India at 74: Coming to terms with national security
by R Hariharan on 22 Aug 2021 2 Comments

On February 26, 2019, a dozen Mirage 2000 fighter jets of the IAF crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and penetrated to deep inside Pakistan to carry out a pre-dawn strike at the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist camps in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and in Muzaffarabad and Chakothi in POK. Operation Bandar, as the Balakot mission was called, was India’s muscular response to punish JeM which had killed 40 CRPF troops in an IED attack on a bus carrying them at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019.


Though India’s response came 12 days after Pulwama attack, it was well planned to cover political, diplomatic and military aspects. This was evident in the way the air force had meticulously planned to ensure total surprise. IAF Mirage 2000 strike was supported by airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) radar systems designed to detect and track aircraft, missiles and ships and air defence cover by Sukhoi 30MkI aircraft. Heron drone conducted real time surveillance of the LOC. In order to achieve total surprise, Mirage fighters were inducted directly into operation from Gwalior base with Ilyushin 78 aircraft providing mid-air fuelling facility. It was a demonstration of IAF’s capability to operate a complex air operation in the modern C3S and I command and control system in place.


India clarified that the operation was not targeted against the people of Pakistan. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale called it “an intelligence led operation.” He said “credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country.” He termed the action as a “non-military pre-emptive action” specifically targeted at JeM camps.


The Balakot air strike is unprecedented on many counts in India’s history.  Never before, not even after the 26/11 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist attacks in Mumbai, has India demonstrated its ability to take decisive retaliatory action beyond its borders. Thus, it represents an important milestone in India’s quest to articulate its national security strategy.


It also showed the benefit of taking the first steps in reforming the national security framework. In May 2018, the newly created Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the chairmanship of the National Security Advisor and with the three service chiefs, foreign secretary, secretary (expenditure) in the finance ministry as members, met for the first time.  The DPC was to consider the draft national security strategy (NSS) and the long pending issues of reforms in national security, particularly in creating integrated commands to promote jointness, creation of triservice commands for cyberspace, space and special operations. The DPC is also tasked to prepare drafts of a strategic defence review, an international defence engagement strategy, a road map to build a defence manufacturing echo system, a strategy to boost arms exports and prioritised capability development plans for armed forces.


The National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), an expert group of non-officials, under the National Security Council (NSC) is also reported to have prepared a draft NSS on the directions of the PMO. This will also be reviewed by the DPC. While these are all welcome moves, how far and how fast they will yield results is the big question, because the nation has demonstrated it lacks a strategic culture.


Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not identify national security with military threats, but saw it in a broader perspective of the need to develop its political, economic technological and military capabilities in that order. The debacle in the war with China in 1962 was perhaps a short-lived wake up call to the nation revelling in its role as a peacemaker. However, the conceptual vacuum in its national security strategy showed up glaringly when Pakistan triggered the 1965 war; it ended in a stalemate because India lacked strategic goals.


Cold War compulsions and the increasing synergy between the US and China came to the fore in the wake of 1971 war that saw the birth of Bangladesh. Though the country lacked a well-articulated security doctrine, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi leveraged the Cold War animosities to India’s strategic advantage to come out victorious. India’s ill-fated military intervention in Sri Lanka from 1987-90 again demonstrated the price the nation had to pay for the strategic confusion in the minds of national leadership.


The Kargil war in 1999 showed up the glaring weaknesses in the nation’s intelligence apparatus when Pakistani troops stealthily managed to occupy commanding heights to harass the troops. It took extraordinary courage and bravery of the Indian soldier to emerge victorious after paying a heavy price with 527 lives. The Kargil Review Committee under strategist K. Subrahmanyam laid bare not only the weakness in the intelligence process but in a whole range of security issues – decision-making at the top, national security management, integrated operations and military modernization.


The Committee had recommended a full time National Security Adviser (NSA), Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a National Intelligence Agency (NIA), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and deputing military officers to the Ministry of Defence. But till it was dusted up in 2011 by the Naresh Chandra Committee, there was no progress. Bureaucratic resistance ensured tardy implementation of the recommendation.


The resistance of the Ministry of Defence to implement the One Rank One Pension (OROP) even after the government had given the go ahead, created avoidable bitterness among veterans. The appointment of the CDS in December 2019, nearly two decades after the idea was mooted showed the low priority national security issues occupy in the government scheme of things.


The Galwan incident on June 20, 2020 in which Indian troops and Chinese troops clashed along the line of control in Eastern Ladakh, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers, has underlined the urgency of coordinated national security response. It showed our weaknesses in timely procurement of modern weapon systems, construction of border roads and in assessing potential threats. So we are still a long way in coordinating our national security strategy.


We are in for a long haul in dealing with China. China’s approach to India will be transactional, selective and based on the hard reality of its national self-interest rather than ephemeral notions of harmony and bonhomie. We need to be hard headed to benefit from the quadrilateral framework being formed to prevent predatory moves of China in the Indo-Pacific. While participating in such frameworks it is good to remember what Chanakya said long ago: “There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interest. This is a bitter truth.”



India Weekly |Sunday August 15, 2021

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