For the first time in recent memory, we have a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), that’s made up of members who are familiar with the multiple security challenges that India faces. And it’s time now to draft a comprehensive national security narrative that would allow India to punch effectively and beyond its weight, instead of floundering, as it has done in the past with reactive responses to the threats we face, which though not necessarily in an order of priority, are as follows.
First, is to counter the shadow of China that looms large on the Indian subcontinent and even beyond, with a pro-active strategy (the Doklam standoff was an exception). No doubt the Chinese have a much larger economy and a far better coordinated approach to their foreign and security policies, but India has its own strengths ranging from naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean to an army along the Sino-Indian border which the Chinese know, is not a pushover. However, in the long term, India either needs to invest in enhancing its military capabilities and infrastructure and its maritime capabilities to retain its edge against the Chinese, or use the US—as a partner—to offset the Chinese agenda against India, by adopting a posture of ‘offensive defence’.
Second, enhance pressure on Pakistan,and ignore their repeated calls to revive the dialogue process. For the first time—since the Balakot air strikes—Pakistan’s three-decade-old strategy of bleeding India by terror cuts has come to haunt them. It now has to cope with the economic impact of the ban on the use of its air space, and the lack of a financial bailout unless it severs the links between its deep state and its so-called non-state actors. However, all is not over yet, and it would be foolish to assume that Pakistan would be disciplined forever, following the Balakot air strikes.India’s diplomatic efforts need to be further energised and so should our intelligence agencies and counter-terror machinery, to prevent smaller but unsettling attacks by Pakistan’s rogues who could operate with or without, State patronage.
Third, effectively address the threat of local insurgencies across India. Insurgencies normally have their roots in shoddy governance, and the denial of basic rights to the local population, which gives rise to a common rallying point against the authority of the State. The influence of external elements (such as Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir) is often seen as the reason behind an insurgency, but the involvement of external actors is often a consequence of the failures of the State. Indian authorities have somehow managed to pull along in all these decades, going from crisis to crisis without enforcing a solution that would end these distractions. This should not be the norm hereafter. We need to contain the insurgents with the power of the gun or the promise of a solution, engage them in a time bound dialogue process while enforcing projects that will show that New Delhi means well and finally settle the disputes with or without the process of having a locally popular elected government in place. India cannot continue to be seen as the land of million mutinies.
And finally, there are the multiple futuristic challenges that no modern State can ignore; most importantly we must strengthen our cybersecurity responses. As future wars are more likely to be fought and won with cyber capabilities, than bombs and missiles per se, we need to raise ‘geek brigades’ of cyber warriors who not only aggressively defend the attacks on our critical infrastructure but also on our military platforms (as was alluded to, some years ago, by the IAF). In this era of hi-tech warfare, an effective weapon against an enemy downing of your aircraft or a ship would be to blackout its capital city, through a cyber attack. That is what we must now aspire for.
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