National Security

Ever since I began penning the above titled series a curious mix of laudatory and encouraging messages as also ones that have been downright critical and derisive have been coming my way. I expected little else from a readership that primarily comprises of the “avatar services” that I had deliberately chosen to turn my hose against. Indeed, the responses—or in most cases sedate silence—have been quite revealing. At least 75 % of the readership that made up the “avatar services” chose to be quiet, about 20 % both questioned and cautioned me for what they deemed—not without substance—as a futile exercise of taking on a gigantic monolith that had been established by “divine intervention” and can never ever be moved.

The warning calls were that I would not only be subject to spite and unkindness but that I can forget any favours from the dispensation for a very long time. I, of course, did not respond to such admonitions by saying that I was fully aware of what I was getting into when I embarked upon the exercise as also the fact that I don’t recall any special “out-of-the-way” favours that have come my way even when I had chosen to be “as I am normally”, submissive!

But there was a minuscule 5 % among the readership which not only supported my efforts but actually encouraged me. However, at least one person who reads my articles asked me to—even as he felt that I was being combative—delve deeper into what I felt was the definition of what characterised “national security”.

It was a great suggestion and one which I could not gloss over. After all, the person who so counselled was my senior friend of many years Ashok Prasad, IPS (Retd). He queried (and I feel quite correctly) whether I was myself completely—or even peripherally—aware of what constituted “national security” before I began my disapproval of India’s present crop of security managers for not paying correct heed to the noble concept!

Ashok Prasad

I had first sought to argue with him that I don’t need to be a practitioner myself in order to be a critique and that a physician is well within his rights to prescribe abstention from smoking to a patient who is suffering from a lung ailment despite the fact that the medical practitioner himself is a chain smoker. But Ashok Prasad’s experience in the “avatar service” and perhaps even his fondness for me (I may be completely wrong in my latter assessment!) was infallibly convincing.

For an officer and a gentleman who has traversed the length and breadth of India and abroad in service of India, from being a Superintendent of Police in Naxalite infested Karimnagar in the undivided Andhra Pradesh to rising to be the Director General of Police of a sensitive state such as Jammu & Kashmir which punctuated and concluded with plum postings in the Intelligence Bureau, the last of which was a surprise end as the premier organisation’s Special Director, Ashok Prasad’s integrity, acumen, comprehension and conduct of statecraft has been unparalleled.

However, his ability to say “no” in the face of off-beam policy recommendations was not only a rarity, but a liability in senses more than one. It perhaps cost him—by his own admission (and that of many others who admire him!)—positions that would have otherwise accrued as a result of his towering professional competence. Be that as it may, my recent tirade against the “avatar services”—which needn’t be underscored included the service in which Ashok Prasad served rather admirably as well—exhorted him to undertake hours of dialectical interface with me that threw up aspects that cannot be easily ignored. After all the question about the definition of “national security” is as important (if not more!) than the fact that it “should be made of sterner stuff”. Indeed, he and I have been debating the concept for several years and although there was no grand arrival of an even grander statement that conveyed every single cranny that constituted “national security”, there was growing clarity that within the discourse of India’s context, the concept can at best be defined only in an encapsulated manner.

Indeed, there would be a multitude of naysayers and contradictory opinions even when a “definition” is arrived at after much contemplation. Therefore, as I wrote in my second instalment to this series ( there may not be a single mantra drasta (seer of the mantra) for a hymn that makes up India’s national security or even a counter-terrorism doctrine for the nation! Or, perhaps, as I stated in my earlier discourse “national security” cannot ever be conceived of infinite space and time, that its ever-changing spirit can only be fathomed when a particular a situation or a state of affairs such as Mumbai 2008 or even the Hijacking of IC 814 leads it to manifest itself.

In any event, it was interesting to partake in a veritable tutorial from Ashok Prasad about our country’s national security. He informed me that he once told one of his superiors that “India’s internal security is externally determined”. If correct thought is paid to the simple sentence then it would deem to be the mantra. After all, in the context of India’s internal security—at least of the traditional kind—if countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar were made to disappear from the face of the earth much of India’s traditional internal security ails, too, would disappear! But, would that be tantamount to stating that the country’s internal security would then be “iron-clad protected”? Can the conflict situation that continues to beleaguer the Northeast and Kashmir be said to be ones that have come to be only as a result of extraneous prodding? While it is not a matter of debate that anti-India forces have abetted the belligerence in these two extremities of India by fishing in troubled waters, the fact of the matter is that dissonance erupted before there was an “external determination”! The inimical neighbourhood only fuelled the fire!

Let’s take the case of ULFA.  If one were to play the devil’s advocate and for a flash of a while voice ULFA’s argument for a “Sovereign Assam”, then the “Treaty of Yandaboo of 1826” can be said to be the commencement of the insurrection with votaries of that demanded “sovereignty for Assam” stating that the Treaty was between the British and the Burmese and consequently with the exit of the colonial rulers from India Assam should be restored to the pre-Yandaboo era! Absurd as it may sound, there is at least an undersized constituency in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division and in China’s Yunnan that believes that there is ground for waging war against the Indian state!

What about the left-wing extremism that at least I am of the opinion is to a considerable extent determined by India’s own internal social dynamics? Ashok Prasad’s tutorial also provides useful case studies and since his catalogue of specialisation is Naxalism, one of the aspects that we attempted to discuss is the ways and means to fight left-wing extremism. In our many years of debating this aspect, one of the finest counter-terrorism methodologies that emanated from Ashok Prasad was the four “Ds”. Although it was in the context of combating Naxalism, the quadruplet of letters—to a marked extent—determined the manner in which the succession of “Ds” could array a full-bodied yet elegant counter-terrorism strategy.

I confess that I am in the process of completing a book on the need for a counter-terrorism doctrine for India. Indeed, it has been hanging fire ever since I first wrote a paper titled “Template for Anti-Terror Doctrine” close to 17 years ago for the security journal Aakrosh (October 2005, Volume 8, Number 29). But the frequent tutorials that came my way from Ashok Prasad’s fertile mind as also the fact that events kept overtaking theory and vice versa has made the delay a welcome one. In any event, the four “Ds” are quite simply:

  • Defend: Protect the establishment’s assets
  • Destroy: Dismantle the adversary’s organisation
  • Defeat: Defeat the enemy’s ideology


  • Deny: Create an environment which prevents the revival of the adversary’s ideology and support base

The way to achieving the “Ds” are—to the student of national security in me—in the realm of tactics. Therefore, if a paradigm has been arrived at, the “puzzle-solving” aspects—in Thomas Kuhn’s language would be normal scientific endeavour. The fact that there could be (as in scientific revolutions) a later period (to paraphrase Kuhn) when science (or in Ashok Prasad’s case the four “Ds”) may find itself without a justification for an observable fact that in an earlier period was held to be successfully explained would be tantamount to a paradigm shift. To that end, the description that the “internal security of India is externally determined” has to undergo recalibration. Or, the search for a definition of what constitutes national security (at least in its internal security ambit) has to be one that also incorporates reasons for the eruption of internal dissension inside India that is “internally determined”.

Jaideep Saikia is an internationally acclaimed conflict analyst and celebrated author of several best-selling books on security and strategy. He is also the sole Asian Fellow in the Irregular Warfare Initiative, West Point, USA.

Jaideep Saikia

Jaideep Saikia is a well-known terrorism and conflict analyst. He can be reached at