[At this juncture of history, India faces a predicament that probably very few big powers or civilizations may have faced in their entire journey. Its potentials and opportunities to rise as a major global power are entwined with formidable challenges. India’s rise as a global super power can be the biggest possible antidote to both Islamic radicalism as well as opaque authoritarianism. But impediments - both internal as well as external – in this direction could be far too daunting]
NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT
India has long ignored the complexity of its own geopolitical context, internal governance contradictions and the gravity of combined identity-driven threats from its two hostile nuclear armed neighbors. One of them is known as the epicenter of terror and patron of organised crime in this pat of the world and beyond. The other has emerged as a super power but has traditionally trampled upon its own masses and rampaged nearly all its neighbors. Military-controlled state power structure has thrived in Pakistan on congenital hatred towards Hindus and non-Muslims, whereas China cites its civilizational superiority to justify forcible and stealthy grab of territory and resources of people in the neighborhood and beyond. Both resort to destabilization and subversion of institutions of open and transparent societies as part of their larger strategic objectives.
Amidst these, India’s long history of internal political decay, external occupation and colonial legacies have left their own after-effects. India is still battling these despite freedom and democracy. Distortion in larger values and overall mass psyche has had a crippling impact on collective capacities of people, notwithstanding multiple instances of individual brilliance. These have been impeding rise and sustenance of healthy and robust governance institutions. Notwithstanding the strength and resilience of original Indian values, which have sustained democracy in India even under most adverse circumstances, the country faces an uphill task of securing its legitimate national security interests.
Some of these weapons systems appear capable of breaching the air defence systems of even the US bases in the region and blind both their satellite and under-water observation capacities in this parts of the world. These appear to have made China’s own defences in the region nearly impregnable. Simultaneously, its major push for naval expansion has not merely fortified its defensive capacities but also enhanced its reach way beyond its frontiers. In last 10 years, China has put more vessels in the Sea than most major powers combined. During the same period, it has also conducted more tests for hypersonic weapon delivery systems than even the United States. It has not merely bridged the gap in many of the conventional weapon systems but also built advantages in short and intermediate range offensive and defensive weapon systems. These have enhanced vulnerability of India as well as all states in Asia.
India’s internal governance institutions, notwithstanding their resilience and strength, appear inadequately prepared to face these challenges. This is especially given the existing pressures of meeting basic needs of large population amidst deficient resources like land and water. Lack of political consensus on key issues and social fracture simply compounds challenges in this direction.
SuccessiveIndian governments have always been cognizant of the gravity of the combined Pak-China threat as well as deficiencies of domestic governance institutions. However, strategic preparation towards dealing with these challenges has appeared inadequate. India seems to have ignored the threat from internal power dynamics of Pakistan, especially the way its society and state have evolved. These make it nearly impossible for large sections of Pakistani people to peacefully co-exist with India. Sustained radicalization of Pak society has been accompanied with increasing grip of deep state over levers of state power. Intensified domestic and international propaganda against India, and especially Hindus, has not only created a stronger political support base for the ruling syndicate but also helps raise an unconventional army of terrorists, criminals and radicalized clerics for an unconventional and indirect all out covert war against India. Radicalisation of youth at home and abroad, through chosen cronies, as well as support and patronage to organised crime have helped strengthen instruments of covert war against India.
The very dynamics of the existing power structure in Pakistan has necessitated building a formidable network of global terror, crime and subversion. They have propped up and sponsored some such groups on their own but also built up linkages with many of the existing ones. These extend from South East Asia to India to Africa to Europe and going all the way to South America. Besides terror in the region beyond, Pakistani footprint has been more than visible in nearly all shades of organised global crime. These vary from drug trafficking, counterfeiting of currency, money laundering to extortion, betting and bribing networks to street crime among others. All of these can be used as potent tools of subversion as well as garnering illegitimate clout.
During cold-war era when West was using Islamic radicalism as a strategic tool to counter communism, Pakistan sold its services to these powers. But over the past few 2-3 decades, it has drifted to the Chinese communist regime helping it reach out to influential elements both in the Muslim world as well as some of the Western countries. Chinese patronage of Pakistan’s subversive activities in India is widely believed to be aimed at obstructing accelerated march of the World’s biggest democracy to economic prosperity or stronger internal cohesion. Pakistani clout with the drug-crime networks in the Western world has also enhanced its clout and even utility for them. They have traditionally been believed to be collaborators in West's counter-terror strategies, despite backstabbing them by shetering some one like Osama Bin Laden among others.
Many western powers have appeared reluctant to antagonise Pakistan beyond a certain point. This was evidenced in a fairly soft approach of nearly all major powers in Asia-Pacific Group (APG) on Countering Terror Finance (CTF) on brazen defiance of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidelines by Pakistan. Hence, it is doubtful that even a near global outcry against Pakistan for its collusion, support, patronage and sponsoring of terror, as well as organised crime, may result in commensurate tangible actions.
In fact, complicity in terror and crime has appeared to offer a significant clout to Pakistani ruling syndicate. This has been amply manifested in their facilitation of US-Taliban agreement in Afghanistan, besides their so-called support in counter-terror investigations and policies. In a fluid geopolitical situation, Pakistan remains a possible conduit even for a potential deal between the West and China in future. India needs to be alive to such possibilities, especially in tighter situations where choices could be limited. Several elements even in the Western political and security establishments could reconcile to the idea of restricting the Chinese domination of Asia and confining Pakistani activities in this region.
The cost of confrontation with China continues to escalate for the West and so does the dismantling of Pakistani terror- crime network . India has to come out with innovative strategies and stronger institutional capacities to curb both expanding asymmetry of power with China as well as crush the covert war from Pakistan at minimal cost and within a reasonable time-frame. A stronger governance reforms that integrate security priorities with complementary economic and technological objectives would be indispensable.
Diplomatic support and international goodwill do constitute a critical ingredient of national power but given the fluidity of geopolitical equations in general, these do not always translate into tangible and dependable strengths. Unconditional military-security support appears extremely difficult if other parties do not have an equally abiding stake on issues at stake, or if their gains are not commensurate with the risks involved. With onset of an inward-looking United States that has withdrawn from several of its international treaty obligations, the entire global equilibrium has become a little more uncertain. Major international powers cannot afford to risk their core national security interests on international goodwill and shelve plans and opportunities to empower themselves on their own.
With relative erosion in economic and technological supremacy of the United States, and increasing assertion of China, India is left with no other option but to pursue an agenda of transformation of its economic, technological and governance capacities more seriously. These alone can sustain a proactive strategy to deter hostile intents and actions of actual and potential adversaries. India will have to shun its inward-looking approach to engage, influence and shape issues and events beyond its frontiers to safeguard its core interests. It must do so at minimum military-economic costs. This would require building comprehensive defensive and offensive capacities with the highest possible levels of innovation in every sphere.
India’s defence forces have displayed the highest standards of professionalism and bravery in protecting legitimate military interests of the country. However, political-bureaucratic and corporate institutions, notwithstanding few notable exceptions, have struggled to provide a stronger economic, technological and social support in this direction. Inability of these institutions to harness existing tangible and intangible resources into comprehensive national strength is manifest in the prevailing asymmetry of similarly sized China that had a somewhat identical background until half a century back.
Inability of several of our governance institutions to perform optimally or respond decisively and swiftly to emergent challenges, has been worrying. The ongoing Covid pandemic has already tested our capacity to handle an epidemic or natural calamity of a large scale or secure food-water-energy-communication needs of a massively expanding population over long run. With depleting resources like land and water, the challenge is going to be increasingly formidable.
Given the enormity of the security and geopolitical challenges facing India, the pace of its economic-technological-governance advancements have appeared fairly slow and sluggish, with deficient levels of innovation. Post-independence India has contained many of its internal feuds and fissures quite well but its larger national cohesion has remained under stress. This is both due to deficient criminal justice system as well as poorly regulated political competition. These, in turn, have been undermining optimal industry, enterprise and social stability, resulting in sub-par economic development as well as sub-optimal technological innovations.
These together with sloth and inefficiency in large sections of bureaucracy have eroded overall competitiveness of Indian economy in a globalised world. With competitiveness in trade and advantages in technology acting as lethal tools of depredation, something for which war was required in the earlier era, India cannot afford such a situation. Despite some enclaves of excellence and stellar accomplishments of Indians outside India, there is need for serious improvement in overall quality and productivity of all institutions of governance. This will not be possible without transformation in the larger social and economic ecosystems.
AN OPTIMAL BUT NOT AN ABSOLUTE SECURITY COVER
While no country can practically obtain an absolute level of national security, which is not worth even the labour and pain, but every major power has to optimise sum-total of its institutional capacity to prevent, preempt and deter both real and potential conflicts. Such capacity must be sustainable and conflicts and challenges must be addressed in a manner that does not erode long-term potential and capacities of the nation. India’s progress in this direction has remained inadequate largely due to: a) formidable nature of geopolitical challenges; and b) inherent and inbuilt constraints of some of the existing governance institutions due to colonial legacies and larger distortion in values and outlook. While tactical challenges need to be dealt with tactically, but a long-term strategic approach is critical for building a sustainable national security capacity.
India as the oldest civilization and the biggest democracy in the world needs to redefine its identity and priorities both in the interest of its people as well as larger stability of the world. It must not merely respond to threats and challenges but should attempt redefine the regional global equilibrium. Its inherent values and ethos are such that any progress towards optimizing the quality of its own security is likely to enhance the quality of global security. However, it has to pursue creation of conducive internal and external environment for its own growth as a society and state.
India and Pakistan are not comparable. In terms of Civilization, Pakistan – with its essentially Mamluk and decadent Mughal psyche- remains a destitute, lacking any past or vision for future. It has been least concerned for its own masses. The ruling syndicate has been using Islam to deploy various shades of criminality, violence and coercion to silence political opponents at home and deceitfully subvert institutions of open and transparent societies through various criminalized actions that have been part of its strategic policy to build a global clout for itself. Its congenital hatred for India has provided the raison-d’etre for both its own identity as a state as well as building such elaborate capacity for covert war.
With an efficient governance mechanism, driven by sense of civilizational superiority, China has continued to expand both its territory and domain of influence. It is likely to generate considerable human cost both at home and abroad until such time its systems crumble and collapse due to their inbuilt contradictions of opaque authoritarianism. This would be largely due to absence of safeguards or inbuilt checks and balances in their institutions. However, such a scenario can have devastating consequences whenever it happens.
A NEWER NATIONAL VISION BACKED BY COMMENSURATE CAPACITY
India has been a much older civilization than China and a rootless Pakistan that represents a somewhat vagabond Mamluk-Mughal psyche of pleasure, plunder and loot through deceit and deception. India's nobler and loftier original values were sought to be revived during freedom struggle as well as in the aftermath of independence. But the country's strategic psyche and outlook suffers from negative impact of centuries of internal decay and degeneration. It has perennially suffered from insufficient internal cohesion and lack of stronger external strategic vision. This is what explains its disintegration, decay, degeneration followed by prolonged external occupation during medieval era, despite exceptionally glorious past. Some of the pitfalls of deficient strategic psyche continues to haunt it even now. Hence, it has ignored the external threats and overlooked internal contradictions for far too long. Its inability to optimally mobilise itself to address governance and security and priorities has been amply manifest even during Covid crisis even though most would believe that majority of governance institutions have been energized by personal appeal of Prime Minister Modi.
Nevertheless, India has to cover a long distance towards building a reliable and sustainable national security cover that can manage external threats and optimizes internal internal strengths. In practical terms, it must translate into adequate institutional capacity to: a) conclude and eliminate the threat of covert war from Pakistan as well as space for radicalism within the country, It must be achieved at minimum human and material costs and within a reasonable time frame; b) Contain, or at least deter, the threat from China in every dimension; and c) optimize economic, social, military, technological and diplomatic capacities by harnessing all tangible and intangible strengths.
This would require an extra-ordinary innovation to create a contemporary national vision and national outlook, that is consistent with Indian realities and Indian psyche. It must be backed by adequate governance-security capacity that is sustainable in our context and yet contributes to our comprehensive empowerment as a state and nation. A stronger and sustainable national security capacity has always been one that integrates economic, military, political and social institutions and strategies in manner where each empowers the other. Hence, there is need to revamp institutions and outlook across the board.
THE BRASS TACKS
India's defence forces - with the highest possible traditions of courage, valour and professionalism- have deftly handled tactical threats and challenges, even middle and higher rungs of serving military officers are known for deeper strategic understanding of geo-strategy and military security issues. However, it is well known that strategies of military warfare too are changing and military capacity on its own is not sustainable. Military institutions need a supportive and conducive ambiance to thrive, flourish and evolve. Simultaneously, tactical capacity of other civilian security apparatuses require suitable uplift, where it can supplement military capacity of the Indian state. What political leadership and other stakeholders of India can do is build a stronger strategic and institutional capacity and ensure optimum synergy between strategic goals and tactical priorities.
Higher quality of human resources, in terms of stronger physical-cognitive-technical capacities, as well as the larger values like integrity-industry and enterprise, have traditionally constituted the base of the pyramid of national security. Instead of sheer numbers, it is these attributes that reflect the real strength of a population. It is these that determine productivity of soldiers, industrial, workers or agriculture workers or entire work force of a nation.
India’s records are quite alarming in this direction. Relatively low life expectancy, high incidences of malnutrition and morbid diseases, impaired cognitive skills and stunted growth of large percentage of children, among others, have led to physically weaker and deficiently skilled work force. With poor access to high quality technical- professional capacities and even life skills, the overall productivity of collective human resource of India is way below the potential. It dilutes the advantages of sheer numbers. Such challenges appear unlikely to be resolved by the existing free-flowing, and somewhat chaotic, dynamics of markets or state of existing governance and healthcare institutions.
Simultaneously, disproportionately larger sections of our healthy and productive working population appear to have been sucked into professions like political activism, cinema, infotainment, marketing, advertising, liaison, public relations etc. These, together with various shades of disguised unemployment, or not so productive white-collared jobs, are such whose real contribution to the tangible national output may be suspect. These could be symptoms of a deeper underlying challenges like extreme inequality, deficient regulation, and structural imbalances of inadequately regulated market economy. It will stretch the genius and imagination of even the best among Indian economists to find innovative solutions. We have to explore solutions beyond the prevailing dynamics of market economy or state control to gainfully harness advantages of large population.
Simultaneously, the nature of reforms that we need in regulatory and enabling capacity of the state may not have any ready-made parallels. We require much stronger and sharper capacity to segregate the bona-fide corporate entrepreneurship from subversive theft of resources in the name of private entrepreneurship. The former needs to be nurtured, protected, encouraged and supported in the larger quest of economic and technological advancement but the latter certainly needs to be deterred.
Indian state requires more innovative approach and strategies to build its private sector as a genuine partner in wealth creation and generation of gainful employment. Given the quality of upper layers of human resources, India’s private sector can be a much bigger driver of economic and industrial prowess as well as technological innovation and excellence. Substantive progress in this direction would be difficult in absence of larger trust-based social systems, which encourage and sustain a wider culture of excellence and integrity driven leadership. It will test capacities of major stakeholders of the country to unleash such an agenda of transformation of institutions of state and society both.
Internal cohesion has always remained the most critical ingredient of national security. These have enabled states to handle external threats better. Despite sustained assaults on social harmony, and downsides like caste-based divisions, India’s cohesive heterogeneity has remained fairly robust and resilient. However, situation could be far better with a genuinely efficient criminal justice system. Stronger curb on malicious abuse of freedom of speech and expression or even deterrent action against malicious crime on part of incumbents in state and society would be critical for securing our governance capacity.
Simultaneously, India needs innovative and low-cost strategies to curb internal fissures. These erode capacity of the state to deal with external subversion and even military aggression. Despite consistent clandestine efforts of Pakistani deep state sponsored networks, overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims have remained immune to subversive propaganda and derive pride in their Indian identity. However, all identity-driven fissures, including radicalism in the name of Islam, can be addressed only through combined efforts of criminal justice system and societal initiatives like persuasion, communication and social reform strategies.
While, subversive radicalism peddled by hostile forces through clandestine global networks needs to be dealt with exemplary and deterrent coercion but political exploitation of identity divides could have serious negative impact on internal cohesion. However, coercive actions of state can have deterrent impact only if these are channeled through a process of credible and impartial criminal justice system.
There are large number of studies suggesting that organised subversion- including radicalization and religious terrorism - and organised crime thrive and feed on each other. These eventually build a spiral of their own, making it difficult to differentiate normal corruption and sponsored subversion. India has to find a more effective solution to deny space to organised subversive and crime networks which have been flourishing, with the clandestine support of hostile forces.
With strong pockets of global influence, these clandestine networks, aided by access to advanced technologies and ability to operate swiftly and flexibly, can wield far more influence than what one can visualize. These can potentially subvert key institutions of state, interfere with our democratic governance processes and institutions to the detriment of our comprehensive national security. In certain situations, these can virtually paralyze capacity to key institutions to defend and protect even legitimate national interests of a democratic country.
Gravity of the threat of subversion to open and democratic states and societies is manifest in the US allegations of external interference in its electoral process as well as key decisions of some other institutions. Sections of US media have highlighted this issue along with malicious abuse of the mechanism of lobbying by exploiting open nature of their society. Australia too has alleged consistent clandestine Chinese interference to exact its natural resources at a preferable prices. It is difficult to fathom the entire reality in this direction but available inputs expose greater vulnerability of even the most powerful democracy of the world to subversive assaults of clandestine nature.
United States, even with the most comprehensive network of efficient and autonomous institutions - enjoying access to most sophisticated technologies- has struggled to contain clandestine threats from China. Given the larger fragility of India’s governance or regulatory institutions, and intensity of hostility of some of its adversaries, its task is well cut out. Tactical efficiency like improvement in transparency in financial transactions, including electoral funding, or curb on bureaucratic corruption or curb on money laundering may be necessary but probably insufficient to address the scale of threat.
India's unique geopolitics, where it is surrounded by a number of small states, requires a more innovative approach. China has been seeking to build bases of influence in each of these states. It is possible that it may scuttle and subvert democracy in most of these states to install or retain a pliable regime in each of these neighboring states to the detriment of aspirations and interests of local population. India has to bolster its own democratic, governance and diplomatic capacities to retain buffer status of each of these states.
Simultaneously, the gap between military capacity of India and China has increased manifold. India will struggle to contain China on its own. It has probably a stronger requirement today, than at any other point of time in the history, to closely align with US and NATO forces, without compromising its own independence and aspirations to grow. Such understanding is in the best possible interest of even the US led West. What is worrying today is declining American interest, under President Trump, in NATO at one level and impact it may have on India's traditional ties with Russia and Iran. India has to take the West into confidence and maintain its ties with both Russia and Iran at one end and forge an understanding with the US led West not merely to pursue national interest of the two biggest democracies of the world but the larger peace and stability that the world has enjoyed under the US led international order.
Hence, a paradigm shift in the national security outlook of the world's biggest democracy has become indispensable given the scale of challenges and threats. A comprehensive restructuring of institutions and outlook, howsoever Utopian it may sound, has become indispensable as the cost of status-quo would be simply unaffordable.
However, India, at this juncture of history, faces a predicament that probably very few big powers or civilizations may have faced in their entire journey. Its potentials and opportunities to rise as a major global power are entwined with formidable challenges in this direction. There is massive domestic aspiration- by significant potential- well as wider international support in favour of accelerated advancement of India. India’s rise is also seen as the biggest possible antidote to both Islamic radicalism as well as opaque authoritarianism. But impediments - both internal as well as external – could be far too formidable in this direction.
Besides clandestine influence of global cliques, cartels or networks - as well as rough and tumbles of globalised world- India may face resistance from large sections of its own political, corporate and bureaucratic elite. Many of them have thrived and flourished in an ecosystem of fragile institutions. They may be apprehensive of competition, transparency and meritocracy that could potentially result in loss of privileges and entitlements. A persuasive, gradual but time bound transition appears unavoidable in larger interest of national security.
China’s spectacular governance accomplishments, compared to post-colonial democracies, have raised serious doubts about the efficacy of the existing Western democratic governance institutions to transform the plight of people in the developing world. Saturating governance capacities of the Western democracies or the roots of their prosperity confirms such apprehensions. Chinese scholars often claim that West was able to establish its comprehensive material, intellectual and technological superiority over the rest largely due to colonial moorings of its early prosperity. These provided foundation for subsequent innovations, industry and enterprise. China claims to have built its prosperity and technological modernisation through sheer strength of its civilisational values and governance model, which it claims to be superior than contemporary democracy.
India’s societal ethos have retained their essentially humanist, plural and transparent nature. This is despite all pressures and distortions or degeneration, which have been backed by significant phases of resurrection. This is what explains sustenance of democracy in India even under adverse circumstances. Any drift towards authoritarianism is likely to be counter-productive given essential ethos and values of its people. This is likely to erode the capacity and output of India as a nation. Hence, the biggest democracy of the world has to explore refinement of some of its key institutions to bolster its collective national output. Proposed reform must cover political parties to civil service, criminal justice system, corporate sector, media, civil society entities, institutions of higher research, heath-care and elementary education regime etc.
India will have to practically spearhead transition of contemporary democracy to the next higher stage of evolution for building and sustaining a stronger national security architecture. It shall have to build high quality governance institution, equipped with suitable norms, values and procedures as well as wider culture of superior skills, output and leadership. Political, bureaucratic or even corporate rent, or entitlement driven privileges or hereditary leadership, is a luxury that no dynamic society can afford within any of its institutions. Hence, reforms in political parties and corporate organisations become very critical.
Democracies can potentially create far superior governance institutions than their authoritarian counterparts. However, they need to marshal their basic principles to build a stronger synergy between individual and institutional excellence, where both drive and sustain each other. India has to explore an integrated and yet dynamic framework of high-quality governance and social institutions. Their autonomy and independence may be crucial for optimal growth, evolution and output. But they must be able to collaborate with each other in pursuit of larger objectives of governance. This would require suitable safeguards and instruments of functional complementarity along with a wider culture of integrity.
Probably, challenges towards such transition would be huge. But with a decisive nationalist government at the helm, there could not have been more opportune time for the country to embark upon a journey in this direction.