India’s National Security: A Reader ; Edited by Kanti P Bajpai and Harsh V Pant; Oxford University Press; PP 486; Price Rs 995

Book Review - Understanding India’s National Security Concerns

The book is part of a series by Oxford University Press dealing with ‘critical issues in Indian politics’. It is a compilation of papers on major national security challenges facing the nation. It looks at the different facets of insurgency, terrorism and state response, nuclear issues including nuclear weapons and strategic stability and defence reforms.

India’s national security interests are derived from the need to protect India’s core values and the attainment of the national security vision. Security of our sovereign territory, airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones, internal stability and security in all regions and states of the Union are essential aspects of national security. In addition to the traditional forms of security, non-traditional aspects of security have been gaining resonance. Human security to include economic security, energy security, water security and many other forms of security have become issues of concern which could be as important as conventional security. For instance, providing access to opportunities and development resources for all citizens of India, making due consideration for the special needs of deprived communities and regions have assumed significance from the point of social cohesion and social security.

As the editors note, this volume does not delve into non-traditional security areas such as energy security, environmental security, food security, human security, and other related concepts. Corruption, maladministration, poor governance, divisive ideologies amongst many other factors have become significant internal security challenges. The volume possibly could not include the non-traditional security threats and challenges to India because of the likely limited and specific mandate of this work. An additional chapter on essential aspects non-traditional security issues would have presented a more comprehensive picture of security threats and challenges being faced by India. Alternatively, it would be useful to publish another volume as part of the ongoing series that looks at the non-traditional aspects which could pose as much if note more challenges to the Indian decision-makers.

The first section deals with insurgency, terrorism and response of the state. Internal security threats have been the most challenging aspect of independent India. Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan, who has studied in detail the counterinsurgency doctrine of Indian Army and has also written on what should be India’s approach, postulates that there has been an element of ‘conventional war bias’ in its counter insurgency doctrine. He has dwelt at great length upon how Indian Army handled insurgency in the North East to support his argument before going on to offer Indian Peace Keeping Force’s loss against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to support his argument. The loss to LTTE, he explains, was due to this ‘conventional war bias’. One can easily agree with his view that there can be no military solution to the problem of insurgency and a political solution would be more lasting. Military can only create conditions for political negotiations by reducing the levels of violence. Though Rajesh Rajagopalan’s chapter is very scholarly, most of the army officers may find it difficult to agree with some elements of his theory. It can be said that Indian Army’s handling of insurgency was flexible and depended to a great extent on the stage of insurgency/guerrilla campaign and tactics adopted by the adversaries.

The chapter by KPS Gill, who was Director General of Police during Punjab militancy, provides an account of State’s response to the issue. Here he argues that it was due to regrouping and redeployment of police force and change of strategy and tactics along with political support that ultimately led to the success of counter terrorism/militancy campaign in Punjab. He has covered in detail the reasons for earlier lack of success and how such weaknesses were overcome. He also recalls how the state had abandoned its responsibility and emphasises that failing to exercise legitimate coercive authority is not an act of non-violence or of abnegation but an act of abdication of responsibility and intellectual failure.

Praveen Swami in his chapter critically examines the fundamentals of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and comes to the conclusion that it is rooted more in the ideological divide rather than any other particular raison d'etre. According to him, the challenge in Kashmir goes beyond counter-terrorism, use of security forces or devising strategies including winning the hearts and minds of the local population. He emphasises that essentially the conflict is between Pakistan’s self-perception as saviour of all Muslims of South Asia and India’s view of itself as a secular and democratic nation.

Reviewing the insurgency in the North East, Bethany Lacina’s basic premise is that the state should work towards building the rule of law, efficient governance and addressing the grievances of the people through appropriate mechanisms. According to her, the most important enabling condition of the present violence in the North East is poor rule of law, which neither continued military/para military presence in the region nor political concessions tackle directly. She asserts that India lacks the kind of laws against criminal conspiracies that other democracies have developed in order to punish the leaders of predatory organisations.

The next chapter is on Naxalism by Ajay Sahni who goes into the causes of Left Wing Extremism and offers some remedies to address the situation. He also supports the concept that basic governance and rule of law must be established in affected areas. Strengthening of police forces, improving their capacities to tackle the challenges of Naxalism effectively are some of the measures which need to be taken by the State. Thus, the first section of the book highlights internal security challenges to India and offers perspectives on how they might be better addressed.

The next section is on evolution of India’s nuclear policy and consists of chapters written by well known experts and authors on the subject. Bharat Karnad explores the cultural context of moralpolitik in relation to development of the atom bomb. He opines that Indian strategic thought is fundamentally realist in nature and emanates from the ancient Hindu classics. He believes that even Mahatma Gandhi understood that violence was preferable to cowardice. He has explained the term moralpolitik as use of morality to advance national interests and this method was adopted by Nehru who was a realist to pursue India’s nuclear interests. K. Subrahmanyam, who is well known for developing India’s nuclear thought, in his chapter has traced the development of India’s nuclear policy from early sixties especially from China’s first nuclear test in October 1964 to India’s nuclear test in May 1998. He gives credit to Rajiv Gandhi for giving approval for weaponisation of nuclear programme. Since as a government official he was privy to many of the decisions taken on the nuclear issues, his account can be considered as very authentic.

In the next chapter, George Perkovich, who has written extensively on India’s nuclear programme, gives a perspective on factors that led to conduct of nuclear tests by the BJP government. He believes that it was India’s desire for international status and strategic autonomy that led to Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998. He also delineates other motives for BJP government testing the nuclear weapons. However, he concludes that the thermonuclear test was a fizzle.

The third section of the book deals with nuclear weapons and strategic stability. Sumit Ganguly argues that nuclear weapons have added to the stability by reducing the risk of a full-scale war in the region. On the other hand, S. Paul Kapur theorises that nuclear weapons in South Asia have added to the instability. He has offered several arguments to support his precept. Both Ganguly and Kapur have explained how the nuclear overhang has enabled Pakistan to pursue sub-conventional war against India. Walter C. Ladwig in his chapter talks about the impact of India’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine unveiled in 2004 though as of now Indian military circles do not officially subscribe to it. He is of the view that such a doctrine would add to instability in South Asia as India may be inclined to use force in a future conflict with Pakistan. He concludes that although India and Pakistan have so far managed to resolve resulting crisis without catastrophe, this outcome has in no way been guaranteed. Generally, the western writers compared to Indian writers are more pessimistic about strategic stability in the subcontinent.

The last section of the book has a standalone chapter where Anit Mukherjee recounts that defence reforms ushered after Kargil War have failed to deliver. There were a number of recommendations made by Kargil Review Committee that were approved further by a Group of Ministers. Many of the recommendations have not been implemented in letter and spirit, the most glaring being the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff.

Interestingly, after the writing of this chapter, the Naresh Chandra Committee was appointed in July 2011 to revisit the Kargil Review Committee’s recommendations. The report was submitted in August 2012 but the government could not muster up enough courage to institute the appointment of CDS or the diluted version of the same as recommended by Naresh Chandra Committee.

Overall the book provides an interesting account of India’s national security challenges and how the state has been responding to the same.