Intro: Besides Pakistan and China, India is likely to face major threats from non-state actors, nurtured and sponsored by ideologies flowering across India’s frontiers.
In today’s world, a country’s stature in the comity of nations is directly dependent upon its ability to influence events far off from its frontiers. India's ambition to emerge as a global power is contingent not only on sustained economic growth and a minimum quality of life for all its citizens, but also on military power that has the capacity to deliver a potent punch to project power globally.
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The conflicts with Pakistan and China, which posed an existential threat during the initial decades, have led to an asymmetric growth of Indian defence forces. However, it would be reasonable to assume that in the coming decade, both Pakistan and china are unlikely to go in for a major confrontation. More significantly, Pakistan and China, as well as India possess nuclear arms and a prolonged war between nuclear armed countries, appears extremely unlikely. This does not necessarily eliminate the scope for a conventional war completely, but any prolonged military operation, which could pose an existential threat to any nation, is not feasible.
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Pakistan as a modern nation state has been tottering and its numerous internal faultlines have been widening. Consequently, its capacity to pose a conventional threat to India has diminished greatly. It has therefore been indulging in proxy war through various state sponsored non-state actors.
IT related threats are the new form of terrorism. Since we have no preparedness to meet this challange, the
governement shoud hunt for cybers experts in defence.
—Maj Gen (Retd) Dhruv C Katoch
On the other hand, China has galloped ahead, but the demographic crunch has slowed its economic growth and at this point it is focusing on reviving its economy. More significantly, it perceives that it is being encircled by the United States and its allies. Its primary objective vis-a-vis, India therefore, is to prevent it from becoming an ally of the West. This to a great extent explains recent upsurge in Chinese delegations visiting India. A conflict could certainly push India into an alliance with the US and China would certainly not want that. However, considering the chequered history and a contentious border without a clearly demarcated or delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC), the conflict can never be ruled out, but again a prolonged conflict is not in the interest of either country. More significantly, India has a strong leverage against the Chinese in Indian Ocean, through which large chunk of Chinese ships traverses.
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The major threats that India is likely to face are going to be from non-state actors, nurtured and sponsored by ideologies flowering across India’s frontiers. One of the biggest threats that India is likely to face in future is from global Islamic radicalism. India has third largest population of Muslims worldwide and along with its neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan, constitutes the largest concentration of Muslims worldwide. For long, Indians deluded themselves by believing that secular and liberal environment prevailing in the country had prevented Indians Muslims from joining global terrorist outfits. However, all this changed with the emergence of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which now calls itself as Islamic State (IS), on the global stage. With the capture of Mosul and the proclamation of Caliphate, there was a transformation, as the new Caliph tried to derive his authority from theocratic validation within Islam. His name, status, resources and claimed descent from the Prophet’s family have drawn numerous youth from across the globe to gravitate towards the IS. Many Islamic outfits from across the globe including Boko Haram in West Africa and some components of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have already shifted their allegiance to the Caliphate from al Qaeda, which had been propagating a global jihad under Amir-ul Muminin Mullah Omar of Taliban. Since then, there has been a competition of sorts between the two outfits to emerge as the leading Islamic terrorist organisation of the globe.
With the advent of al Qaeda and Islamic State, the Muslim youth in South Asia is getting radicalised and in times could pose a serious threat to India’s security. For long Pakistan has tried to use radical Islamic outfits as a weapon against India and even after being bitten by these Frankenstein’s monsters, as was clearly evident in the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar, significant sections of Pakistani establishment continue to nurture them. Although this threat of Islamic radicalism has been present for some time, the Indian security establishment has seen it as a law and order issue. It has believed it could be dealt with bullet and baton, without realising that this is an ideological war, which can only be won with ideological reforms.
The radical outfits believe that they have been ordained to fight in ‘Khurasan’, which according to recent maps circulated by the Islamic State (IS) include parts of Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir. More significantly, according to their beliefs the victory in Khurasan is to be followed by ‘Ghazawa-e-Hind’ or battle for India. It is therefore quite clear that India is on the radar of radical Islamic outfits and consequently there is a competition of sorts between al Qaeda and IS, as far as the region is concerned.
The announcement about the creation of al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) by Ayman al Zawahiri and the designation of a former militant leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as the commander of Khurasan Chapter of IS by the ‘Caliph’, shows the gravity of the situation. To counter these threats, India needs to master the art of psychological operations. A concerted and effective deradicalisation programme can only be launched by educated and intelligent warriors, who use brain as much as brawn, if not more.
With new threats, the domain where they can target the state has also expanded. Not only are our assets in air and space at threat, but cyber terrorism has become a serious threat. With the advent of technology, the dependence on internet and computers is increasing and this makes cyber warfare a potent tool. More significantly, Mumbai exposed the weakness of our coastal security. Even today the threat from the seas has not diminished and a lot needs to be done to enhance coastal security. Similarly, our island territories continue to be vulnerable to infiltration by non-state and state actors. There are a large number of uninhabited islands, which can easily become terrorist havens, as some of them are far off from Indian main land as compared to other countries. More significantly, as Indian economy gathers momentum, India’s interests will also widen, requiring intervention by Indian forces, not only to protect India’s vital interests, but also to shoulder global responsibilities as an important member of international community.
It is therefore quite clear that the future challenges to India’s defence are going to be quite different and our defence forces at this point of time are not configured to face them. The future wars are not going to be like 1965 or 1971, which were essentially land wars with the Navy and the Air Force playing supporting roles. Future conflicts are more likely to be short, intense affairs wherein all forces—including cyber, maybe space, or even nuclear—could be deployed simultaneously or sequentially. Therefore ability of various services to operate jointly would be critical. More significantly, as an aspiring power, the Indian military is more and more likely to be called upon to carry out operations far off from the nation's shores. It is therefore essential that the Indian military's systems, processes, command and control should be flexible enough to be quickly deployable overseas. Similarly Special Operations need to be given due importance as Indian forces may be called upon to destroy terrorist bases deep inside foreign territories. In addition our strategic forces need to be integrated with our warfighting doctrine.
It is therefore essential to reorganise Indian defence forces. One possible structure could be akin to that of the United States, by creating joint theatre commands, directly responsible to the cabinet, with chiefs of the three services responsible for equipping, organising and training only. A Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, separate from the three Chiefs could be the single point military advisor to the government, obviating the need for a bureaucrat to do so. Joint effort is a pressing need, however, nowhere in the world, have the services come together voluntarily. Their own vested interests and turf wars prevent it. Such significant changes have always been mandated by the political leadership and must be done so now in India. It is also worth considering whether defence forces should ever be used for internal disorders, as the requirements are quite different and it blunts the war fighting potential of the military. Similarly, multiplicity of agencies for guarding borders or for counter insurgency may be good for career advancements, but reduces the synergy and operational effectiveness.
As India dreams of global leadership in the 21st century, it is essential that its political leadership understands the strategic dimensions of India’s security. The political leaders should be able to visualise the future challenges without depending on bureaucratic advice or military inputs. The reorganisation of Indian military is a necessity that the political leadership will have to visualise, as certain issues can only be analysed in perspective. The impetus for a reconfigured military, designed and optimised to support India's aspirations, must come from the political leadership. War, as they say, is too important to be left to the Generals, least of all to inert bureaucrats, who man the ministry.
Alok Bansal With inputs from Prodyut Bora.( The writer is Director Centre for Security and Strategy, India Foundation. The views expressed are his own)