While narratives on the freedom struggle varyingly interpreted the British rule over India as negative, enduring or unconstitutional, none could substantively analyse how India came under British subjugation around 1748. One major zone of national operational activity that separated the not-so-integrated Bharatvarsha of yore and British imperialists was “generation, accumulation and utilisation of intelligence in national endeavours”.
Countries like Britain and France, both frontline colonists, had an advantage over the rest of the world in that their mastery over their “intelligence arenas” was always strong. Britain mastered the Asian continent and France the African, even as both countries succeeded in colonising India—France partially but Britain substantively. They were assisted by their loyal “boat masters” who ventured out for over centuries of overwhelming sailing experiences.
The vulnerabilities of peninsular India and its lack of maritime control systems were recorded by each mission along the west and east coasts. India rarely had any intelligence paradigms to refer to or fall back upon to strengthen its maritime and territorial boundaries.
Both London and Paris were also masterfully guided by the folklore and real-time experiences of Portuguese boat masters even as preliminary ‘intelligence sharing’ originated between Lisbon, London and Paris on how to access the Indian ground terrain through “boat masters”. Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama was among the earliest of notables to call upon the “Zamorin of Calicut” in 1498 that drew attention to the significance of Peninsular India to the world at large and its maritime vulnerability.
After Independence, while India’s first Union Cabinet under PM Jawaharlal Nehru had many politically informed individuals, none seemed empowered enough to judge that inheriting the Intelligence Bureau from its British mentors was never a sufficient condition for intelligence generation to protect India’s territorial and maritime needs. It was only after the Chinese aggression in 1962 and Pakistani military forays in 1965 that vulnerabilities came to fore and New Delhi, in 1968, decided to institute a foreign intelligence service to address the global arena of threat postulation, manifestation and neutralisation to garner composite Indian security needs more comprehensively.
With passage of time, challenges to Indian security order magnified dimensionally even as the US, Russia, France, Britain and China sought their “Autonomously Determined Intelligence Priority Terrains” (ADIPTs) in different parts of the world and enveloped themselves in their seemingly ‘eternal comfort zones’ as permanent members of the UN Security Council.
As this superstructure is unlikely to be impacted in near future, the rest of the world has to put up with Washington’s exigent priority to dismantle the ISIS in Syria and elsewhere, the Russian non-negotiable interest in strengthening Bashar al-Assad’s regimen in Damascus, alongside British and French resistance to such Moscow-driven tactics. While rendering prominent roles for each of the P5 powers, the web seems to be enshrining clouds of conflict, rarely engendering any aspirations for peace in the other equally affected regions of tension, including Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
In the meantime, China’s largely non-sustainable claims and derivative war games in the South China Sea are also accentuating and the fragile China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its territorial scope expose Beijing’s version of ADIPTs. These include priorities encompassing Balochistan, a Pakistani province under a siege of sorts.
Each of these engagements appears intelligence-driven meant to neutralise potential threat components interpreted by the P5, each operating out of silos of its own making.
Since 9/11, the over-emphasis on the P5 and the lack of emphasis on the UNGA for dealing with “major tension spots” has hardly served the cause of global peace or served to arrest global tensions at their very roots. The ADIPTS of the P5 have contrarily contributed in upsetting the balance of peace in today’s world.
This makes it imperative that the Indian intelligence apparatus takes note of the fact that the big power threat perceptions are often laced with biases. It must empower its own system of intelligence gathering and objective analysis without being swayed by the big power projections. Some global agencies have occasionally been involved in campaigns to disproportionately emphasise a larger-than-life ISIS presence in India. While this does not appear true so far, campaigns premised on exaggeration need to be dealt with prudently and countered suitably.
The writer is a former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat