By restarting dialogue with Pakistan and acting with diplomatic restraint following the Pathankot attack, the Narendra Modi government has wisely differentiated between the Pakistan government and non-state actors. The challenge thrown up by the >terrorist attack on the Pathankot air force base is to evolve India’s national security doctrine to include its response to non-state actors. While carrying on diplomatic engagement with Pakistan, India needs a firm strategy to deal with terrorist threats that are now the prime challenge to the state. Political consensus must be evolved, in a publicly transparent manner, to reflect the complex challenge facing the country, detail its thresholds, interests that would be protected at any cost and response calibration vis-à-vis armed aggression. The doctrine must be accompanied by a national security strategy that spells out the command and control structures for meeting eventualities such as terror strikes, so that last-minute goof-ups such as those >that have been evident at the Pathankot airbase are not repeated. In the absence of such a clearly articulated consensus, India’s response is qualitatively linked to the government of the day, its key leaders and their personal ability, or inability, to understand and appreciate security challenges.
The proposed security doctrine must be anchored in the foundational values of the Constitution. India enjoys Westphalian sovereignty, which grants it exclusive right to its domestic affairs and security but also comes with a huge bundle of responsibilities. India still has no written national security doctrine, and whatever is practised as the doctrine, and strategy, is vastly inadequate. The political class across the spectrum needs to come together > to define India’s permanent interests . It is time to move on from the unwritten grand >strategy of working only towards the political unity and preservation of India to a written doctrine that defines India’s role in the world and its commitment to protecting the life, liberty and interests of its people. After every terrorist attack, there are shallow attempts by the establishment to fit episodic responses into academic frameworks and proposals for security establishment reforms, but in no time things go back to default mode, until the next terrorist attack. The recurring terrorist attacks are not just a humiliation for the country but also a nightmare that is repeatedly disrupting daily routines and taking away precious lives. The very foundations of India’s security establishment need to be reformed if a robust national security doctrine is to be implemented. The intelligence agencies are cloaked in mystery, and with no credible external audit. Given the opacity of these agencies, intelligence alerts often emerge that have no credibility. In the process, >credible intelligence inputs, such as the one about Pathanko t, are not treated with enough seriousness. The agencies that are to provide security cover and neutralise terrorist threats do not have a cohesive command and control structure. It varies according to who is in control in New Delhi. It is time to finally show that India can be more than a functional anarchy.