How Secure will India be in 2019?

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National Security has a wide span and needs to cover much wider period for meaningful analysis, but to be realistic about current security dynamics in the country, speculating the immediate trends under the existing realities may be a useful, because in high voltage political scenario in the country due to 2019 elections, the National Security tends to get off the thinking radar of some decision makers, and needs attention beyond politics.

External Security 

China Factor     With the advent of US-China trade war, which is likely to continue in 2019 as well and reset of China – India relations with Wuhan ‘Informal Summit,’ the relations between China and India seem to be getting better than the previous years, when bitterness between both countries over Doklam Crisis had touched a new hight. At this point China needs good relations with India, to ensure that India does not get into US club, peace and tranquility prevails on India-China borders, to concentrate on South China Sea and Eastern seaboard. This honeymooning is however, temporary, till such time China is under pressure from US. There is going to be no change in India’s differences with China on border issue, BRI/CPEC or South China Sea. I do not expect any worthwhile development on border issue, which is very complex, but some agreements on delimitation leading to demarcation of LAC, to prevent a repeat of Doklam like incident is doable, if the political will exists on both sides. Although decision making in India will be subdued in first six months of 2019, due to elections, but from international point of view, this is also the ideal time for diplomats to make some progress on delimitation and demarcation of LAC, as China is expected to control its adventurism during Trade War. We can thus expect a relative quiet period on Chinese borders, with some positive steps for better border management, so long the Trade War continues, and Chinese remain under pressure of economic slowdown. India in conjunction with other Navies is unlikely to face any confrontation in Indian Ocean, however in South China Sea, it will stand for freedom of navigation international rule based order, but unlikely to participate in any show off, because South China Sea and Taiwan Strait will witness military posturing just short of a confrontation, with a heated cold War scenario.

Pakistan Factor    In 2019, I do not visualize any dramatic change in Pakistan’s behavior. The terror industry and proxy war will continue, notwithstanding the perceived economic difficulties which have been in news in 2018. Whenever they are on the verge of sinking, some country will bail them out to foster its own interest through them because of their strategic location/terror potential. It may be interesting to note that their terror industry is mainly sustained by parallel economy involving drug trade, extortion and assistance from ISI, with material and operational support from Pakistan Army. Pakistan in fact has earned out of this industry, besides launching proxy war against India and Afghanistan. As the security situation unfolds in Af-Pak Region, I will not be surprised if Taliban, which was decimated by Multi-national Forces once, but nurtured by Pakistan, may be in driving seat of power in Afghanistan (Much against Indian interest), and US may have no option but to silently end their pursuit against them, acknowledging Pakistan as one of the main broker. The efforts of FATF and IMF may show some check on the formal economy, but not on the terror economy, as the linkage between the two is not as tight as it is made out to be. Pakistan is well used to international isolation, hence UN declared terrorists will continue to move freely, spit venom and plan terror operations against India in 2019.

Sino-Pak Nexus    The progress on CPEC will continue despite Indian opposition, some domestic opposition inside Pakistan, although, globally BRI will continue to face many roadblocks. CPEC will make Pakistan a colony of China or force Pakistan to enter into a client- Patron relationship, where strategic choices of Pakistan will be hostage to China. This brings out a long term threat to India in terms of ‘Two-front war’ which India has to prepare, as it has been neglected for many decades so far.

Other Neighbours    India does not have any direct threat from other neighbouring countries, but has to remain cautious of developments there to minimize the influence of potential adversaries. Many scribes tend to overplay it by relating it to China most of the time, but being  sovereign countries, they act as per their own national interest. India is aiding Bhutan with Rs 4500 Crore for their 12th Five Year Plan helping the Government of the day. Similarly Nepal may have its own compulsions of change in currency policy or nominal presence in BIMSTEC exercise; however Geography gives some advantage to Indian relations with them. Bangladesh is geographically a lower riparian country, however with Sheikh Hasina back in power, India can hope for even better cooperation. Similarly the geographic proximity of Maldives and Sri Lanka gives some advantages to India as both were being projected to be drifting away from India. Almost in all cases the changes have been brought by their public mandate and not by external diplomacy. Now it’s the turn of Indian diplomacy to make full use of it in improving relations further.

Internal Security Challenges     

Kashmir    In 2019, the situation in Kashmir valley may be relatively peaceful for some time during President’s rule.  On expiry of the same, there will be tremendous pressure on the Central Government to start the democratic process, even if adequate stabilization has not taken place. Various interests groups of Kashmir including political parties, who benefit from a disturbed Kashmir, may be instrumental in getting the fresh spate of violence in Kashmir Valley. Incidentally Jammu, Ladakh and some part of Kashmir will continue to be peaceful and only a handful of districts, sympathetic to militants will continue to bleed due to terror actions. Unless some convictions of separatists happen, they will continue to enjoy, because investigations and temporary arrests do not matter to them. The security forces will have to continue fighting infiltrators, terrorists (Foreign as well local) because terror industry will continue to be a lucrative industry, having a role and salary package for everyone including stone-pelters, crowd managers, money launderers, informers and many more. The biggest vulnerability deterring security forces in terror operations supported by stone pelters will be false allegations and some segments of human right organizations, legal fraternity, politicians using it to their advantage. The infrastructure development there will have little impact because the state is quite high in per capita income and infrastructure amongst other states in the country. Scholars who quote theology/religious reasons for disturbance forget that no-one in Pakistan and Kashmir Valley speaks a word, when Uyghurs are not allowed to practice some Islamic rituals and kept in re-education camps in Xinjiang (China) showing priority of money over religious brother in. 2019 will also see some more innovative methods of infiltration like rivers, sea routes and by air through countries, where visa regulations have been relaxed.

North Eastern India     We can hope for a developing North East in 2019, with declining insurgency. Except for some parts Manipur and adjoining areas the region is showing keenness to grow. With friendly Governments in power in adjoining countries, North East may not be a major security concern. It may face a temporary law and order problem due to Citizenship Bill, resulting aggressive politics, but these would be surmountable from security point of view.

Red Corridor/Naxalites     The problem in these areas relates to poor governance and its intensity will increase/decrease depending upon the quality of governance provided. There have been changes in Government in some affected states and some may go to polls next year. Depending upon the governance provided by them and lessons learnt by security forces operating there, the magnitude of the problem can be expected to vary in either direction in 2019. The police forces dealing with it need to have modern equipment, training including leadership training at grass root level.

What Should India do to meet these Security Challenges?

With rolling out of CPEC, and China’s need to increase domestic support by generating spirit of  nationalism amidst slowing down of economy, the urge to do something different cannot be ruled out. The clouds of ‘Two Front War’ might hang over India, although it may not happen in 2019. The only way to avoid a ‘Two Front War’ for India is to convince the potential adversaries that India is capable of fighting it. This convincing cannot be by announcements or statements by leaders, but by building/proving capability to do so. For many decades governments in power have been minimizing the defence budget, which clearly gives out what kind of capability in terms of military hardware the nation can generate and where does the national priority lie. Chanakya, Clauswitz, and Sun Tzu, have said one thing in common that no nation can expect to be great and secure, unless it has powerful Military, which can deter potential adversary. The Military is the offensive punch of the country, which is trained and equipped to launch operations across the IB/LC/LAC. This aspect has not really been understood by many decision makers, who tend to build up/increase PMF, which are brave, efficient protective forces, but not trained/tasked to launch offensive; hence cannot be counted in deterrence value. Unless Pakistan is deterred, the proxy war will continue; hence India needs to have ‘Offensive’ intent and capability to exercise it, and should not be on ‘Offensive Defence’ mode. If capability exists then intentions can change overnight, which makes the adversary jittery. Over last few decades the status, financial allocations and attention towards Military has been marred by bureaucratic denials and their power to influence political masters due to power of proximity.

India always had some decision makers and bureaucrats, who create a perception that war is unlikely in near term; hence capacity building of Military can be a lower priority. We also continue to have a set of diplomats, who assure the decision makers that they will be able to prevent war, which leads the nation to Pre-1962 scenario. None of these categories realize that defence capabilities take long time to build up, more-so if India does not have strong manufacturing base, it will take decades of consistent effort. ‘Make in India’ and self reliance is essential, but time consuming; hence must continue simultaneously with new procurements with transfer of technology. The defence budget allocation made in 2018 will have to substantially increase in 2019 in the interest of national security. Defence Procurement is already a slow process, which will become even slower, if it’s drawn into political gaming for 2019 elections.

Achievements like 200 to 300 militants killed in 2018 or surgical strikes are commendable brave acts and tactical level measures over wide area, with strategic implications, but they will not have long term impact.  The need is of strategic capability/punch and intent to use it, to deter Pakistan to stop infiltration, for which military deterrence capability is needed. We also need to deal with domestic enemies firmly. The nation has to be ready for it, not only the military, like the synergy developed in 1971 war, when the nation stood together for security, and political leadership was in direct communication with military leadership with almost no bureaucratic mediators to distort perceptions of decision makers. We need to remodel the Security Strategy to meet these challenges, if we want “Peaceful Development” with minimum security related distractions.

Major General S B Asthana

(The views expressed are of the author and do not represent views of any organization. The author is  Reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, S B Asthana on Youtube and personnel site https://asthanawrites.org/     email  shashiasthana29@gmail.com   LinkedIn Profile www.linkedin.com/in/shashi-asthana-4b3801a6 )

Varying portions of this analysis have been published by Financial Chronicle, WION News and  Indian Defence Review. The same is being shared through this analysis on wordpress also.

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