Pakistan has been a volatile and turbulent neighbor to India. Since partition, India has had to resort to war on three occasions – 1947, 1965, 1971 plus two sizeable conflicts in Rann of Katchh in 1965 and Kargil in 1999, apart from series of skirmishes in Siachen Glacier area in 1985, 1987 and 1995. In between it has been bedeviled by unremitting depredation of various kinds, ranging from infiltrations to hijacking to instigating of insurgencies in Kashmir and Punjab, attacks on Indian parliament and Indian embassy in Kabul.
In addition, there has been a spate of bomb blasts in Indian cities. The latest horror has been an audacious commando type raid on Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008 which has lead to public outcry against failure of the government to protect its people and property. There is widespread doubt as to whether India has national security.
With respect to defense of borders, except for loss of chunks of territory in Kashmir and against China, Indian Armed Forces have performed exceedingly well for integrity of the “core issues”. India has successfully beaten off numerous Pak offensives in Kashmir, Siachen Glacier, and Kargil and helped Bangladesh gain its independence ““ a good report card by all standards.
How do we define national security? One formulation is that “A country can be said to have security if it does not have to avoid war when its national interests are threatened or violated”. In other words, a country should have the option (capacity and will) to retaliate when provoked or hurt. Option of armed retaliation or resort to war is bound by restrictions or ground rules. First: It is a mistake to start something that you cannot finish. Examples: Indian mobilization (operation Prakaram) consequent to Pak inspired attack on Indian parliament which resulted in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation lasting nine months with India looking for a face saver to disengage.
Similarly, Pak abortive misadventure in Kargil in 1999, which only earned it international ignominy, embarrassment and unnecessary casualties. This dictum assumes overriding imperative if both countries have nuclear weapons. It is perhaps this reason which has forced India to shy-off war or war-like options after the Mumbai carnage. Second: Do not act tougher than you are. India suffered a humiliating defeat in 1962 because it miscalculated its strength vis-à-vis China. Third: In modern times, it is not possible to take significantly decisive action unless the attacking country has firm support of a veto wielding super power. India could not have undertaken operations in Bangladesh in 1971 if it did not have support of the USSR. However, these are but examples of limitations to national security, i.e., when lack of capacity inhibits a country from exercise of its sovereignty to fully safeguard or further its interests.
The operative concept then is “national interests”. Of course, there is no such thing as absolute security or unfettered freedom – even a sole super power in a unipolar world has limitations as was brought home to President Bush. So, while setting its goals, a nation has to sift through its many interests so as to narrow them down to basic interests or goals which will then be held sacrosanct and to protect which the country will be prepared to go to war. The goals should be achievable, reasonable, and in consonance with norms of international morality and norms of civilized behavior. The goals of the Indian Republic are manifestly just and unexceptionable, and the national ethos is peaceful, almost bordering on pacifism. Contrary to propaganda of its detractors, India has no hegemonistic or imperialistic designs.
After defeating the Pak Army in East Pakistan, India withdrew unconditionally after Bangladesh gained its independence. It maintains open borders with Nepal and soft borders with Bangladesh. It has not arrogated to itself a moral right to foist democracy and secularism or social philosophy on its neighbouring countries. It is a true example of a pluralistic, multi-ethnic and secular society. So much so that it is often perceived as a soft state with porous borders though history has shown that though slow to anger, it has shown the capacity to take resolute action when attacked.
Pakistan, on the contrary, has been the initiator, taking the first step in all the wars on the sub-continent. The Indo-Pak war of 1947 commenced as an Indian reaction to Pak Tribal raiders supported by elements of regular army in Kashmir. The 1965 war was started by the launch of Pak infiltrators into Kashmir (operation Gibraltar). 1971 war was started by Pak preemptive air strikes in Punjab as well as its crack-down on civil population in East Bengal which resulted in mass exodus of Hindus into India. The Kargil operations were triggered by Pak aggression in Kashmir across the “Line of Actual Control” in violation of the Simla Agreement of 1972.
Pakistan will undoubtedly intensify efforts to subvert the Indian Muslim community and foment religious unrest in India. By all accounts, this is the crucial frontier, indeed the soft “under-belly “of the Indian security system.
In practical terms, national security means territorial integrity, freedom for economic development, protection against demographic aggression and freedom to pursue its chosen social and political philosophy. These goals have to be adjudged in the context of likely threats. Territorial integrity or defense of the borders is the ‘sine qua non’ of national security. India has not fared badly in this respect barring loss of parts of Kashmir to Pakistan and areas in North and North East to China.
However, future portents are worrisome since along all its land borders, India is surrounded by countries inimical or unfriendly. There is 3310 km of ‘live’ border with Pakistan extending from Rann of Kachh to Rajasthan to West Punjab and then along the entire LoC in Kashmir. The hostility and capacity of Pakistan has vastly enhanced. India’s common border with China runs to 3440 Km from Ladakh to Arunachal is fully aligned with Pakistan and has never disguised its unfriendliness to India.
True, it has not actively intervened in any Indo-Pak conflict so far, but its menacing military power has to be taken into account. In between, there is a stretch of 1751 km of border with Nepal which has assumed critical proportions after the Maoist victory and burgeoning influence of China. There is Bangladesh to the east with which India shares 4096 km of an uneasy border. Recent electoral success of Sheikh Hasina notwithstanding, Pak influence and its export of Jihadist Islam to Bangladesh have taken firm root. In sum, the perils of a multi-front war combined with a festering Kashmir and an unstable Bangladesh, add up to a strategic nightmare.