The ultimate aim of a nation’s armed forces is to deter war; fighting and winning is necessary only if deterrence breaks down. As the primary underlying cause of future conventional conflict on the Indian sub-continent is likely to be unresolved territorial and boundary disputes, it is necessary to speedily resolve the existing disputes. Despite over one dozen rounds of talks between India’s National Security Advisor and China’s Vice Foreign Minister, it has not been possible to make major headway in the resolution of the India-China territorial dispute. In fact, it has not even been possible to demarcate the Line of Actual Control on the ground and on military maps so as to prevent frequent complaints about intrusions and transgressions and to minimise the probability of an armed clash between patrols. China’s intransigence and its recent claims to Tawang have led to a stalemate in negotiations. On its part India must continue to impress on the Chinese leadership the importance of the early resolution of the territorial and boundary dispute. Simultaneously, India must continue its efforts to improve border infrastructure and create adequate offensive operations capability to deter another round of conflict.
Resolution of the dispute with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir is equally complex as, besides India and Pakistan, the people of J&K – straddling the Line of Control (LoC) – are also party to the conflict. While some progress had been made during the Musharraf regime, the General’s troubles at home led him to back off. A ray of hope had emerged once again with the installation of an elected civilian government in Pakistan but the terror strikes in Mumbai in November 2008 put paid to the rapprochement process, which is still in limbo despite recent talks between the Foreign Secretaries. Neither government has made any effort to mould public opinion for a possible solution. Entrenched political and religious constituencies on both the sides are likely to noisily stall any understanding that the two governments might reach. Hence, it is difficult to be optimistic about the early resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
In stark contrast with the difficulties of conflict resolution on the external front, the last couple of years have seen substantial progress in resolving internal conflicts. The central government’s cease-fire with the Nagas, which has now held fairly well for over a decade even while internecine quarrels among the Nagas have continued unabated, has led to tangible progress in negotiations with both the Issak-Muivah and the Khaplang factions of the NSCN and there is cause for optimism about the early resolution of the long drawn conflict. The ULFA in Assam has begun negotiations with the central government without any pre-conditions except for the break-away military wing led by Paresh Barua who is said to be taking shelter in Myanmar and is getting covert support from the Chinese. It is to be hoped that the ULFA leadership will act in a statesman-like manner for the good of the people of Assam rather than continue to pursue power for its own sake.
There is less cause for optimism regarding resolution of the conflict being waged by Maoist or Naxalite insurgents in almost 220 districts of Central India. The leadership of the CPI (Maoist) seeks to one day fly its flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi and is pursuing its aim methodically and systematically. Despite the Home Minister’s offer for talks, it continues to indulge in wanton acts of violence, kidnappings and extortion. A comprehensive three-pronged strategy that simultaneously emphasises security, development and governance – with skilful perception management – is necessary to defeat the menace of left Wing Extremism (LWE).