Very few countries in the world are beset with as many hostile or uncomfortable neighbours as India. With its two neighbours China and Pakistan, it has a post-independence history of wars and the relations with them continue to be adversarial. The strategic collusion between Pakistan and China in terms of military and nuclear cooperation has further vitiated India’s external security environment.
To the credit of Indian policy makers, India has been able to meet the challenge posed by the two nuclear capable countries, both at military and diplomatic levels.
Pakistan’s animosity towards India is not over territorial claims but is a part of its congenital makeup.
Right from its inception, it has been obsessed about proving that its separation from India was justified and it, therefore, sees India as a competitor even though it is approximately one-fifth of India’s size and lagging woefully behind in all the attributes of a developing nation. It probably cannot reconcile to the fact that Indians with quite similar physical and cultural attributes could constitute a more progressive nation after partition.
To some extent, this psyche is also shared by Bangladesh. Hindu bashing, which was initiated as a part of nation building has assumed sinister proportions, especially so with the generational shift in Pakistan. Pakistan embarked on its hostile course based on misplaced machismo “one Pak soldier equal to ten Indian soldiers” and challenged India’s conventional superiority by initiating the war in 1965, and then in 1971. When this failed, it resorted to low intensity conflict and nuclear threat. It is bent upon undermining India from wherever it can, such as Bangladesh and Nepal using religion as a tool. It has even sought to give its nuclear arsenal an Islamic character. It has received much encouragement from China to keep India unsettled. In fact, some analysts quip that Pakistan has become ‘China’s Israel’ in South Asia.
China treats territorial disputes as part of its strategy and diplomatic leverage. The threat to Indian territory from China has abated considerably since the unresolved boundary question, grants it the desired leverage. China also realises that any offensive against India can be disastrous, given the mountainous terrain, Indian force levels and high level of expertise gained by the Indian Army in mountain warfare over the years. Just about how seriously China views India as a strategic competitor is evidenced in its transfer of nuclear and missile technology and wherewithal to Pakistan. No country provides such sensitive technologies to another unless the strategic stakes are extremely high and critical.
…Pakistan challenged India’s conventional superiority by initiating the war in 1965, and then in 1971. When this failed, it resorted to low intensity conflict and nuclear threat. It is bent upon undermining India from wherever it can, such as Bangladesh and Nepal…
If China were not apprehensive of India’s military prowess, it would never have embarked on such a massive military infrastructure development in Tibet, as is in evidence today. In Tibet, it has reportedly constructed 14 air bases and an oil pipeline from Gormo to Lhasa. The construction of a 1,118 km long rail link from Gormo to Lhasa is also underway. In addition, it is believed to have deployed some two-dozen ballistic missiles including nuclear capable ICBMs in Tibet.According to another source, one quarter of China’s nuclear missile force is deployed in Tibet, which includes medium and intermediate range missiles at Nagchuka and ICBMs at Nyingtri, Kongpo and Powo Tramo. Some of these missiles could primarily be aimed at India. A nuclear missile (DF-4 ICBM) launch site is also located at Terlingkha (217 km southeast of Tsaidam). The nuclearisation of the Tibetan plateau is fraught with disastrous ecological consequences not only for India but the entire ecosystem of the world, since Tibet is the primary source of water for most of South and Southeast Asia, as the rivers like the Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej, Mekong and others originate from Tibet. The impact of headwater pollution by nuclear pollutants can be devastating for countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Bhutan, and Vietnam.
Tibet emerged on the nuclear weapons development map of China in the early ‘60s with the establishment of the Ninth Academy or Factory 211, built by the Ninth Bureau of Chinese Nuclear Production Establishment at Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (100 km west of Siling), which is located 16 km east of Lake Kokonor. This, the first known nuclear weapon facility was brought on to the Tibetan Plateau in 1971 and installed in the Tsaidam. There have been reports in the past that polluted water and radioactive particles from the facility seeped into the groundwater, which flows into Lake Kokonor. In the past, China had also offered land in Tibet to some western countries for disposal of nuclear waste at a price.
India shares its largest land boundary of 4,096 km with Bangladesh. The threat posed by Bangladesh is more vicious and insidious. The demographic assault from Bangladesh on India is unrelenting and is impacting not only the border regions but also the inland areas, including the national capital New Delhi. According to an estimate, the annual illegal immigration from Bangladesh is approximately 300,000 and the total number of Bangladeshi nationals in India is approximately 15 to 17 million. With regard to the population growth rate in Bangladesh, there is a discrepancy between the official figures and the UNDP figures. For example, while the official population growth figure for the period covering 1981-1991 was 2.2 per cent, the UNDP figure was 2.5 per cent. Therefore, Bangladesh population as per the UNDP growth rate projection should have been 116.1 million as against 111.5 million reflected in the 1991 census. As to where this 4.5 million population disappeared is a matter of conjecture. Bangladesh migrants are in a position today to influence the poll outcome of 18 per cent of the assembly constituencies in West Bengal and 32 per cent of the assembly constituencies in Assam. It is unfortunate that there should be a lack of political consensus to meet this glaring threat.
Indian insurgent groups continue to enjoy safe havens in Bangladesh, particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs), which comprises districts of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachari. Some of the prominent leaders of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) have been enjoying the hospitality of Dhaka. The CHTs also forms part of the route for arms smuggling by various Indian and Myanmar insurgent groups. The arms smuggling originates from Ranong and Phuket on the western coast of Thailand and is moved by vessels to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, from where it is transported by land route through the CHTs.
There is a growing anti-Indian constituency in Bangladesh, which is being aided and abetted by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. Bangladesh, in the absence of any strategic leverages vis-à-vis India, has been wooing powers like China and Pakistan as a counterpoise. Islamic fundamentalist elements in Bangladesh are not only growing in strength but have also gained legitimacy by the inclusion of the Jamait-e-Islami members in the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. A report carried by the Time magazine indicated that consequent to the initiation of ‘operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan, a large number of Taliban cadres escaped to Bangladesh by a ship, MV Mecca from Pakistan. Bangladesh being a soft state, is vulnerable to manipulations by extra regional powers and given its strategic location with respect to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, the military engagement of the country by the US has become more intense post 9/11 as evidenced by the shift in scope and tenor of joint military exercises. Such indirect presence of extra regional powers in India’s geo-political backyard introduces a new threat dimension.
The Maoist insurgency in Nepal affects India as well. The ultra-leftist groups in India have been working to a plan of creating a swathe of Maoist controlled territory through the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh and finally linking up with Nepal. They are providing support to the Maoists by way of safe havens, weapons and financial assistance in Nepal. The intimacy between the Maoists in Nepal and their counterparts in India can be gauged from the fact that the most prominent Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) in Nepal, has given a statement in the media that ultimately they (the Maoists) will have to fight the Indian Army and felt assured about the support of their Indian ideological brethren, as and when it occurred. More than 150 districts in 13 states of India are affected by left-extremist violence. These groups have seriously undermined the writ of the government, as they collect taxes, dispense justice and decide on contracts. The police in these states are handicapped by lack of funds, proper equipment and above all political will.
No human and infrastructral development can take place in the prevailing environment. The Maoist insurgency in Nepal has compelled India to deploy the ‘Shashtra Suraksha Bal’ (renamed Special Services Bureau) and the Border Security Force (BSF) in sensitive areas along the 1,751 km long Indo-Nepal border. The increasing deployment of Indian security forces on the Indo-Nepal border is an unfortunate development, as the border between the two countries, despite problems of a common nature, has been known for its tranquillity and openness, and contributed much to amity, fraternity and shared development. The Maoists in Nepal have dealt a huge blow to this special relationship, which transcends the confines of the nation-state because of the sheer strength of the historical, cultural, linguistic and religious bonds between the people of the two countries.
Of the approximate 23 million population of Nepal, more than 9 million Nepalese reside in India. The Indian Army has approximately 35,000 Gorkha personnel serving in 38 Gorkha battalions and one artillery unit. There are also many Gorkha personnel serving in the para-military forces of India.
The nuclearisation of the Tibetan plateau is fraught with disastrous ecological consequences not only for India but the entire ecosystem of the world, since Tibet is the primary source of water for most of South and Southeast Asia..
The proliferation of arms in rural India has introduced a destabilising impact on the Indian polity and society, giving rise to the law of the jungle. The situation has gone beyond the confines of a law and order problem, especially since the commencement of a process of criminals transmogrifying themselves into politicians. Law abiding citizens are becoming cynical of governance and the state apparatus, which was symbolised by the lynching of a man accused of rape in a Nagpur Court, by a mob of women. Competitive politics has become a divisive instrument, thus exposing the country to inimical influences and external manipulations. The situation needs the administering of a purgative doze, which can only be done with national will and political consensus, lest the efficacy of parliamentary democracy in India itself comes under question.
About 200 districts in India, constituting more than 40 per cent of the country’s territory are impacted by insurgencies or terrorism of various shades and in varying degrees. Some insurgencies have persisted in the border areas of the Indian states, thus making the external dimension more acute. For several decades after independence, the concept of border management in India was at best nebulous. These insurgencies continue to exact a heavy price in terms of personnel causalities and financial drain. In J&K alone, the Pak sponsored terrorism has cost more than 20,000 lives in the last 15 years. While a comprehensive approach i.e. economic, psychological, social, developmental and military is the best way to defeat insurgencies; there has been a tendency in the country to initially ignore or debate non-military aspects endlessly without cogent action, during which period the situation reaches crisis proportions. This delay eventually engenders the deployment of security forces in larger numbers and for indefinite periods. The core causes behind insurgencies need to be addressed; however it must be realised that in many cases there were no causes but just excuses for insurgency.Much has been written about China’s strategic encirclement of India by security and strategic analysts within and outside the country, but the intelligence encirclement of India by the pan-Islamic fundamentalists’ constituency has not received due concern. Mosques and Madrassas on both sides of India – Nepal and India – Bangladesh border have sprung up in preposterous density, even in areas with thin Muslim population. If experience in J&K is to go by, some of these serve as Jihadi factories and bases for intelligence operations by inimical powers, particularly the ISI.India is the only country in the region, which has direct stakes in the peace and stability of Sri Lanka.
The narrow Palk Strait that separates the two countries has hardly been a geographical deterrence for Tamil refugees and members of the remnant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A separate Eelam state in Sri Lanka can have dangerous ramifications for India. The division of the island nation of Sri Lanka would mean two rival countries with different strategic posturing, each wooing different sets of regional and extra-regional powers. As it is, Trincomalee harbour in Sri Lanka, considered to be the best natural harbour in the world, has been coveted by various powers due to Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean. A separate Eelam would also have strong reverberations on the orientation and politics of Tamil Nadu, which is not just a state, but extends the influence of its civilisation in varying degrees to the whole of South India.India shares a 1,643 km boundary with Myanmar. Both the countries are grappling with insurgency in their common border region i.e. Indian northeast and western Myanmar. Many Indian insurgent groups like the NSCN, PLA and ULFA continue to utilise safe havens in Myanmar territory, facilitated by the rugged terrain in the contiguous areas of the two countries. Insurgency in the Indian northeast cannot be defeated without taking the complementarities of Myanmar into account. The relations between the two countries after many years of hiatus is now on the upswing, which was symbolised by the visit (October 2004) of Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who is the Head of State. The Myanmar Army has begun to actively cooperate with the Indian Army in tackling the Indian insurgents on their soil. A coordinated approach to the infrastructural and economic development of the common border region of the two countries is an imperative, lest unequal development be detrimental to achieving a healthy and enduring security environment.
Foreign policy and strategic posturing is a matter more of compulsions than choice. One of the biggest compulsions that India faces is its burgeoning oil deficit. Currently, India imports 70 per cent of its oil needs, which is likely to grow further. India’s known oil reserves constitute 0.4 per cent of world reserves, but its consumption is 2.8 per cent of global consumption. While the rise in annual demand of oil for the world is 2 per cent in respect of India it is 3.6 per cent. In 1980, India consumed 36.9 million tonnes of oil, which has nearly trebled to 118 million tonnes in 2003-2004, of this only 33.4 million tonnes was domestically produced. In the year 2003, India spent US $ 20.6 billion towards import of oil. More than 30 per cent of India’s export earnings go towards payment of oil imports, resulting in a huge trade deficit. The acquisition of interests by the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) in some foreign countries like Sudan, Libya, Syria, Russia (Sakhalin-I), Kazakhstan and Vietnam may partly mitigate the situation. At any given time, India has a domestic crude oil stockpile to cover twelve days requirement, while another eleven days stocks are in transit. India, therefore, has to ensure uninterrupted smooth supplies of oil from external sources through practice of astute diplomacy and a constant calibration of foreign policy even at the cost of other pressing imperatives.
Despite the fact that India has approximately 7,516 km (including Lakshadweep, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands) of coastline, and possesses some 1,197 islands; and 15 per cent of its population lives in coastal areas, and has a EEZ of 2.02 million sq km, which is 66 per cent of the land mass of the country – India’s maritime security is least appreciated by the nation’s people in general. India’s long coastline, which is about more than half of India’s land borders of approximately 15,000 km makes it vulnerable to smuggling, drug trafficking and shipment of arms and explosives, as vindicated by the Bombay blasts in March 1993. Of the total domestic production, the offshore sector contributes 65 per cent of oil and 70 per cent of gas.
So far, India’s west coast has been the major producer of oil and gas, but the east coast may soon rival it with the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the Krishna-Godavari basin, Brahmaputra basin and around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This will entail a spurt in growth of concomitant facilities such as platforms, pipelines and other infrastructure, which need to be protected from maritime and aerial threat. Moreover, given the dependence on foreign oil, the security of the SLOC becomes critical. Nearly two-thirds of India’s foreign trade is by sea and as the economy grows, the present strength of India’s 500 merchant ships is likely to increase substantially, and the ports (11 major and 184 minor / intermediate) will have to be upgraded and modernised. The protection of these ports will assume further criticality for the economic security of the country.
The protection of the offshore islands further complicates India’s maritime security dimension, even as it extends India’s maritime reach and influence in the Indian Ocean region. The two main groups of islands are Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) in the Bay of Bengal (1,100 km southeast of Kolkata) and the Lakshadweep islands in the Arabian Sea. The extent of the Andaman (204 Islands and Islets) and Nicobar (19 Islands) is some 800 km and engenders India’s maritime interface with Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. Accordingly, India has established a separate tri-service command for the protection of these islands, which initially caused some disquiet amongst the maritime neighbours in this region.
There are constant reports in national and international media that China has established monitoring facilities at the Coco Islands, located 34 nautical miles away from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, the veracity of these reports has not been conclusively established. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have assumed importance, as they feature on the arms smuggling route. In fact, India carried out an operation ‘Leech’ in 1998 on Landfall Island, located on the northern tip of the A&N Islands and recovered a huge cache of arms destined for insurgent groups in India’s northeast. The insurgency in Aceh province in Indonesia could also have a spill over effect on the Nicobar Islands. These islands are, however, in a constant geographical flux ever since they were first ravaged by the Tsunami in December 2004.