The government unnecessarily plays up action against the Naxals
Three national security issues have made headlines this month. In my order of importance, these are the alleged regular Chinese intrusions across the disputed 4,056km Line of Actual Control (LAC), doubts about India’s thermo-nuclear weapon capability, and the increased anti-Naxal operations by security forces. While downplaying the first and second news, the government have overplayed the last one. This is unfortunate.
New Delhi is correct is saying that PLA intrusions are nothing new. Ten reasons are responsible for this: One, the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement under which India accepted the entire disputed border as the LAC. By implication, the McMahon line, which was the British-Indian perception of the border, was superseded by the LAC, which can be changed by military force as it is neither agreed on maps nor on the ground; two, New Delhi’s formal acceptance of Tibet as a part of China in 2003; three, China’s excellent border management, expansive infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region and increased air lift capabilities; four, acceptance by India that bilateral trade (hugely favouring China) take priority over the border resolution; five, regular pronouncements by Indian leaders that there is enough space for India and China to grow in Asia, implying that despite provocations, New Delhi would do its best to not muddy bilateral relations; six, poor border management and fitful infrastructure development along the LAC by India; seven, tactical restriction on land forces to not patrol till India’s perception of the LAC, and command and control issues between the army and the ITBP responsible for the LAC; eight, continuing restrictions on the Dalai Lama since he came to India in 1959 to not do politics on Indian soil (it is another matter that he is the temporal head of the Tibetan government in exile in India); nine, China’s performance at the 2008 Olympics (it bagged maximum gold medals) on its own soil established it to be in a different league than India; and lastly, New Delhi reluctance to accept PLA intrusions as one-sided affair considering that let alone intruding into TAR, Indian security forces do not even patrol till the LAC in their own country. China’s intrusions started after the 1999 Kargil conflict, and have become bold and regular since 2008 Olympics. These have grave bilateral, regional and global implications.
The second news was made by the project leader of the 1998 nuclear tests, K. Santhanam, who said the thermo-nuclear explosion was a failure. The establishment is up in arms saying Santhanam is wrong, and importantly, India has a credible nuclear deterrence. Considering that the scientists across the divide (retired and serving) are fighting it out amongst themselves, four critical issues have come to the fore. One, India lacks proportionate response against its two adversaries. Unlike China, it does not have thermo-nuclear weapons, and with a declared nuclear no-first-use, it lacks tactical nukes that Pakistan has. An un-proportionate response will remain undecided and speculative and does not lend credibility to nuclear deterrence, a must for peace-time negotiations with adversaries; two, India’s nuclear weapon credibility has diminished in the perception its own armed forces and could affect conventional war planning; three, as the knowledgeable Admiral Arun Prakash has pointed out in his FORCE columns, given the outcome of 1998 blasts, doubts may remain over the credibility of desired nuclear warheads for India’s sea-launched ballistic missiles without more tests, and lastly, this will embolden the Pakistan Army, which is expanding its range of nuclear warheads, to continue unabashedly with its undeclared sub-conventional war against India. New Delhi should consider initiating three steps to settle matters: an in-camera technical review of nuclear weapons capability by a panel including retired scientists, update defence services chiefs on actual nuclear weapons capabilities, and review progress with defence services’ on-board on infrastructure for a credible second-strike capability.
The third news concerns anti-Naxal operations. Both in 2005 and more recently, when the Prime Minister met with the chief ministers of the affected states, the need for a twin-prong approach of ‘hard economics and hard policing’ was agreed. This was based on the assessment that Naxalism is essentially a politico-economic and social problem. Yet, little has been heard about the development of these affected areas, uplift of the deprived, land to the landless, rural industries and so on. No one has bothered to wonder why educated elite and professionals have joined this movement, why the movement is getting strengthened despite ‘hard policing’, and why the state-sponsored Salva Judum experiment stands exposed, discredited and defunct. The complete focus of the central and state governments is on ‘hard policing’ because it is both easy to do, and it makes news. Just as if the state police forces and the CRPF were not enough, Union home minister, P. Chidambaram has gone a step further. He has suggested a probable use of the army’s Special Forces, who he thinks are mere commandos. The IAF has reportedly been sounded for logistics use. While Chidambaram has ruled out the employment of regular army for the time being, if things continue the way they are going, it may not be long before the unthinkable happens. New Delhi needs to make a distinction between Naxals and terrorists. If this is not done, a nexus between the two may come about. This cannot be good for the nation.