Articles and Commentaries |
April 16, 2024

Securing the Nation Against Internal and External Threats

Written By: Aninda Dey

It’s been 10 years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed the stewardship of the world’s largest democracy. He accepted the daunting challenge of making a population of more than 140 crore feel safe and secure and maintaining peace inside the country and at its borders.

With a 15,106.7 km land border and 7,516.6 km coastline, India faces internal and external threats. The country has been grappling with domestic and transnational terrorism, insurgencies in the Northeast, left wing extremism (LWE), and the permanent threat from Pakistan and China. As threats persist, more concerted and decisive action is needed so that India can focus better on health, education, and development.

Internal threats

Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been the biggest internal security threat to India since the late 1980s. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, more than 15,000 civilians and around 7,000 security personnel have been killed by terrorists in J&K from 1988 to March 2024[1]. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s track record in tackling terrorism in J&K is better than that of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The number of terror attacks decreased by 68% from 4,117 in 2004-2014 to 1,313 from 2014 to March 2024.

Unlike the Manmohan Singh government’s soft approach to the festering problem, the Modi government’s tough stance against Pakistan, separatist organisations, and on overground workers sheltering terrorists, as well as the intensified cordon-and-search operations, and sharing of intelligence inputs on a real-time basis among security forces, are responsible for the change. In the last 10 years, more than 50 terrorists and 44 terrorist organisations have been banned under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act[2].

To root out terrorism in J&K completely, a three-pronged approach is needed. First, terrorist sympathisers, separatists, and overground workers must be ruthlessly targeted. Overground workers provide logistics, cash, and shelter to terrorists. In October 2021, the J&K Police arrested more than 900 overground workers of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Badr, and an offshoot of the LeT, The Resistance Front.

More assets of pro-Pakistan separatist organisations and their leaders must be attached. In December 2022, several properties of the banned Jamat-e-Islami worth around Rs 100 crore, including a house registered in the name of late Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were attached. People like Geelani, who brazenly spearheaded protests against India and supported Pakistan, should have been jailed long ago. Unless such leaders are jailed, they will continue to foment anti-India feelings and radicalise the Kashmiri youth. In his book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, ex-RAW chief AS Dulat described Geelani as the father of jihad in J&K.

New Delhi can’t control Islamabad’s financing of terrorism, but it should persuade global powers to put Pakistan back on the grey list of the America-controlled Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In 2021, Islamabad declared 26/11 co-perpetrator and LeT operative Sajid Mir ‘dead’. Shockingly, he was convicted by a Lahore court before the FATF plenary session in June 2022, and Pakistan was removed from the list after a few months in October.

Second, a massive intelligence network with information sharing between the Army, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), and police personnel operating in J&K is needed. The IB and RAW can augment their capabilities by taking tips from Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad, which excel in spying and targeting terrorists.

Intelligence gathering and tracking suspects also prevent attacks and the formation of terror outfits. A combination of open-source intelligence (OSINT), social media intelligence, financial intelligence, geospatial intelligence, human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), communications intelligence, electronic intelligence, imagery intelligence (IMINT), technical intelligence, and cyber or digital network intelligence will be effective in foiling terror plots[3].

India also needs to fully exploit the use of drones in its counter-terrorism strategy because they can be used for monitoring, surveillance, and targeting terrorist hideouts, terrorists, and suspects without endangering security forces. For example, an RQ-170 Sentinel continuously watched Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound before he was killed in 2011. Drones can track the movement of terrorists for a long time and provide topography details, especially in areas where HUMINT isn’t possible.

Third, developmental projects, employment schemes for the youth, more investment in the Union Territory (UT), counselling of radicalised and misguided youth, and rehabilitation of surrendered terrorists will provide a healing touch. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and joblessness among youth are the results of decades-long terrorism. Providing jobs will make the youth confident, ensure their future, and dissuade them from getting radicalised. According to government data, 7.4 lakh livelihood opportunities have been created since 2021-22, and 31,830 government vacancies have been filled since August 2019[4].

The government has already taken several measures to provide a livelihood, like Mission Youth, which aims to engage and empower youngsters in the 15-25 age group[5]. Gradually, the youth have realised the futility of joining terrorist outfits. As per police data, 199 youths joined militancy in 2018 (the highest in a decade), 126 in 2019, 167 in 2020, 125 in 2021, and 110 in 2022, but only 10 joined terror groups in 2023.

J&K needs both government and private investment to bolster its economy. The government should convince investors to invest more by providing better safety and security. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has claimed investments worth Rs 13,000—Rs 14,000 crore till 2021. By September 2023, investments worth Rs 26,000 crore were “on the ground,” and investments by 2025 were projected at Rs 75,000—Rs 80,000 crore[6]. In February 2024, Prime Minister Modi launched development projects worth Rs 32,000 crore in the education, railway, aviation, and road sectors.

While dealing with Left Wing Extremism (LWE), the UPA government under Dr. Manmohan Singh termed Naxals the “single biggest internal security challenge” to India. In the last 10 years, the NDA government has adopted a better strategy, focused on developing Naxal-hit states and increasing coordination between their police and the Centre. Home Ministry data shows that violence in 2014-23 decreased by 50%, fatalities by 66%, and deaths of security forces by 71%, compared to the UPA’s rule[7].

Chhattisgarh remains a challenge. From 2018 to 2022, 1,132 Maoist attacks were reported, killing 168 security personnel and 335 civilians, with the state accounting for more than 30% of the attacks and 70%-90% of deaths. In 2023, 25 security personnel and 32 civilians were killed by Maoists in the state. With the BJP back in power in Chhattisgarh, better police coordination and intelligence sharing between the Centre and state governments can incapacitate Naxals.

Scheduled Tribes (STs), comprising 30% of Chhattisgarh’s population, are an easy target of Naxals, who fuel their frustration about the lack of jobs, land reforms, proper rehabilitation and resettlement, empowerment, economic opportunities, developmental efforts, and corporate abuse and manipulate them into joining their ranks. While land acquisition for industrialisation is necessary, not making tribals stakeholders will increase the sense of deprivation and frustration. Land acquisition should be transparent and fair, followed by immediate rehabilitation, resettlement, and employment. Jobs will discourage youths from resorting to violence against the government. Besides, tribals living on forestland for years and earning a livelihood should be provided land rights, not uprooted for development.

Illiterate teenagers and youth are easily brainwashed by Maoist ideology and armed struggle. Establishing more Eklavya Model Residential Schools, which provide free education to ST children from class 6 to 12, will help counter Maoist propaganda, indoctrination, and mobilisation[8]. Besides, improving road and telecom connectivity will help not only tribals but also security forces in combating Naxals.

While a ruthless approach is necessary to combat LWE, the police should be sensitised on gender issues, particularly in dealing with women. Harsh interrogation methods against suspects will alienate them and drive them towards Naxals. Better intra-state and state-centre coordination and intelligence sharing, modernising the police, and setting up more camps in deep jungle areas are the only ways to break the back of the Naxals. Here, too, a combination of SIGINT, HUMINT and IMINT can play a critical role in tracking and hunting them down.

The Northeast, except for Manipur, has been relatively calm in the last few years. Violence in the Northeast has decreased by 73% from 11,121 incidents in 2004-2014 to 3,114 incidents in 2014-2023[9]. The number of security forces and civilians killed has decreased by 71% and 86%, respectively. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been removed from several districts of all the states in the region. The Act has been removed from Meghalaya and Tripura, 60% of Assam, 19 police stations in Manipur, and 15 police stations in Nagaland. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Act is in force in only three districts.

After bringing several insurgent groups to the negotiating table under the ‘Act East’, ‘Act Fast’, and ‘Act First’ mantras, the government signed agreements with Manipur’s United People’s Front and Kuki National Organisation, Tripura’s National Liberation Front, Assam’s Karbi Anglong groups, and others. However, it has been more than eight years since the Naga Peace Accord was announced in August 2015. Still, no deal has been signed despite several dialogues with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and the Working Committee of the Naga National Political Groups since 1997 and 2017, respectively. Before the situation gets out of control, renewed efforts to bring the various Naga factions and political groups to the table, iron out the kinks, and bring about permanent peace are necessary. While accepting the NSCN (I-M)’s demand for a separate flag and constitution for Nagas is unacceptable, dialogue is the only option to sign the accord.

Manipur’s volatility is the biggest hurdle to permanent peace in the Northeast. More than 200 people have been killed, 500 injured, and 60,000 displaced since the Meitei-Kuki clashes started in May 2023. Unless the Centre intervenes forcefully and brings the warring communities to negotiations, the situation could become more volatile with the Myanmar refugee problem. Blaming Meiteis or Kukis is pointless unless their problems are addressed and grievances redressed. Only a proactive role by the Centre, the chief minister, and representatives from both communities can end the violence.

Cyberattacks, like terrorism, can be launched from both inside and outside India. The highest number of state-sponsored cyberattacks in 2023 was against India at 13.7%, according to Singapore-based cybersecurity firm Cyfirma’s 2023 India Threat Landscape Report. Between 2021 and September 2023, cyberattacks increased by 278%, with IT services and BPO firms being the main targets. Cyberattacks against government agencies went up by 460%[10]. According to network, security, and privacy services portal Comparitech’s 2024 cyber safety report, India ranks sixth among 75 countries, with one being the least cyber-secure country[11].

Information was enunciated as the fifth dimension of warfare after land, sea, air, and space in 1995. Since the People’s Liberation Army is not battle-hardened like the Indian Army, having fought the last war in 1979, China will use asymmetrical tactics in a military confrontation with India. Cyberattacks form the most critical component of China’s asymmetrical warfare. Even Army Chief General Manoj Pande said recently that “disruptive technologies are transforming the character of modern wars and blunting the conventional combat ratios, which were the measure of the military’s strength and superiority in the past.”[12]

While India is cognisant of the threats it faces in the cyber, electromagnetic spectrum, and space warfare domains, much work needs to be done in these fields to negate the threats to its national security. Besides, the danger of non-state actors hacking government organisations and obtaining the personal details of citizens is another challenge. The Reserve Bank of India’s latest Financial Stability Report reveals that 13,20,106 cyberattacks were launched against the financial sector between January and October 2023[13].

External threats

Pakistan and China will continue to be permanent external threats, despite India reaching out to its hostile neighbours several times.

In Pakistan’s case, the line between internal and external threats is blurred as Islamabad continues its proxy war by exporting terrorists to destabilise India, especially J&K. Therefore, eliminating terrorism in J&K is more important to deal a body blow to Pakistan’s sinister designs, as it’s not in a position to fight another war with India due to its economic mess and the close India-United States ties. With foreign exchange reserves of merely USD 8 billion, an external debt of USD 125 billion, a growth forecast of 1.9%, and an expected inflation rate of 25% in FY2024, Pakistan can’t afford another war.[14]

India’s biggest threat is China, with its increasing territorial ambitions ranging from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. Though the chances of a fifth India-Pakistan war are remote in the short term, India needs to augment its military capabilities rapidly to counter the twin threats on its eastern and western borders.

The Modi government has increased its defence budget by more than 2.5 times, from Rs 2,29,000 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 6,21,540 crore in 2024-25 (the interim budget), with the highest amount allocated to the Ministry of Defence.[15] However, India should procure more arms and ammunition, other defence equipment, multirole fighter aircraft (MRFAs), a 5th-generation stealth fighter jet, armed drones, and additional nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) from top foreign companies and under the Make in India initiative as joint ventures at a faster pace.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has only 32 squadrons, against the sanctioned 42. Adding the order for four Tejas Mk 1A and six Tejas Mk2 squadrons and the plan to acquire six squadrons of the 5th-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and six 4.5-generation multi-role combat MRFA squadrons, a total of 22 squadrons are due for induction[16]. However, 15 squadrons would retire this decade, meaning only a net addition of seven squadrons (39), still short of 42, which won’t suffice in a two-front war. Though the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared AMCA’s design and development in March, the aircraft won’t be inducted before 2030[17]. The tentative deadline is too far considering that AMCA was scheduled for a test flight in 2024-25 and manufacturing by 2028-29. India can’t afford such delays, especially when China’s second 5th-generation aircraft, the Shenyang J-31, is under development and Pakistan plans to buy it[18].

Similarly, the procurement of 114 MRFAs has been delayed despite the IAF floating the request for interest in 2018. The acquisition of MRFAs shouldn’t be delayed when Dassault has an edge with the IAF operating two Rafale squadrons and the Navy opting for 26 Rafale-Ms (Marine) for INS Vikrant. The Rafale-Ms must be acquired quickly to replace the Navy’s aged MiG-29Ks, which shouldn’t operate until 2035 as planned. Besides, India is servicing and maintaining Rafales, which will do away with the evaluation and trials of other contenders.

The IAF also needs long-range strategic bombers, particularly with China having 120 H-6 bomber variants (conventional, nuclear, and reconnaissance) and developing the Xian H-20 subsonic, stealth, strategic bomber, expected to enter service in 2025. Strategic bombers play an important role in wars by striking deep inside enemy territory and destroying military installations and equipment.

India must also bolster the Navy’s deterrence and striking capability to ensure maritime security and seaborne trade, respond to emergencies, and counter China in the Indian Ocean Region. Under the cover of its Belt-Road-Initiative, China, which has the world’s largest navy, plans to build three more military bases after Djibouti, Africa, in the next two to five years—Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Bata, Equatorial Guinea; and Gwadar, Pakistan[19]. Therefore, two more aircraft carriers and additional SSNs, warships, and drones are urgently needed.

Four carrier battle groups will make sure that India’s western, eastern, and Andaman naval bases are guarded if the fourth aircraft carrier is under routine maintenance. China launched its third and most advanced carrier, Fujian, in June 2022 and plans to have two nuclear-powered carriers. The construction of a second indigenous carrier has already been delayed, with the Defence Acquisition Council yet to clear it. Therefore, the carrier won’t enter service before 2035. Besides, the initial plan of having a nuclear-powered 65,000-tonne carrier was jinxed due to budgetary concerns. Subsequently, the Navy had to settle for a 40,000-tonne carrier on the lines of the 45,000-tonne indigenous INS Vikrant. India’s other carrier, INS Vikramaditya, has a displacement of 44,570 tonnes.

In a war with China, Indian carriers will be pitted against the 80,000-tonne Fujian, 60,000-tonne and 66,000-tonne Liaoning Shandong. India needs heavy nuclear-powered carriers, which pack a bigger punch as they have more fighter/bomber jets, sensors, and weapons, unlimited range and endurance, don’t require frequent fuel replenishment, generate more electricity, and are floating airbases.

It’s an anomaly that India, given its no-first-use policy, doesn’t even have one SSN while China has six. Under Project-75 (India), conceived in 1997, 6 conventional attack submarines and 18 conventional submarines were supposed to be constructed by 2030. However, the project was cleared after 10 years in 2007 with no progress. The NDA government finally gave it a fresh ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ in February 2019, but it took another two years before the formal tender was issued.

India needs to opt for SSNs, which can remain completely submerged for years without detection. After the lease of INS Chakra and INS Chakra II ended, India is looking to acquire Chakra III, which Russia will develop under a deal signed in March 2019. The stated delivery time is 2025.

A country’s nuclear triad is incomplete without an SSBN, which can guarantee survivability in a nuclear conflict. India has only one SSBN, INS Arihant (S2), armed with K-15 short-range (750 km) SLBMs, which can hit only south Pakistan and no important targets in China. The 3,500-km intermediate-range SLBM K-4 has been tested but has not entered serial production. The second Arihant series SSBN, INS Arighat (S3), was launched in 2014 but hasn’t been commissioned. Though the third in the series, codenamed S4, is highly classified, UK-based Janes Defence Weekly reported that it was quietly launched at Visakhapatnam’s Ship Building Centre in November[20].

Similar procrastination and lack of urgency plagued the hunt for a robust infantry rifle for the last 13 years after the indigenously developed INSAS 5.56x45mm was declared operationally unfit over its sights and firing mechanism in 2010. The Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited, formed in 2019, to manufacture 671,000 AK-203 7.62x39mm rifles locally, has been delayed due to the Ukraine War. Consequently, the government approved the purchase of an additional 70,000 SIG Sauer SIG716 7.62×51mm rifles last December to meet the shortfall[21].

As the Indian Army is the largest user of small arms globally, issuing a world-class rifle with a standard calibre quickly should be prioritised. Internal tests, acceptance, and user trials took years before the INSAS was inducted. While the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) deserves a pat for producing the 7.62x51mm Ugram rifle in a record 100 days, tests and trials should be expedited to induct them quickly. Moreover, upgrading an operationally unfit INSAS to reduce costs and meet the shortfall is pointless. Besides, India must use a standard calibre in the 7.62 series. Producing 7.62x39mm (AK-203 and AK-47) and 7.62x51mm (SIG Sauer and Ugram) rounds in a war will be difficult.

India also urgently needs a light tank to counter the 33-tonne Chinese Type 15 tank (ZTQ-15), deployed on the Tibetan plateau during the 2020 eastern Ladakh standoff. The ZTQ-15 is highly agile, even on plateaus, and entered service way back in 2018. China conducted integrated and comprehensive air force and army drills involving the tank on the Qinghia-Tibet in 2020, considering the threat from Indian tanks and armoured vehicles.

The T-72, T-90, and indigenous Arjun tanks are too heavy to operate in mountainous terrain. India realised the urgency of a light tank during the Ladakh crisis. Yet the project was launched two years later, with development trials scheduled for April and May of this year[22]. Only the Russian Sprut-SDM1 meets India’s need for an amphibious 25-tonne tank, but a deal hasn’t been signed yet.

Make in India

The Atmanirbhar (self-reliance) Bharat Abhiyan, which aims to provide impetus to Make in India, has boosted self-reliance in defence. According to government data, the expenditure on defence procurement from foreign sources decreased from 46% of overall expenditure in 2018-19 to 36.7% in December 2022. On the other hand, defence exports jumped by 21 times from Rs 4,312 crore in the UPA era to Rs 88,319 crore in the last 10 years[23]. To reduce further dependency on imports and turn Make in India into a global success story, immediate reforms are needed.

First, India continued to be the world’s largest arms importer, accounting for 9.8% of total global sales, with 36% of imports from Russia in 2019-23[24]. Russian weapons comprise 60% of India’s military hardware, ranging from tanks and missiles to fighter jets and their spares. However, unforeseen events like the Ukraine War have affected the delivery of Russian weapons, like the joint production of the AK-203 rifle. In March 2023, the IAF said that Russia wouldn’t be able to deliver a “major” platform without naming it as India awaits two more S-400 Triumf air defence systems[25].

Reducing imports by making world-class defence equipment fast is the only way to sustain supply lines despite cataclysmic events. Therefore, more funds are needed for self-reliance. However, the DRDO’s allocation in the interim budget was increased to only Rs 23,855 crore from Rs 23,263 crore last year.

Second, long deadlines and delivery delays, which escalate costs, must be avoided. Delays can be dangerous in the event of an impending war where ramping up production is the only way to sustain supplies of arms and ammunition to the military. For instance, the delivery of 118 Arjun Mk 1As has been delayed after Germany couldn’t supply the MB 838 Ka-501 V10 engines. Later, DRDO decided to develop the indigenous Datran 1500 engine, which won’t be delivered for three years[26]. Similarly, the 55-tonne, all-terrain, and AI-enabled Future Ready Combat Vehicle, a replacement for the T-72, will be inducted only by 2030[27].

Third, more private sector companies should be allowed into defence, which will enhance the sector’s capability and competitiveness. India opened the sector to 100% domestic private sector participation in May 2001, but the share of private companies in total defence production of Rs 73,739 crore in 2023-24 was only 21.96%[28].

Exclusive public sector participation in manufacturing fighter jets, helicopters, submarines, and tanks is missing. On the other hand, American weapons giants Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics were the top five arms sellers in 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute[29].

Involving the private sector in strategic partnerships with DRDO will further enhance technology, innovation, capital, and efficiency. Once DRDO finalises the design, the private partner can design, develop, and manufacture the product, substantially reducing the organisation’s burden and preventing cost escalation and missed deadlines.


Author Brief Bio: Aninda Dey is a freelance journalist with more than two decades of experience and comments primarily on foreign affairs, defence, and terrorism.



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[26] gines-in-arjun-tanks-as-german-engines-getting-delayed-by-four-years/articleshow/107667794.cms?from=mdr




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