It is clearly established that apart from the external dimension of the threat to India’s national security emanating from the Sino-Pak alliance, a huge problem has arisen for India on account of the total collusion that now exists between these two hostile neighbours in the matter of planning a covert offensive against this country. Our Intelligence agencies have reportedly unravelled a new Pak plot in Jammu and Kashmir in which the Pak ISI was being actively guided by China to execute a plan of flooding the state with arms and ammunition to foment anti-India activity and unrest there. China would like Pakistan to infiltrate maximum number of terrorists before the onset of winter by overcoming the anti-infiltration grid established by the Indian Army on the LOC. It wants ISI to use drones and other means like hexacopters to send in weapons separately.
In what is an alarming development, recent seizures made by security forces in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are mostly of weapons with Chinese markings. It is also said that local recruitment of militants is on the rise in the Valley. Clearly, the ongoing ‘proxy war’ against India is now a Sino-Pak joint venture. Cooperation between Pakistan and China on CPEC now extends to military collaboration in putting India down. In a brazen display of aggressiveness, China has questioned the right of India on Ladakh itself. India’s strategy, therefore, has to focus on taking care of external threats as well as the threat to internal security posed by the China-Pak axis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the UNGA’s 75th anniversary session on September 26 with a complete grasp of the present global and India-specific security scenarios. He sharply reminded the world organisation that India could no longer be kept out of the UN’s decision-making body and emphasised that the UN of 1945 needed to stay relevant to the present era where terrorism, illicit arms and drug trade had become the biggest threats to global peace. He felt the UN had yet to show an adequate response. In an oblique but definite reference to China, he remarked that India did not strengthen partnerships with the intent of ‘landing the partner in a debt trap’ and pointed out that ‘when we were strong we were never a threat to the world and when weak we were never a burden on the world’.
The Prime Minister highlighted India’s commitment to the welfare of the world — he pointed out how India had, on the one hand, lost the most number of soldiers in UN peacekeeping missions and how it had, on the other, already sent medical supplies to 150 countries during the Covid crisis. Contending that the UN should have done more for the pandemic, Prime Minister Modi announced that India, the largest vaccine producing country, intended to use its vaccine production and delivery capacity to help all humanity. The address projected India as a global power that practised the doctrine of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and at the same time exposed Pakistan and China as the epicentres of threats to international peace.
Current developments require India’s defence and security establishment to prepare for stretching and countering PLA on the LAC with focus on Ladakh sector where the Chinese aggressiveness is predictably acute, taking on Pakistan’s terror infrastructure beyond LOC as part of India’s counter-terrorism operations, stepping up our Navy’s support to US-led QUAD plans for the security of the Indo-Pacific maritime zone, taking our cyber security planning to a new level of coverage and intensifying counter-intelligence operations against the joint effort of China and Pakistan to cause internal stability here. China cannot sustain a mountain warfare against India and is, therefore, militarily involving Pakistan in its plan of securing CPEC that had become vulnerable because of Indo-Pak and India-China tensions. The challenge for India is to deal with the PLA’s presence and activity on LAC on a long-term basis since this will remain a lasting India-specific problem.
Time, however, has come to launch a diplomatic offensive against the unholy combine of an expansionist China and the chief promotor of radical Islamic terror that Pakistan was now known to be — internationally. There is no need for India to try to be ‘politically correct’ by not drawing world attention to the card of faith-based militancy that Pakistan was playing against India in Kashmir and elsewhere. As the second largest country in terms of Muslim population, democratic India should be able to take on an army-controlled Pakistan upfront, on the issues concerning equality of rights enjoyed by all communities here and expose the hypocrisy of the Imran Khan regime in blatantly using religion for politics.
India’s diplomatic response to the Sino-Pak axis has to be to lead the voice of the democratic world against this combination of two dictatorships — one ‘godless’ and the other staunchly faith-based — and to join hands with the US, the oldest democracy, and other democratic regimes big or small, around us, in this regard. India under Prime Minister Modi and the US led by President Donald Trump have a deep convergence on security and economic policy, primarily because Trump has denounced radical Islamists and shown China its place by exposing its policy of subjugating smaller nations through the economic route and pursuing an expansionist agenda.
India is rightly shedding the ideological baggage of the Cold War era by opting for bilateral relations on the mutuality of security and economic interests and favouring the shift of the world towards multipolarity — this has the merit of checking the unhealthy prospect of China creating another Cold War type of environ in pursuit of its ambition of becoming the second super power. India has to take note of the reality that it will have to deal with the twin threats of Pakistan and China on its own strength and capacity building while actively supporting counterbalancing forces elsewhere — in Indo-Pacific, in India’s neighbourhood and in vital parts of the Islamic world such as Afghanistan, the Gulf and Central Asia. Defence acquisition, manufacture at home and enlargement of defence forces have to be a part of India’s security strategy.
The military and operational collaboration between China and Pakistan has widened the arc of threat to our internal security. Apart from pumping in arms and ammunition as well as militants, these hostile neighbours can disrupt our cyber systems, attack economic assets and use their agents to foment domestic agitations and communal disharmony. Drug money and fake currency have been used by Pakistan to finance ISI operations in India. A stricter watch has to be kept right at the police station level to detect signs of any unusual activity or presence indicating a possible ‘sleeper cell’ operation. It is important to check the spread of radicalism amongst youth of the minority community.
An average Muslim in India, like any other citizen, is engaged in livelihood issues — it is a few leaders in the elite or the ulema who had been running his politics. Internal vigilance has to concentrate on exposing enemy agents trying to subvert India’s socio-cultural potential. Institutions speaking for the minorities should be persuaded to take the stand that Pakistan should desist from using the call of Jehad as a political instrument against India in Kashmir or elsewhere. Advocates of radicalisation must be severely dealt with and the cover organisations they worked under put down with a strong hand. India’s fight for security is not only on our borders but inside our own boundaries as well.
There is learning for India from the rise of Sino-Pak alliance that is targeting India at a time when the global scene is in a flux because of the Corona pandemic, preoccupation of the US with elections and absence of international opinion against the spread of radicalism in the Islamic world. What is happening on the Indian subcontinent has grave implications for the world but from outside it may still look like a problem essentially affecting South Asia alone. India has to tackle the China-Pak axis through a multi-pronged strategy of which long-term military preparedness would be the core concern. India has done well to demonstrate its capacity to take on the adversary at a height of 15,000 ft and stretch China on the LAC from Ladakh to Arunachal. India can hit China where it hurts most — the CPEC illicitly created on POK territory — and keep a tight grip on the doings of Pak ISI in Kashmir. As India remains engaged in reviving its economy, using its indigenous base as a substratum, it has no option but to steadily strengthen its defence forces and auxiliary infrastructure in the long term to safeguard national security and to buttress its position and say in world affairs.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)