Defending India's borders (Column: The Third Eye)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's regime is noteworthy for giving full attention to both security and economic development and in particular for building the defence capacity of India to deal with the adversary on land and sea, ensuring at the same time that the air power is blended suitably on these two fronts - apart from the independent capability that the Air Force had of delivering blows to the enemy behind the battle lines.

The military build-up on the LAC is strengthened by our troops being prepared to engage the adversary also in a mountain warfare with suitable air support.

On LoC, a message has already been delivered to Pakistan that India would not hesitate to inflict a 'surgical strike' deep in its hinterland to neutralise any militant bases used for cross-border terrorism against India in Kashmir or elsewhere.

After the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, the situation in Jammu & Kashmir has been effectively controlled and the process of development given an unprecedented boost.

Meanwhile, in the emerging areas of missile development and space, India has registered a phenomenal advancement enhancing the status of the country as a nuclear power.

The Centre has been engaged for quite some time now in upgrading at the strategic level, both our capacity for effectively handling maritime defence of the Indian Ocean as well as our air power.

Developments in the Maldives leading to the advent of an unfriendly regime there under President Mohamed Muizzu, fall out of the Israel-Hamas military conflict producing targeted attacks of pro-Hamas militant outfits in Syria-Iraq region on the cargo ships in the Red Sea as also an acceleration of operations of sea pirates linked to drug mafia in the area and the moves of China to increase its outreach and influence in the Indian Ocean, have all lent urgency to India's marine defence plans and warranted adoption of proactive measures by this country to counter the adversarial activities of the Sino-Pak axis in the region.

India has rightly stepped up its association with Quad - the multilateral forum working for rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region in the backdrop of the Chinese expansionist designs there. This helps the Indian strategy of checking the Chinese ingress into the Indian Ocean as well. Security of the 11,000 km-long coasts of India and of over 13,00 off-lying Islands, called for a comprehensive marine defence strategy for the Indian Ocean and beyond and India is doing the needful in this regard. While outlining this strategy at the UN in 2021, Prime Minister Modi highlighted the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes, protection of maritime environment and trade rights and collective action against the threat of terrorism.

A lot of work is being done in the Modi regime to strengthen maritime defence and create necessary infrastructure on the land to facilitate the Navy’s task of safeguarding coastal security in coordination with the security set up on the ground.

In a far-sighted policy approach, the Centre is investing in improving the lives of the families in coastal areas, particularly those of fishermen to get them to play their role in the wider coastal look-out network for the cause of security. A three-tier system of Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Police is in operation.

The Union Home Minister has in May last year laid the foundation stone of the National Academy of Coastal Policing at Dwarka in Gujarat.

Earlier, Prime Minister Modi spelt out the vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) to define India's leading role in the Indian Ocean.

In October 2022, the National Maritime Domain Awareness project was launched and 51 Nodal points of the Navy and Coast Guard have since been established as a part of the Coastal Surveillance Network.

A National Maritime Security Coordinator has been appointed under the National Security Advisor (NSA) to strengthen the coordination at the national level in the sphere of maritime defence and security.

It may be mentioned that 'defence' is protection against an open attack while 'security' is meant to safeguard the country against the covert offensive of the enemy. 26/11 remains a point of reference for how to prevent surreptitious attacks planned through the sea route.

What stands out in the strategy of the Modi government is that a much-needed integral approach to national defence, border management and internal security has been adopted on an understanding of the interlinks that joined them and the coordinated effort that was needed to sustain their constant advancement. This has been in evidence in the area of maritime defence more than elsewhere, for good reasons.

While the Indian Navy has been diligently safeguarding our marine borders, the Central Armed Police Forces including the Coastal Security Police Force operating under the Ministry of Home Affairs are entrusted with the task of securing the coastal areas.

Coastal states have been provided with a total of 120 Coastal Police stations and six Marine Police Operation Centres.

In September last, the Coast Guard conducted Operation 'Sajag' along the western coast involving 48 ships, customs, marine police, ports and the Indian Navy. It revalidated coastal security mechanisms and helped to raise the level of awareness among fishermen at sea.

Incidentally, some three lakh boats have already been registered and the colour coding process of fishermen's boats has been completed as part of the plan to create an integral security system on the marine front.

The defence strategy of India rests on self-dependence, bilateral or multilateral relationships based on mutual benefits relating to security and economic advancement, special attention to ASEAN and the South, measures to counter the hostile activity of the Sino-Pak axis particularly in the Indian Ocean, strategic friendship with the US in recognition of the need for the two largest democracies of the world to work together, without diluting the importance of India's bonds with Russia, and an independent stand on issues of global peace and human development. This has paid rich dividends. India has consistently denounced terrorism at all international forums and identified growing ‘radicalisation’ in the Islamic world as a global threat, especially to the democratic order.

The external threats to internal security have become deeper on account of the collaboration between China and Pakistan in carrying out covert operations on Indian soil, clandestine funding of narco-terrorism and resort to narrative building and 'influence warfare' by anti-India lobbies often in concert with civil society groups hostile to the present regime. After Kashmir, the border state of Punjab now needs close attention in view of the attempts being made - mostly outside of India - to revive the separatist Khalistan movement.

There is a new-found realisation that if the democratic state has to protect the nation and its people, the citizens also have to be aware of the dangers facing the country and be willing to contribute their mite to the safeguarding of national security.

Acts of terrorism, drug peddling and hate crimes occur where people live and logically therefore both information seekers and action takers - Intelligence and Police - have to go closer to the ground so that the gap between 'information' and 'action' is minimised. Also, channels for the security-related information flowing from the public to the concerned authorities have to be put in place. The Homeland Security in the US is said to have provided for this.

In the era of 'proxy wars' and 'covert' offensives, a developed sense of nationalism and willingness of conscientious people to act as the eyes and ears of the nation in the interest of internal security, would be of great help in keeping the nation safe.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)



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