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Seven Security Nightmares India Must Prepare For

Failed states, neighbours with a roving eye, Osama bin Laden and home-grown terrorists; everyone’s taking a shot at India

Published: Aug 24, 2010 06:06:47 AM IST
Updated: Aug 20, 2010 02:34:19 PM IST

When India tested nuclear bombs in 1998, its leaders hailed it as some sort of a scarecrow that would deter its enemies from adopting aggressive designs. But ironically, the last 12 years have seen an increase in hostility against India. Its sphere of influence has shrunk as neighbours yield to the Chinese temptation. Amorphous, boundary-less terrorist networks have become powerful adversaries in their own right. Naxal violence has removed any semblance of governance in wide areas and home-grown Jihadists are proliferating. The problems are too many but there is no clarity on what long-term strategies the government has developed to face them. Here are seven worst-case scenarios that India must prepare for, though some are low probability.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Capacity Falls into the Hands of Rogue States/Terrorists
Pakistan is a perennially failing state, but one that won’t fail entirely. A dysfunctional democracy keeps resurfacing after every assault from a power-hungry army that often leans on Jihadists for support. India hasn’t yet figured out whether to talk peace with Pakistan or show aggression, as both strategies have failed repeatedly.

Seven Security Nightmares India Must Prepare ForPakistan is also a principal source of nuclear proliferation to rogue states. A section of Pakistani nuclear scientists with fundamentalist inclinations may have volunteered to work for al-Qaeda, as has been reported over the last few years. The possibility that a crude, untested nuclear warhead has been developed by Osama bin Laden’s gang cannot be ruled out.

But this is only during peace time. In the eventuality that there is a political meltdown in Pakistan and there is a danger of nuclear warheads falling into Jihadi hands, India will be particularly vulnerable having been named by al-Qaeda as an enemy. “These threats are very real [though] they may sound improbable today,” says Rajesh Rajagopal, head of the Department of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

In that event, India’s interests lie in joining international efforts and providing logistics support to secure Pakistan’s nuclear warheads, says an ICRIER paper ‘Conventional Threats to India’s National Security’ authored by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies. A more radical situation could emerge if the US and Israel decide to launch a joint operation to “take out” the nuclear facilities when terrorists begin controlling them. The second situation seems extremely unlikely, though.

War on Terror Fizzles out and the Taliban Returns
Commander Stanley McChrystal’s jibes are just a rolling stone in the exhausting saga of American presence in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai isn’t a popular leader and his government survives only on American crutches. He has set a target of 2014 to take over the primary responsibility for internal security from the hands of the US forces. But the Americans may lose patience even before that and want to leave. “When Americans depart in two years, the Taliban who are now very strong will take over in a very short time,” says Raphael Israeli, an Islamic affairs expert and a fellow of Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “If Afghanistan falls, the Taliban in Pakistan — they exported the Taliban to Afghanistan — might follow suit in the long run. India will find itself straight on the boundary of terror.”

Here again, India will need to develop a network of partners to offer an integrated response to the threat. It could appoint a ‘Roving Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism’ who must be highly credible and capable of turning the global debate in India’s favour. Israeli suggests that India must work with countries like Israel to boost its own counter-terrorism skills.

China Encircles India and Launches a Limited War
With China, India is always in a capability vs. intention dilemma. China has a vastly superior conventional force and a decisive advantage in nuclear capability and can attack India at will. But it isn’t overly aggressive and professes peaceful co-existence. What should India prepare for?

India’s unresolved territorial and boundary dispute with China and an un-demarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Indo-Tibetan (India’s official position is the Tibetan autonomous region of China) border do not augur well for long-term peace and stability between these two Asian giants. The next major incident on the LAC could lead to a localised border conflict as either Indian patience with Chinese intransigence wears thin or the Chinese look at Indian attempts to build infrastructure and develop the border areas as the adoption of an aggressive forward posture. Hence, in the foreseeable future, a limited border war between the two cannot be entirely ruled out.

Even the Sino-Indian maritime relationship has an adversarial potential as China is engaged in developing a “string of pearls” strategy to acquire port facilities around India at Hangyi, Hambantota, Gwadar and in the Maldives. While Chinese nuclear submarines can operate in the northern Indian Ocean for extended periods even today, India’s insecurity would be heightened when China establishes its naval presence in the Indian Ocean through deployment of its surface ships and when port facilities become available to it by about 2015.  

 Seven Security Nightmares India Must Prepare For

 Infographic: Sameer Pawar

China has been following a policy of peace and tranquillity with India at the strategic level while simultaneously keeping up the pressure at the tactical level through claims to the state of Arunachal Pradesh followed up by frequent intrusions, refusal of visa to residents of Arunachal Pradesh and objections to the approval of an Asian Development Bank loan to India because Arunachal Pradesh would also have been a beneficiary. Clearly, China’s strategy is not to rock the boat too hard but to give itself leeway to raise the ante whenever it finds it convenient to do so. India must also utilise this window of relative tranquility with China for its economic development while simultaneously upgrading its military capabilities to squarely face any future Chinese threat.

India’s trade with China, which has crossed $50 billion in 2008-09 may not by itself be able to completely deter conflict. Hence, it is necessary for India to ensure that its national power grows comprehensively along with its growing economy.

India’s Nuclear Deterrence Fails
India’s policy of nuclear deterrence lacks credibility with our aggressive neighbours. India lacks the inter-continental ballistic missile capability which means it will not be able to reach the far ends of a large neighbour. Its Agni missiles have not been tested adequately. At a maximum of 80, the number of warheads available to India does not fulfil even the low-end requirements of minimum deterrence. Add to all this the lingering doubts over the efficacy of the thermonuclear device tested in 1998. The outside world doesn’t believe India is ready to respond to a nuclear conflagration.

Pakistan has been more aggressive. The nuclear warheads and delivery systems there are controlled by the military unlike in India where civil leadership is supreme. Even four years ago, it had amassed 30 to 85 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium and 1,300 to 1,700 kilograms of weapon-grade highly enriched uranium. In short, it had accumulated enough fissile material to make 70 to 115 nuclear weapons. The conclusion? Pakistan is moving quickly to close the nuclear warhead quantity gap with India and may even overtake it.

Seven Security Nightmares India Must Prepare For
Image: Adnan Abidi/ Reuters
NO FEAR A paramilitary soldier stands guard inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi constructed for the 2010 Commonwealth Games

China, on its part, has 400 nuclear warheads and can attack every nook and corner of India. It does have a “no-first-use” policy in general. But it may not extend that courtesy to India even though it does not recognise India as a nuclear power. It has consistently refused to discuss confidence building measures or nuclear risk reduction measures with India.

India must sign mutual no-first-use policy agreements with its neighbours just like China has done with Russia.  

Naxalite Rule Replaces Government in Wider Areas
At least 194 districts in 22 states are currently afflicted by Left Wing extremism, at various intensities. The Maoist movement in India is a well-planned and calibrated attempt by an organised and ideologically motivated political grouping to wrest power through the principles of Maoist ‘Protracted War’, and the threat it projects is enduring. The Maoist strategy of mobilisation has been extraordinarily successful over wide areas of the country, and it is misleading to assess the Maoist potential purely in terms of visible violence. Indeed, the potential for violence that has already been harnessed may well be in excess of present official assessments, and has certainly attained a geographical spread well beyond areas traditionally associated with the Maoist movement.

The central and state authorities aren’t coordinating well in their response to Naxalism. Intelligence sharing remains poor. India may lose the war unless these shortcomings are reversed.

The restoration of the authority and functions of governance, including development, health, education and basic social and human security, is imperative, and must constitute an integral part of any comprehensive approach to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. This can only be done after the restoration of a modicum of law and order, and efficiency in the operation of the justice system.

Home-Grown Jihadists Spread
While neighbours have all along exported terrorism to India, it is crucial to recognise that Islamist terrorism has always had an Indian face. The separatist movement in Jammu & Kashmir was initiated by Indian Kashmiris. The various Islamist terrorist groups that have been assembled in Pakistan, over the years, moreover, have a substantial Indian membership.

Several terrorist groups have emerged on Indian soil as well. The most significant among them is the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).  SIMI has been involved in terrorist activities, principally as a facilitator to various Pakistan-based groups, since the 1990s, providing a range of services such as couriers, safe havens and communication posts, for specific terrorist operations or terrorist cells. Pakistan sought to project the operations in India as ‘indigenous terrorism’ purportedly sparked by discontented Muslims in ‘Hindu India’. Today, the top leadership and cadres of SIMI receive safe haven and training and resources from Pakistan.

 Seven Security Nightmares India Must Prepare For

  Infographic: Sameer Pawar

A small section of the 35,000 madrassas in India act as recruitment hubs for radical and extremist organisation. A number of illegal madrassas have also mushroomed around the country. Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spends a considerable amount of money to fund these madrassas.

The Rest of South Asia Turns Hostile
There has been increasing evidence of operational co-operation between Pakistani and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies and Jihadi organisations, particularly in their efforts to target India. A number of recent terrorist attacks in different parts of India have exposed evidence of joint Pakistan-Bangladesh operations and terrorist modules, as well as a pattern of highly decentralised and anonymous synchronised multi-group operations coordinated by handlers located in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

The ambiguity on border demarcation between the two countries creates the conditions conducive for terrorist crossovers and illegal migration. There is an urgent need to create the population profiles of border areas to know who lives there.

Nepal, on the other hand, has traditionally been a friend of India. But the land-locked country is rapidly moving away and leaning towards China in a quest to balance its relationship with its larger neighbours. India must ensure China doesn’t use the roads it builds in Nepal to launch offensive operations against India. Of course, China doesn’t need to come in through a third country when it can directly operate across the Indo-Tibet border.

Various reports have exposed the rise of the madrassa network on both sides of the India-Nepal border. Over a 10-kilometre stretch inside Nepal, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of madrassas and mosques in recent years. This network is something that Indian intelligence must keep a very close watch on.

In the following pages: Beginning with a list of the seven threats that could trip our triple transition, we delve into India’s game plan for participation in future standard setting bodies, market access, water security and energy. You will find how India has shaken off past baggage to engage with its neighbours without being scared of competition.

(This story appears in the 27 August, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Vishal

    Wow. You predict so many unlikely doomsday scenarios without even offering plausible reasons. There is a boundary to making assumptions. You landed in a different continent altogether.

    on Sep 30, 2010
  • n.radhakrishna

    India has to show more friendly attitude towards China and increase its trade with China in a big way as US is failing in giving support required due to its own economic problems and perceptions on Pak`s support . Development in the backward regions of the country will definitely take away the edge of Naxal movement . The best solution to many of the threats is the strategic partnership with China .

    on Aug 31, 2010
  • Ali ShahanShah

    It is time India got its act straight. It should open direct talks with China on the border issues and other security related matters. If the trade volume can be $60 billion, why can't you resolve political issues in the same manner. At a juncture where both the Asian giants are growing economically and have a growing population peace at all costs is required. As of today China is the worlds second largest economy and India is not far behind. It is best to secure the present for a brighter future!

    on Aug 28, 2010