Security is not a one-time event in terms of assessment and response — this is simply because the national security scenario was prone to changing over a period on account of geopolitical shifts and appearance of new threats on the domestic front.
In retrospect, India witnessed distinct phases in which different security concerns were on top of the national agenda determining the focus of our Intelligence agencies too.
During the Cold War, study of Communism principally engaged their attention while post-Cold War, rise of the new global terror — rooted in faith-based motivation — became the overriding security challenge for them.
Interestingly, it is the Afghan territory which had witnessed the success of the anti-Soviet armed campaign — and caused the dismemberment of USSR — that also became the principal originator of the terror of Islamic radicals affecting US and India alike.
It added to the capability of Pakistan to unleash cross border terrorism in Kashmir and step up its proxy war against India. Over the last three years — coinciding with the return of the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre in 2019 — threats to internal security of India have multiplied in a manner that has made them the prime focus for our intelligence set up.
This aggravation on the internal security front is attributable to certain causes that can be identified. Although in the Indian context there was always a ’cause and effect’ relationship between the developments around India and the happenings within the country, India is for some time now facing a strong but invisible onslaught of hostile forces from outside that want to cause internal destabilisation here.
The Sino-Pak axis has become particularly active against India following the move of the Indian Parliament to scrap Article 370 in August 2019 and create two separate Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir out of the original state.
In a huge give and take between the two hostile neighbours of India, China built the ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the territory of POK ceded by Pakistan against India’s strong objections and started its military build-up on LAC in eastern Ladakh.
India had to step up its counter measures and assume direct administration of Ladakh to the discomfiture of China.
China and Pakistan are concertedly opposing the abolition of Article 370 and China is now actively supporting Pakistan against India on various issues including Afghanistan, Kashmir and terrorism. While China has stepped up its aggressive moves on the borders in Arunachal Pradesh, Pakistan has intensified cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.
Encouraged by its military and strategic alliance with China — that incidentally had led to its deep dependence on the latter — Pakistan has taken to moves to disrupt the internal peace in India by raising questions of treatment of Muslim minority in this country, actively encouraging protagonists of Khalistan movement and directly attacking the Modi regime for allegedly pursuing a Hindu agenda.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan while unveiling — with a lot of fanfare — the ‘first ever’ codified National Security Policy at Islamabad on January 14, clearly made out that India was the principal adversary of Pakistan and ventured into an explicit criticism of Prime Minister Modi’s regime alleging that it was pursuing ‘divisive politics’ based on a ‘regressive and dangerous ideology’.
Imran Khan went on to declare that ‘the rise in Hindutva-driven politics in India was a matter of deep concern as it impacted Pakistan’s immediate security’.
By contending that ‘the pro-Hindutva policies of the Modi government had put the position of Muslim minority in India in jeopardy’, Imran Khan openly framed Indo-Pak relations in Hindu- Muslim terms.
The action of the Pakistan government in summoning the Indian Charge d’Affairs to its foreign ministry at Islamabad to convey ‘deep concern’ over the ‘ban on Hijab’ imposed on Muslim girl students in parts of Karnataka confirms this.
Pakistan is determined to foment communal divide in India as a plank of its foreign policy and Indian Intelligence is doing well to watch out for any moves of Pakistan to fish in India’s domestic waters through its agents and acolytes.
The shift from open warfare to ‘covert’ offensives has been a distinct trend of the post-Cold War years and translated in the Indian context it explains how this country has been at the receiving end of an ‘asymmetric war’ in Kashmir and elsewhere in which Terrorism was used as the prime instrument.
The developments in Afghanistan leading to the return of the Afghan Emirate under the Taliban last August with the full support of Pakistan, have strengthened the capacity of Pakistan — the resolute adversary of India — to widen the arc of terror by inducting Islamic radicals into the proxy war against India.
There are reports that Afghan militants under the influence of Pak ISI have made their appearance in POK. In India terrorism rooted in faith was an offshoot of communal militancy as illustrated by the emergence of Indian Mujahideen out of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
Pakistan’s current attempt to rake up the question of ‘suppression’ of Muslims under the Modi regime will enable it to recruit more agents who could create sleeper cells or work on individuals to run ‘lone wolf’ operations. This has pushed the threat to internal security to a new level.
A new dimension of ‘asymmetric war’ is the threat of cyber-attacks carried out by way of hacking of vital systems on which the country banked, in the areas of both defence and economic security.
Civil-military cooperation on research and intelligence generation in the sphere of cyber security has become a new requirement calling for a special level of coordination between DIA and the civil Intelligence agencies.
Cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and externally instigated insurgencies in Northeast where the Army had to be deployed for operations on our own soil, had already entailed this coming together of the agencies since intelligence-based operations had to become the norm for the sake of minimising collateral damage.
A fall-out of the advent of IT-based social media is that the latter had become the new instrument of combat in spite of the existence of laws against its misuse. In fact, it has provided a new base for ‘information warfare’ through resort to false propaganda and fake news apart from making it easy for the adversary to clandestinely use it for ‘radicalisation’.
Finally, India’s internal security is adversely impacted by the new phenomenon of the rise of civil society fora and motivated writings to create in an organised way — and in concert with anti-India lobbies abroad — opinion against a democratically elected government.
This is a nuanced version of ‘information warfare’ conducted through a play of ‘politics by proxy’ to augment what opposition parties were attempting to do. This is going beyond the legitimate activities of credible NGOs in this country and has attracted attention of Intelligence agencies in appropriate cases.
In short, India’s security scenario has worrying new dimensions and calls for a relook at the national intelligence set up to strengthen its hands in meeting the new challenges.
Pakistan, which is in complete collusion with China against India, has sensed a certain degree of continuity in the American attitude of friendship towards it — largely because of the old alliance of the Pak army with Pentagon and a recognition by the Joe Biden administration of the mediatory role of Pakistan in securing the Peace Agreement with Taliban at Doha — and is emboldened to step up its campaign against India on issues of Kashmir, treatment of Muslim minority by the Modi government and the locus standi of India in Afghanistan.
In the regime of Imran Khan, who is a fundamentalist at heart, Pakistan is comfortable with radical organisations like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS and the ISI is in a position to set them upon India in Kashmir and elsewhere.
The Biden Presidency is focused on China but is not taking enough cognisance of Pakistan’s sheltering of Islamic radicals for whom the US-led West was the prime enemy.
Sino-Pak axis was helping the geo- political rise of China against the US. American establishment would do well to benefit from India’s understanding of the hold that radicalism had acquired in the Muslim world under the present Pak dispensation.
China and Pakistan are capable of indulging in coordinated moves on the borders, queering the pitch for India on the domestic scene through ‘covert’ means and stepping up their propaganda offensive.
India’s strategy of joining hands with the US in leading the efforts of the democratic world to counter the aggressive designs of China, encouraging a multi polar order that facilitated India’s bilateral relationships with Russia, Japan, Europe and Israel and concentrating on the policy of dealing with the two hostile neighbours on its own strength, is working well.
More than the danger of an external aggression, India has to meet the escalating threat to its internal security at present.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)