India faces myriad security challenges both external and internal. Unlike any other country in the World, Indian security is marred by legacy issues that include unresolved boundary disputes, not coming to terms with the partition of the sub-continent, or culture of competition and challenge in case of one and unwillingness to accept India as a reckonable regional player in the case of the other, undermining Indian strategic space as it seeks to expand its political, economic and strategic influence.
This has resulted in constant friction with two of its nuclear-armed neighbors with whom India has fought wars; increasingly acting in collusion. There thus exists an omnipresent danger of regional strategic instability with potential for escalation threatening India’s territorial integrity and strategic cohesion.
India has a land border of over 15000 kilometers with seven countries, sections of which remain contested, or not formally demarcated even after nearly seven decades. At places, there is not even a mutually agreed line of control.
With eleven neighboring countries (including four across the seas), many of which share cross-border Diasporas with India, internal peace and external security are inextricably intertwined. Given a rising graph of cross-border terrorism over the past two decades, cooperation with neighbors on security is essential.
Threat from Bangladesh assumes serious dimensions since it became a base for northeast insurgent groups like ULFA and Naga factions. Of late, it has also been serving as a conduit for ISI sponsored infiltration of terrorists along India and Bangladesh’s porous border.
The impact of illegal migration from Bangladesh on India’s security can be identified through two indicators.
First, conflict over scarce resources, economic opportunities and cultural dominance ensues between the locals and migrants, along with the resultant political instability caused by the mobilisation of popular perception against the migrants by the elites to grab political power.
Second, the rule of law and integrity of the country are undermined by the illegal migrants engaged in illegal and anti-national activities, such as entering the country clandestinely, fraudulently acquiring identity cards, exercising voting rights in India despite being a Bangladeshi and resorting to transborder smuggling and other crimes.
The Bodo insurgency, which began as a reaction to the “Assamese domination” after the Assam Accord, and which continues to rage even after signing of two peace accords in 1993 and 2003, has periodically targeted Muslims, perceived as Bangladeshis, in lower Assam.
The violence against the Muslims, in particular, stems from their fear of being rendered a minority in their own area given the perceived rapid rise of Muslim population. Bodo militants also believe that Muslim settlers support illegal migrants who continue to arrive through the riverine areas and encroach upon land belonging to their community, thus justifying retaliation.
In Tripura, where the tribal community has been reduced to a minority because of the large-scale influx of Bengalis. The tribal community has been resisting the settlement of Bengalis from East Bengal/Pakistan, and later Bangladesh, in their land since independence.
Another outcome of the large-scale settlement of illegal migrants is that a number of mosques and madrasas have come up to cater to the needs of the migrant population in these areas. The construction of mosques and madrasas demonstrates the cultural and religious assertion by the illegal migrants who are overwhelmingly Muslims. The locals, especially the Hindus, believe that these mosques and madrasas, funded by money from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bangladesh, etc., propagate anti-Hindu and anti-India sentiments. It is believed that these activities are conducted by Jamaat-e-Islami members who clandestinely cross over from Bangladesh
These developments have created resentment against the illegal migrants among the local population, who feel that they are getting marginalised in their own land.
This also signifies that the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh is not going to die down and will continue to pose a challenge to the country’s internal security.
While there have been perceived trust deficit and security dilemma, both real and imagined, between India and China, particularly after 1962 war, it is seldom remembered that India and China enjoy a degree of camaraderie and strategic trust and have not indulged in war again.
The disintegration of the erstwhile USSR and the end of cold war in 1991, not only transformed the geopolitical spectrum but also removed the major obstacle in the Sino-Indian relations, which in turn gave fillip to strategic trust to Sino-Indian relations.
China appears to have become increasingly aggressive as it has steadily risen in power and as the influence of the West has progressively declined. It seems to have been spurred by the ineffectual response of the international community, particularly the United States, on the South China Sea discord.
China’s defence cooperation and its support to Pakistan for missile technology are perceived in India to be threatening. Even though India protests from time to time against the US military aid to Pakistan, it does not find that support as threatening as the Chinese cosiness with Pakistan.
The attempt by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to escalate tension in the trijunction of the India-China Middle Sector of the boundary at Doklam is a new development. It brings Bhutan into the boundary matrix between India and China. The Doklam border tension involves bilateral, trilateral and geopolitical facets.
Doklam is a fresh attempt by Beijing to exert pressure on India to reframe India-China relations which have not been the best under the current leaderships in the two countries.
Bhutan’s north-western region is close to Chumbi Valley and to the Tibetan region bordering the Indian state of Sikkim. A settlement between China and Bhutan in this area will have an obvious impact on Indian security. Chumbi Valley is located in the Yadong county of Tibetan Autonomous Region, which is geographically near the Siliguri corridor of northeast India.
If Siliguri corridor is blocked, whole northeast will be cutoff from India and that is a major concern and a security threat.
The internal security problems have become aggravated in recent times with Pakistan’s policy of cross border terrorism, along with its intense hostile anti-India propaganda designed to mislead and sway the loyalties of border population. The intensification of cross border terrorism, targeted to destabilize India, has thrown up new challenges for our border management policy.
The offensive agenda of Pakistan’s ISI to promote international terrorism and subvert India is expected to intensify. The J&K cauldron is expected to continue. Vigorous efforts are on to revive militancy in Punjab. Insurgent groups in different parts of the country are receiving support and encouragement. Illegal infiltration and smuggling of arms and explosives, narcotics and counterfeit currency are pressing problems.
Samjhauta Express is being used for gunrunning and drug trafficking. Similar arrangements are needed to ensure foolproof security checks, in respect of buses that ply between India and Pakistan.
The guarding of the coastal and creek areas of Gujarat pose extreme challenges due to the hostile terrain, inhospitable climatic conditions, hazardous nature of the sea and creek areas on this side of the border, the existence of about 400 sq. kms of mangrove swamp with interlacing intricate stretches of sub-creeks and deep inlets of varying dimensions and further complicated by the ever shifting sand bars. The resources presently available to the BSF, Police and the Customs are inadequate to meet these challenges in coastal and creek areas.
It is quite possible that Pakistan may use the Gujarat route to push Bangladeshi nationals to India.
The dynamic nature of the problems concerning management of borders is brought out by the manner in which the sensitivity of India-Nepal border has changed over a period of time. This border, which has been an open one, was once peaceful and trouble-free. However, with the increasing activities of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Nepal, the nature of the border has changed completely. These security concerns need to be addressed urgently.
Free movement across the Indo-Myanmar border has been the practice from times immemorial due to the ethnic and cultural similarity in the areas adjoining the border.
Illegal trade activities in a variety of contraband items flourish at Moreh on the Indo-Myanmar border.
The border areas on both sides of the Indo-Bhutan border do not have basic infrastructure such as communications, roads, health, education, drinking water facilities etc. These areas are often used as sanctuaries by the insurgent groups of the North East particularly the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
Settlements of Bangladeshis are coming up along either side of the Indo- Bhutan border. Many of them are reportedly seeking jobs and employment in the Bhutanese territory, in the garb of Indian citizens. This is another reason to closely monitor the Indo-Bhutan border.
India must seek to maintain independence of its foreign policy and security choices reflective of its civilizational ethos, while working in partnership with all friendly countries on issues of common interest.