Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on the country’s defence preparedness in his Independence Speech was timely. His act of reminding the nation that it is fighting the twin challenge of terrorism by Pakistan and expansionism of China came just about 24 hours before the collapse of the official government of Afghanistan, which implies India will now need greater courage, tougher decisions and more, as the military of the western neighbour has just acquired a strategic depth of several hundred miles to its west. It is not just weapons like missiles of Pakistan that will get safer launch pads. The horror of the 1990s in Jammu and Kashmir might be revisited, with extra militants not required by the Taliban to run their banana republic and kangaroo courts might add to the terror force across the Indian border. With an ineffective Joe Biden administration running away from Afghanistan with its tail tucked between the legs, more ignominiously than the US regime that withdrew from Vietnam, the Quad has reduced to a dud. Any surgical strike or airstrike, or a variation thereof that India conducts, which the prime minister recalled with pride in his I-Day speech, will have to consider China that will any time soon be found bedding the Taliban. The avaricious communist regime, which so far mostly irritated its ‘market’ India with incursions and little more, is likely to harden the bargain with New Delhi by supplying to the Islamic regime resources it hitherto made available to Maoist insurgents.
The secondary focus has to be on better bilateral ties with countries across Asia. The new world order post-Covid-19 pandemic that the prime minister spoke of but offers a glimmer of hope as several countries have begun to look at China as an avoidable trading partner. Seizing the opportunity, India must not only enhance its commercial exchanges with ASEAN member states but also offer defence aid to south Asian nations while strengthening the diplomatic ties with Taiwan, China’s bête noire. At the same time, generous loans must be provided to friendly neighbours with the assurance that things will never come to such a pass with India where, like the Hambantota port of Sri Lanka, a partner’s assets will be confiscated. But in the immediate future, the threat is certainly Islamic terrorism along the northern borders, which warrants a quick import of the best surveillance and anti-insurgent equipment, not necessarily only from the US; a few European countries and Israel may have better alternatives.
Thankfully, unlike how many in India misinterpreted Modi’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat, it was a call, which the prime minister repeated on 15 August, for self-reliance that is Make-in-India 2.0. As our ordnance factories and the private sector in defence equipment manufacturing cannot, on short notice, fulfil the needs of the three services and special police forces, the nation’s preparedness against contingency cannot be kept suspended for an unfounded fascination for swadeshi economics. The future induction of indigenously made aircraft carrier Vikrant, locally manufactured light combat aircraft and submarines make for heartening news, of course.