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August - September 2009

Political News


by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

In the post-colonial phase of history, it was India’s singular misfortune from the date of its emergence as an independent nation on 15 August 1947 to have been denied a cast iron guarantee of long-term peace and assured security. While the security threats gathered momentum often threatening its very existence in an expanding hostile neighbourhood, the reassuring fact was that the ‘idea of India’ has remained stubbornly in place against all odds. The question that needs an answer is that while the Indian model is not yet a roaring economic success like China’s, why is it an object of so much jealousy and hostility on the part of a few neighbouring nations? Why do they want to diminish or even destroy India when it is acknowledged to be a peaceful secular democracy; seeking to be left to its own devices to develop its economy; unburdened by any intolerant or aggressive ideological baggage; harbouring no territorial ambition against any country including those with common borders?

Was it because the progress of the Indian economic caravan was too halting and slow moving, too little achievement to show-case before the world, the pathetic statistic of 300 million illiterates living in abject poverty, the legacy of a creaky infrastructure that reduces GDP growth by 2 pct annually, a political system that has been too chaotic, corrupt and inefficient lacking in decisive decision-making capability, too many ignorant politicians busy arguing over irrelevant issues without much concern for or seriously attempting to address the real issues staring the nation?

These apart, when we see on TV screens Indian police personnel, faced with a terror attack of an unprecedented scale as on 26/11 in Mumbai, holding archaic 303 bolt action rifles fighting Pakistani gunmen armed with AK 47 automatic firing combat rifles it was obvious that India’s security preparedness was in shambles even today 62 years after independence. Even the bullet-proof vests used by senior police officers were totally useless. They lost their lives after being shot at while they were wearing them.

The modernisation of India’s armed forces on Land, Air and Sea has remained unattended for over a long period of time. Imagine the vulnerability of an under equipped nation against a determined enemy armed beyond what its actual defence requirements are. Such deficits attract enemies and produce subversive ideas in their minds. It is said that when an elephant gets stuck in a pool of thick and deep mud, even a little frog gets tempted to give the lumbering giant a nice kick.

The landmark 2009 general elections in India, which put a government in place at the centre that will not have to rely on self-centred, caste-based and regional coalition partners’ support for survival, has the potential to produce a sea change in the nation’s power projection. It is however too early to predict with confidence if the Manmohan Singh Administration will be able to muster the requisite political will to fulfil the rising aspirations of the people and make the country safer from the evil eyes of the enemies. This time round the Congress-led UPA Government has the freedom to work within the parameters of the promises it made to the people in its “Election Manifesto” free from the constraints of a disjointed mumbo jumbo called the “Common Minimum Programme”. This time round the UPA government will therefore not be able to pass the buck and blame its coalition partners for obstructing the path of fast track development, if the glacial growth path India is traditionally used to continues to hog its steps in the next 5 years.

Having said that, let us now grapple with today’s ground realities and the challenges facing the nation on the security issues. We need to find out first where are the threats to India’s security coming from?

India is faced in the main with a twin set of threat matrix to its security. One is posed by some of its unfriendly neighbours – by one count it is China and Pakistan acting in tandem - articulating sustained threats of conflict or on occasions imposing actual debilitating wars with the intention of causing political instability and economic damage and hoping to grab, sometimes successfully, chunks of its sovereign territory.

US policy in South and Central Asia - an unlikely source of security threat faced by India

A rather unfortunate element in the line up of foreign threats to India’s security is the nature of the formulation of US policy on South and Central Asia. Washington’s intentions are perhaps not meant to be wilfully hurtful of India’s interests both being democracies respectful of each other. America’s long-standing military alliance with Pakistan, a terrorism-sponsoring state, and its unflinching and wholly naïve strategic support and its huge and un-ending financial assistance sustaining Islamabad’s gratuitous belligerence towards New Delhi has certainly hurt India. It has lasted over half a century and still continues without an end. Indians often ask the question: when for Gods sake, will the US remove its blinkers and see the light of day. Today, India – a country 8 times bigger in size than Pakistan – and a giant and a vibrant secular democracy that is ready to be taken on board as an alliance partner of the US yet Washington continues its woolly headed policy on Kashmir echoing Pakistan’s position on the issue pressuring India to resume composite dialogue with Islamabad ignoring the horrors of Mumbai terror attack and Pakistan’s unresponsiveness to act against the terrorists. Repeated US suggestions made to democratic India to take note of the wishes of the people of Kashmir while it engages in finding a solution to the problem are naïve and ridiculous. It is another way of saying that whatever solution is found to the Kashmir problem it must be acceptable to Pakistani military men. The Obama Administration’s evolving South Asia policy of reviving the hyphenated India-Pakistan equation, discarded by President George W Bush, is short-sighted and an affront to Indian democracy.

US President Barack Obama should realise that India, which has never recognised that there was ever a dispute over Kashmir, would not cede territory to Pakistan except in the pain of a full fledged war which Pakistan will have to win to grab Kashmir. This is a highly unlikely condition. Under the circumstance and cutting the long story short, the most practical solution would be for India and Pakistan to accept the Line of Control as the International Border. It would be an invaluable contribution to world peace if Washington changes tack and supports and guarantees the LOC in Kashmir as an international border.

The Domestic Insurgencies

The other source of threat to Indian stability and peaceful existence is home grown. The list is long but the most prominent ones are the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or commonly known as the Maoists or the Naxalites, ULFA or the United Liberation Front of Assam whose operational base has been moved to Bangladesh, the Naga rebels operating from Burma, the Manipuri insurgents, the Bodo insurrectionists, SIMI or the Students Islamic Movement of India (the Urdu translation is the Indian Taliban) who have deep communication links with elements in Pakistan.

On 22 June 2009 the Government of India banned CPI Maoist terming it as a terrorist organisation in the midst of the Lalgarh insurrection in West Bengal. This happens to be the 34th terrorist organisation that figures on the banned terrorist list making India a country with the largest number of domestic terrorist entities active on its soil. The modus operandi of the Maoists has been that they operate in the most poverty stricken areas where the tribal communities constitute the predominant groups and win them over by ambushing and killing large numbers of members of the security forces seen as symbols of oppression and by establishing so-called “Liberated Zones”. Not unexpectedly, the Marxist Government in West Bengal opposed Centre’s move to ban the Maoists on ideological grounds but yielded at the end. Analysts have said that the rise of Maoist violence is the direct result of poor governance over a long period of time by successive administrations in India. What concerns the Government of India is that the Maoists have established a “Red Corridor” – a no-go area for India’s administrative machinery and the security forces - stretching from Nepal through Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa right up to Andhra Pradesh. It has been realised at long last in Delhi that this could not go on for too long.

Sleeper Cells or Terror Modules Operating on the Soil of India

One of a kind are the Muslim Sleeper Cells or Terror Modules situated in pockets all across India functioning under the beck and call of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations namely Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. These outfits routinely indulge in bursts of terrorist violence driven by aggressive ideologies founded on religious fervour and are operationally and financially backed by the ISI and are planned and executed with military precision. They are mostly run by a combination of foreign and local criminal elements out to create political instability, perpetrating mass murder and mayhem and in the bargain making money for themselves. Terrorism has transformed itself over the years as a lucrative industry. A noteworthy feature is that except for those who lay down their lives as suicide bombers, the rest of them ranging from the ideologues or the radicalised Mullahs, the senior handlers who are military personnel on secondment to the Intelligence Agency, the middle level field operatives, the gun runners know as Sawari, the Hawala operators managing the finances, the information gatherers known as Mukhbers and a whole lot of others lead luxurious lives rolling in unaccounted for money. So post 26/11 when India asks Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure of terror from its soil, India for its part also cannot ignore the domestic dimension of the terror cells as they exists on its own soil. The terror modules are the soft under belly of India’s security concerns.

Pakistan’s Jihad against India & the Indian Response.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acted tough with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at their meeting at Yekaterinburg in Russia on 15 June 2009 at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit he had solid reasons to do so. According to Multi Agency Centre (MAC) the agency for all terror related intelligence under the Ministry of Home Affairs there are 42 terror-training camps directed against India functioning in Pakistan today and an estimated 2200 militants are housed in these camps. The PM warned that Pakistan should take strong, effective and sustained action against the terror net works targeting India from its soil before he decides to resume the composite dialogue suspended after 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. The release of the Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafeez Mohammad Saeed from house arrest recently did not help matters.

The following are two among many menacing statements made by two of the most powerful Pakistanis that impinge on the security of India.

1. General Pervez Musharraf in his capacity as the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan Army said in a meeting held on 11 April 1999 at the English Speaking Union in Karachi: “Low intensity conflict with India will continue even if the Kashmir dispute is resolved”. Six months later he assumed charge as the Military Dictator of Pakistan in a coup on 12 October 1999. There are no signs yet of Pakistan’s cross border terrorism against India coming to an end all too soon.

2. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the mentor of Lashkar e Tayyaba and the Chief of Jamaat ud Dawa declared in 1999 in a sermon in Muridke near Lahore, “Today I announce the break up of India, Inshallah. We will not rest until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan”. Nearly a decade later in October 2008 Saeed speaking from the same pulpit in Muridke warned, “India only understands the language of Jihad. Jihad can break up India like it did the former Soviet Union”. Lashkar e Tayyaba’s armed Jihad against India continues in fully cry to this day.

While apprehensions have been expressed that Pakistan could fall into the hands of the Taliban, Selig Harrison, a knowledgeable US commentator on South Asian issues, warned in an article in The Boston Globe, a US daily, 18 June 2009, that it was not the Taliban but the Lashkar e Tayyaba ( Let) which posed the real danger to the sovereignty of Pakistan. In his view the LeT could topple the government in Pakistan and take over the reigns of the country. Disarming the LeT should be the top US priority because it would greatly reduce the possibility of a coup by Islamist sympathisers in the Armed Forces. A strong US stand on the Lashkar is necessary to diffuse the escalating India-Pakistan tensions, which he feared could trigger a war between the two nuclear-armed countries

The security threat flowing from Pakistan is not limited to cross border terrorism. The more sinister dimension lies in its expanding nuclear arsenal. US experts have claimed that Pakistan has now fabricated between 60 and 100 atom bombs. The latest ones are plutonium-based and are significantly more lethal. Privately Pakistani military officers boast that its nuclear arsenal is not meant to be museum pieces and will be used against India at the appropriate time. Islamabad has put in place the doctrine of “first strike” against India should Pakistan face an existential threat in a war with India, while New Delhi has opted for what is known as “second strike capability”. It means that India’s nuclear strike force on Land (both fixed and mobile), Air (both air borne and missile-based) and Sea (both aircraft-carrier and submarine-based) remains fully operational and on red alert all the 24 hours of the day to meet any emergency at any time. Recently Pakistan has claimed that in addition to its first strike doctrine it has also developed a second strike capability, matching India’s.

The terror connection to Pakistan’s nuclear capability is the worst security threat that the US and India are faced with today. Mustafa Abu al Yazeed, top commander of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the third senior most leader in the terror outfit after Osama bin Laden and Aiman al Zawahiri, said in a TV interview on the Doha based Al Jazira Channel on 22 June 2009 that al Qaeda will use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons against the US if it gets its hands on them. “Inshallah the nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of the Americans and the Mujahideen would take them and use them against America” The interview came after US and Indian officials raised concerns over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and growing insurgencies across the country. Al Qaeda’s nuclear threat to India lay hidden in Abu Yazeed’s nuclear warning to the US on Al Jazira. Yazeed has also put India on notice that it should be prepared to face Mumbai style terror attacks in the near future. He expanded his thesis in a subsequent interview with the Iranian Channel Press TV when he said ” We expect the Pakistan Army to be defeated in Swat and that would be its end everywhere, God willing”.

Something of interest to note is a media leak from alleged Pentagon sources that out of the $11 billion given as economic and military assistance to Pakistan to fight the War on Terror by the Bush Administration, an amount of $5.6 billion was siphoned off by the Pakistan military for modernising, expanding and dispersing its nuclear arsenal. Mustafa Abu al Yazeed’s object of desire is none other this attractive asset.

A.K Antony, India’s Defence Minister, while addressing a gathering of India’s top military commanders in New Delhi on 25 June 2009 said: with a rapidly growing economy, India’s dependence of the Sea Lanes was increasing by the day. The spiralling piracy off the coast of Somalia emerged as a major challenge to sea borne traffic. Sea routes could also be used to transport WMDs and arms and ammunitions by terrorists to reach the hinterland as was done by the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack on 26/11 of 2008. Antony went on the say that Pakistan is facing turmoil from within and warned that its problems could spill over into India. “Anti-Indian forces operating from Pakistan have been trying to destabilise India. We should not forget that the groups against whom Pakistan is taking action today, were earlier seen as assets by its establishment”. We should be vigilant about the happenings on our western border while at the same time try to make peace with our neighbour.

At the 25 June 2009 meeting in New Delhi, referring to China, the Defence Minister told the military commanders that there is enough space for both India and China to grow into influential nations in the evolving international order but regretted that complex unresolved issues are acting as hurdles in the progress towards this goal. By touching on China, Antony was broadly justifying India’s current drive in modernising its armed forces enabling it to rise to the looming challenges.

China’s Expanding and Increasingly Aggressive Territorial Ambitions

The Chinese ambiguity in its relationship with India is a matter of much concern to New Delhi. Beijing’s provocations across the Line of Actual Control are no less menacing than Pakistan’s transparent hostility and cross border Jihad across the Line of Control. Both are nuclear powers fired by a common desire to destroy India. They work in tandem with each other. In fact China has provided both nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan. There is a massive body of evidence to prove the transfer of these strategic assets. In nuclear arming Pakistan from the seventies of the last century, Beijing had simply outsourced its policy of containment of India to Islamabad just as it has more recently outsourced its policy of containment of South Korea and Japan to North Korea by providing nuclear arms to it too. Islamabad and Pyongyang have thus become Beijing’s most valued proxies in the promotion of its security agenda in Asia.

Both China and Pakistan lay claims on large chunks of the sovereign territories of India. Pakistan wants the entire Indian administered State of Jammu and Kashmir because it has a Muslim majority while China claims the whole of the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh as its own calling it “Lower Tibet”. The LoC demarcates the two segments of J & K between India and Pakistan while the LAC is in effect the international border that divides the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh from the Chinese occupied Autonomous Region of Tibet.

Recently there have been reports of frequent incursions by Chinese troops into the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh across the Line of Actual Control. The LAC is in fact the old Mac Mohan Line drawn by the British Colonial Office in London during the Empire days. Through population settlements along the LAC, it has become the international border. What is now de facto can be altered into a de jure international border with minor border adjustments. To claim the whole State of Arunachal Pradesh is frivolous to say the least. China knows India will never concede territory.

Through frequent incursions, when the threshold of tolerance was crossed the Indian Army decided in May 2009 to move two of its full-strength Mountain Divisions comprising 60,000 men in arms to Arunachal Pradesh. This was reinforced by the Indian Air Force stationing two of its full-strength squadrons of Sukhoi 30 MK1 at unspecified numbers of newly built advanced airbases in and around the state. Responding to China’s aggressive military manoeuvrings north of the LAC, raising India’s military profile in the North East Region had become unavoidable and imperative. Except for China, no other world power raised any objection to India’s mobilisation of its ground forces and the IAF in self-defence.

At the height of these tensions, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Yekaterinburg, Russia at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Summit. Media reports suggested that apart from discussing terrorism, the Indian PM raised the issue of the long outstanding “border dispute” between India and China and the need to solve it without further delay. There were no media leaks about what President Hu had to say in reply.

Strategic encirclement of India is another aspect of China’s India policy. Starting with the establishment of a high tech naval base in Gawadar in the Baluchistan Coast in Pakistan in the Gulf of Hormuz, China is in the process of setting up an electronic listening post in Coco Island in Burma, base facilities in Chittagong in Bangladesh, support facilities in Hambantota in Sri Lanka and is now negotiating with the Governments of Maldives and Mauritius for base facilities. These military activities pose direct threats to India’s naval security. China has also developed a strategic submarine base in the natural deep-water cave-formations in Hainan Province in South China Sea close to Andaman and Nicobar Naval and Air Base in the Indian Ocean. In response India has been busy rapidly building a Blue Water Navy hoping to extend its naval power projection from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to Australia in the East and to the Suez Canal in the Red Sea to the West. India’s naval power is built on a cluster of battle groups led by aircraft carriers.

Should India consider joining the proposed Asia-Pacific Democratic Alliance?

Faced with incremental military threats posed by nuclear-armed Pakistan from the west and by emerging super power China both from the directions of Tibet in the North and the deep blue oceans in the South apart from the gathering momentum of its military encirclement, India is left with no alternative but to undertake a strategic re-assessment of what are the options available to it to defend its territorial integrity. In such a hostile neighbourhood, a diplomatic tight-rope-walk in East Asia has become imperative. The challenge is to seek a strategic understanding with Japan, South Korea and Australia. This is because for India it has become unavoidable to seek vital base facilities in East Asia for its Navy on an urgent basis.

So much for the much trumpeted “peaceful rise” of China.

The security threats faced by Taiwan, which China claims to be its own, are not much different in their military content from China’s demand for the State of Arunachal Pradesh. For its part, Taiwan enjoys the benefit of being a member of a military alliance with the US. It is therefore protected by the super-power’s nuclear umbrella. India does not need a nuclear umbrella but the rising temperature in India-China relations could well be creating conditions for India to consider entering into a formal military alliance with super-power US. The Taiwan-US military alliance may serve as a distant model for an India-US strategic alliance. The India-US Civilian Nuclear Deal should be a good starting point. Proposals for bringing into being an Asia-Pacific Democratic Alliance comprising India, US, Japan, South Korea and Australia are already on the table for some time. If it sees the light of day, it has the potential to developing into a condominium of a larger military network extending right up to NATO. India has the experience of working within a military alliance in the context of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation of 1971. Its function was to defend India’s territorial integrity regardless of ideological considerations. In the present context without a strategic alliance partnership with the US, India cannot expect a strategic accommodation with Japan, South Korea or Australia. And without membership of such a military alliance, India’s security in East Asia will remain highly exposed. The time has come for India to abandon its fascination with the policy of Non-Alignment. The Grand Asian Alliance with Russia and China by the nature of its membership is also a non-starter and therefore will serve no purpose to India.

The writer is the author of a 500 page book

“ A Long Journey Together – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh ” published by in the USA.

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