India's Security Challenges: Perspectives and Prospects

-Nancy Jetly, Senior Fellow, IDSA

 

The profound changes in the world wrought about by the end of the Cold War have made for a fundamental restructuring of international relations. The end of ideological rivalry provided an objective opportunity for evolving a better security environment. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty and fluidity all around, as the new global equilibrium gets in place. Two or three factors would deserve attention in this regard.

(i) The Cold War bipolar structure has been replaced by a "polycentric" world with the United States, Japan, China, the European Union and Russia emerging as the main partners in power.

(ii) Technology and economic power has moved to the forefront of international relations, emerging as a crucial factor in global realignments in the new setting.

The near symmetry in power capabilities and global reach between the two superpowers in a tightly bipolar world has given way to a certain disaggregation in the levels of power and capabilities among the new centres of power, given their uneven spread of techno-economic power, military capabilities and political influence. Even the United States, the most powerful nation today, has neither the will nor the capability to play a global role of the earlier order and magnitude. China, Japan, the European Union and Russia are in a process of defining their role in the new world order. Relationships between and among these centres of power are increasingly marked by elements of both engagement and containment.

(iii) Notwithstanding a broad shift from confrontation to conciliation at the global and regional levels, new points of pressures are unfolding themselves even as some old conflicts remain unresolved. For the developing countries, there is also evidence of new concerted pressures in economic, security and nuclear fields.

It is clear that there are manifold pressures emanating from the international environment which make for a complex and multilayered set of challenges and opportunities for India in the changed world order. India would have to respond to, if not anticipate, the new challenges and maximise its strategic political options, drawing essentially from its own power potential and bargaining leverages. This would at the least call for proactive strategies in terms of both restructuring old ties and forging new relationships at the regional and global levels.

II

India's security perspectives would inevitably be governed by the interplay of its domestic imperatives, regional balance of forces and the global challenges which impinge on its role and capabilities. India with its size, resource potential and strategic location is being increasingly seen as a regional influential poised on the threshold of emerging as a centre of power in the new international order. This is as much a recognition of its credible democratic functioning as the potential of its vast economic resources and political clout. India is a large multiplural society which has been able to successfully manage the challenges emanating from regional, linguistic and religious diversities without damaging its national cohesiveness. The remarkable resilience of its democratic functioning in a secular federal framework, despite some distortions, has continued to bely the scepticism of its worst critics. India's democracy remains fundamentally secure, underpinned as it is by an active judiciary, free media and a functioning and vigilant Opposition. India's economic development has also remained steady over the years. In the last couple of years, the Indian economy has registered an impressive growth rate of 7 per cent. The expansion and diversification of its industrial capacity have made important strides. Currently India ranks among the topmost industrialised nations of the world. It has the distinction of having the third largest pool of trained and scientific manpower in the world. Agricultural production has also shown substantial growth resulting in not only self-sufficiency in food grains but also reserves of impressive buffer stocks. Today with its burgeoning middle class, huge untapped markets for trade and industry, and large scale foreign investments, India has emerged as an economic power of some significance on the global scene. India has also built an impressive level defence capability. It has the fourth largest Army in the world with an impeccable professional record. It has a credible and self-reliant defence structure which has been built assiduously over the past three decades. India's missile development programme has also grown apace underlining its indigenous technological capabilities.

It is clear that India is slated to play an increasingly larger role in the coming decades. Its future as a credible power would, however, depend as much on its ability to manage the present stage of transition as on the projection of its strategic perspectives and policy options for the future. Two or three points deserve mention in this regard. First, India's status and power projections remain essentially contingent on its national security in terms of political stability, economic development and military strength. Second, although the asymmetrical power structure in South Asia ensures India's centrality, its regional power and influence tends to get circumscribed by the neighbouring countries' sustained pressure to counter its pre-eminence. In particular, Pakistan's unceasing search for parity with India makes for a deep-rooted strategic dissonance in the region which effectively reduces its capacity to shape or influence events in its neighbourhood. Third, continued involvement of external powers in the region remains an integral part of South Asian geo-political realities. The end of the Cold War has weakened the inevitable link up between regional conflict and Great Power rivalry. However, the inability of the states of the region to evolve a credible bilateral and regional framework for cooperation would continue to play an important role in reinforcing the pattern of external involvement--primarily in pursuance of their own stategic interests--in the region. This is bound to impinge on India's security perspectives, both short-term and long-term.

III

An overarching framework of India's national security has to take cognisance of military and non-military dimensions in terms of both external threats and internal challenges to its territorial integrity and national unity. Threats to a nation emanate as much from external aggression as from internal strife but at times internal factors can erode national security more critically than any external danger. National power based on political stability, societal cohesion and economic development would thus remain central to the future of India's national security.

India is passing though a crucial period of its post-independence history. Successively fragile coalition governments at both the central and state levels are affecting India's political, social and economic stability at a time when it is facing major challenges to its unity and integrity as a nation. The Indian political system is being subjected to manifold pressures from the progressive collapse of political and public institutions; incipient erosion of democratic norms; social unrest and corruption underlining a growing malaise in Indian polity. Increasing demands for power by more and more socio-economic groups, on the one hand, and limited resources and capabilities for redistribution of wealth, on the other, make for growing political and social turmoil. Widening economic disparities and growing rate of unemployment pose a major challenge for India's economic development notwithstanding a credible economic performance. It is estimated that by the year 2000, the total number of people living below the poverty line will more than the entire Indian population at the time of independence.

India's growing inability to manage political and economic challenges on the domestic front is a cause of deep concern. Although India's national integrity remains fundamentally secure, pressures from fissiparous cleavages in growing challenges of communalism and religious fanaticism have acquired disturbing dimensions. Political manipulation of religious sentiments for narrow political ends has long-term implications for the future of India's secular federal framework. The incipient threats to Indian federal polity in many parts of the country are putting growing strains on the political structure. Although India has been so far able to manage these challenges with a certain skill and patience, there is growing anxiety about the pressures getting intensified at a time when there is a steady erosion in the state's role in resolving conflict and bringing about social transformation. This is accompanied by a decline in the mediating role of the governing elite and party system. Decline in the state's order and authority has led to greater violence outside the established political channels, compounding the general law and order situation.

Continuing civil strife and incipient secessionism poses a major problem for India's national security. The north-east continues to be characterised by an uneasy peace. Although there is no full scale armed insurrection for secessionism as resorted to by the Nagas and Mizos in the Sixties, the problem of insurgency in Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland continues. Assam which had settled to a period of normal political functioning after the volatile agitation on the influx of foreign nationals in the early Eighties, is once again going although the fire of violence perpetrated by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) which is committed to armed struggle for the formation of a sovereign "ASOM". Punjab went through the unfortunate agony of sustained armed violence for over a decade before normal political processes were restored after heavy-handed crushing of Khalistan terrorists. The people of the state have, however, paid a heavy price for the then government's short-sighted policies for narrow political ends which changed what was essentially a party agitation to a Sikh movement encompassing divergent orientation and rationales. This has important lessons for the future of Indian federal polity which can only be ignored at one's own peril.

The situation in Kashmir remains a cause for deep and continuing concern. Mishandling of a brewing political crisis brought about by the state government's dismal performance, marked by rampant corruption and inefficiency, led to an explosive situation in the sensitive valley. The eruption of violence in 1990 served to underline the appalling failure of the intelligence agencies and the complete isolation of the political and administrative machinery from the ground realities. In the event, alienation of large sections of the civil population and their growing sympathy for the militants left little meeting ground between the people and the government. The recent restoration of political processes in the state following Parliamentary and Assembly elections and the increased weariness of the people with economic dislocation and high-handed intrusion of outside militants is leading to a slow change in the equation of forces on the ground. But the overall situation remains precarious. The process of rebuilding the sundered economic and political fabric in the state and winning over the confidence of its people for any worthwhile and lasting solution continues to remain in uphill task. There is no gainsaying that the problems facing Indian polity are enormous as evidenced by the persistence of insurgency and slow entrenchment of terrorism in several parts of the country. If left unresolved, these could critically jeopardise India's national sovereignty and territorial integrity from within.

It is self-evident that the foremost task for India is to overcome the challenge to its nation building and national security. India's real autonomy in working out its destiny as an independent centre of power would lie in its internal strength and cohesion. There is no getting away from the urgent task of upholding its unity and integrity as a nation state through a credible framework of secular federal democracy. The need for reinvigorating its democratic functioning and strengthening the role and efficiency of the state remains imperative in this regard. India would also have make sustained efforts to vitalise its economy through optimisation of its vast resources, manpower and technical knowhow. The need for redefining the role of the state in terms of eradication of poverty and greater economic equity remains self-evident. At the same time, India would have to raise itself to a new level of efficiency and competitiveness to acquire necessary leverages to stand up to growing global pressures and to hold its own in a friendly competitive world.

India can also not afford to drop its guard on building an adequate defence capability to counter any vulnerabilities which can be manipulated by external forces. There is some concern regarding growing deficiencies in India's conventional capability due to reduced defence expenditure in recent years. The need for adequate defence expenditure and defence allocation, constant modernisation and updating of its defence acquisitions for its defence preparedness remains imperative in this regard. A credible defence capability would provide an effective guarantee for maintaining its territorial integrity in the face of both external aggression and also externally engineered internal subversion that has emerged as a primary threat in recent years.

In the final analysis, it is only a politically stable, economically prosperous and militarily strong India which can seek to play its legitimate role in the world community, commensurate with its size and vast power potential.

IV

Issues of regional peace and stability continue to loom large on India's strategic horizon. South Asia is today on the threshold of a new era of democratisation as the process of evolving democratic structure is under way in almost all the countries of the region. The peaceful electoral transfer of power in Pakistan four times in a brief span of nine years reflects a growing commitment to democratic norms in that country. Bangladesh is firmly back on the track of democratic functioning after a long paralytic spell of negative agitational politics. Notwithstanding ups and downs, Nepal also continues to manage its democratic experiment credibly. At the same time, there are vested and deeply entrenched authoritarian interests in all these states, particularly the ones which have been under military rule for long years. For instance, the continued dominance of bureaucratic military oligarchy in the political set-up in Pakistan makes for a fundamental dysjunctive in its policy. Given the fragile democratic institutions in all these countries, the democratic process itself is releasing new pressures. It is thus that the domestic environment in South Asia continues to remain generally characterised by political unrest and regime instability.

Pressures from ethno-sectarian conflicts and religious fundamentalism are also rising in all countries of South Asia. Pakistan is sitting atop an ethnic cauldron as pressures simmer, threatening to tear apart the fabric of Islamic identity from below. The challenge in Sindh underscores the disturbing dimensions of large scale violence between ethnic groups. The continued Punjabi domination in the power structure spells a certain uncertainty for the future of Pakistani federal polity. Running feuds between Shias and Sunnis in various parts of Pakistan have become a common feature on the Pakistani scene. Sri Lanka remains mired in prolonged ethnic conflict as the continued intransigence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) makes for a virtual civil war in the strife-torn island. Sinhalese resistance to grant of effective and substantive devolution power to the Tamils only queers the pitch of ethnic politics in the multi-ethnic society of Sri Lanka. Even Bangladesh which has a relatively homogeneous society is facing problems in overcoming difficulties in integrating its small tribal minority. The likelihood of the region remaining in a state of crisis due to rising scale of political and social discontent is thus going to be a part of South Asian realities for quite some time. This not only poses a threat to state structures within these countries but also has an adverse impact on the matrix of inter-state relationships in the region.

The overlap of a large number of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups across essentially porous borders in South Asia makes for a cross-border spill-over movement of refugees, guns and drugs which generates inter-state tensions. The steady movement of refugees, following prolonged domestic conflict in the countries of origin, has emerged as a multi-dimensional problem which affects regional security. Refugees who tend to settle down in the host countries, given the intractable nature of ethnic conflict, put an intolerable burden on the demographic, financial and social sectors which has long-term implications for national security of the host country. Pakistan is still reeling under the impact of 3.5 million Afghan refugees who sought refuge following the Afghanistan crisis in the Eighties. Thousands of refugees are living in camps in Nepal as a result of ethnic conflict in Bhutan. Bangladesh has also had to cope with the Rohingyyas fleeing from Myanmar.

For India particularly, which has been the host to the largest inflow of refugees with practically no outflow, the magnitude and frequency of refugee movement has been a vexing problem. This has particularly grave implications for the social, economic and political stability of the sensitive north-east. The presence of a large number of Chakmas in Tripura is intensifying tensions among the local inhabitants who are resenting encroachment on limited jobs and resources and scarce land. Thousands of Sri Lankans who sought refuge in Tamil Nadu in the Eighties are continuing to stay on, creating pressures with the attendant problem of anti-social and criminal activities. Induction of arms and anarchy with refugees is becoming a growing political liability. Internecine conflict among militant refugees groups and their continued links with trans-border militant groups intensifies social unrest and level of violence with grave implications for the future of civil society in these regions.

Growing linkages between drug trafficking and organised violence and the magnitude of the proliferation of small arms are also becoming major sources of instability in the region. In India there is growing concern regarding inter-state linkages between militant organisations, on the one hand, and between states and militant organisations on the other, adding to the complexity of secessionist movements. The crucial link-up between hostile external forces and domestic forces of political subversion poses a serious challenge to India's national security by giving impetus to secessionist forces. Terrorism in Kashmir since the Nineties, and earlier in Punjab in the Eighties, has acquired disturbing proportions with Pakistan's unabashed manipulation and support through planning and coordination, training of militants, and unlimited supply of arms and finances. The supply of sophisticated weaponry in particular--including rockets and explosive devices--has undeniably helped to raise the level of conflict to a new high. By some accounts, the number of men lost in combatting the low intensity conflict in the sensitive state of Kashmir has outstripped the number of casualties in all the full scale Indo-Pak Wars put together. It may be mentioned here that internal political dynamics in Pakistan would continue to make for increasing domestic compulsions to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir, both in terms of diverting attention from pressing domestic problems as well as the inherent stakes of the military establishment in retaining the primacy of calling the shots in Pakistan. In the strategic north-east ringed as it is by Myanmar, China and Bangladesh, incipient secessionism remains vulnerable to external manipulation. Although China which had offered arms and sanctuaries in the Sixties is no longer doing so, its unchanged stand on recognising the grant of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh and its military presence in Myanmar underscores its potential to foment trouble at a time of its own choosing. Bangladesh's involvement--albeit low key--is well-documented. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is also carrying out anti-India activities from Nepal and Bangladesh adding to India's security concerns in view of persistently unsettled conditions in the north-east. Today the growing incidence of insurgency, fomented and abetted by hostile external forces has in some way emerged as a major problem for India's security establishment. The statement of the former Chief of Army, terming the low-intensity conflict as the foremost challenge for India's national security only serves to underline the growing intensity of the problem.

Proliferation of small arms in the region is yet another disturbing dimension of cross-border terrorism. The inflow of weapons is a direct fall-out of the Afghan conflict and the siphoning of major chunks of arms sent by the US, China and Saudi Arabia for onward transmission to the Afghan Mujahideen. It bears pointing out that "small" arms is a mere euphemism for progressively more sophisticated and lethal weapons. The weapons circulating in the region include automatic rifles, machine guns as also landmines, sophisticated explosive devices, and communication systems. Even more worrisome in the fact that these lethal devices are finding their way to non-state actors and terrorist groups. This has significantly altered the level of internal conflict in India's troubled regions, making for deep concern for the inevitably long-drawn and prolonged conflict in sensitive border states with major implications for the deployment and engagement of security forces.

Unwholesome linkages between the drug barons and arms dealers comprise yet another cause for concern. The enormous funds generated by drug sales are being increasingly used to finance purchase of sophisticated weaponry by terrorist groups in South Asia. South Asia is abutted by two of the largest drug producing areas on its western and eastern flanks. The growth of narcotics trade has been exponential in Pakistan, with the presence of a reported 1.5 to 2 billion heroin addicts. Infiltration of drug money into the Pakistan economy and political system is now well documented. There are also growing reports of significant penetration by the narcotics network in Pakistan's law enforcement agencies and military intelligence. The widespread Kalashnikov culture in Pakistan is a function of the mutually supportive phenomenon of drugs and weapons. Vast quantities of these arms have found their way to Punjab and Kashmir. These weapons have also been used to create internal unrest in urban centres as evident by the vicious bomb blasts in Bombay in 1993. India is also fast emerging as a transit route for the narcotics trade, given its strategic location between two major narcotics producing areas. Drugs from Pakistan and Myanmar are being transmited from India for onward transmission to European markets. It is no mere coincidence that the most critical challenges of insurgency in India are located in the sensitive border states in the north-west and north-east which adjoin the drug generating regions. More important, the growth of a flourishing criminal underworld underpinned by a nexus between illegal traders, drug peddlars, and gun dealers in tandem with internal security forces and law enforcement agencies is a cause for increasing concern. The enormous toll in human and economic terms as a consequence of mindless violence and narco-terrorism getting entrenched in civil society has implications which have yet to be comprehended fully.

The complexity of these transnational problems defies strictly national solutions. The urgency for building bilateral cooperative relationships and promoting a coordinated regional perspective on these critical developments which are cutting across the sanctity of national borders, remains, if anything, self-evident. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Conventions on curbing drug trafficking and terrorism in the region are important steps forward in evolving suitable regional mechanisms to tackle the twin menace. The conventions, however, remain presently at odds with the ground realities. The political push to add substance to declarations of intent obviously awaits a qualitative improvement in the political climate in South Asia. Till such time, the challenges of narco-terrorism would call for sustained vigilance on India's part to counter the insidious threat to its national security.

IV

South Asia has been generally characterised by a great deal of political and strategic complexity. To understand the complex South Asian phenomenon, one or two factors deserve special attention. First, India with its undeniably greater power potential and centrality looms large on the South Asian scene. Second, the legacy of common civilisational heritage has lent a sharper edge to neighbouring countries' sensitivities regarding their national identity in a clearly uneven setting. India with its looming presence and power potential is often projected as a core threat by these countries.

India's relations with practically all its neighbours have been strained over a whole range of issues be they of trade, or water sharing or migration or ethnic sensitivities. At the same time, there have been no even patterns of relationships in the region. India's relations with Bhutan and Maldives have been generally smooth and rancour-free. India's relations with Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have witnessed significant ups and downs over the years but have never been allowed to dip to an unmanageable low. Indo-Bangladesh relations which had become extremely strained over the Farakka issue and the Tin Bigha controversy have witnessed a dramatic improvement with the signing of the historic agreement on sharing of Ganga waters. India and Nepal have also been able to put the unfortunate events of the Eighties behind them. Today they are set for a qualitatively improved relationship with closer economic ties and better political understanding. The signing of the Mahakali Treaty and grant of overland transit route for its trade with Bangladesh by India underlines the positive shift. The Indo-Sri Lankan relationship today is a far cry from the palpable antagonism of the Eighties.

However, the Indo-Pak relationship has been characterised by a virtually unbroken record of sustained hostility. Indo-Pak discord which to some extent has been rooted in the bitter legacy of partition became more sharp with the conflicting national interests and ideologies of the two states. Pakistan's inability to work out a viable form of nationalism and its eternal quest for achieving parity with its larger neighbour remains at the core of Pakistan's hostility towards India. The three Indo-Pak Wars--the only intra-regional wars in South Asia--were all motivated by Pakistan's desire to alter the status quo. Pakistan's military relationship with the United States in the Fifties was also directed to counter-balance India and erode its prominence in the region. This not only brought Cold War politics to the region, irretrievably puncturing the area of peace that Nehru had sought to build, but also considerably aggravated India's security concerns. Pakistan's continued overtures to external powers, particularly the United States and China, for diplomatic backing and augmentation of defence capabilities remains directed towards eroding India's pre-eminence and power. It is not necessary here to go into the details of unresolved issues between India and Pakistan except to mention that Indo-Pak relations have remained lockjammed over a wide range of issues--Kashmir, Siachin, the Afghanistan crisis and the nuclear issue. For the past five decades, Kashmir has, however, remained the central and overriding concern for Pakistan. Pakistan sees Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of partition which must be resolved on the basis of the UN Resolutions which have long been overtaken by the realities on the ground. India has made it clear that Kashmir is an integral part on which it can countenance no compromise. This is so not only for obvious strategic considerations but also because it would deal a blow to India's secular framework and open the floodgate to demands for separation. India, however, remains willing to discuss Kashmir and all other outstanding issues on the basis of the Simla Agreement which expressly enjoins bilateralism and non-recourse to force by both countries which is not what is on the Pakistani mind.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's continued support--money, training and sophisticated weaponry--to secessionists in Kashmir makes for grave tensions for India. This is not to underestimate the urgent need for India to take steps to put its own house in order but to point out that Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir represents a direct and immediate threat to India's security. It is also important to bear in mind that Pakistan has never given up the option of going to war with India to get back Kashmir. This has its own implications for India's security planning notwithstanding a growing recognition in both countries that the realities of a crumbling economy and sustained international pressure would militate against a full-fledged war. The world opinion has also decisively veered towards a peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem, with both the United States and China recognising the inevitability of a bilateral negotiated settlement. There is also a section of opinion which considers nuclear deterrence itself as a stabilising factor in Indo-Pak relations. Nevertheless, Pakistan's declared nuclear capability makes for India's heightened security concern, given Pakistan's less than peaceful intentions towards India. There is no gainsaying that India is faced with Pakistan's nuclear challenges at a time when the absence of a credible Russian nuclear guarantee in the post-Cold War world makes it more vulnerable than at any time before. This also aggravates the existing pressures emanating from Chinese nuclear might and United States' insidious nuclear presence in the region. Although India has made it abundantly clear that it has the capability to respond effectively to any nuclear misadventure by Pakistan, India's security perspectives would have to reckon with a nuclearised subcontinent in all its future calculations. It also needs to be borne in mind that while the Indo-Pak Agreement on not attacking each other's nuclear facilities is a positive step foward in confidence-building, this or any other such confidence-building measure would remain essentially meaningless unless simultaneous exploration is made of the ways and means to resolve the underlying problems between India and Pakistan.

It is thus that the recent resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue at the Foreign Secretary level, after a long period of tense silence, is a welcome development for the future of Indo-Pak relations. However, even as New Delhi's call for initiating a qualitatively new chapter of amity underlines its sincere desire for a more forward looking and constructive approach, Pakistan's usual style of blowing hot and cold and its recent efforts to militarily activate the ceasefire line do not at present give much cause for optimism for Pakistan's similar response. There is, however, no denying that it is in India's long-term interests to reduce hostility with its important South Asian neighbour. This would at the least call for proactive strategies to build greater trust and cooperation with Pakistan in a framework of mutual goodwill.

India's long-term security hinges perhaps in a larger measure on the future of Sino-Indian relations. It is, therefore, in India's abiding interest to work for peaceful and cooperative relations with its most powerful neighbour with whom it shares a long disputed border. A stalemate in Sino-Indian relations during the Sixties and Seventies only served to limit India's diplomatic manoeuvrability and potential role in the region.

Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988 marked a significant breakthrough in thawing the stalemate between the two countries. The agreement signed during the visit on maintaining peace and tranquillity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), pending a final solution of the border dispute, was a momentous step forward in normalisation of ties between the two neighbours. Re-emphasis on Panchsheel and the decision to initiate confidence-building measures to reduce tensions on the borders underlined a new forward looking approach on the part of both countries. The formation of a joint Working Group at the level of Ministers to carry forward negotiations on the boundary question reflected the new political thrust at the highest level. The process of normalisation has been since carried foward by a number of steps. Agreements have been signed to re-establish the Consulate General in Shanghai and Bombay and to resume border trade across specified points along the Tibet border. A set of confidence-building measures have been set in motion: agreeing on joint verification of the LAC, meetings between the local commanders, mutually agreed pull-back of troops from forward areas and prevention of aerial violations. These measures have not only helped to effectively defuse tensions on the borders but have also considerably eased India's defence burdens. More important, for the first time since the Sixties, India does not have to reckon with the nightmarish prospects of a two-war front with China and Pakistan.

At the same time, India can ill afford to have a let up in its defence preparedness to meet the long-term Chinese challenge. Although China would be hard put to challenge India a la 1992 because of changed correlation of forces on the ground, there is no underestimating the challenge of China's emergence as a formidable power in conventional as well as nuclear capabilities which has resulted in a vast power gap between the two countries. China's defence modernisation is continuing to move apace. China also continues to be engaged in augmenting its nuclear arsenal as its launching of inter-continental ballistic missiles and underground nuclear tests amply underline. Notwithstanding China's foreswearing of "first use," India can hardly ignore the implications of a total nuclear asymmetry with China. China's major military build up in Tibet--reportedly deploying ballistic missiles of medium and intermediate range--makes for long-term strategic concerns for India's security.

It may be pertinent to note here that China's remarkably growing economy, which has received additional boost with the reversion of Hong Kong in July 1997 also gives it a definite leverage in international affairs as underlined by its manoeuvrability in its relations with the US. It has been in recent years showing greater willingness to assert its power in pursuance of its interests in the adjacent regions. China's flexing of muscles in the South China Sea and its increasing assertiveness vis-a-vis Taiwan illustrate this. Although at present China has great stakes in not upsetting its carefully structured political and economic equilibrium or aggravating tensions in its neighbourhood, given its growing economic and military power there would be continuing uncertainty regarding its future moves and projections.

In recent years, more than posing a direct military threat, China continues to represent a challenge to India's role in South Asia. China has, of course, visibly refrained from engaging in anti-Indian rhetoric in terms of its relations with its neighbours. It has also apparently softened its stand on Kashmir, urging Pakistan to virtually shelve the issue while working for improvement of relations with India in other areas. At the same time, it has remained committed to strengthening its political relations with all of India's neighbours. It continues to sell arms to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma which tends to hem India in a subtle way. In particular, its politico-strategic collaboration with Pakistan shows no appreciable change. China's help to Pakistan in developing its nuclear weapon capability is well-documented. Its recent supply of ring magnets and M-11 missiles has disturbing implications for India, seeking to threaten as it does the present balance of power in the region. China's supply of arms worth 1.6 billion dollars to Burma and its help in construction of naval and electronics facilities, and modernisation of its naval bases are also of concern to India in its strategic north-east and the adjacent seas.

China has, of course, come a long way since the Sixties in its national perspectives and world view, engaged as it is in consolidating its economic development, promoting regional peace and establishing a "just" new world order. This has led to a growing convergence of views with India which remains committed to world peace and a just and equitable world order. They have mutually shared perceptions on the need to preserve national territorial integrity and combatting challenges of fundamentalism, ethnic separatism and cross-border terrorism. There is also a broad understanding between the two countries on global trade issues and the pressures emanating from the industrialised world on human rights and good governance. All this augurs well for a more relaxed and cooperative relationship between India and China. It would, however, need to be clearly borne in mind for India's long-term projections that relations between the two Asian giants are bound to be marked by undercurrents of competition and contest, inherent in the logic of geo-political proximity and national rivalry. It also needs to be borne in mind that the border question has been shelved but not resolved. India has vital stakes in consolidating the process of normalisation with China but as long as the dynamics of military competition remains unchanged, a durable framework of Sino-Indian friendship would have to be underpinned by an overall balance of strength and a clear recognition of their mutual power status and stakes in the region.

It is clear from the foregoing that India has an abiding stake in peace and stability in its neighbourhood for its long-term security. India is going through a phase of rapid economic transformation and is poised to play a significant role in the global stage in the coming century. There is no gainsaying that India's projection on the world scene would depend in no small measure on its effective and constructive neighbourhood diplomacy. This would at the least call for evolving a framework of cooperative security in its neighbourhood. This would essentially mean striving to reduce tensions with China and Pakistan, its two powerful neighbours, without compromising on its core national strategic interests. This is so not only because they separately and together constitute a long-term threat to its security but also because stable peace in this region hinges on India's friendly ties with these two countries. India's recent agreement with China offers ground for finding a viable basis of confidence on which to build cooperative relationships. India's offer of several confidence-building measures to Pakistan is also a step in the same direction. These include the agreement on prohibition of nuclear attack on population centres and economic targets; the agreement on "no first use" of nuclear weapons; and upgrading of communication links between DGMO of both sides. In some ways, the Simla Agreement itself provides for an effective mechanism for confidence-building between the two nations to build durable peace in the subcontinent. Sustained efforts to initiate new confidence-building measures and strengthen the existing mechanisms would remain imperative for building a credible framework of cooperative security in the region.

India would also need to take a lead in setting the tone for a framework of relations with its smaller neighbours. New Delhi is today committed to evolve a fresh perspective on its relations with its neighbours in a framework of positive asymmetry. There is no doubt that in the short run, anti-Indian rhetoric would continue to be manipulated at will by these countries, depending on their domestic compulsions, but in the long run, deft handling of the neighbours with flexibility and sensitivity is bound to lead to a more relaxed political environment. This itself would lend a great credibility to India's role as a regional influential.

Peace and development in the region is in the long term a sine qua non for India's long-term security perspectives in South Asia which is facing staggering problems of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and under-development. The biggest challenge to regional peace and security emanates from its poverty and the under-utilisation of its vast resources to address the socio-economic needs of its teeming millions. Pressures of endemic poverty and population explosion are becoming critical in the region. South Asia has sunk to the bottom rung in terms of the number of its people living below the line of poverty. SAARC provides an effective regional institutional arrangement for South Asia to optimise its regional resources and capabilities to promote the welfare of its peoples and a cooperative framework for the socio-economic development of the entire region. India as the largest South Asian power has a special responsibility to give a visible push to SAARC and invest in policies which are informed by a larger and long-term vision of a cooperative and stable South Asia.

VI

An important challenge to India's security lies in the unfolding security environment in its adjacent neighbourhood which has a vital bearing on its geo-political interests. The volatile situation in Afghanistan is of major concern to India. Afghanistan seems set to witness a fierce and long drawn struggle among the main contenders for power which, if unresolved, will lead to grave destabilisation in the trouble-torn country. Although India does not share any borders with Afghanistan, it has fundamental geo-political stakes in the unfolding events there which can be detrimental to its own long-term security interests in the region. India, therefore, has a major stake in any outcome of the protracted Afghanistan crisis. India rightly views any fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan as an insidious threat to its own secularism as well as a potentially destabilising factor in the region. An important dimension of Indian policy is the inevitable antagonism of such a regime to India which has traditionally enjoyed close links with Afghanistan based on a shared perception of regional interests. The possible spillover of a Taliban style fundamentalist regime, in terms of impact of ideology, violence and narco-terrorism, into Kashmir makes for deep concern for India's internal security. India has, therefore, a stake in seeing the evolution of a broad based government in Afghanistan which takes care of the legitimate interests of all major groups to enable it to emerge as a stable and non- fundamentalist nation. It is in this context that India is keeping contacts with major groups within Afghanistan and supporting all broad regional initiatives from outside to solve the problem. A growing understanding with Iran and other likeminded countries is emerging as an important dimension of India's policy not only towards Afghanistan but also the politically sensitive Central Asia.

Of late, Central Asia has emerged as an area of major concern for India in view of India's long-term interest in this strategic area. This is because the situation in the region which continues to be fluid because of political instability and challenges of Islamic fundamentalism has wider implications for India's own vicinity. Central Asia has also emerged as a major strategic region in view of its vast untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and other precious resources. This has made the region a focus of sharp interest and struggle among most major powers, notably the United States, Russia, China, Iran and Turkey, who want to exploit the tremendous economic potential of the area. Although India can do little to influence the interplay of Great Power rivalry in the region, it has a stake in deepening and broadening its own interaction with the region. This would call for a more energised policy in building upon existing economic and cultural ties with the Central Asian countries making for its reinforced presence in this vital area. India is already engaged in an exercise of exploring the avenues for extending support in the field of infrastructure and technology. India has to continue to take into account in its larger security perspectives the region's great strategic, economic and political importance in terms of its energy reserves, strategic location and emerging political dynamics that are attracting wide attention and will have major implications for this whole region.

India also has vital interests in the emerging political and strategic dynamics in the Indian Ocean region. This is so because of its vital need for uninterrupted energy supplies and maritime trade through its strategic waterways. India is vitally interested in keeping the major sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean free for the movement of substantial portion of its trade, particularly in terms of access to vital oil supplies. Its objections to superpower presence in the Indian Ocean in the Cold War days was also a function of its concerns over escalation of tensions in its vital strategic vicinity. India's positive role in the newly formed Indian Ocean Rim Community also underlines its desire to evolve a cooperative framework of relations among the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean without undue interference of outside powers.

India's demand for oil supplies is slated to grow very steeply in the coming decades. Till such time that Central Asian vast reserves are fully exploited, the Persian Gulf which is currently accounting for 60 per cent of world's energy resources, would hold the key to global energy security. The potential of the South China Sea remains as yet largely untapped. West Asia and the Persian Gulf in particular would thus continue to remain a region of great strategic concern for all major powers, including some of the erstwhile self-sufficient countries like Russia, China and Indonesia whose reserves are getting fast depleted. Given India's strategic location to the area, India's has abiding interests in long-term stability and peace in the area because any potential destabilisation or conflict would lead to insecurity in India's strategic neighbourhood.

VII

Given the external powers' continued quest for power and influence in the South Asian region, the need for diversification of strategic political options remains imperative for India as there is also evidence of new pressures in economic, security and nuclear fields. This calls for both restructuring the old ties and forging new relationships. India's policy towards the United States, Russia and China would have to be thus increasingly informed by the changing needs of national security and economic development as also the logic of its own role in the region.

Strategic and geo-political considerations had been critical for Indo-Soviet ties in the Cold War period. But it was essentially the mutuality of interests that sustained those ties lending them a certain autonomous structure, irrespective of extraneous inputs. Mutual convergence between the two countries rested on the basic premise of Soviet endorsement of India's pre-eminence in the region. The Soviet support was critical for India in coping with its problems with both Pakistan and China, singly and together. More important, it helped India to build a credible and self-sufficient defence structure at a time when there was visible reluctance from the West to do so. In the post-Cold War world, India and Russia have been able to credibly rework their relationship despite the initial hitches in the transitional phase in a qualitatively altered framework. Although there has been some reduction in the volume of trade and economic interaction between the two countries, the question of repayment of loan and currency adjustment has been settled to mutual satisfaction. The new treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries is a reaffirmation of the abiding mutuality of the interests between them. India and Russia would continue to have a convergence of interests in the developments in their proximate regions--Afghanistan and Central Asia--where both have vital geo-political interests in promoting peace and stability. There is also mutuality of interest on the need of averting internal destabilisation from ethnic conflict and trans-border terrorism in large multiplural societies. This has particular significance for India which faces a simmering problem in the sensitive state of Kashmir. India also has a continued stake in strengthened defence relations with Russia, given its large scale dependence for Russian modern military hardware—at reasonable prices--and advanced civilian technology in space and nuclear fields. India has been able to procure military equipment with provision for technology transfer, joint production and export to third countries. Recently, India and Russia have set up a joint working group to address the operative elements of a long-term military technological programme--the only such programme Russia has signed with any foreign country--which has been extended for another ten years beyond 2000. Russia has also offered to India the latest and advanced technology in all areas of the defence field.

At the same time, any talk of "strategic partnership" is still premature, given Russia's strategic alliance with China and its continued dependence on the West. There are also difficulties in the supply of sensitive technology--underlined by the problems in the cyrogenic deal and differences over nuclear disarmament, particularly after Russia's signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and India's own position on it. There is, of course, some satisfaction in India that Russia has now re-endorsed its stand on India's pre-eminence in South Asia and moved back from the projection of equidistance between India and Pakistan. Moscow has now reaffirmed its support for India's stand on Kashmir and its firm commitment not to supply arms to Pakistan. Indo-Russian relations, although qualitatively altered in the changed world context, would have continued relevance for India's long-term strategic perspectives.

In the post-Cold War world, maintaining friendly and close relations with the United States, the only superpower today, which is capable of shaping the regional environment, would need to receive the highest priority in India's larger strategic calculations. Indo-US relations have remained generally lukewarm over the years essentially for the United States' non-recognition of India as a power of consequence in the region. There has been no effort by the US to develop an autonomous approach to South Asia except in relationship to its broader global objectives. Shared democratic values have failed to provide a firm basis for understanding between the two countries whose divergent security interests lay at the root of the indifferent state of relations. This has remained so notwithstanding India's need and desire for improved relations with the United States, albeit on its own terms and from its own long-term security perspectives. The United States is seen in India as displaying singular insensitivity and disregard for India's vital security concerns in the region.

An important Indian objection to US policy in South Asia has been its commitment to the parity syndrome between India and Pakistan--including equating Indian and Pakistani nuclear policy--which India sees as not only immeasurably intensifying its security problems but also eroding India's pre-eminence in the natural balance of power in South Asia. Notwithstanding an improved phase of relationship in recent years, the United States' continued reluctance to deliver sensitive technology to India only serves to underline its disregard for India's sensitivities to the qualitative alteration of the military balance of the region over the years.

There are today greater opportunities for developing understanding between the two countries on promoting peace and stability in both South Asia as also the neighbouring strategic regions of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Although differences persist over a range of issues--nuclear proliferation, Kashmir, trade related issues and restructuring of the Security Council--all of which have a vital bearing on India's larger security concerns there are some positive indications of Indo-US relations acquiring greater depth with evidence of more intense economic interaction and the evolution of a strategic dialogue between the two countries. The United States which has emerged as India's single largest trading partner and investor, has an abiding interest in India's vast economy and burgeoning markets. India, of course, would need the US capital, technology and markets which remain crucial to India's future economic development. India has welcomed the recent US declaration--although belated--formally designating the Pakistan-sponsored organisation Harkat-ul-Ansar, operating in Kashmir, as a terrorist outfit. There is also some satisfaction with the US' full-hearted endorsement of the current Indo-Pak dialogue and its reaffirmation that it has no desire to intervene in Indo-Pak problems. All these would underline a growing US desire to build an independent relationship with India, notwithstanding Pakistan's continued relevance to its broader regional objectives. At the same time, a qualitative improvement in Indo-US relations would, in the long run, continue to remain contingent on the United States' recognition of India's regional pre-eminence in the building up of an independent policy towards India.

Given the inevitability of India's search for its own place in the global community, in view of its large size and power potential, and the growing complexity of its security challenges, India's nuclear policy would continue to have primacy in its national security agenda in the new world order. While nuclear disarmament must needs be India's long-term security goal, its nuclear policy has to take into account the given realities of the nuclear weapons having come to stay as an important bargaining leverage in international relations. There is a growing recognition in India that given the current international realities and the situation of nuclear asymmetry in the region, mere retention of the nuclear option may not hold unconditionally in the altered scenario. India would have to give more sustained and serious thought to the timing of the exercise or non-exercise of its option in the days ahead. Developing a full-fledged nuclear weapon capability while continuing to press for total elimination of nuclear weapons will, of course, be the foremost challenge for India's future security perspectives. Three or four factors deserve attention in this regard. First, time remains of the essence for India as domestic costs grow and international pressures mount on India to abandon its nuclear option and missile programme at a time when the nuclear powers are engaged in updating and refining their capabilities. Second, India has to reckon with the prospects of undeniable pressures from the US, China and Russia, should it operationalise its nuclear option. It may also find itself under increased Chinese nuclear threat in view of its unquestioned nuclear might today. Third, exercise of the nuclear option would bring to the fore the classic dilemma of development versus defence at a time when India's developmental goals require the greatest attention for sustaining its economic growth. Fourth, the goals of national security, short-term, as well as India's own aspirations, in the long-term, to play a global role of some significance, remain compelling for India's strategic perspectives. Last, can India afford to remain locked in continued confrontation with the nuclear powers--in the post-CTBT phase--and pay the inevitably high costs--economic, technological and political--without having actually exercised its nuclear option? It is clear that the whole range of possibilities--retaining the present ambiguity, opting for recessed nuclear deterrence and operationalising its nuclear option--would hold the centre-stage of the national security agenda demanding a well coordinated and well thought out nuclear strategy that would sustain India's long-term security projections.

It is clear from the foregoing that India has to resolutely address itself to the emerging set of challenges and opportunites in the changed world order in a coordinated and comprehensive framework of paramount importance would be its ability to project its (long-term strategic perspectives and interests in responding to the interplay of domestic imperatives, regional balance of forces and global dynamics in the coming decades. The overarching reality of India as a large independent nation which is destined to play an important role on the global stage would undoubtedly prevail over the present difficulties and obstacles. The need for India to come to grips with the complexities of the rapidly changing configuration of forces at the domestic, regional and global levels, however, remains self-evident. India's long-term strategic perspectives would have to show greater dynamism and flexibility in responding to the increasingly complex demands of national security, regional aspirations and global commitments. This would at the least call for clearly defining India's security interests and evolving a coherent and multi-layered framework of its security policy and perspectives. In the final analysis, India's own strengths and capabilities--political, economic and military--would alone add substance to India's future projections as a power of some consequence in the emerging global order.