Knowing what lies ahead

On the last day of 2023


By D C Pathak

New Delhi: As the world rolls over to a new year, the global security scenario is likely to continue with the trends that had shown up earlier.

The rise of ‘proxy wars’ as a combat in which terrorism was used as the weapon, expansion of security to embrace new national and global dimensions, viability of bilateral and multilateral relations in a multi-polar order, drift of the world towards a new Cold War on the horizon due to the steady rise of China as a potential superpower rivalling the US and the appearance of India as a world power serving the cause of global peace and economic development while facing a hostile Sino-Pak axis, are the more significant of these trends.

India’s strategy of achieving self-dependence in the spheres of both defence and economic growth and handling international relations with the freedom to determine who our friends and adversaries are at a given point in time is working out well and sustaining the image of this country for its voice of sanity on the ongoing geopolitical developments and the challenges of human-centric economic growth.

India has the ongoing need for an extremely watchful security set-up, effective diplomacy and constant capacity building, to deal with what was an uncertain world situation marred by military conflicts in Eastern Europe and West Asia.

Fortunately, the far-sighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi aided by an extremely competent National Security Advisor, had ensured all of that.

In an era where open warfare had yielded to ‘covert’ offensives, the forces of Defence and Security have to combine to produce integral and effective responses like what has been achieved in J&K in the context of the ongoing cross-border terrorism desperately pushed there by Pakistan on the strength of elements recruited through indoctrination in the name of Jehad.

Collaboration of China with Pakistan on matters relating to Kashmir had become intense following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution by the Parliament in 2019 and the validation of that act by the Supreme Court can be expected to lead to stepping up of covert operations by these two hostile neighbours against India.

India, however, is well prepared to deal with them on LAC and LoC, on the marine front as well as on international forums.

Punjab is another border state where the adversaries would attempt to revive militancy in some form or the other — possibly through the narcotic route. The use of Chinese drones for dropping arms and drugs in the border districts of Punjab is an indicator of this trend.

China has been helped by Pakistan in reaching a ‘give and take’ arrangement with the Taliban in Afghanistan. As a result, China has extended its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) to Afghanistan having been assured of non-interference by the Taliban on matters relating to Muslim minorities of China.

The advent of Information Technology has made social media an instrument of combat to be used for ‘radicalisation’, the creation of sleeper cells of terrorists including ‘lone wolves’ and building narratives to play ‘politics by proxy’.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has multiplied the prospects of information warfare and cyber attacks as an extension of proxy war.

India has taken the lead in examining the promise and perils of AI and after putting it on the agenda of the G20 Summit hosted by it, and has already held the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) Summit at Delhi on December 12-14.

GPAI has approximately 28 members besides the European Union. India is a founding member of this forum that guides the proper development and utilisation of AI.

In the Indian context, anti-India lobbies abroad in collusion with some civil society groups and NGOs have been building and spreading narratives designed to influence opinion against the regime by using ‘misinformation’ and even ‘deepfake’ tactics.

There is little doubt that the legitimate growth of AI can put healthcare, education, business productivity, human resource development, innovation and research on an entirely different pedestal. ‘Machine learning’, ‘Deep learning’ and ‘Natural Language Process’ can even provide ‘predictability’ — though limited — on the basis of human conduct studied through analysis of data.

India has brought in NITI Ayog to pursue the progress of AI and engaged in efforts to put AI applications for the larger good of humanity on one hand and prevent any destructive fallout of the same, on the other.

National security can be impacted by new socio-political developments of global importance.

The post-Cold War era was marked by the shift from open warfare to covert combat or ‘asymmetric’ war and this transformed the security scene. It was realised that “national security was inseparable from economic security” which meant that the enemy would be tempted to take recourse to causing economic damage to the opponent in order to weaken the latter.

This kind of damage can be inflicted through sabotage, blocking of the supply chains or recourse to cyber attacks to destroy the economic lifelines of the country.

Secondly, the destruction of national assets, large casualties and even loss of cattle wealth caused by natural or man-made disasters, weaken the country economically thus affecting national security in the wider sense.

India has made remarkable advances in preventing and mitigating the effects of disasters — the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) serves the mission of national security as well.

Finally, there is a new understanding of the protection of the environment as an essential mandate for the larger cause of the security of humanity. Prime Minister Modi with his deep understanding of the issue, placed before the G20 Summit his idea of ‘Lifestyle For Environment’ (LiFE) that underlined the importance of everyone’s contribution to the protection of the environment.

These three dimensions of national security add up to the overriding requirement of ‘mainstreaming’ of security that has to be met in today’s unsafe world. India has rapidly moved to achieve that by taking a holistic view of national security.

The basic task of national security set-up is to safeguard the assets of the nation — physical resources, human power and ‘protected’ information — against the ‘covert’ attacks of the enemy. An open attack will be taken care of by our Defence forces.

Intelligence is the anchor of security since by definition it is the reliable information about the secret plans of the adversary. Well-trained special agencies have been established for furnishing ongoing Intelligence. A new dimension of Intelligence is that the latter now has to help the process of framing policy of an integral response — cutting across the spheres of military, law and order management and diplomacy — instead of remaining content only with ‘reporting’ on threats.

Intelligence agencies have to have the closest liaison with local police set-up and other executive arms of the government at the ground level because threats relating to ‘proxy wars’ translate closer to the ground where people live.

‘Intelligence from below’ is the new requirement for safeguarding national security particularly when the gap between ‘information’ and ‘action’ was getting reduced.

Management of Intelligence agencies itself is somewhat of a challenge because national security does not admit of a wall of division between internal and external Intelligence or between human and technical Intelligence and calls for a convergence of objectives set forth for them on the basic mission of safeguarding national security, integrity and sovereignty.

National interests will be best served by a policy of exchange of officers among the agencies and such a practice should be further developed.

As the ‘eyes and ears’ of the State, Intelligence agencies have newer responsibilities of keeping the nation safe and economically progressive. It is a matter of great satisfaction that inter-agency cooperation has vastly improved under the present National Security Advisor (NSA) who is from the Intelligence background himself.

India today is better prepared to safeguard national security than it was at any time in the past because of a competent oversight of the Intelligence set-up, emphasis on an integral response to any threat and the political will displayed by the Modi regime in taking strong action on issues of security.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)