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The Rediff Special/K Subrahmanyam

January 25, 2005

K Subrahmanyam, the nation's leading thinker on national security issues, reflects on what lies ahead for the Republic in its 55th year.

The international community has come to acknowledge India as a relatively stable State among the decolonised nations. Again, it is one of the few nations that, having obtained freedom after the Second World War, have been able to survive as a democracy.

Today there are worldwide expectations that in the next two decades this country will become the third biggest market in the world, a knowledge-based society and a major actor on the international system well integrated into a globalised market. Even as these expectations are not unrealistic, India continues to be plagued by internal and external challenges to its security.

Here national security needs to be defined not in the traditional way -- as a threat to sovereignty and territorial integrity -- but as impediments to India's growth as one of the biggest markets of the world, to its development as a knowledge-based society and to its playing the role as a major actor in the international system.

In today's world it is extremely difficult for a nation of India's size and capability to be invaded and its territory occupied. Pakistan's last misadventure in Kargil only illustrates it. In an increasingly globalising world, all nations, however powerful they may be, are required to surrender a part of their sovereignty and pool it for the mutual benefit of all nations -- big and small -- as illustrated by the World Trade Organisation. In spite of all theories, nations of the world are not equal and their ability to bargain very much depends on its power -- economic, technological and military. Given India's size, population, economic wealth and technological capabilities it is not under any threat of its sovereignty being curbed and territorial integrity being abridged by any other nation; especially after India became a nuclear weapons power.

In such circumstances India does not face an external threat in the conventional sense. But that does not mean India does not face a threat from external sources. India faces terrorist threats from external sources and this will have to be tackled as a partner in the global alliance against terrorism or through means other than direct conventional war. India has been subjected to such external threats for well over two decades and has been tackling them at substantial, but acceptable, costs.

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Far more significant threats to India's national security are to be traced to domestic factors. Domestic terrorism deriving support from across our frontiers is one of our major problems. Often such threats arise even when the territory across the frontier does not belong to a hostile state, as in the case of Burma and Bhutan. Governance on both sides of the border is not very effective, resulting in insurgent elements taking advantage of the inadequacy. There is a view that promotion of vigorous trade with friendly neighbouring states would lead to more effective governance, increased population density and more effective policing of borders. Non-development or inadequate cross-border trade means higher unemployment in border areas which often makes insurgency a kind of industry.

Though the (Madhav) Godbole taskforce (on border management set up by the National Democratic Alliance government in May 2000) came up with a number of recommendations but their implementation has been tardy. Besides, the entire north-east problem has been dealt with only spasmodically. Now that trade between Yunnan and North Burma is developing fast, India too has to step up its trade links with Burma, Yunnan and Thailand. Trade and tourism along with improved maintenance of law and order are effective ways of dealing with insurgency. It is only through the expansion of trade links between northeastern India and Burma, Thailand and Yunnan that industrialisation, tourism and investments in the northeast can be stepped up. In turn that may lead to Bangladesh breaking out of its self-imposed isolationism and agreeing to transit rights for India to northeast states and to sell their natural gas to India.

Nothing integrates the international community and reduces tension in a globalising world than increased trade, development of infrastructure and tourism. This is the strategy to be adopted in respect of Kashmir, the Himalayan slopes, Nepal, Bhutan and the northeast. Our policy of keeping these areas isolated has proved counter-productive. The faster tourism and service industries develop, there are less incentives for militants to keep an area turbulent and lawless.

Recently the left-wing extremists from a number of states have united into a single party -- the Communist Party-Maoist -- even as the government of Andhra Pradesh with the support of the Government of India has initiated negotiations with them. It is an irony that even as China moves farther away from Maoism, leftists in India should glorify the discredited Chinese dictator. In the early years after independence land reforms wee advocated as one of the major measures of alleviating rural poverty and were implemented with modest success in some states.

With the Indian population tripling since independence and Indian agriculture becoming more modernized, doubts have been raised whether employment creation and poverty alleviation should not look for alternative solutions such as agricultural processing, infrastructure expansion and the services sector.

It is today widely accepted, though not by all, that without a high growth rate of 8 percent it would not be possible to bring about job creation to a level that brings about meaningful poverty alleviation.

The same leftists who urge speedy poverty alleviation also resist measures for high growth without which job creation at an increasing pace cannot be achieved. Successful economic management should lead to visible poverty alleviation. It is today an ideological struggle between discredited Maoism and strategies successfully tried out in many East Asian economies. Unfortunately the middle-path political parties have not shown adequate ideological fervour in their propaganda campaigns against Maoism.

Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, communalism -- both Hindu and Muslim -- has become a major security issue in the country. Sections of the majority community in the country are suffering from a minority complex. Because various political parties over the last several decades have tried to politicise the police force and prevent them from enforcing law, the police forces have lost their effectiveness in many parts of the country. If the earlier governments in Gujarat (for that matter elsewhere too) had not been conditioned to obey their political masters rather than the law, the Gujarat carnage of 2002 would not have happened or the Delhi riots of 1984.

Such wide politicization of law enforcement as well as investigation and prosecution of crime have made a mockery of our judicial process. However autonomous and fair the judiciary may be, it cannot deliver justice when the investigation and prosecution processes are vitiated by partisan political considerations and are subject to procrastination beyond belief. The result of this is overcrowding of jails with undertrials and a high degree of corruption both in the police and jail systems.

Extensive corruption becomes a national security problem not only because of the alienation it generates among the population. It increases the transaction costs in our goods and services, thereby adversely affecting our international competitiveness. It also reduces the sense of security for investors -- both foreign and domestic -- as often corruption is accompanied by extortion, protection rackets and delays in implementation and rise in infrastructure costs.

In a globalising world where the power and influence of a nation are measured in terms of its economic power, impediments to economic growth are a security threat. In that sense corruption in our political system and bureaucracy are major security threats.

As the country industrialises, the industrial sector should develop a vested interest in the rule of law, freeing politics from corruption and accompanying violence, both overt and covert. Today black money from industry serves to nurture corruption in politics and bureaucracy and subvert democratic values and our efficiency as a global competitor, and hence our security. The same industrial sector, in its own interest, can use that money to cleanse the system. While a few industrialists realise it (the house of Tatas being one of them), understanding the link between corruption and national security and non-democratic semi-fascist politics is yet to spread widely.

One of the recent contributions to our political lexicon is the politician-organised crime-bureaucratic nexus. Often this nexus gets respectability in terms of advancing caste interests and is nurtured in the name of empowerment of traditionally deprived sections of society. The best way of empowering them is through providing good quality education and employment opportunities. One can see the linkage between such deceptive and corrupt politics dominating certain areas of the country and backwardness, unsatisfactory law and order situation in the same areas.

Such corruption in politics and bureaucracy constitute a vulnerability in respect of the operations of some of our external adversaries bent on disrupting our democratic system and sowing seeds of communalism and terrorism.

Unfortunately in this country, these external and internal security problems are being looked at and dealt with sectionally. Such an approach leads to turf wars among ministries, departments and agencies, inadequate comprehension by the political leadership of the nature and dimension of the problem in all its facets and a total lack of education of public opinion in respect of real threats to national security, and consequently no well-planned counteraction against national security threats.

It is to remove some of these deficiencies that the concept of National Security Council was developed; the Cabinet Secretariat resolution of April 19, 1999, listed out among its areas of interest external and internal threats including those arising out of advanced technology but also counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence; patterns of alienation emerging in the country especially those with a social, communal and regional dimension; security threats posed by trans-border crimes such as smuggling, traffic in arms, drugs and narcotics.

If these tasks had been directed comprehensively by a National Security Council and comprehensive assessments had been developed over the last five years, the country and government agencies would have a better understanding of the dimensions of our internal and external security problems and might have started to develop effective strategies to counter the threats.

Unfortunately, in spite of the country becoming a nuclear weapons state and taking steps to improve our security situation in terms of our international interaction, the basic task of developing a comprehensive structure and processes to address our internal and external security problems did not receive adequate attention. Though the Congress party in its manifesto promised it will make the National Security Council a professional and effective institution, the issue did not receive adequate attention in the last seven months.

How can we talk of dimensions of national security in terms of external and internal spheres when there is no well developed assessment machinery and the political leadership does not receive regular, periodic briefings of assessed intelligence on various issues?


The Rediff Specials


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Number of User Comments: 7




Sub: No threats

the policies followed by most of the states are discriminatory. Lots of people are suffering while urban middle class is enjoying luxuries. rather than understand ...


Posted by ST





Sub: good article

Fantastic article, corrupt politics is our biggest security threat... well said ... sadly hardly anyone understands.


Posted by Franky





Sub: More threats to the nation ...

To add to the threats that the author has missed out. 1.School education shapes the minds of young citizens is the at the most inadequate ...


Posted by yukku





Sub: Threats to the Republic

The problem mentioned here are due to nonsense politicians who are looting public money...using religion to harm people...using caste system for reservation for own profit..if ...


Posted by kk





Sub: Threats to the republic

Hi, I do not have any comments on the article as such. but PLEASE change the picture added at the start of the article as ...


Posted by Ashish




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