Event ReportsPublished on Apr 11, 2014
New security challenges confront India today. Newer areas of conflict and contestation are emerging on the horizon. These challenges call for dynamic and autonomous response mechanisms.
Multi-dimensional threats challenge Indian security

The nature of threats facing India is more complex today than in the past. The very definition of security itself has undergone a dramatic change with newer areas of contestation and conflict emerging on the horizon. These challenges call for a robust security architecture which is autonomous and dynamic at once, capable of dealing with these growing threats in real time. These were some of the take-away points from the two-day the Jodhpur Security Dialogue 2014, organised by Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice (SPUP), Jodhpur, in collaboration with Observer Research Foundation (ORF) on April 11 and 12 at the Police Academy in Jaipur.

Inaugurating the conference, Rajasthan Governor Mrs Margaret Alva went to the core challenge confronting the security agencies when she emphasised that the security of the nation cannot be hostage to politics. Nor, she said, should the security agencies be handicapped by turf war among them, allowing terrorists to plan and execute terrorist activities in the country with impunity.

The Dialogue was organised to examine the new security challenges confronting South Asia, and in particular India. Domains like Oceans, Space and Cyberspace have emerged as new avenues, where increasing confrontation between states has become evident. The challenge of curbing illicit cross-border activities is another challenge that has to be dealt with effectively. In addition to these new threats, new dynamics have emerged within the domain of traditional security challenges. Non-state actors have begun resorting to new methods to pursue their objectives, while a change in their demographic profile has made the task of identifying these actors even tougher. In light of such challenges, it has become imperative for the state to rethink its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategies.

The Dialogue, organised to explore these challenges, is a joint initiative of the SPUP and ORF to broaden the scope of the present discourse on security in the South Asian and Indian context. Envisaged as an annual conference, the Dialogue seeks to serve as a platform for India’s strategic community, police and police practitioners, and academics to debate and discuss some of the core internal and external security challenges confronting the region and formulate appropriate policy responses to them.

The Governor highlighted several other points relevant to security. On media, she said there should be a code of conduct while reporting and it should not become a mouthpiece for installing terror in the masses as was the case with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008. With respect to the Indian Mujahideen and the recent arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, the Governor said the Bhatkal village in Karnataka and other similar coastal areas of Kerala have become a breeding ground for illegal trade and terror-outfits with money pouring in from Saudi Arabia. On this note, she raised questions about the preparedness of the country in terms of naval security.

Within the context of north-eastern insurgencies, she added that every local party is funding an underground government in the north-east. Moreover, disregard from Delhi has led to the north-eastern youth seeking job and money by joining cross-border insurgent groups which invariably also facilitates cross-border arms trade from China.

Earlier, delivering the keynote address, Mr A.K. Doval, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau and currently the Director of the Vivekanand International Foundation, Delhi, raised many pertinent issues vis-a-vis India and its neighbourhood. He started with Pakistan, stating that the internal affairs of Pakistan have to be taken into account for any future talks between India and Pakistan.

In relation to SAARC, Mr Doval opined that its very creation was faulty and individual bilateral agreements still trump in conducting regional and intra-state negotiations. Owing to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan post 2014, he added that the strength of the new Afghan government beyond Kabul is yet to be gauged.

Lamenting on the haphazard state of affairs in India, Mr Doval said that China indeed has prospered under its one-party system and organized governance from which India can draw on lessons for its own future. On Bangladesh, he said that, supporting the democratic government there has indeed been fruitful for the Indo-Bangladesh relations. But on the same note he added that, India’s inaction in helping Nepal and Myanmar in having democratic regimes has only pushed them more towards China’s ever-growing influence. Lastly, for Sri Lanka he mentioned that although the government of the day is a stable one, however, the Tamil issue remains to be one such factor on which both countries still need to work on.

The first session, "New Avenues of Inter-state Contestation" focused on three new avenues - Oceans, Space and Cyberspace, where inter-state contestation has increased in recent years. Vice Adm. (Retd.) Anup Singh, Former Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command, spoke on ’Oceans’. Given India’s vast coastline, he argued that the Indian Ocean is the most important strategic asset India has. This enhances India’s potential for its coastal and ’Ocean’ domination in the region. In furtherance to this, owing to the relatively uncontested nature of the Indian Ocean, even without a war the threshold for crisis is very low in the Indian Ocean. The South China Sea is a crucial trade route and a ’region pregnant with friction’. He particularly asserted that the 9-dash line that China claims is not justified and what is happening in the region is called ’might is right’.

Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow, ORF spoke on Outer Space being one of the newer emerging areas of contestation. She firstly highlighted that contestation of the ’Outer Space’ is an overly used statement these days. Nonetheless, the proliferation of smaller satellites has made the task of monitoring them much harder. China and the US have done their anti-satellite tests, and there is an emergence of weaponisation of the outer-space. However, what constitutes a space weapon still remains ambiguous. Forecasting potential challenges, she outlined that the possibility of ground-based assets targeting outer-space assets cannot be underestimated. If India wishes to emerge in the Outer Space - then firstly, there must be a comprehensive approach. Secondly, it should not be done in a competitive mode, lest the misperception escalates aggressive posturing from other countries. Thirdly, India must play an active role in this direction. India should do more than just producing four satellites in a year, where China produces twenty.

Mr Sachin Deodhar, an independent consultant on cyber security spoke on ’cyber’. He highlighted that ’Cyber-Security’ is not a new area of contestation as such. NSA’s collection exploitation and analysis extends to all- VPN, VOIP, Mobiles, Network, Web and so on. He warned that, although terrorist attacks via cyber means had previously failed as many people switched to tablets and smart phones, nonetheless things are changing. Evaluating India’s cyber security vis-à-vis the international intelligence and espionage, he said, India is SIGINT (Signals intelligence) friendly for the US and Edward Snowden’s revelations clearly depict that India is of great importance for the NSA and the US surveillance team.

The second session on "New Security Challenges" focused on some of the newer security concerns confronting the Indian state today. Mr. K. C. Verma, Former Chief, Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) spoke on ’New Challenges in Drug Law Enforcement’. Mr. Verma started on the note that India’s take on drug-use is hypocritical, as drugs are not tolerated, but ’bhang’ and other local drugs are. The nexus between drugs and terrorism do not have as much of a relation in India, as terrorists have other efficient means of financing their networks. Opium cultivation in the rural side is a failure of local governance and the blame should not be passed onto other countries. Morphine should be made available for health care purposes in India. A major problem with respect to enforcement of drug laws and treatment of drug addicts lies in the fact that India does not have proper statistics regarding the total number of addicts in the country. A real threat to India from drugs, perhaps is from synthetic drugs, which are manufactured and prepared with little or no oversight. It is high time that India installs a national drug tribunal to supervise pharmaceutical preparation.

Mr. Banshi Dhar Sharma, Special DG Eastern Command, Border Security Force spoke on the ’Illicit Cross-Border Trade’. He commenced his talk by describing the Indo-Bangladesh border being extremely hard to patrol. Human trafficking, drug-trade and cattle smuggling are the most common cross-border crimes taking along the Indo-Bangladesh border. The BSF gets a bad name in Punjab and Bengal due to drug and cattle smuggling particularly. Moreover, Bangladesh hardly sets eye on the cross-border issues raised between the two countries. Bangladesh officials always raise Phensedyl coming from India as an issue, India always raises cattle smuggling. Finally, counterfeit currency worth 160 billion rupees originating in Bangladesh is already in circulation in India.

Mr Saurabh Johri, Programme Advisor, ORF spoke on "Unequal socio-economic indicators and potential sources of conflict". He highlighted that, in the US they have a ’Terrain Mapping System’ where intelligence is drawn out of socioeconomic dynamics. This is where India particularly lags behind. Socio-economic indicators can help one understand domestic security. For instance, in Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi male to female ratio is drastically in favour of the former. Could this be a factor that increased number of rapes?" Furthermore, by analysis the lack of development and poverty ridden conditions in the Red Corridor in India, one can possible discern a link between poverty and anti-state aggression.

The third session, ’Neo-conventional security challenges’, looked at the new security threats posed by non-state actors. Mr Ambar Sen, Special Secretary (Retd.), R&AW spoke on the new capabilities of the non-state actors. He argued that the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, along with Central Asia and northern Africa, continues to remain a hot bed for terrorism. The overall strength of terror groups has decreased, which is evident from the overall decrease in casualties in South Asia. In particular, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have done remarkably well in reducing terrorism related casualties.

However, despite this, these groups continue to pose a formidable security challenge as the networking and inter-linkages among them have strengthened considerably in recent years. This is evident from the training provided by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba to Chechen and Central Asian rebels, al Qaeda’s relations with South Asian groups and coordination between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. A new trend that seems to have emerged is that of individuals acting on their own without any instructions from a central leadership as demonstrated by the Boston marathon bombings in 2013. Moreover, the non-state actors have also increasingly started making use of cyberspace to pursue their goals and interests.

Dr Prabhakaran Paleri, former Director General, Indian Coast Guard, spoke on ’maritime security and non-state actors’. According to him, non-state actors are usually backed by more than one state and in order to challenge them, it is important to geostrategically take on the state supporting them. There are a number of maritime crimes and threats that confront the states, including India, today. The foremost among these crimes include smuggling, human and material trafficking, environmental crimes and espionage. These are all threats that are going to continue as usual and some like trafficking and environmental crimes are likely to increase significantly in the future.

Similarly, terrorism and the use of maritime routes by terrorists, as in the case of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks cannot be discounted. However, some maritime crimes like piracy, which is among the oldest profession, is a seasonal problem and has been showing a downward trend.

None of these maritime crimes are state-centric or very alarming. They are global issues that can be easily tackled through integrated maritime security and as long as the states have a focused and coherent strategy and understanding of what constitutes maritime threats.

Mr Wilson John, Senior Fellow, ORF spoke about the ’demographic profile of terrorists’ and the practice of racial profiling as a counter-terrorism mechanism. He argued that while profiling is a good pre-emptive measure to prevent future terror attacks, speculative profiling - biases on the basis of religion, ethnicity and socio-economic background - is a problem with this concept. Moreover, there is a great deal of ambiguity regarding the definition of ’terrorism’ and what constitutes a ’terrorist’. The case of David Headley is the best example to highlight the limitations of racial profiling.

This problem is further compounded by the changing demographic profile of terrorists. Illiteracy and poverty is no longer the marked characteristic of a terrorist. Increasingly terrorists are coming from good educated and economically stable backgrounds. Their education allows them to make efficient use of cyberspace to further their cause. The new cadre of terrorists will be tech-savvy; the 26/11 Mumbai attacks gave a preview of that emerging threat.

The fourth session, ’Technology’ looked at the use of technology to enhance security. Mr Subimal Bhattacharjee, Former Country Head (India), General Dynamics, spoke about the use of low-level technology for internal security. He argued that despite there being an urgent need to bring in the best quality technology for enhancing internal security, the Indian security system is not evolving fast enough to meet the changing demands. For starters, an effective modernisation of the police forces cannot happen within a budget of INR 3,000 cr. A limited budget does not guarantee the purchase of the best equipment. The progress in the purchase of the best quality equipment has been slow - there are inadequate armoured vehicles for the police, and the communication equipment used is not ideal either for normal policing or disaster management. It is extremely important for the state to increase its investment in the modernising the equipment for the police forces.

Mr L V Krishnan, Former Director, Safety Research and Health Physics Group, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam spoke on "CBR Terrorism and the Threats to India". He argued that it is important to focus on radiological terror as the access to the material and delivery means is easy and the impact of such an attack would be huge, but the possibility of prompt detection is extremely low. In India there are various sources of radiation, which include equipment in hospitals, industrial and manufacturing processes and research centres.

The main cause for security concerns arise when such sources are abandoned, stolen or mismanaged. In India, while the threat of CBR terrorism is recognised and acknowledged, but it has not been the topmost security concern. In fact, many in India may not even be able to recognise the sources of radiation. A good measure to prevent such a threat is to equip the police and security staff with radiation detectors, increase the number of ports with radiation detectors and undertake measures to educate the people at large about such threats.

Mr. Siddharth Sivaraman, Senior Advisor, Kadet Defense Systems spoke on "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Border Reconnaissance". He highlighted that UAVs can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes, as well as supplement maritime patrolling.

The main advantage of using a UAV is that it acts a force multiplier since it has a better tracking capability than stationary sensors and can improve coverage along the remote sections. Moreover, its extended range puts less pressure on human resources and its quieter than a conventional aircraft. However, at the same time, there are significant limitations to use of UAVs as well. For starters, UAVs have a higher accident rate as compared to manned vehicles, and their cost of operation and maintenance is also significantly higher.

The last session, ’India’s Response to Security Challenges’ evaluated different aspects of India’s strategy to deal with security threats. Mr Saikat Datta, Editor (National Security), The Hindustan Times spoke about India’s counter-terrorism strategy. He argued that the biggest problem herein lies in the fact that India does not have a stated counter-terrorism policy, but its response is episodic. There is a lack of clarity in India’s counter-terrorism policy. Moreover, in the various statutory measures adopted by the state like POTA and TADA, what constitutes ’unlawful acts’ have not been properly defined. There also has been very little attempt to develop an indigenous policy; instead India mostly attempts to adopt concepts from other countries like Ireland, UK and Canada.

While it cannot be discounted that intelligence is a great preventive mechanism, the framework of counter-terrorism in India needs to change to bring in greater value to evidence based framework. Thus, a good counter-terrorism matrix needs to be based on both intelligence and investigation-based foundations. In India’s case, there also needs to be greater coordination and sharing of intelligence among the various intelligence agencies in India. Finally, the understanding and application of data within India’s counterterrorism matrix needs to be significantly improved, there has to be greater emphasis on analysis of intelligence gathered and greater attention needs to paid to improving the capacity of the police.

Dr Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF spoke about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as India’s legal response to security challenges. He was of the opinion that AFSPA came about because none of the other laws in existence at the time were being effective. There is definitely truth in the claims that AFSPA is a ’draconian’ measure. In the 1990s, at least, disappearances, torture and random shootings under the cover of AFSPA undeniably took place. However, while there are genuine concerns about the misuse of AFSPA, some of the denouncements of the act have also been on account of the overground organisation and activities of the militants.

There have been efforts in recent times to make the act more humane. However, any attempts to alter or revoke AFSPA have been opposed by the Indian military. Given the nature of the threat, ’draconian’ and stringent measures like AFSPA are required. However, it should not be at the cost of justice. Thus, such acts should have stringent measures to prevent its misuse and protect the innocent. For instance, an effective review mechanism to look into both the cases of misuse as well evaluate situations during which AFSPA can be invoked will be a prudent step ahead.

Amb Sheel Kant Sharma, former Director General, SAARC, spoke about the prospects and need for enhancing regional cooperation to tackle the security concerns. He argued that given the nature of security threats that confront states today, even countries like China and the US cannot afford to go alone. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for India to forge alliances in order to meet the security challenges in the 21st century.

In order to forge such alliances, India has to enhance both its hard power and its soft power assets. As far as the latter is concerned, India has done well as it has managed to create an image for itself as a non-threatening power. The only exception to this is naturally Pakistan. At the same time, more efforts can be made with respect to enhancing India’s soft power potential. However, much still needs to be done to enhance India’s hard power in military, space and cyber assets.

The rise of China and its regional initiatives is definitely a concern for India. In particular, its relations with and indulgence of Pakistan is incomprehensible. Moreover, India needs to develop a multi-tiered strategic matrix for its neighbourhood in the manner that China has. Similarly, India needs to begin asserting itself in the region in order to have a leading role in the decision-making and delivery process concerning the region’s security.

(The report is prepared by Aryaman Bhatnagar, Associate Fellow and Aakash Tolani, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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