Homeland Security

North-East India: Its place in the National Security Calculus
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Issue Vol. 28.3 Jul-Sep 2013 | Date : 29 Oct , 2013

Containing Ethnic Turmoil

A considerable deal of current ethnic turmoil in the Northeast region can be attributed to the anxiety to preserve ethnic identities. The British dealt with this complex issue through administrative measures and adherence to the basic principles of rule of law and strict enforcement of regulations. The founding fathers of Independent India were aware of the complex ethnic mix in this entire region and formulated and implanted several policies and programs to address the political and economic aspirations of the people and each of the ethnic groups.

The Indo-Himalayan belt has become a covert battleground for intrigue and machinations…

The system of autonomous councils and regional councils was introduced through acts of parliament to address the perceived feeling of alienation. Experience has shown that these have not met the noble intentions as enshrined in the constitution. Several experts with life-long experience in the Northeast region opine that it is time to look at the possibility of constituting Zila Panchayats and Gram Panchayats in all Northeastern states on the same lines as in the rest of the country with the safeguards under Articles 242 and 243 of the constitution provided to these bodies. The need for further decentralisation of the administrative machinery in this region has perhaps become inevitable.

Traditionally, the Northeast region has come to be associated with insurgency and related ethnic issues. There is need to create a favorable ambience for better understanding of the situation and bring to the fore the other positive aspects. A shared integration with the rest of India and vice versa is therefore not an option but an absolute necessity. Another is the need is to create job opportunities for the youth of this region in the Gulf especially in the hospitality sector, business and commercial segments of the economy, secretarial and IT sector.

It will be seen that in the UAE, a majority of the salespersons and hospitality industry professionals are from the Philippines. Compared to them, our youth from the Northeast region are better educated and carry themselves well in a professional environment. This has multiple benefits. The Ministry of Overseas Indians and Ministry of External Affairs could examine this aspect.

Revamping the Military and Security Architecture

There has been no major change in the military architecture in India’s Northeast region since 1962. In a strategic sense, India has remained more in a defensive posture all along the sensitive borders. The Northeast region has more than one persona. Traditionally, it has been associated with ethnic insurgency that has been aided and abetted by inimical forces operating from sanctuaries in India’s neighborhood. The other, most importantly, relates to the Tibet issue, covering Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Thus, a bulk of India’s security and other strategic assets are heavily deployed to address twin threats to national security. Time has therefore become opportune for the national defence planners to consider bifurcation of the existing arrangements in this region into new sectoral responsibilities especially with a view to the future.

China remains the major worry for India’s strategic planners…

China remains the major worry for India’s strategic planners. Developments in our smaller neighbors namely Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal require constant attention. India’s existing security template merits changes both in form and substance. Militarily speaking, a new dispensation is suggested wherein the present Eastern Command based at Kolkata would need to be split into areas of responsibility. Number 3 Corps at Dimapur could be relieved by the Assam Rifles of its counter-insurgency responsibilities in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya.

The vastly expanded Assam Rifles must see a major make-over in its operational role and break out of the Army’s shadow. With the footprints of the Border Security Force becoming more visible on the entire India-Myanmar border, the Assam Rifles need to play a major role in the Northeast region. It also has a significant position to provide safety and security to India’s ‘Look East Policy’. This force needs to remain in its traditional role, otherwise it could be deployed in the Left Wing Conflict Zones if one goes by reports that the MHA is looking at this option. The Dimapur Corps could do well to move to Upper Assam towards Dinjan and Tezu. A reorganisation of military assets in this sensitive area will create developmental opportunities in not only Upper Assam but also in Arunachal Pradesh. It will be a force multiplier in many ways and hasten developmental activities.

This realignment has to take into account the deployment of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) and intelligence agencies in this region especially related to the security of Arunachal Pradesh and Upper Assam in the context of Tibet is important. The gap left by the transfer of the SSB to MHA, following the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee, is yet to be filled. The hasty decision to turn the SSB into a CPO will have its effects on India’s capability to undertake covert operations in the Indo-Himalayan belt. There is also diminution in other covert areas as well. A fresh look at this aspect is advocated. The founding fathers of the covert architecture in the 1960s understood the enormity of the situation. In essence, there is no change in the original assessment; things may just have gotten worse.

The area surrounding the Northeast region is gradually becoming internationally active…

Indian army formations deployed in the West for counter-insurgency role provide specific induction training to units at designated battle schools. The same matrix could work wonders for them on the Tibet border. The need to familiarise officers and men about Chinese methods of overt and covert warfare, to understand Chinese psy-ops, strategy and tactics is very important. In simple terms, dedicated schools of instruction at Corps level could be tried out on an experimental basis. Unlike Pakistan, China requires special understanding given the cultural and other differences. For that matter, there is a need to inculcate more Tibet-oriented study and understanding in all government agencies charged with the task of ensuring safety and security of Arunachal Pradesh.

The Indo-Himalayan belt has become a covert battleground for intrigue and machinations. The large Tibetan community in India is being increasingly targeted by Chinese agencies with the intention to split its unity and create divisions. The issue of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa continues to be unresolved in the sensitive border state of Sikkim and has resulted in more serious problems. Further, there is the problem of the mushroom growth of Buddhist monasteries in different parts of India. The existence of some of these especially in Ladakh and in the proximity to the Siliguri Corridor is noteworthy. Most of these are not registered entities, as one would require them under the relevant sections of law. Some of these too have foreigners who are office bearers and are not or do not register with the local authorities. This is dangerous from a security point of view. The access to large funds by these monasteries is a matter of concern as is their ability to own or purchase land. Both are in violation of regulations on the subject.

The other major area of concern is heavy investments by Chinese agencies in India’s communications and power generation sector. The role of Huwaei, ZTE, China Telecom and the Wuhan Research Institute has been flagged at various fora by experts, both civil and military. The cyber threat posed by China is far greater than ever imagined. India is not the only country threatened by this menace. Its weaker and smaller neighbors are even more vulnerable and perhaps incapable to protect themselves. This too will impact India.


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The area surrounding the Northeast region is gradually becoming internationally active. Myanmar’s return to the international mainstream has opened up many challenges for India; the most important one being to keep the process of democratisation on track. Myanmar holds the key to peace and security on the Indian side of the border.

A new approach to this region is now unavoidable and must become a comprehensive part of India’s national security policy.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

PM Heblikar

retired as Special Secretary, Government of India, Cabinet Secretariat, New Delhi. Currently, the Managing Trustee, Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore (ICSB), he is also a visiting Professor, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, Karnataka.  

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One thought on “North-East India: Its place in the National Security Calculus

  1. What a bullshit from an acclaimed civil servant.

    He has not been reading newspapers that security architecture in North East is dramatically different today than fifty years back. It is still defensive military structure for India but vastly superior. Today Twang SELA and Bomdila will not fall like house of cards to the Chinese. Forty miles from Thagla Ridge or BuMLa, Chinese won the day in 1962 because Indian generals were too hasty to order a retreat. Fools they were, because if Brigadier Hoshiar Singh had stuck to SELA fortress for three days, he would have had four thousand Chinese, all hungry and out of ammunition surrendering to the Indians. He also was guarding his backdoor entry very poorly. In the end he paid this by his life.

    No Mr. Heblinkar, you have no self confidence. Your mind is stuck in the past. India and Indian Army is not what it was in 1962.

    The Chinese know that. Today they are on flatland of Tibet. The day they come down the Thagla Ridge, they will meet a different Indian Army. The latter now has better weapons than Chinese automatic rifles.

    There is no need to defend the Thagla Ridge. The Chinese are to be forced to climb down and climb again and then again forced to climb down and climb again. That is nature of terrain there. That would stretch their supply line and make them easy target for the Indians on the peaks. Those four lanes highways in Tibet flatland which they boast of, would be useless. As they meet the mountains, they would fall to relentless well trained Indian raids whose job is to cut their supply line off.

    Understand Mr. Heblinkar.

    Except you, the Chinese know this well. They will never even try to get to Twang, let alone SELA.

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