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Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | A blueprint for national security for Modi 2.0 govt

The 2019 election was unique. It was fought on the plank of national security and India’s response to Pakistan’s unabated proxy war over the past 30 years. This, surprisingly, made caste arithmetic irrelevant. The tipping point had come with the brutal killing of 40 Central Reserve Police Force troopers at Pulwama. For the first time, India called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and reacted across the border with a massive air strike at the Balakot terror camp. This was the first time in the last 50 years that Indian war planes had crossed into Pakistan. The response of the people was one of euphoric catharsis and got the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a landslide victory in the elections.

The opposition completely misjudged the popular mood. They could have aligned themselves with the popular angst by demanding a far more energetic response after the Pakistani retaliation on 27 February. Instead, they chose to downplay the national security agenda altogether and strike a pacific stance that would devalue and even question the Indian strikes.

Needless to add, that this new administration will now have to deliver and strengthen national security in a highly visible and significant manner. So, here’s a road map for the new administration.

The world is increasingly becoming more complex, with the Trump administration flexing muscles against Russia, Iran, and China. Iran is vital to our energy security and as a gateway to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia. What happens in the Gulf impinges on our security. Can we afford to be mute by- standers there? American sanctions against Russia directly impinge on our military hardware purchases such as the vital S-400 deal. How the China-US trade war will pan out affects us directly. Also, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan could have a serious impact on our security. Are we in a situation to influence outcomes in these vital regions such as Iran and Afghanistan? How will we do the delicate balancing act between US-Russia-China and Iran? We need to think it through and set it out in a national security strategy for the next five years. With Pakistan, we need to be firm. There must be no scope for any illusion that it can carry on with terror strikes. These will invariably invite strong cross-border military retaliation and the onus of escalation will be squarely on Pakistan. We need to create the military power and capacity to deter and dissuade the China-Pakistan combine from any adventurism.

The civilian government and bureaucracy must get single point advice from a military expert. Police, intelligence and the foreign service do not have the expertise or experience to provide such professional military inputs in times of a crisis requiring kinetic responses. After Balakot these could occur with much greater frequency.

Also, we must, on topmost priority, plug the dangerous gaps in our air power. We must rapidly induct 150 new Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCAs) and arrest the dangerous downslide in our squadron strength. We must open a second production line in the private sector to enhance the rate of induction of LCAs (Light Combat Aircraft).

Civil-military integration of the armed forces and ministry of defence needs to go beyond tokenism. Military officials must be inducted now at the joint secretary level.

The police and home ministry have been claiming great success in containing the Maoists and reducing their influence. The unfortunate fact, however, is that each year in April-May they launch an annual tactical counter-offensive and inflict heavy losses on the police and CPOs and loot weapons. Their strike power is intact and we have not been able to penetrate the dense jungles of Dantewada to destroy the armed Maoist groups in that sanctuary. The number of armed Maoist battalions has gone up from 3 to 21 in this forest redoubt. This is dangerous and we cannot lull ourselves into complacency. We need concerted offensive military operations in the jungle redoubts to impose actual attrition on armed Maoist groups. The Indian state cannot give primacy to universal human rights principles at the cost of its own national security and survival. We may have to use the army special forces and attack helicopters for concerted offensive ops against armed Maoist gangs in deep jungle sanctuaries.

The NDA has received an unprecedented mandate. This has aroused huge expectations and the new government will simply have to deliver. It came back on the agenda of primacy to national security. It will have to deliver on those promises in a visible and time-bound manner.

Major General G.D. Bakshi is a former Indian Army officer and a defence expert .

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