A reset for India’s security policy – D.C. Pathak

The simplest definition of terrorism is ‘resort to covert violence for a perceived political cause’. Without a ’cause’ terrorism would be sheer criminality which it is not certainly.


India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar, in his address at the UN Security Council launching the two-year tenure of India’s membership, rightly focused on the threat of terrorism facing the world, pointed to the invidious role of Pakistan in harbouring and sponsoring terrorists drawn from across the Islamic spectrum and debunked the artificial divide made by American policy makers in the earlier years between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ to bail out Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terror against India. 9/11 and 26/11 both exemplified the same threat but for reasons of its own political interests, the US chose to view Al Qaeda, that considered the West as its prime enemy, differently from the Saudi-funded Lashkar-e-Toiba which would take on only India and not the West.

John Kerry, the only senior American leader to visit Mumbai in the wake of 26/11, straightaway told pressmen there that the Pak establishment could not be blamed for the Mumbai terror offensive as the attack was the doing of ‘non state’ actors. The then Indian government’s meek acceptance of that stand was notable — considering that a direct collusion of the Pak army and ISI in that horrific event was already becoming evident. It is in the Presidentship of Donald Trump that Pakistan was clearly called out for its sponsorship of Islamic extremism and terror and Hafiz Sayeed, LeT chief, designated as an international terrorist. Kerry is now back in the team of Joe Biden concerned with security and India has to watch out for a possible return of the Democrat legacy of hyphenating Pakistan with India in dealing with the two countries.

The UN Security Council also heard many other delegates expressing concern over ‘rightwing’ terrorism, terrorist violence attributed to racism and ethnicity-based terror attacks. It is clear that terrorism in these cases is the outcome of differing motivations — ideological, white supremacist and assertion of ethnic identity, respectively. The simplest definition of terrorism is ‘resort to covert violence for a perceived political cause’. Without a ’cause’ terrorism would be sheer criminality which it is not certainly. A ’cause’ requires ‘commitment’ and the measure of commitment is in the degree of ‘motivation’ that could be created among the militants used for a covert offensive. Terrorists have to take on a stronger opponent, the state, and hence choose to be in a covert mode which in turn makes Intelligence so important for counter-terrorism operations — because the fight is against the ‘invisible’ enemy and the ‘hidden’ plans.

The terror the world faces presently is of a new kind — it has ‘faith-based’ motivation that was strong enough to produce suicide bombers. This is at least partly because of the notions of superiority of the faith, rejection of other belief systems and the ‘rewards’ for making the supreme sacrifice that were invoked by the masterminds to convert not only some ‘have-nots’ but many educated and materially well-placed individuals as well. This is how social media has lately become an affective clandestine instrument of ‘radicalisation’ in India and elsewhere. India should spell out the danger this terror, fomented in the name of faith, posed to the entire world.

A principle of security mandates that a threat should be as completely defined as possible and not covered in generality. Without using the word Islamic or Jehadi as an adjective, it should be clearly put out that the world was dealing with a threat borne out of a new motivation whose epicentre was in Pakistan. Our diplomacy has to find a way of bringing up this point in the interactions with all democratic countries. The narrative on terrorism would otherwise be incomplete and flawed. There is no issue of political correctness here because it does not reflect on a religion or a community per se and only exposes misuse of faith by Pakistan for fomenting violence. In India, members of all communities are preoccupied with peaceful pursuit of livelihood and well-being. It is important, therefore, to isolate and curb such elements as are being on the side of the protagonists of this militancy for political reasons.

In tackling faith-based terrorism, our foreign policy is rightly reflecting the external and internal threats facing the country on this count. India is well placed to educate the democratic nations on this growing danger and also with its ringside position, track the developments in the Islamic world for appropriate responses. There should be a concerted effort by peace loving nations to ensure that effective voices were raised within that world against the advocacy of Jehad in today’s age. India can also have enough proclamations made by community leaders, Idaras and institutions against the misuse of faith for instigating terror. India has seen terrorism getting enmeshed in communal problems — the emergence of Indian Mujahideen (IM) as an offshoot of SIMI in the past illustrated this — and Pakistan exploiting the opportunities it had of fishing in India’s troubled waters. This has to be confronted and curbed with a sense of clarity.

The rise of Sino-Pak military, axis directed mainly against India in the post-370 period, is the biggest threat to India’s security at present. This alliance of a communist dictatorship and a fundamentalist regime in our neighbourhood, both with a history of war with India, is bonded irrevocably by the CPEC built by China on the territory of POK that was bartered away by Pakistan to that country. China is now collaborating with Pakistan on the issues of terror, Kashmir and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s new emerging profile makes it the leader of a powerful group in the Muslim world, including Turkey and Malaysia, that is friendly with Islamic radicals and recalcitrant towards the US, pushing Saudi Arabia and UAE — strong allies of the US leading the OIC — in a parallel camp.

This also has brought Pakistan geopolitically closer to China. It is good that India has swiftly moved towards acquiring a position of strength where it can deal with a possible mischief on the border jointly planned by Pakistan and China. India’s military presence in Ladakh, now a Union Territory, is a deterrent against any such misadventure of these adversaries. India can stretch China at other points on LAC too. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are being tackled diplomatically as also through security liaison. NSA Ajit Doval’s visit to Kabul last week should help India to have a say in Afghanistan’s future and counter Pak moves to influence the peace dialogue there in favour of Taliban.

India’s active participation in QUAD gives a message to China that the Indian Ocean will be defended against any maritime aggressiveness of the latter. China’s journey through the Covid crisis is not very transparent but India has handled the pandemic through a clear and firm policy guided by Prime Minister Modi himself and it is a matter of national pride that India launched the world’s biggest inoculation drive quite early in the day. India is also on way to economic recovery relying on its indigenous strength and entrepreneurship. The two India-make vaccines have been rolled out to an acclaim by the international community. India remains high on globalisation in IT sector and retains its potential as a world market in the future. The Modi regime has ensured that China can no longer use its economic leverage against India.

Some analysts presume 2021 will be the year of China’s rise post-Covid, primarily because of a likely preoccupation of Biden administration with internal issues, increasing economic dependence of Europe and South East Asia on China in trade and commerce and a firm ideological support extended by Russia to China on strategic matters of global importance. They consequently think of a tougher time ahead for India’s strategic policy makers. Many of these writers are no friends of the Modi regime — they are not willing to concede that India today is not what it was earlier in terms of being a major power in Asia with a voice in the world, that the strengthening of its defence might was good enough for India to take on hostile neighbours and that a political leadership with an established will power to act against aggressiveness of an adversary now governed this country.

India is not held back by the ideological baggage of ‘non-alignment’ and is committed to bilateral or even multilateral friendships aimed at mutual economic and security benefits that did not go against the cause of global peace either. India is also right in its reading that we are going to have a multi-polar world in future and that a return to a bipolar order is not easy or even possible. Prime Minister Modi is to be given credit for laying down an unambiguous framework of foreign policy and security strategy through a difficult period of disruption caused by the pandemic. Domestic scene in India, however, continues to be in need of greater vigilance and firm policies in view of the return of agitational politics, accentuation of communalism and rise of anti-India lobbies within and outside of the country.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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