Although one year is too short a period for picking trends in a serious subject like national security, nevertheless speculating the immediate trends may be a useful exercise under the existing realities, because in the environment of high voltage political scenario in the country due to 2019 elections, national security tends to get off the thinking radar of some decision makers.
The China factor with the start of the US-China trade war and reset of China India relations with Wuhan ‘Informal Summit’ the relations between China and India seem to be getting better than the previous years, when bitterness between both countries over Doklam crisis had touched a new high. At this point China needs good relations with India to ensure that India does not get into the US club, and it is able to concentrate on the South China Sea and Eastern seaboard. This honeymooning is however, temporary, till such time that China is under pressure from the US. There is going to be no change in India’s differences with China on the border issue. I do not expect any worthwhile development on the border issue, which is very complex, but some agreements on delimitation leading to demarcation of LAC, to prevent a repeat of a Doklam-like incident is doable, if the political will exists on both sides.
Regarding the Pakistan factor, I do not visualise any dramatic change in Pakistan’s behaviour. The terror industry and proxy war will continue, notwithstanding the perceived economic difficulties which have been in the news in 2018, because whenever they are on the verge of sinking, some country will bail them out to foster its own interest through them because of their strategic location. It may be interesting to note that their terror industry is mainly sustained by a parallel economy involving the drug trade, extortion and assistance from ISI, with material and operational support from the Pakistan Army. Pakistan, in fact, has earned out of this industry, besides launching proxy war against India and Afghanistan.
As the security situation unfolds in the Af-Pak Region, I will not be surprised if the Taliban, which was decimated by multi-national forces but nurtured by Pakistan, is in the driver’s seat in Afghanistan, much against India’s interests. The US may have no option but to silently end their pursuit against them acknowledging Pakistan as one of the main brokers. The efforts of FATF and IMF may show some check on the formal economy, but not the terror economy, as the linkage between the two is not as tight as it is made out to be. Pakistan is well used to international isolation, hence UN-declared terrorists will continue to spit venom and plan terror operations against India in 2019. There is also a long-term threat to India in terms of a ‘two-front war’ which India has to prepare for as it has been neglected for many decades so far.
The situation in the Kashmir valley may be relatively peaceful for some time during President’s rule. On expiry of the same, there will be tremendous pressure on the central government to start the democratic process, even if adequate stabilisation has not taken place. Various interests groups of Kashmir including political parties, who benefit from a disturbed Kashmir, may be instrumental in getting the fresh spate of violence in Kashmir Valley.
Incidentally Jammu, Ladakh and some part of Kashmir will continue to be peaceful and only a handful of districts, sympathetic to militants, will continue to bleed due to terror actions.
Then, we can hope for a developing North East in 2019, with declining insurgency. Except for some parts of Manipur and adjoining areas, the region is showing keenness to grow. With friendly governments in power in adjoining countries, the North East may not be a major security concern.
The Maoist problem relates to poor governance and its intensity will increase or decrease depending upon the quality of governance provided. There have been changes in government in some affected states and some may go to the polls next year. Depending upon the governance provided by them and lessons learnt by security forces, the magnitude of the problem can be expected to vary in 2019.
What India should do
India has some decision makers and bureaucrats who create a perception that since war is not likely in the near term; capacity building can be a low priority. We also have a set of diplomats who assure decision makers that they will be able to prevent war, which leads them to a pre-1962 scenario. These sections do not realise that defence capabilities take long to build. The defence budget will have to substantially increase in 2019. Defence Procurement is already a slow process, which will become even slower if it is drawn into political gaming for the 2019 elections.
(The writer is Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal awardee and chief instructor at USI of India)