How bad (or good) is the internal security situation in India today? As with everything else in this country, anecdotal evidence can simultaneously prove both the assumptions right. The data about terror incidents and number of casualties (civilians, security personnel and terrorists) will though show that the internal security situation is better today than in the last 25 years. But that picture might also be deceiving. Because that situation can change very quickly if the progress is not sustained.
Let us start with Jammu and Kashmir. Despite the public protests of 2008 and 2010, the security situation in the state has shown a constant improvement since 2003. 2012 was a particularly peaceful year when a record number of tourists visited the Kashmir Valley, and the number of terror incidents and casualties were the lowest since 1989. Infiltration figures from Pakistan into the state were low.
The central forces were reducing their presence in the state. But 2013 has begun on a sour note. Pakistani terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba infiltrated and killed five CRPF troopers in a suicide attack. In an effort to link it to the public sentiment after Afzal Guru’s hanging, the supposedly Kashmiri terrorist group that Hizbul Mujahdieen (even though its chief, Syed Salahuddin lives in Pakistan), a local media service reported that Hizbul had claimed the attack.
Is this incident a dying flicker of the candle or a pivotal moment signalling the return of terrorism to Valley? With Pakistan providing an active base to send terrorists into Kashmir, it is hard to say. And Pakistan has an almost unending supply of jehadis. Although Kashmiri separatists do sympathise with them, there are scarcely any Kashmiri terrorists left now.
The NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Pakistani politicians and public wants to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban. With an economy in doldrums and no plans to either punish and eliminate, or deradicalise and rehabilitate these jehadis, Pakistan army and ISI are likely to direct these brainwashed hordes to Kashmir.
Even the best laid plans and professionalism of the security forces manning the Line of Control can’t completely stop their infiltration. The situation in the northeastern states is definitely better. India’s improved relations with both Bangladesh and Myanmar means insurgents do not get a secure foreign base. Most insurgent leaders have been arrested. Under pressure, the insurgent groups have split.
They now operate as criminal-insurgent groups involved in illegal activity and have relations with the local political leaders. While the current situation seems better than the high level of violence seen in the region a decade ago, the deeply entrenched politico-insurgent economy is inherently unstable and can be easily exploited. We have seen evidence of this in Assam last year, and often in Manipur and Nagaland. If Bangladesh gets an anti-India government after the next elections, things could worsen quickly.
Away from these border areas, the Maoist challenge is the long war that India faces. While gains have been made in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, the situation in Orissa doesn’t inspire confidence. The improvement in Jharkhand might not last beyond the President’s Rule in the state. And a fractured mandate in Andhra Pradesh after the next elections could see a revival of the Maoists.
Despite much publicity, the efficacy and efficiency of development projects in Maoist-affected areas remains questionable. Meanwhile, the intellectual supporters of Maoists freely propagate their views, largely uncontested by either the government or other public intellectuals.
What is the way out? One popular suggestion is about having a political solution to these problems. But what, for example, is the political solution for Kashmir? Or for Nagaland, where agreements were signed in 1975 and in the last decade? Or with Maoists, where Andhra Pradesh entered a ceasefire in 2004 allowing the Maoists to gain strength?
That doesn’t mean politics doesn’t have a role in these regions. Its role is not to impose some magical solution (remember the fate of Assam Accord and the Punjab Accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi) but to have a continuous process, where it engages with all sections of society, bridges ethnic gaps and amicably resolves differences. The government can help by bringing the fruits of development to these areas.
But neither development nor the political process can happen if people can’t undertake routine social and economic activity with normality. Ensuring the Rule of Law and a climate of security is thus the essential, though not sufficient condition to successfully overcome our internal security challenges. Let us never forget that.
Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review