Kautilya said that the worst enemy is the enemy within. Today, when all of South Asia is going through internal unrest thanks to insurgencies, ethnic conflicts, religious fundamentalism and political ferment, this observation becomes pertinent. The internal security of South Asian nations will remain under great stress in the foreseeable future because such unrest has a history of crossing national borders and creating inter-state tensions.
Geo-politically, South Asia represents an integral security zone with India’s unique centrality. No two South Asian nations can interact with each other directly without touching or crossing Indian land, sea or air space. India has special ties with each of her neighbours of a character and to a degree not shared by any two others. Although we do not have serious territorial security problem with neighbours other than Pakistan, there are concerns — like Indian secessionist groups using the territory of neighbouring nations as sanctuaries, transborder migration and the smuggling of arms and narcotics — which affect our security. Unrest in regions across our borders therefore have special significance for us. It may also be noted that in their bid to shore up their own national identities, some countries have shown a marked propensity to view India as a “problem”.
Within India, our secular, open and pluralistic society continues to be vulnerable to several internal contradictions. Given our poverty, illiteracy, communal and casteist politics, these are unlikely to disappear soon. Among the specific issues we are faced with is the problem of national assimilation in the Northeast, thanks largely to the porous borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka which enable illegal transborder movement and the smuggling of weapons and drugs.
By now it is obvious to everyone that our internal security policies and the state and central police and paramilitary forces — the primary instruments for tackling law and order — have not been able to cope with these growing challenges. Political interference and lack of modernisation have also taken a toll on their effective functioning. Three points need to be made here. First, military pressure alone cannot resolve matters unless there is good governance and a strong thrust on socio-economic issues. Two, the protracted deployment of the army leads to the law of diminishing returns. There are several reasons for this. An overdependence on the army reflects a lack of trust in the capability of the state and police. After a while, locals begin to treat the army as another police force. The army’s operational effectiveness gets undermined in the process. Finally, in a war situation the army needs public support and cannot afford to alienate the local people — as is the case in Manipur and to some extent in Assam today.
But a reduction in army deployment will only be possible if we can revamp the paramilitary, central and state police forces. We need to urgently modernise these forces, improve their leadership and training. Some time ago it was proposed that for revamping the armed police, trained army personnel with 8-10 years service will be laterally inducted into these forces so that an army ethos and culture gets ingrained in them besides, of course, ensuring a saving in the money spent on training.
It has also been proposed that all young officers joining these forces be either trained in army training establishments like the IMA and OTA, or their own commissioning establishments and get instructors from the army. Some army officers in ranks equivalent to lt colonels and colonels could also be selected for lateral induction into these forces. Most political leaders had favored this but it did not get implemented because of vested interests.
My next suggestion pertains to the Assam Rifles, which was raised primarily for deployment in the Northeast and comprised personnel from these areas. Some years ago, its composition was changed to that of an all-India force. It thus lost its excellent rapport with the local people, so essential for intelligence gathering and maintaining law and order. I feel about 60-70 per cent of this force should comprise personnel from the Northeast. We already have border-holding forces. But they have to be supplemented with ‘home and hearth’ units or village guards of the kind that we had in Arunachal earlier. These ‘hearth and home’ units, with as many local ex-servicemen as possible, should be raised wherever border-holding forces are thin on the ground. Among northeastern states, which are more vulnerable to internal and external security pressures, we also need more effective coordination of intelligence and operations through a regional set-up in Guwahati or Shillong.
Finally, we must have a comprehensive strategy to deal with insurgency and terrorism in the border states. This should ensure not just police and army action but accelerated economic development. Most importantly, it should address the issue of good governance.