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Why security must top the government's agenda

By Colonel (Dr) Anil Athale (retd)
May 28, 2009 16:21 IST
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Two points make the 2009 electoral verdict very satisfactory -- for one, there is a clear mandate and the government will be stable. Secondly, the resounding defeat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist augurs well for us to clearly focus on the long term threat and inimical actions of our northern neighbour.

But true to form, the media and the public as large are focussed on economic issues while security issues as usual take a back seat. This is an attempt to rectify that imbalance.

Sample this:

China opposed an Asian Development Bank loan to India on the grounds that the project was located in Arunachal Pradesh -- 'a disputed area' according to the Chinese. There was also an attempt by China to work out with the United States the division of the Asia Pacific region with China getting a free hand in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka launched its final offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, using air force, heavy artillery and tanks. Tens of thousands of Tamils (with ethnic and family ties with Indian Tamils) perished. Indian advice to restrain the use of heavy weapons fell on deaf ears. Sri Lanka continues to pursue a military solution to the 'problem' of the Tamil minority.

Nepal's Prachanda cocks a snook at India and visits China on his first-ever official journey. The Maoists throw out the traditional Indian priests from the Pashupatinath temple and in a move to consolidate power dismisses the army chief. When thwarted in the attempt, he blames India for the crisis.

After much delay the Pakistani army launches a brutal offensive against Taliban -- its erstwhile 'strategic asset' (Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani was caught on tape saying this). It is only a matter of time before the Taliban/Inter Services Intelligence/Pakistan army create a 26/11-like incident in India so that they can cite the Indian threat and abort anti-Taliban operations.

One common factor in all these events is that the heat began to be turned on precisely at the time when Indian decision making went into a limbo. It was widely expected that there would be a hung Parliament and a weak government. Thanks to the Indian voters's legendary sagacity, that has not happened.

In international relations there are very few accidents and the bunching of these anti-India actions in our neighbourhood could not be just coincidence, but show a design and pattern.

The Pune-based Initiative for Peace and Disarmament, of which I am the co-ordinator, has worked relentlessly for the establishment of an institutional mechanism for national security. While it is understandable that the politicians were busy with the elections, the National Security Council Secretariat and other bureaucratic heads ought to have been active both in Nepal and in the Sri Lanka humanitarian crisis. Apparently they were, but also ineffective. Why this happened is a question that Indians must seriously ponder.

Immediate challenges

Take Pakistan first. Many foreign analysts as well as some Indians, have warned of a 26/11 type of terrorist strike against India. The logic is simple; such an incident will lead to Indian reaction against Pakistan giving an excuse to the Pakistanis to call off the much-disliked action in Swat against the Taliban.

A situation, in Pakistan may come about where the Taliban get hold of a nuclear weapon and export it to India via a sea borne container.

It is time we have to give a very serious consideration to our nuclear posture of no first strike. The government must order a through review of all options.

The 26/11 attacks showed up multiple failures at various levels. It is time a closed door independent inquiry is ordered to pin point the flaws and rectify them. We owe it to the victims of that horrible massacre if we wish to avoid a repeat in the future.

The aim should be rectification of the systems and not witch hunting. An in-house departmental inquiry can never be impartial and would fail to bring out the truth. Now that the election is over, this ought to be the new government's first priority.

On the Nepal and Sri Lanka front, it is time to remind the government of the steps taken by Rajiv Gandhi -- airdrops over Jaffna without asking the Lankans and economic blockade of Nepal to bring it to its senses.

It is time Indians have a re-look at the 'Indira Doctrine' of 1980s, essentially a policy of hands off for foreigners in the Indian subcontinent. India is today in far more powerful position than in the 1980s in terms of economic clout. Where we have possibly slipped is our military power. It is time serious attention is given to build a military muscle commensurate with our size and capability.

The build-up of military power takes time and cannot be created in an emergency. The process has to be medium to long term. As the official historian of the 1962 India-China border war, one is reminded of an incident.

The Indian Army fought the Chinese in 1962 with First World War vintage Lee Enfield bolt action rifles, the kind our policemen continue to carry to date! The army's request for automatic rifles was stuck in the red tape and government apathy.

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Colonel (Dr) Anil Athale (retd)