Drawing a direct link between economic development and security, Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that there had been encouraging improvement in the internal security situation in India’s northeast. Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and large parts of Assam were practically free from insurgency with the level of violence significantly down, he said at a seminar organised by Vivekananda International Foundation on 24th February in New Delhi.
Delivering a talk on the ‘’Role of Indian Army in Dealing with National Security Challenges, “Naravane said the improvement of the security situation had resulted in a realigned counter-insurgency strategy in the northeast. Troops tied down by counter-insurgency operations had been freed up and were assigned to the northern borders,” he informed.
He underlined that the internal dynamics of the northeast is intricately linked to the regional security construct. This is characterised by rising Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific, its hostility towards weaker nations and its relentless drive to create regional dependency through debt-traps like the Belt and Road Initiative.
“Also the resultant Sino-Us rivalry has created regional imbalances and instability. The increasing footprints of China in India’s neighbourhood and its attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along our disputed borders have created an environment of confrontation and mutual distrust,” he said.
In the Northeast, he said, the Indian Army is playing a pivotal role in the transformation that is taking place in the security environment. Setting the stage for other stakeholders to play the role in the development of the northeast region. Describing India’s northeast as the “Centre of Gravity for sub-regional connectivity” and consequently “a launchpad for Act East initiatives,” Army Chief pitched a case for speeding up infrastructural development given the relatively better security environment and the realignment strategy of the CICT (counter insurgency/counter-terrorism).
The Army Chief said infrastructure development has been marred by numerous challenges. Multiple agency involvement and varied source of funds coupled with environmental factors remain major stumbling block and added, “There is a need for an apex body to coordinate multi-agency efforts.”
“Resultantly, a detailed army study has proposed an umbrella organisation coined the ‘Northeast Integrated Security Council’ to galvanise the strategy, efforts and resources amongst all stakeholders,” observing the proposed model seeks to create multi-agency coordination critical for taking the region forward.
The Army Chief, however, also said that a common thread that runs along the North-eastern States is a lack of coordination amongst various agencies. And then he went on to state that policy disconnect is further accentuated by the feeling that affairs of the North-eastern region are being run from Delhi.
It is also important to note that Army Chief Naravane has also said that the headquarters of most of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Central agencies are located in the national capital. According to him, national priorities, political compulsions of the North-eastern states and the aspirations of the local people are hardly aligned, which, according to him, has been creating dissonance in execution.
To set the score right and unleash the tremendous potential of the Northeast, he said, there was a need to establish an organisation that can synergise multi-agency coordination and optimise resource and effort. The realigned strategy for the Northeast proposed a robust and effective Northeast Integrated Security Council.
“With Minister of State for Home as the Chairman at the apex level, the organisation seeks to galvanise the efforts of all stakeholders which includes the policymakers as well as the authorities responsible to execute these policies,” he added.
Elaborating further on the composition of the organisation, the Army Chief said the Indian Army with its wide footprints across the region, is ideally suited to play the role of regional coordinator. The organisation proposed the Deputy NSA for inter-ministerial coordination at Delhi, while regional coordination would under the Eastern Army Commander at Kolkata. The inclusion of state chief secretaries and DGPs, as well as the DGs of all the CAPFs, will address operational and strategic issues and ensure coordination, and multi-pronged response at the regional level.
Army Chief Naravane calls for a renewed focus on the Northeast has its origins in his close association with the region. He recounted “I have spent much of the time in the northeast in various capacities and appointments. The northeast occupies a special place in my hearts, the PhD I’m pursuing is also on the northeast,” he informed.
By Ravi Shankar