'India’s national security challenges' book review: Behind enemy lines

A well compiled collection of essays for those interested in India’s security and the major issues involved.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)

When you a compilation of essays, an important question that arises is whether the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The answer is determined by the editor who brings in the right experts to write on their domain of expertise. In this case, it is a resounding ‘yes’ because the anthology has been put together by NN Vohra, the former defence secretary, home secretary and principal secretary to the then PM and the longest-serving governor of the most troubled state in India, Jammu and Kashmir. His experience and expertise shine through in the introductory chapter, which outlines the nature and scope of the issues involved. 

He starts by declaring that India has no clearly articulated National Security Policy (NSP) nor does it have a National Defence Policy (NDP), which may surprise many readers. Though security problems, particularly the external ones, can hardly be foreseen, a state of preparedness is a must, he opines. Internal security issues,as Vohra says, start off as minor political protests, which then grow into larger ‘law and order problems’ before looming into ‘security issues’ like naxalism, Khalistan, North-eastern and Kashmiri insurgencies among others. Of course, they must be nipped in the bud, but political parties add fuel to the fire and state governments fail or refuse to act. 

States pass off their security problems to the union government as a default option. Vohra suggests that the Centre should penalise such state dispensations. Talking about our defence policy and the adhocism prevalent there, he comments harshly on the hasty ‘re-organisation into Theatre Commands’ carried out by the first chief of defence staff without consulting either the political masters or the three service chiefs, which led to some murmurs within the navy and an open protest by the air chief.

Though it is a slim book of only 120 pages, it packs quite a punch, particularly the essays by former naval chief Arun Prakash and Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, who do plenty of plain talking. Prakash pulls no punches in stating that the ‘political establishment, of all hues, has exhibited detachment from the vital issues of national security and has accorded priority to fighting and winning elections”.

Further, bemoaning that the Indian Army seeks reflexively to place boots on the ground, he comments that the roots of this mindset lie in the unrealistic resolutions passed by the Parliament to recover ‘every inch of Indian territory’ occupied by China and Pakistan.

Sahni, in an unequivocal statement, writes that ‘we are in a peculiar situation today where the traditional categories of violence, terrorism and insurgency are falling drastically, but a state of extreme uncertainty, almost instability remains intact’. He adds that while terrorism has virtually collapsed in Kashmir, there is a constant drumming up of hysteria’. Questioning the motivations for such hysteria and the polarising politics, he finds that there is an ongoing myth-making about ‘urban-Naxals’ even as insurgencies are breaking down so that people who disagree with the government can be put behind bars for months or for years.

Air Vice Marshal VSM (Retd) Arjun Subramaniam foregrounds the importance of air power to the strategic community, which looks at it as a dangerously escalating factor, especially in a war between two nuclear neighbours. He points out that it is not just an instrument of war fighting, but also one of coercion, and one that can hasten the psychological collapse of an adversary. He is happy to note that finally, an understanding has crept into the strategic establishment, post-Kargil War, that air power should and must lead the initiation of hostilities in a limited war scenario.

One of the most interesting essays is a summary of a panel discussion on ‘Higher Defence Management Reforms’ recorded by senior journalist Srinjoy Chowdhury. This gives a keyhole peep into the thinking of retired generals, air and naval chiefs on the newly introduced idea of Theatre Commands as an effort to bring in ‘jointness’ in the planning, training and operations of the three services. They also talk of issues relating to the chain of command between the chief of defence staff and the defence secretary, as well as the role of the newly created Department of Military Affairs within the Ministry of Defence. It is, therefore, a vital book for anyone interested in India’s security and defence policies or the absence thereof.

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