14 January 2015

Fortify defence framework to combat threats

Kanwal Sibal
Jan 14 2015

Excerpts from the presentations at the Roundtable on National Security Key Challenges Ahead organised by The Tribune National Security Forum in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs See also www.tribuneindia.com

To be able to deal with threats, we have to first identify them. Historically, the threat to us has been from the west. Today, Pakistan has become the embodiment of that threat. We had no historical threat from the north, but now China embodies it. The eastern part of the country remains disturbed, with local insurgencies there having some external connections even now.
Southwards, seaborne threats are rising. The 1993 Mumbai attack and the subsequent 26/11 attack were staged from the sea, opening a new area of vulnerability. As our Home Minister has pointed out, while our major ports are well secured, there are over 200 minor ports and 1,500 landing points which still appear vulnerable.

Further south, with the Chinese presence growing in the Indian Ocean area, we have to increasingly contend with a new threat to our security. India is, therefore, uniquely challenged as the threats are from all directions. India's territorial integrity is threatened. Two countries claim Indian territory: Pakistan and China. No other example exists of unsettled borders involving a country of India's size in an environment of conflict and competition.

Both Pakistan and China collaborate with each other against India, presenting us with a two-front situation. Both countries do not accept the territorial status quo, which alone could be the basis of eventual compromises. But Pakistan wants a part of Kashmir and China, at the minimum, wants Tawang. China has neutralised us strategically in South Asia by transferring nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan. Consequently, despite acquiring nuclear capability, India has not been able to deter sufficiently territorial and other pressures from China and Pakistan.

Under cover of its nuclear capability, Pakistan uses the instrument of terror against us. As is the case with its nuclear capability that Pakistan is constantly augmenting without any serious countervailing action from the West despite its nonproliferation phobias, the Western powers have been remarkably tolerant of Pakistan's terrorist affiliations too. This is a problem for us.
The argument that putting pressure on an ailing state like Pakistan will push it towards failure, raising the danger of its nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of extremists, is unconvincing when the US and EU are willing to impose punishing sanctions on a major nuclear power like Russia and seek its economic collapse.

India has not found an adequate answer to the terrorist menace from Pakistan as the option of serious punitive action carries great risks. In our neighbourhood, the Taliban remains a disruptive force and ideology. The future of Afghanistan is uncertain, with the planned withdrawal of US/NATO forces as well as the pursuit of Pakistan's strategic ambitions there.

The rise of ISIL potentially adds to the menace of religious extremism that India faces. The question is whether this ideology will creep ever closer to India. We do not know how many Indians have joined ISIL. It is difficult to assess how many in India are vulnerable to this ideology. We cannot overlook the connection between this threat and extremist Muslim groups in India, which points to the need to properly manage our internal communal situation.
China is undermining our security in the south through its thrust in the Indian Ocean directed at Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Its submarines docked at Colombo very recently, signifying an increasing Chinese naval presence near our shores. China has repackaged its so-called String-of-Pearls strategy as the maritime silk route project. In the north, the economic belts it is promoting are intended to link other countries in the region economically to China, assisting the flow of Chinese goods.

China will thus become the centre to which the periphery is tied. It has vastly improved its military infrastructure in Tibet. We are feeling the pressure of this through its periodic intrusions into our territory. While additional border mechanisms to maintain peace and tranquility on the border are being agreed to by both sides, ironically, the military dispositions of both in the border regions are being simultaneously expanded. China wants to keep us under pressure on the border and not lose this leverage by resolving the border issue. It does not even want to clarify the Line of Actual Control so that it can have a free hand to engage in power play with us as needed. It is undermining our influence in our neighbouring countries, whether Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and even Bhutan. To counter us even more effectively in our own region, it is now seeking membership of SAARC.

Defence manufacturing

We have neglected our defences and failed to develop indigenous defence manufacturing capacities. We cannot be really secure if we remain import-dependent, or be a big power without some autonomy in defence manufacturing. We need to accelerate our strategic programmes to better ensure our security, as the military gap between India and China is growing. We need to consider whether to partially revise our nuclear doctrine in view of Pakistan's decision to introduce tactical nuclear weapons in the region.

Our borders are porous, especially with Nepal and Bangladesh. Both countries have been used by Pakistani agencies against our security. We need to control these borders better, but how to do it without destroying the “special relationship” with Nepal? How to integrate Bangladesh increasingly with our economy and simultaneously tighten border movement?

Cyber security has become a major concern. How do we protect our critical infrastructure against cyber attacks? Chinese companies have entered our telecom and power sectors in a big way. We are now inviting them into our railway sector. How do we manage the cyber threat even as we seek more Chinese involvement in the economy?

The social media has become the instrument of many kinds of threats to our security, especially terrorism and incitement of social conflict from outside our borders. How we monitor the social media without infringing on privacy and freedom of expression is a challenge.

China has acquired formidable economic power that is now translating itself into political influence and military strength. We should, however, not engage in an arms race with China. Our focus should be to build our defence capacities as rapidly as possible. The ‘Make-in-India’ policy, increasing the ceiling of FDI in the defence sector and opening it to the private sector are steps in the right direction.

We have to develop our sea-based deterrent rapidly. We have to preserve our strategic autonomy but enhance politico-military cooperation with the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam to the extent that serves our interests and does not disturb the overall balance of our policies. The platforms for engaging China should be preserved but other platforms and relationships that hedge against China's aggressive behaviour should not be spurned. India has not been able to take advantage of the situation to build our defence capabilities against China when the latter has remained under a western arms embargo, but arms from those sources have been available to us. Russia had earlier become more reticent about arms sales to China, but is now releasing advanced arms to it, including the S-400 air defence system. Russia is also preparing to sell attack helicopters to Pakistan in a bid to pressure us to obtain more defence contracts.

Despite concerns about overdependence on Russia, it is strategically important for us to maintain a stable defence relationship with Russia, as it remains the source of defence equipment and technologies not easily available elsewhere. Our strategic autonomy, and hence our security, requires strong ties with Russia, which is currently under huge pressure from the West, reminiscent of Cold War years. 

The assumption that we have no option but to have a dialogue with Pakistan, and that without good relations with our neighbours we cannot act on the world stage credibly has to be revised. Our neighbours need us more than we need them. Because our biggest problem with Pakistan is terrorism, we should insist on a link between dialogue and terrorism. Our threats from Pakistan will not be diminished by making concessions to it. We should not hold any discussion with Pakistan on Siachen. Opening up of LoC links in Kashmir and encouraging the idea of a united Kashmir is dangerous to our security as we do not fully control the ground situation inside Kashmir, especially its orientation away from Sufi Islam.

We should raise the issue of Chinese presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir more forcefully and not miss any occasion to protest at China-Pakistan agreements pertaining to that territory, just as China does with regard to Arunachal Pradesh. We have to be tougher with Sri Lanka on the issue of China’s naval vessels docking in its ports, and about its advocacy of China, even within SAARC. We should also be more forthright with Nepal and the Maldives on this count.

Ties with Gulf, East

We should maintain a balance between our relations with the Gulf states and Iran, even though we have greater financial, trade, manpower and energy interests with the former. The Gulf states are the source of destabilising extremist ideologies that threaten us. The Al-Qaida has announced a new outfit for targeting South Asia. The Look-East policy strengthens our security in various ways by giving us an enhanced role in developing an Asian security architecture and countering Chinese north-south connectivities with the east-west connectivities that we are promoting. This policy has now been upgraded to ‘Act East’, which essentially means better implementation of our initiatives and policies.

Building a stronger relationship with Japan is important as it contributes to our security. A strong relationship with Israel serves our security interests, but it should be balanced with attention to the Arab world to maintain a degree of balance. The relationship with the US should be strengthened as much as possible but without any illusion that the US will get involved on our side in India-Pakistan or India-China differences. Good relations with the US, however, open diplomatic space for us in all directions. These relations should not be threat-linked, but interest-linked.

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