For India, internal security a greater challenge despite border skirmishes

In the recent past a growing number of incidents have led to increased visibility of this matter as well as signal, what could well be seminal changes in India’s approach to its security mechanism.

Written by Sanjay Handu | Published:January 11, 2016 4:13 pm
border-army-pathankot-759 Despite India’s ongoing border skirmishes and standoffs, the reality is that the chances of an all-out conventional war on the Sino-India-Pak stage are less likely compared to the internal security challenges that are clear, present and growing. (File/Reuters)

With all the media and public discourse about India’s defence establishment; it’s easy to lose sight of the other half of India’s national security challenge – internal security. This subject does, however, claim centre stage whenever there is a catastrophic security breach, as in the horrific incident at Paris on 13th Nov’15 or the 26th Nov’ 08 incident at Mumbai. Despite India’s ongoing border skirmishes and standoffs, the reality is that the chances of an all-out conventional war on the Sino-India-Pak stage are less likely compared to the internal security challenges that are clear, present and growing.

These challenges have varied roots – from across the border hostilities permeating as insurgency at Kashmir and the North East; to sections of community opting for military solutions to their issues, as seen in various secessionist and rebel movements in the North East and Eastern regions, to direct acts of terrorism driven by global outfits as was seen in the 26/11 event at Mumbai and finally the societal schisms in a multi-polar populace that at times breed breakaway thinking.

In the recent past, a growing number of incidents have led to increased visibility of this matter as well as signal, what could well be seminal changes in India’s approach to its security mechanism.

The first, such incident in early June 2015, with Indian para-commandos pursuing and eliminating insurgents/rebels in neighbouring Myanmar. The first explicitly declared the case of ‘hot pursuit’ signalling a pre-emptive, aggressive and disproportionate response to provocation.

The second in early August 2015, with the government signing a draft of the ‘Naga peace accord’ with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. Thus bringing to culmination an effort of several decades and several Prime Ministers. Indicating a willingness to look at such issues not just as a law and order matter. An inclusive outreach effort that used discussion, collaboration and negotiation to arrive at a mutually workable path with shared responsibilities.

The third in September 2015, with  Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his US visit, directing global attention to the matter of terrorism and urging the UN to arrive at a common definition of terrorism; thereby allowing identification of countries and groups fomenting such events. In the same visit he also pushed for UN reforms and India having a seat on the Security Council. Both moves, though not a first, signalling India’s more visible, inclusive and assertive stand on driving global attention, alignment and momentum to tackle the issue of terrorism.

The fourth in October 2015, with the politically negotiated return of two wanted persons to India – gangster Chotta Rajan from Indonesia and Anup Chetia of the ULFA, from Bangladesh.

What long term benefits and progress would accrue from these efforts, encompassing – social inclusion in the decision-making process, assertive political advocacy to drive global alliances, attention and action on terrorism and a disproportionate response to provocations – remains to be seen, but arguably it appears to be a good start as India attempts to rewire its internal security game plan. The winds of change are blowing on India’s security landscape.

While portentous, these events and the policy direction they seem to indicate, would need to be sustained and complemented by other ‘accelerators’ to help drive momentum towards a more effective security mechanism and results. Before delving into possible accelerators, it’s important to view the current security landscape in all its scope, scale and complexity to truly understand the stage.

With the defence services focusing on across the border challenges, it is left to the state and central security agencies, operational and intelligence units, to deal with the growing internal security challenges. While aligned in intent, there are fundamental differences in the manner these two agencies are structured and operate. Whilst the Defence organisation; consisting of the three operating arms; work under the unified central command of the Ministry of Defence; the internal security organisation, that reports into the Ministry of Home Affairs, is a divided house – with the states and their police units having primary charge to maintain law and order and the central agencies providing specialised support by way of paramilitary and intelligence units.

Thus, considering the 28 states, 7 UT’s and several central agencies (ITBP, BSF, CISF, CRPF, SSB, assorted intelligence units and others), constituting of around 2 million personnel at the state level and another million in the central agencies; it is apparent that there is substantial investment in terms of personnel. Though some would point out that with 180 police personnel / 100,000 public, the ratio is substantially lower than the developed countries ratio of 225. It also indicates the possible challenges of coordination in a non unified command structure.

The scale of the internal security challenge is truly massive. Given the size and scope of the security arena – 3.2 million square kms of area, 7,500 km of coast line and another 6,000 km of land border, the growing intensity and frequency of security ‘triggers’ and the asymmetrical force aspect – more needs to be done as a multi pronged approach to sustain and accelerate improvements in the security environment.

Emerging from discussions with core interest groups, there are some clear ‘accelerators’ that could help fan the winds of change and that could, over time, substantially improve the effectiveness of outcome.

Clear statement of intent: All successful human and organizational initiatives stem from an explicit, visible, widely accepted statement of intent and direction. In this case it would mean a national security policy with adjuncts from the states. A play book that would define the philosophy and long term direction as well as lay out clear processes and metrics for measuring the health of the system and effectiveness of its efforts. While the specific roles of agencies are clear, the policy would need to lay stress on the collaborative process between agencies. Annual and multiyear tactical plans could ebb and flow, to suit current tactical needs, but always under the long term policy direction – thereby ensuring aligned efforts and accumulation of investments and benefits.

Invest in people: The internal security market currently has an estimated spend in the region of $12-15 billion and its growing in double digits. Large investments have been earmarked and deployed in initiatives like the Police

Force Modernization plan, Mega City policing and several other security initiatives: Besides investments in equipment and infrastructure there is a need to further invest in human capital and processes. Trained and motivated personnel can provide the winning edge – a fact evidenced in various organizations. Whilst several security units have their own training centres, some of which are truly best in class; for several others there is a need to further invest in training. Whether it is the personnel manning the neighbourhood police station or the central armed police forces (CAPFs); training – technical, operational and managerial – is crucial to staying relevant and effective. Taking a leaf from the corporate sector, training and skills improvement has been found to be beneficial not just in improving effectiveness but also in enhancing morale and community pride. Operationally the training gradient would need to span from the time a young recruit joins the forces to mid and senior level ranks – ongoing, repetitive, and pervasive. Technology is one area where the need for training is imperative. Recent developments in communication, surveillance, cyber and space technologies- have taken the game far beyond traditional physical security parameters.

Clearly a move of this magnitude would need the existing security training centres to be expanded and reinforced as well as collaborate with private academic and scientific institutions to leverage their facilities. The current system of sharing training centres amongst agencies and learning from the ‘Best in Class’ needs to be encouraged and institutionalised.

Continuity of policy & direction: Typical tenures of service in a post are 2-3 years for security officers and while this rotation is desired, from many aspects, it can have a down side too -discontinuity leading to choppiness in initiatives. In equipment procurement it can result in mismatched pieces of equipment and technology that do not form part of a holistic system.

A documented longer term policy direction would help maintain coherence and focus over tenure changeover’s resulting in more effective outcomes and maximisation of effort and investment. A technology road map for equipment would likewise help build a holistic system.

Communication and Collaboration: In a security framework that is diffracted across multiple operational and intelligence agencies; information sharing, rapid and frequent communications and collaborative planning, assume great importance. While the roles, responsibilities and areas of operation for various agencies are clearly demarcated; the challenge lies in operating in a unified coordinated manner.

Conversely take the case of CAPFs that provide on demand support to states. At times this can become long term, as in the case of certain Maoist affected states. A situation that questions the original charter of state and central agencies. Thereby signalling the need for the state to restructure and strengthen its own devices as has been done with remarkable success by the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh with its anti insurgency unit the Greyhounds. A unit that has shown impressive results over the past seven years and has been a model for other states to emulate.

The current working of the Multi Agency centre and State Multi Agency centres need to be widened and accelerated to aid systemic information collation and dissemination. Specifically the sharing of actionable intelligence in real time – upwards and laterally – would make quantum difference to event outcomes.

Take the case of coastal security which involves 7,500 km of coastline across 13 states. Three discreet agencies are charged with varying roles to safeguard from coastal threats – coastal police, coast guard and the Indian navy. Apart from this there are other state agencies that have a key role –ministry of shipping and ministry of fisheries. Playing off a common score sheet is vital to ensure that all these agencies operate in a synchronised and effective manner.

Communication between state/state agencies and between state/central agencies – both operational and intelligence – is of prime importance. Drawing up collaborative strategy maps, tactical plans and equipment procurement lists -would lead to more effective application of funds, personnel and inventories.

Technology could be a great enabler for information sharing and communication; some highly leveraged initiatives in this space, like the National Information Grid, the National Maritime Awareness Grid and the Crime and Criminal Tracking network need to be further socialized amongst the forces. Collation of multi point data would lend itself well to big data analysis and trend identification.

Inclusion of industry and community: Over the past several years the Defence segment has seen steady policy discourse and revision of enabling policy (DPP) as a well as a platform that allows and encourages private industry participation – resulting in the growing presence of private players ( both India and foreign partnerships) in the high tech area of defence research and production. Though slow, this is an important step in allowing infusion of private innovation, investment and technology- all for the betterment of the segment.

This is a template that needs due consideration and application in the internal security segment too – even accepting that internal security banks less on machines and equipment ( compared to defence ). Over time this would build a holistic environment that would allow private enterprise – academia, R&D, production, training – to participate and contribute.

One thought could be to expand the scope of the current Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative to allow corporations to also invest into recognised security programmes and agencies. This could ease the fiscal burden on the state as well as provide corporate another legitimate and vital avenue to participate in nation building. Another is to encourage industry to focus on security equipment along with defence equipment, as a part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Community outreach and involvement needs to be expanded and accelerated. Whether this is by state police with citizen groups or by central agencies with focused attention groups – like in the case of the Naga Peace Accord. This element of communication and inclusion can be a great force multiplier and help build strong alignments with the citizenry who are a major stakeholder in the security process.

A crucial element of community inclusion is measures taken to improve welfare and economic independence. Especially applicable in the far flung regions which have seen limited economic development and are also hot spots for rebel groups. Whether state funded development, health, and education projects or private industry driven investments – all help in forming an economically self reliant community that is resistant to break away thinking.

Technology adoption and upgradation: an oft-repeated statement and all true is that the frontiers of national security have long since moved beyond the three conventional ones of – land, sea, air. The two new frontiers – cyber and space, bring new challenges and the old tools will not suffice to cope with them. There is a need to understand, assimilate, modify and adopt technologies, existing and emerging, to combat the new threats. Personnel will need to be trained in these technologies on a war footing –not once but repeatedly. Burgeoning communication and surveillance technologies pose additional challenges for agencies as we move to dealing with non conventional threats.

A common technology road map is critically needed. What technologies will be utilised? What will be procured? What needs to be developed indigenously? The security establishment currently lacks the equivalent of the DRDO network as in the case of the defence establishment, which are charged with the responsibility of developing future use technologies and equipment. A thought could be to leverage the DRDO network and private defence enterprise for developing suitable equipment for the security establishment too.

India now stands at an inflexion point where it can take quantum steps to further improve and strengthen its internal security mechanisms. It’s a task well begun but needs supporting accelerators to build momentum and achieve greater effectiveness. While the frequency and severity of security threats increases; greater inclusion, communication, investment in personnel and technology leveraging -is the way ahead. Time, is clearly of the essence.

Handu has three decades of experience in diverse sectors like automotive, hardware, defence and heavy engineering. He has worked with companies including BOSCH, DEC, Larsen & Toubro and TE Connectivity.