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Is there an Indian concept of security?

Mehmet Ozkan is Visiting International Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • August 11, 2010

    In almost every meeting in India, security and future retaliation to a possible terrorist attack coming from Pakistan is always a prime issue. Many researchers blame the weakness in decision-making structure and politicians, some blame lack of strategic framework, and some blame the international environment for not responding to Pakistan in a slightly military way after the 26/11 bombings in Mumbai. A military response in future is rarely questioned and highly supported by most Indians now and even there is an overall agreement among academics and politicians that there must be a response if it happens again. Therefore, if you ask anyone at a high-level position in the political structure, s/he will assure you that India is likely to respond next time. Among academics, even there are those who point where to attack and in which way. A recent example of this is the article of Professor Sumit Ganguly in the April 2010 issue of Current History, in which he argues that Kashmir should be attacked and terrorist cells should be destroyed.

    The aim here is not to discuss the possibility of such a response, for better or worse, in future. However, what is puzzling is the way realism and power-centred thinking dominates the debate. Historically, if Indian response has been ‘soft’ to any military insult or terrorist attack, is it possible to explain this only with the above-mentioned lack of decisiveness in decision-making or other elements? If it is based on purely power calculations, India should have responded in an adequate way as it has very strong military capacity and response ability compared to Pakistan. But historical data does not support this. Then the question is why that is so? What makes India ‘soft’ in responding to hard elements? Is it related to something deeper than what it seems on the surface or just a coincidence? Or is there a very different concept of security that exists in the Indian mindset but yet has not been articulated in a fashionable way?

    To answer these questions is indeed most difficult and tangible at the same time. Yet an attempt is worth making. As an area, India's culture is historically marked by a high degree of syncretism, toleration and cultural pluralism. Being a centre of numerous cultural and religious traditions, India is considered to be the place and the centre of ‘soft’ power elements. It has an embedded historical psyche and a deep-seated historical legacy behind. Therefore it is not surprising that even the India-originated Islamic movements such as Tabligh Jamaat tend to be very ‘soft’ in their style and approach compared to other Islamic movements in other parts of the world. Although Jamaat is the biggest and most widespread movement all over the world, it is also the most apolitical, non-assertive and peaceful movement one may get. Is there something related to this area that unconsciously impacts the way Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others think? Is there a deep-seated ‘soft’ security concept in their mind? Do we see a little expression of such a security concept in the Indian response to Pakistan?

    Among Indian scholars, it is very common to argue that the passive and piecemeal approach of Indians towards their enemies is the major ‘shortcoming’ and proving ‘disastrous’ for India. Is it really a ‘shortcoming’? What ‘disastrous’ results have come out so far? Perhaps the time has come for Indians to start looking at the half-full part of the glass rather than focusing on the half-empty side. Being ‘soft’ has never been considered as ‘weak’ historically until the modern times. To the contrary, using hard power elements such as the military was considered as a deep ‘weakness.’ The history of empires is full of examples and lessons. It is not surprising that the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and many others had resorted to military means heavily when they were on the verge of collapse. Whether the US is sharing the same destiny with its policies since 9/11 is open to debate, but what is clear is that the US seems to be losing its credibility and influence.

    If nothing, 9/11 and the ongoing Afghanistan war experiences should have shown one thing to the world: sending military equipments and soldiers do not make any place safer! A new approach to the concept of security and a re-definition of ‘security’ itself is more than a must now. However, neither western academics nor politicians are about to respond to such a need. Hasn’t the time come yet to reconsider alternative approaches to security?

    India, as a rising power, is naturally expected to make intellectual and breakthrough contributions for a better understanding of the world. One should not forget that at the end of the day it does not really matter who rules the world at the practical level, but the crucial issue is whose ideas rule the world. If India is indeed interested in being a ‘rule-maker’ in a multilateral world, alternative approaches to persisting problems is the basic component of it.

    Seen from this perspective, first, it is better if Indians should put an end to the rhetoric of complaining and see what they have as an advantage. Second step would be to consider theorizing an Indian concept of security in the long run. Given the current situation, an Indian concept of security may be a highly optimistic one; but one should not forget that there is indeed one and it is so much embedded in the Indian mindset that actually haunts India as a ghost after every military crisis. Whether to recognize it or not depends on Indians themselves, but theorizing it is just a question of time.