Even as a cheerless 2021 came to an end with hopes that the New Year would not be as dismal, the important factors which should govern national security of India deserve a fresh look. While the coastlines are expected to be secure—hopefully there would be no repeat of 26/11—the border states on both the eastern and western flanks are once again exhibiting signs of turbulence, especially in Jammu & Kashmir and the Punjab. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could be one of the reasons, but the fact remains that the security architecture of the nation needs strategic reorientation.
In J&K, the police was quite successful in their anti-terror operations during 2021. A total of 182 terrorists including 44 of their commanders and 20 guest militants were eliminated. However, there is no room for complacency and, as the chief of the army staff stated, the possibility of Afghan-origin foreign terrorists attempting to infiltrate into J&K cannot be ruled out once the situation in Afghanistan stabilises. Besides, there is genuine grievance among the people over the loss of statehood. The proposed delimitation of constituencies in J&K has also led to a political storm. The mainstream political parties represented by the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration have categorically rejected the proposal.
In Punjab, there is a concerted effort to revive militancy. Political instability in the state is providing an ideal opportunity to the pro-Khalistan elements. The lapses in the Prime Minister’s security during his visit to the Punjab showed the horrifying price that the country may have to pay for the sort of murky politics that are being played out in the frontier state.
The north-eastern scenario is not encouraging either. The manner in which the Chin refugee issue is creating a virtual rift between Aizawl and New Delhi brings into question the centre-state relationship in a quasi-federal set-up. In Tripura, where rallies were taken out by religious organisations leading to clashes with the police and vandalism of houses, shops and shrines belonging to the minority community as a backlash to the attacks on Hindu temples in Bangladesh is worrisome.
The situation in Nagaland, despite New Delhi’s firmness that there would be no balkanisation of states in the north-east, has become unstable with the Mon incident of 4 December 2021 being exploited by various groups to tarnish the image of the army and criticise the Government of India. New Delhi must make it clear that the demand for Greater Nagaland will not be entertained and it must take stern measures against elements violating the cessation of violence agreements.
Long-drawn-out deployment of the army in Manipur has virtually taken the sails out of the army’s winds in the state. There are allegations of human rights violations which are alienating the force from a populace whose support it would need were inimical forces to adopt hot-war postures. The best course of action, in the backdrop of the Jeevan Reddy Commission recommendations, would be to phase out the army from its internal security duties from areas which are regaining stability, as is the case in parts of Assam. Indeed, it is what the army seeks, even as it prepares for the threat of a two-front war. The AF (SP) A, which has been the subject of much debate, would fall flat in the face of such a course of action. In the absence of the army for internal security management, there would be no need for the Act. Needless involvement in internal security has been rendering a noble force defenceless and vulnerable. However, much caution would need to be exercised when it comes to pressures from quarters which are not sensitive to the security environment of the region.
An important aspect that should govern national security in 2022 is the manner in which the region is experiencing demographic inversion. The Assam Tribune of 23 December 2021 front-paged a news-item that 1, 42,206 illegal foreigners had been detected in Assam till 31 October 2021. Such an assertion should have also brought aggression that stems from non-traditional sources such as illegal migrations to the fore. But it must be said that any racial profiling exercise whereby communal tensions are stoked would only be to the detriment of the country, especially as the minority community must be wholly incorporated into India’s nation building enterprise. Indeed, aspects such as the “Hijab” controversy must not be allowed the land of Ajan Fakir and Srimanta Sankardeva.
Both the eastern as well as the western borders are, therefore, in a state of turmoil. Separatism is rearing its head taking advantage of myriad political uncertainties. Secessionist elements are looking for sustenance from across the borders. The changes in the demographic pattern along the borders have made these areas amenable to subterfuge. There are innumerable faultlines which need to be immediately addressed in order to fortify national security.
Some of the important measures which need to be taken on a priority basis are:
(1) A comprehensive National Security Doctrine for India must be defined so that there is no ambiguity even with change in government
(2) A dedicated North East Security Council should be constituted
(3) Army’s deployment in internal security duties should be for a limited period
(4) Police forces must be revamped to strengthen their internal security management capabilities
(5) The open-ended expansion of paramilitary forces must stop and structures which have acquired too much flab should be pruned
(6) The infrastructure and weaponry of the border guarding forces needs to be upgraded
(7) Genuine grievances and aspirations of the border populations should not be kept in abeyance
(8) Illegal migration should be curbed and the demographic balance must be maintained
(9) A separate time zone must be seriously considered for India. After all there is a time difference of two hours between Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
(10) The possibility of having an integrated All India Services cadre for the north-eastern states should be examined
(11) Lateral entry must be actively considered to incorporate domain specialists in senior policy making positions of the country. The country has suffered as a result of over-dependence on All India Services personnel manning national security at the highest levels.
(12) Effective measures must be taken to root out corruption and proper utilisation of funds allotted for development ensured
(13) Political processes should be revived wherever dormant and peace talks initiated/expedited with insurgent groups without compromising national unity and integrity.
(Padmashri Prakash Singh is a former Director General of the Border Security Force as also former Director General of Police, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.
Jaideep Saikia is a conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security. He is also Asia’s sole Fellow, Irregular Warfare Initiative, West Point, USA)