First Person | A Shadow in the Dark

India has never been so vulnerable internally and externally as it is today

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

The one enemy that has been troubling the Narendra Modi government since it came to power in 2014 remains invisible even after eight years. This enemy was declared invisible by the Prime Minister the first time he addressed the combined commander’s conference in October 2014. In that address, Prime Minister Modi told the military’s who’s who that, ‘The threats may be known, but the enemy may be invisible.’

Of course, nobody asked him ‘ke shayar ka ishaara kis taraf hai’ (who is the poet pointing towards). It was assumed, including by me, that the invisible enemy was the terrorist, because the government seemed singularly focussed on combating terrorism worldwide at the cost of everything else. Not just the Prime Minister, but his Cabinet colleagues also were hugely exercised by this. No opportunity, whether bilateral or multilateral, was lost. Wherever the Prime Minister went, went his concern about terrorism–from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to the United Nations. Indefatigably, he and his ministers exhorted the world to recognise that terrorism was the biggest threat to humanity.

At home, the government policies also seemed driven towards ending the menace of terrorism—from recasting of Kashmiri insurgency as purely cross-border terrorism to giving free hand to the security forces to stamp out dissent in Kashmir, cracking down on the Kashmiri Separatists to end terror funding, and the mother of all blows, demonetisation. Scorching earth, the government was determined to wipe terrorism off the face of India.

Yet, like a spirit haunting an old mansion, the enemy remained, and curiously remained invisible. Where did we go wrong? As recently as June 2022, while justifying the Agnipath scheme, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval once again referred to this ‘invisible enemy’. He told his interviewer, ‘The whole war is undergoing a great change. We are going towards contactless wars, and also going towards the war against the invisible enemy. Technology is taking over at a rapid pace. If we have to prepare for tomorrow, then we have to change.’

But didn’t the same NSA, while addressing the Indian Police Service probationers at the National Police Academy a few months ago say, ‘The new frontiers of war, what you call the fourth-generation warfare, is the civil society.’ And wasn’t that the reason the law-enforcement agencies have been going after the civil society, the human rights activists and journalists, treating them as State Enemy No 1?

Then who is this invisible enemy? And why have we not been able to expose him or her? Why have the executors of our national security, the armed forces, not sought a clarification on who they are supposed to fight? Why have they not pointed out to him that, ‘Sir, we have two very visible enemies. One, to our east, another to our west and they are colluding in our north. So, maybe, we should prepare for them first. Given that the invisible enemy has not done much in the last eight years since its discovery, perhaps, we can take that on later, after we have sorted out the visible ones?’

After all, the NSA in the present dispensation is the policymaker-in-chief. Everything he says must be taken seriously. Assumptions must not be made. For example, what is this contactless war that he is talking about? Is he referring to stand-off weapons or non-kinetic war? Has he understood China’s intelligentised war? If he has then why is he going on about the invisible enemy? Or does he think China is invisible? Isn’t China more like ‘it, which must not be named’?

In the aforementioned June 2022 interview, the NSA also spoke of indigenous fighter aircraft, submarines and missiles that are making India secure and a power to reckon with. Well, as the FORCE cover story shows, there is much smoke without the fire. All three services are flogging equipment that should have been retired a decade ago. Barring few, no acquisition plan has reached fruition. None of this is a state secret. The Indian military leadership knows and understands this better than anyone. Why aren’t they telling the NSA that the enemy is not invisible? That terrorism is not our primary threat? That the civil society is not an adversary but an ally in nation-building? That grandstanding cannot substitute military preparedness? And as far as military preparedness is concerned, we are at our nadir?

As if this was not enough, internal fault-lines are being widened every day. At a time when India is staring at the highest rate of unemployment in decades, the youth capital is increasing turning into an internal security danger. The citizens are in a perpetual state of persecution, forced to impose self-censorship on even the Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In no other time in its independent history has India been so vulnerable internally and externally. In no other time has the political leadership been so oblivious to the real threats. Of course, the military leadership had once in the past been as pusillanimous as it is today. Given the terrible price it paid for that aberration, one would have expected that, that folly would not be repeated again. Alas, India’s security once again hinges upon fortitude, valour and sacrifice of its soldiers and young officers. The leadership is either too scared or too selfish to look beyond their next promotion.

And that’s why it is simpler to chase the invisible enemy. After all, what cannot be seen, cannot be accounted for; like chasing a shadow in the dark.




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