Calibrating a security strategy

Strategy must keep pace with the changing international and internal security scenarios. National strategy is based on a tripod of economic, diplomatic and military power. India has emerged as a major economic power, thanks not to the government, but to her entrepreneurs and human resource material. In 2010, heads of governments of all the five permanent members of the Security Council, including US President Barack Obama looking for 50,000 jobs for his countrymen, came visiting Delhi, one after the other. The subsequent scams that tumbled out of the government’s cupboard in quick succession have been debilitating.
Foreign investors are getting deterred from investing in India and Indian investors are increasingly investing abroad. Our recent diplomatic initiatives are yielding results. Heads of governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam, have, in quick succession, come to Delhi in 2011. The third leg of the tripod, namely military power, should not be allowed to become our Achilles’ heel.
China and Pakistan have been our adversaries. Apart from committing territorial aggression, China forced a border war on us in 1962. Chinese economic and military build-ups are far ahead of India. Its military infrastructure in Tibet has improved tremendously. From a capability of supporting eight divisions in Tibet, China can now support up to 32 divisions in that region. Air and missile bases have similarly multiplied with all the required logistic capability. Our border dispute with China remains unresolved. Its all-weather alliance with Pakistan is directed primarily against India. The origin and history of Pakistan is of hostility towards India.
The US, as a leading super power, and after the Cold War as the lone superpower, has played a dominant role in our region. Its perceived national interest makes it act against India’s security interests. It generously armed and assisted Pakistan, whose prime objective has been to use that weaponry against India. In 1971, the US moved its aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, into the Bay of Bengal, threatening India with gunboat diplomacy. It has been pressuring us to accommodate Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. It encouraged religious fundamentalism and assisted Pakistan in the “jihad” against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This eventually recoiled on the US when the Twin Towers crumbled on 9/11. The US also turned a blind eye to Pakistan becoming a nuclear power.
For operations in Afghanistan, the US has been dependent on Pakistan for the Karachi-Kabul supply line. It relies on Pakistan’s help for an honourable exit from Afghanistan by 2014. Pakistan has been exploiting this to the hilt. It has received $20 billion in aid and yet not stopped attacks on US supply convoys in Pakistan nor attacks by terrorists in Afghanistan from havens in Pakistan. The brilliant Abbottabad raid by US commandos, eliminating Osama bin Laden, fully exposed Pakistan’s duplicity. Yet, to assuage its untrustwothy and undependable ally, the US accepted an unconvincing explanation, that the leadership in the Pakistan government, Army and ISI was not aware of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad for five years!
The killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Afghanistan President and peace interlocutor, and the attack on the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters and the US embassy in Kabul in September 2011, seem to have exhausted America’s patience. Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an ardent Pakistan supporter, admitted that the Haqqani group is an arm of the ISI. This sparked a war of words between the two countries. The Pakistan foreign minister has asserted that US needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has told Pakistan, “You cannot keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually these snakes will turn round on whoever has them in the backyard.” She forgot to mention that her country has been generously feeding these snakes for many years. For political and economic reasons, the US is in a hurry to quit Afghanistan. After the two World Wars, the British era came to an end. This now appears to be happening to the American era, after Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to calibrate our strategy keeping this in view.

The British, the Soviets, and now the Americans, burnt their fingers in Afghanistan. For half a century after Independence we virtually ignored Afghanistan for paucity of strategic thinking. We have lately been giving generous economic aid to Afghanistan. We now have a Strategic Partnership Treaty which provides for our training Afghan Security forces. MoUs have also been signed to develop mineral deposits. Afghanistan is estimated have $30 trillion worth of mineral deposits like natural gas and iron ore. This has ruffled feathers in Pakistan which does not want any Indian presence in Afghanistan. They may intensify their terrorist activities in India. We have to be prepared to deal with that.
Our cultural and civilisation links with Vietnam go back several centuries. US forces suffered a big reverse in Vietnam. China’s incursion into Vietnam was thwarted and China failed to teach Vietnam a lesson. Vietnam is a storehouse of military and economic power in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). ONGC has won a contract to exploit oil wells in South China Sea, which are in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone but China claims as its waters. INS Airawat was recently quizzed by a Chinese warship in these waters. We should not get deterred and continue with developing economic and strategic ties with Vietnam. Our developing economic ties with Bangladesh and Myanmar are welcome developments.
Our neglect of defence is a matter of grave concern. We have not yet acquired medium guns despite the Army wanting them for 30 years. We have similarly been very lackadaisical in acquiring modern fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers. The raising of mountain divisions has not yet been competed and a mountain corps is still to be sanctioned. Year after year we have been surrendering thousands of crores of our defence budget. Our shortage of 12,000 Army officers has continued for over two decades. Recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee on defence, duly approved by the Group of Ministers, have still not been implemented in vital matters.
We do not have to join in an arms race with China. Long-drawn conventional war is now highly improbable. This will also not be in China’s interests, when it is concentrating on building its economy to become the leading world power. We need deterrent military capability to prevent Chinese military adventurism. As for Pakistan, we should not allow our edge in military strength to be eroded. We must have an effective counter terrorism mechanism. All our economic and diplomatic power will be of no avail if the third leg of the national strategy tripod, namely military power, is inadequate. We will then be only trying to play water polo in a dry tank.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and J&K

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