What does a heavily armed, volatile neighbourhood mean for India? 5 army veterans take stock

Source : Moneycontrol

What does a heavily armed, volatile neighbourhood mean for India? 5 army veterans take stock

Helicopters, transport planes to smart munition, the US has left behind a war chest for Taliban.(representational image: Reuters)

One of the more disconcerting visuals of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was that of stockpiles of assault rifles, ammunition, communication gear and night vision devices that the Americans left behind. An estimated $83 billion spent by the US on arming and equipping the Afghan army since 2001 has gone into the hands of the Taliban, its allies in Pakistan’s ISI as well as China, the master of reverse engineering.

Afghan Air Force pilots left for neighbouring countries with what they could—light attack aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters, gunships, transport planes, ScanEagle drones and air-to-ground smart munition. Though it is doubtful that the Taliban can make much use of this equipment, Indian security planners cannot let their guards down. Internal fault lines, too, need to be watched. All the security in the world cannot keep a country safe if there is internal discontent that can be exploited.

Moneycontrol talked to five top military officials who deliberated on the threats the country faces in the light of the developments in its neighbourhood.

Gen Bikram Singh, former Chief of Army Staff

Basic threat will be asymmetric warfare domain

The Americans left a stockpile of arms in Afghanistan. With extremist elements on the ascendance in the region, what is your threat perception for India?

The basic threat will be in the asymmetric warfare domain. The proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, insurgencies in the Northeast and “Red Corridor” areas could witness an upsurge. India-centric groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba that were fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan are now available to the Pakistan army, which was rattled after the Balakot strike and is looking to hit back. It may not happen soon, maybe after five-six months when the situation stabilises in Afghanistan.

Knowing full well that India would strike back ferociously to any major incident or provocation, the scope of operations in J&K is likely to be restricted to the tactical level. However, in other parts of our country, it is likely to undertake terrorist activities by exploiting the fault lines in our social fabric and other vulnerabilities.

To facilitate its operations, it would activate the ISI sleeper cells in our neighbouring countries, especially Nepal and Bangladesh. We could also witness a rise in inimical activities that help fund terrorism like gun-running, drug trafficking and counterfeit currency related crimes in our border states. We need to bolster and spruce up our intelligence generation capacity.

Could Pakistan exploit the internal situation in India?

Yes, it will certainly try doing that. We must not allow Pakistan to exploit any fissures in our social fabric to further its agenda. People need to be sensitised about its modus operandi and the nation must stand united against any threats. Media can play a vital role in this regard.

Lt General Satish Dua (Retd), former Corps Commander Kashmir; retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff

Small arms left behind by the US pose a threat to India

How serious is the security threat to India now that the Taliban, backed by the ISI, is in power? A large cache of US arms has been left behind.

Well, the Americans have left behind heavy weapon systems, helicopters, etc because it is not viable to move them. A lot of them have been rendered ineffective. When the Americans left Vietnam, there were many highly sophisticated equipment, which they threw into the ocean. What remains are small arms, night vision goggles, etc which could pose a threat to India.

What are the biggest concerns for India?

What should concern us are the nurseries for terror in Afghanistan and surrounding areas. But that too is of somewhat limited concerns because Pakistan is soon going to have its hands full with the Afghan Pashtuns who do not recognise the Durand Line. In fact, Pashtuns from both sides of the Durand divide don’t recognise the Durand Line.

What about threats to India?

That is important. With the way communal issues are springing up in the Gangetic belt day and night, particularly UP, it gives an opportunity to agent provocateurs. I would say that our concern for Kashmir should not blindside us to the realities of mainland India.

Lt Gen Dr Prakash Menon (Retd), Director, Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institution, former Military Adviser, National Security Council Secretariat

We can handle Kashmir, but we need to watch the Indian mainland

What is the threat from the Taliban-ISI combine? 

We have dealt with this combination earlier in Kashmir and I don’t believe it is any larger threat this time around. It is now clear that the Taliban government is going to be an Iran-style religious dispensation and sooner than later, there is going to be a conflict between them and the people of Afghanistan. The gulf between the government and the common people is bound to grow. Plus, things are not all hunky-dory between the Afghans and Pakistanis—as you know there is firing across the Durand Line between the two forces. In addition, the Taliban is caught up with its own problems and contradictions.

Where do you see the threat emanating in India?

I believe that India, contrary to perception, is on a safe wicket. The threat to India does not emanate in Kashmir but the country needs to watch out for the Indo-Gangetic plain, which is a soft target and can be hit easily through sleeper cells. Such an attack has the potential to set India back. I believe the frontiers can be managed.

What would suit India best?

It would be good for India if China and Pakistan get embroiled in Afghanistan. I don’t think China would get too involved in Afghanistan’s local politics—they are clever. But if Pakistan does, it is a quagmire for them. The crucial thing, however, is how will China play the Afghanistan game? Also, what would Russia do? Can they ally militarily? I doubt it because Russia must watch its underbelly, Central Asia. China would not want to get so involved that it spills over into their border.

Lt Gen Karan Singh Yadav (Retd)

Real threat comes from human fighters

There is a lot of speculation of India being under the Taliban and ISI gun. Your views?

The Americans have left behind a huge tranche of arms, no doubt, but let us not forget that this includes heavy vehicles and helicopters, which cannot really be used against India. The real threat to India emanates from a large quantity of small arms and shoulder-held missiles. The collusion between the Pakistani ISI and the extremists in Afghanistan poses a danger to India but we need to watch out for human fighters rather than the arms and ammunition.

Do you see a threat to the mainland?

Frankly, no. These anti-national elements are likely to keep their focus on the borders, not within the country.

Brig Rajiv Williams (Retd), participated in the capture of the Bana post in 1987 after a Pakistani intrusion on Siachen

To counter any threats, the Indian army must remain apolitical

Much is being made of the huge quantity of arms left behind by US forces and the chances of it being used against India.

Well, the US could not possibly have taken everything with them. The important thing to remember is the man behind the gun–the equipment is meant to be used. All arms need ammunition and there could well be a shortage, as it happens. I doubt whether its new owners know how to make the best use of it.

What of ISI?

The ISI’s intentions are clear. Their brief is to dismember India if they can but it is important that the Indian Army remain apolitical and insulated from outside influences. There should be no attempt to tamper with military teachings at the IMA for instance, giving them a religious colour. All this is highly avoidable. I remember in Kargil, when we seized Pakistani documents, it was clear that their officers had been steeped in jihadi formulations. I personally think there should be more clarity from the army–somebody high up needs to say no to any unintended reform.

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