.

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