Doses of statecraft to meet India’s challenges

It is clear that grand strategy, grand simplifications and higher measures of security are not the answers

May 31, 2022 12:12 am | Updated 11:29 am IST

‘Long-term solutions require the use of statecraft’

‘Long-term solutions require the use of statecraft’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The war in Europe, involving Russia and Ukraine — with Kyiv being backed by western powers and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — and the political turmoils in South Asia dominate newspaper headlines today. This has pushed the debate on India’s many internal security problems on the backburner. This is unfortunate, for many long-standing security problems have a propensity to wax and wane and seldom seem to go away.

Limitations of a security vigil

While the country’s security agencies do maintain a tight vigil, what is seldom realised is that security agencies can only deal with the immediate threat. Long-term solutions require the use of statecraft. Additional doses of security whenever a situation arises are at best a temporary solution. This does not amount to problem solving. To change the mindsets of both the authorities and those challenging the existing order, it may be first necessary to admit that more and more security has its limitations. The next step is even harder, viz., to admit that the forces threatening the state have lately become nimbler in adopting new technologies and modes of warfare.

In many countries, both the authorities and security agencies are beginning to acknowledge the importance of resorting to statecraft as a vital adjunct to the role played by the security agencies. Statecraft involves fine-grained comprehension of inherent problems; also an ability to quickly respond to political challenges. It further involves strengthening the ability to exploit opportunities as they arise, and display a degree of political nimbleness rather than leaving everything to the security agencies. In short, it entails a shift from reposing all faith in the security establishment to putting equal emphasis on implementation of policies and programmes. In effect, it shifts the emphasis to formulating strategies that favour political deftness, strength and agility, after the initial phase.

Upheaval in Kashmir

Two prime examples which provide grist to the above proposition are the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the continuing problem involving Maoists. While Jammu and Kashmir has been a troubled region ever since 1947, the situation has metamorphosed over the years — at times tending to become extremely violent followed by spells of near normalcy. No proper solution has emerged to a long-standing problem.

The ongoing violence in Jammu and Kashmir which started almost 18 to 20 months ago is an instance in point. Political angst over the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution is possibly one of the reasons for local support being available for the current crop of Jammu and Kashmir militants. A majority of them are believed to be home-grown militants, though backed by elements from across the border in Pakistan. Irrespective of the reasons for the latest upsurge in violence, what is evident is that Jammu and Kashmir has again become the vortex of violence, specialising currently on targeted killings of outsiders, mainly Kashmiri Pandits.

Migrant Kashmiri Pandits returning to Jammu and Kashmir have, no doubt, been given certain concessions, including government jobs. This might have acted as provocation, but what is equally disturbing is the targeted killings of police personnel, many of whom were on duty while some others were on leave. Information filtering out of government vaults suggests that terrorists may have infiltrated the official machinery. They also appear to have access to data banks of the police and security agencies. All this is leading to an atmosphere of uncertainty. Concerns exist that this year’s Amarnath Yatra (beginning end June) could well be one of the targets of the militants. If this were to happen, it might well result in a crescendo of violence, leading to large-scale upheaval across Kashmir.

Evidently, the doctrine of containment pursued by the Jammu and Kashmir police and security agencies is not having the desired effect. Security analysts believe that a sizeable segment of the new cadres fall into what they perceive as ‘unpredictable’, and this further aggravates the situation. The history of Jammu and Kashmir is replete with instances where a sizeable presence of such ‘unpredictable’ elements has tilted the scale in favour of greater violence. What is also disturbing is that strategies intended for one set of militants can seldom be applied to newer elements, making it more difficult to contain the spread of violence. In Jammu and Kashmir today, as also elsewhere, there is no all-in-one grand strategy to deal with the situation. The missing ingredient is statecraft which alone can walk in step with the changing contours of a long-standing problem.

The Maoist shadow

While problems seem to be mounting for the security establishment in Jammu and Kashmir as of now, across several heartland States of India, the police face a different kind of threat. Of all the strands of the militancy in India, Maoists or Naxalites stand apart as being the only ones with strong ideological underpinnings. Notwithstanding its ideological veneer, Maoists/Naxalites nevertheless tend to indulge in mindless violence carrying out brutal killings. The original Maoist leaders in Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) who were inspired by Charu Mazumdar who talked of a ‘Spring Thunder over India’ (followed by his claim to have lit a spark to initiate a ‘prairie fire’) have since been replaced by lesser leaders with few ideological pretensions.

The combination of ideological ideation and brutal killings has often confused and confounded the police, intelligence and security establishments of the States and the Centre. In that sense, the Maoists represent the biggest challenge to the idea of India. While railing against the use of State violence, and from time to time displaying a willingness to hold peace talks with both the State and Central governments, the Maoists have seldom displayed a commitment to peaceful ways. New adherents, thanks to its ideological underpinnings, are meanwhile readily available, and this further perplexes the authorities who often tend to claim ‘that Maoism is on its last legs’. More than any other militant or violent movement in the country, curbing the Maoist menace will require considerable doses of statecraft, as many of the purported demands of the Maoists find an echo among intellectuals in the cities and the ‘poorest of the poor’ in the rural areas.

In Punjab and the North-east

The need to use statecraft to deal with quite a few other internal security problems — some of which have lain dormant for years — is also becoming more manifest by the day. In this category may be included the resurgence of militancy by pro-Khalistan groups in the Punjab, which could spill over into Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The recent discovery of ‘sleeper cells’ in the Punjab clearly indicates the potential for the revival of a pro-Khalistan movement — which once ravaged large parts of the Punjab. While pro-Khalistani sentiment is present in pockets in the United Kingdom and in Europe, it has not been in evidence in India for some time. Hence, the recent attack by pro-Khalistan elements on the headquarters of the Punjab Police Intelligence wing in Mohali was a rude shock to the security establishment. The incident appeared to be like a warning shot ‘across the bow’ by the Babbar Khalsa International, which has the backing of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence — a reminder that militancy in the Punjab has not been permanently extinguished, and will need deft statecraft to nip it in the bud.

In India’s North-east, more specifically in the States of Assam and Nagaland, there are again incipient signs of trouble which, for the present, may need use of statecraft rather than the security forces. In Assam, the United Liberation Front of Asom–Independent (ULFA-I) is trying to revive its activities after a long spell of hibernation. Currently, the ULFA-I operates from Myanmar, and its fortunes have been on a steady decline in the past decade. However, latest reports indicate that ULFA-I has embarked on a recruitment drive which will need to be curbed before matters get out of hand. Likewise in Nagaland, where the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) has recently initiated a fresh push for a solution of the ‘Naga political issue’, the situation is pregnant with serious possibilities. Both instances merit the use of statecraft so that the situation does not get out of hand.

A threat in the South

In the South, intelligence and police officials appear concerned about a likely revival of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-sponsored activities in Tamil Nadu. This stems from a possible revival of LTTE-sponsored militancy in Sri Lanka following the recent economic crises and uncertainty there. Security agencies in India believe that an attempt could be made to reach out to elements in Tamil Nadu to revive the spirit of the 1980s. This situation again needs deft statecraft to prevent a resurgence of the past.

Hence, it should be evident that statecraft is critical in finding lasting solutions to a host of problems that continue to afflict India. India faces several challenges today, but the answer to this is neither grand strategy nor grand simplifications nor resort to higher doses of security. India must navigate its way through a complex set of circumstances and situations, and suitably manage crises which might otherwise undermine peace and stability. A properly structured set of policies, having liberal doses of statecraft in addition to a proper set of security measures, is the best answer to India’s needs, now and in the future.

M.K. Narayanan is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau, a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

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