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Keynote Address by Shri Prakash Singh on Internal Security Challenges: Strengthening Security Force Capabilities

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  • Shri Prakash Singh, Former Director General, Border Security Force (BSF)
    December 10, 2014

    The internal security of the country presents a dismal scenario. We have a fractured landscape. Terrorist groups, indigenous and trans-national, are trying to destabilise the country. There is separatist movement in J&K fuelled by Pakistan. The north-east has multiple insurgencies. A vast swathe of Central India is in a state of turmoil due to Maoist violence. Besides, the State has to contend with communal problem, caste tensions, inter-state disputes including those over sharing of river waters, illegal migrations from the East, and regional movements over a host of issues.

    Kautilya wrote in the Arthashastra that a state could be at risk from four different kinds of threats – internal, external, externally-aided internal and internally-aided external. The internal security scenario of the country has a mix of all the shades of threats visualized by Kautilya. According to an estimate, 252 of the country’s 640 districts are presently affected by varying intensities of subversive, insurgent and terrorist activities. Out of these, Maoists are creating mayhem in 173 districts, Pak-backed separatists stirring trouble in 15 districts of J&K, and various separatist and secessionist outfits are active in 64 districts of six north-eastern states.

    According to Ashley Tellis, from 1947 onwards, “India pursued a grand strategy focusing on preserving political unity amid its bewildering diversities and potential rifts, protecting the nation’s territory from internal and external threats, and realising the economic development that would transform the country into a genuinely great power.” And yet, if one were to take a panoramic view of the internal security situation as it has evolved since the dawn of independence, we find that every decade saw a major problem erupting. The fifties saw the north-east going up in flames. Phizo raised the banner of revolt in Nagaland in 1954 and, in due course, the sparks flew to Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura. The sixties saw the beginnings of the Naxalbari movement, starting from a small village at the tri-junction of India, Nepal and what was then East Pakistan, which has since spread across about 173 districts of the Union. The seventies saw turbulence in Assam with the formation of the United Liberation Front of Assam to liberate Assam from India’s “colonial regime” through armed struggle. The eighties witnessed one of the most lethal terrorist movements in the Punjab, aided and abetted by Pakistan. The nineties saw the beginning of insurgency in Kashmir, though the seeds of trouble were there in the wake of partition. The current decade has been marked by the onslaught of transnational terrorist groups striking in the hinterland and what was so far confined to Jammu & Kashmir has gradually become a pan-India phenomenon.

    Lack of Strategic Vision

    Why is it that the problems instead of getting resolved are getting multiplied, is the big question? An important reason for the deteriorating internal security scenario has been, as George Tanham said, that India lacked a tradition of focused strategic military thought and analysis. The view is contested by some Indian writers who equate Kautilya’s Arthshastra with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It is also true that Mahabharata has chapters – Bhisma and Shanti Parva – devoted to the principles to be followed during war. However, taking an overall view, the country placed far greater emphasis on spiritual values and moral traditions with special emphasis on shanti and ahimsa rather than on statecraft or the art of fighting. No wonder, the Mughals and the British were able to conquer the country in the absence of a strong central authority and any long-term strategy of its rulers. As Clausewitz said, “wars are lost or won by their strategists, even before they are begun”.

    Neglect of CNP

    An important factor contributing to our fragile internal security situation has been our neglect of, what has been described as Comprehensive National Power. Four civilizations – Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China – enjoyed a head start in the global competition for wealth and power. Down the line, all these civilizations got derailed and their position was taken over by Western countries. Significantly, both China and India are in the process of re-asserting their power and influence. According to the Chinese, Comprehensive National Power (CNP – zonghe guoli) is the combined overall strength of a country in numerous areas. It is the aggregate sense of all factors such as territory, availability of natural resources, military strength, economic clout, social conditions, domestic government, foreign policy and its initiatives, and finally the degree of wielding international influence. Thus, CNP is “an evaluatory measure done both qualitatively, as well as quantitatively of the current and future strengths of all these above factors”. The USI study of Comprehensive National Power has given the following ranking to the various countries:

    1. United States
    2. Germany
    3. Japan
    4. China
    5. Russia
    6. India
    7. South Africa
    8. Brazil and
    9. Indonesia.

    However, in this context we have to take note of “the paradox of unrealized power”, that is the inability of a state to translate potential power into actual power. This is essentially caused by the lack of political will and the unwillingness or the reluctance to take risks and make sacrifices. We have seen this in different theatres in the country.

    Absence of Internal Security Doctrine

    Henry Kissinger has said that the purpose of a doctrine is to translate power into policy. It is strange that even after more than six decades of Independence we have not evolved or cared to codify our Internal Security Doctrine. The US National Security Strategy clearly states that “what takes place within our borders will determine our strength and influence beyond them”. President Obama is also on record as having said that “our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home”. The NDA government must, without any further delay, initiate the formulation of the internal security doctrine.

    The doctrine would necessarily have inter alia political, socio-economic, intelligence and border management angles. If there is a secessionist or separatist threat, what are the reasons for the same? If the demands are genuine, whether any constitutional amendment is called for? A secessionist movement, as a matter of principle, will have to be put down with a heavy hand. Separatist elements would also have to be dealt with firmly. Ethnic demands would deserve a sympathetic response unless that leads to excessive fragmentation. From the socio-economic point of view, government would have to see whether there are any genuine grievances. Are the people unhappy because of unemployment, displacement or any other similar reason, and, if so, those grievances would have to be addressed. The intelligence agencies must coordinate internally as well as with the agencies of friendly countries. It should have both defensive and offensive capabilities. Border management poses problems of enormous dimensions. We have land borders with six countries (China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan) stretching over a length of 15,318 kms. Besides, there is a coastline of 5,422 kms. and islands with additional coastline of 2094 kms. Land borders, wherever porous, will need to be effective guarded. The force deployed on the borders should have the necessary resources in terms of manpower and equipment.

    Major Challenges

    The major emerging challenges in the area of internal security are:

    • the threat of terrorism, international and domestic;
    • the possibility of jehadi elements fanning the flames of insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan;
    • ethnic insurgencies in the north-east with China fishing in its troubled waters;
    • LWE in large areas of Central India; and
    • managing more than fifteen thousand kms of land borders and the coastline.

    These threats would be dealt with in detail by the speakers on different subjects today. Suffice it to say that terrorism poses the greatest challenge to the security and stability of the country today.


    The terrorists are opposed to the very idea of India; they want to destroy its icons and its symbols. They have been repeatedly causing explosions in Delhi because it is the political capital of India; they have been repeatedly attacking Mumbai because it is the commercial hub of the country; they have been perpetrating incidents of violence in places like Ayodhya and Varanasi because these are the holiest places of the Hindus; they have been active in Bangalore because it is the IT hub of the country. In other words, they want to destroy India politically, economically and culturally. This mindset is best illustrated in the speeches of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba, who is reported to have openly declared:

    “The jihad is not about Kashmir only …. About 15 years ago, people might have found it ridiculous if someone had told them about the disintegration of the USSR. Today, I announce the break-up of India, Insha-Allah. We will not rest until the whole (of) India is dissolved into Pakistan.”

    According to the Global Terrorism Index, 2014 published by the Institute for Economics and Peace. India is the sixth worst terrorism affected country in the world after Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria and 43 different terror groups are operational in India.

    The emergence of the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in the Middle East and its concept of Caliphate have given a new dimension to the terrorist threat. Ansar-ul-Tawheed (AuT), an ultra-religious off-shoot of the Indian Mujahideen, has declared its allegiance to the Islamic State and its self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. In a video, AuT’s ideologue and chief, Abdul Rehman Nadvi, alleged that the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, France, Canada and a few other countries were forming an axis of evil. Expressing his determination to create an Islamic State in India, Nadvi said: “The Ummah (community) could not afford to lose this battle as it will mean subjugation for ever”. AuT is the fourth group in South-East Asia to have declared its loyalty to the Islamic State, the other three being the Abu Sayyaf group of Philippines, Jamaah Islamiyyah of Indonesia and Al-Tawheed Batallion of Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

    The Al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a recent video, called upon his “Muslim brothers” to “raise the flag of jihad in the sub-continent. He also announced the formation of a new branch Al Qaeda, Jamaat Qaidat Al-jihad, to “bring back Islamic rule” in the sub-continent. There are reports that groups and elements supportive of extremist ideology are trying to radicalise Muslim youth in the states of J&K, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala and Delhi.

    Economic terrorism is yet another dimension of international terrorism that the country has to contend with. Pakistan has been flooding the country with counterfeit currency with a view to subverting its economy and funding terrorist activities in different parts of the country. It is estimated that Pakistan pumped in 16 billion worth of FICN into India in 2010, a figure that rose to 20 billion in 2011 and 25 billion in 2012.

    The Anti-Terror Policy would need to be defined on a priority. The anti-terror laws would also need to be made more stringent.

    Tackling LWE

    Left Wing Extremism requires a comprehensive treatment. There should be a whole of government approach to tackling it. It is high time that the Prime Minister calls a meeting of the Chief Ministers and spells out the NDA Government’s policy of dealing with this formidable threat. Effective counter-insurgency operations will have to be undertaken with a view to neutralising the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. These would need to be supplemented by comprehensive socio-economic measures. Government will have to adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards corruption so that development efforts are reflected at the ground. Land alienated from tribals will have to be restored to them. There will have to be, in fact, a conscious attempt to win the hearts and minds of people in the affected regions.

    Criminal Justice System

    The Malimath Committee had made comprehensive recommendations to overhaul the criminal justice administration of the country. It is very unfortunate that these were trashed because of opposition from the human rights lobbies. The police, the prosecution machinery, the judiciary and the jails, all need comprehensive reforms. Police reforms need to be taken up on priority because it is our first line of security against all kinds of anti-social and anti-national elements. The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment on September 22, 2006, gave six directions to the states. The directions were aimed at insulating the police from extraneous pressures, giving it autonomy in personnel matters, making it more accountable, separating investigation from law and order duties in the metropolitan towns, introducing transparency in the selection of police chiefs, and giving a statutory minimum tenure to officers posted in the field. There has been some compliance, but the majority of states have been dragging their feet in the matter. Seventeen states have passed laws, but these are not in keeping with the letter and spirit of Court’s directions. The government should reorganise, restructure and rejuvenate the police so that it is able to effectively deal with the internal security challenges. The colonial police must be transformed into People’s Police - a police which upholds the Rule of Law and is responsive to the grievances and aspirations of the common man. The capabilities of the police would particularly require substantial augmentation. There are more than five hundred thousand vacancies in the subordinate ranks. These need to be filled up early, apart from sanctioning additional manpower in proportion to the increase in population. Police infrastructure is pathetic. The condition of police buildings, their transport fleet, communication equipment and forensic support must improve. Police, supported by the CAPFs, is the key to tackling the threats to internal security. Its modernisation and upgradation, therefore, must receive high priority.


    It is a great pity that our response to the various challenges has generally been feeble. We have a strong military muscle and our economic strength has been steadily growing. And yet, we have been dealing with the multifarious problems confronting the country in a manner which exposes us to the charge of being a ‘soft’ state.

    Our problem has been, in Aurobindo’s words, that “we have abandoned Shakti” and are therefore perceived to be a weak state. The prescription given by the saint-philosopher is relevant to this day:

    “What India needs especially at this moment is the aggressive virtues, the spirit of soaring idealism, bold creation, fearless resistance, courageous attack; of the passive tamasic spirit of inertia we have already too much….. What we need, what we should learn above all things is to dare and again to dare and still to dare.”

    It is absolutely necessary that the security architecture of the country is completely overhauled with appropriate institutional changes so that it is able to effectively deal with the emerging challenges which are going to confront us in the coming years.

    (Keynote address delivered at the 2nd National Conference on Internal Security organised by IDSA on Dec 10, 2014)