A group of India’s top defence, strategic and intelligence experts has urged the Narendra Modi government to “take urgent steps” to improve cyber security standards in the country.
This group of about 80 experts, including former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief PC Haldar, retired defence brass including Admiral Arun Prakash, former air chief PV Naik, and former diplomats Shyam Saran and Ronen Sen among others, has expressed concern over the government’s digital drive amid poor cyber security standards.
The experts noted while the Centre and many state governments were rapidly adopting cyber technology and asking their ministries and departments to go online, the overall cyber security standards in the country were very poor.
These deliberations were held at the second annual Pune Dialogue on National Security (PDNS) convened by Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd.) on September 7-8, 2016.
Taking a review of India’s challenges and opportunities in cyber space, key recommendations made to the government included the establishment of four Cyber Security Clusters in the country with cutting edge capabilities and the creation of a Cyber Deterrence Doctrine on the lines of India’s Nuclear Deterrence Doctrine.
The PDNS recommended that the nation’s first cyber security cluster could be established in Pune which has a vibrant ecosystem of IT and cyber security companies, academic institutions, defence and government labs. Government funding and technology support is required to develop this first nascent cluster so as to establish a national template for further replication,” the PDNS-2016 report said.
Countering Islamist Radicalisation
On the subject of radicalisation and violent extremism, the PDNS noted that “India has been, and is, the focus of a premeditated, concerted, abundantly-resourced attack, planned by expert practitioners of statecraft and state-destabilisation.” The PDNS said the goal of Pakistan, especially the Army and its Islamist collaborators was “nothing less than to bring about the destruction of India and the conquest of India, and to that end, to impair and damage India by as many and whichever ways feasible.”
The national security experts emphasised that in order to tackle the problem of Islamist radicalisation and violent extremism, the institutions of the state and Civil Society needs to be fully aware that “a meticulously planned, heavily resourced, closely coordinated effort is underway, chiefly Pakistan-based with abundant Arab funding, and some indigenous collaboration” for the destruction and subjugation of India.
The mainstream media, including radio and television, it said, failed to address this issue effectively. It recommended that the government should “review its news management policy, especially with regard to panel discussions and talk shows which are watched each day widely.”
It also suggested that instead of ruling party spokespersons, a cadre of government spokespersons, fluent in English and Hindi, should be created to participate in TV debates and inform the public of various aspects of official policy and action taken to deal with Islamist radicalisation.
Strained civil-military relationship
The security experts also called for a “more regular, more formalised interaction” between the prime minister and the three services chiefs, a lot more cross-postings of bureaucrats and defence officials and the creation of a specialist cadre for acquisitions and procurements of arms and armaments.
“There has to be emphasis on specialists manning the ministry of defence. Hence, special emphasis must be laid on specialists who have the required knowledge, who have the training, and who have the empathy and respect for the armed forces, and the uniform,” the PDNS report said.
It said that like the Foreign Service, the defence civilian officers must also be a specialised cadre and that the general lack of knowledge about the armed forces among the civilian bureaucracy could be addressed “by one or two year’s attachment with the armed forces for everybody.”
The national security experts strongly recommended the creation of a full-fledged ministry of maritime affairs under the charge of a cabinet minister to act as a focal point for India’s maritime policies and interests. “Given the salience of the Blue Economy, a Maritime Commission or Maritime Authority will no longer suffice,” it said, while pointing out that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had already created such ministries.
There was a broad agreement on the critical No First Use (NFU) aspect of India’s nuclear doctrine. The PDNS report said NFU “is the most stabilising strategy” since it places the onus of the risk of retaliation and escalation on the adversary. NFU also supports non-proliferation and disarmament which are key aspects of India’s nuclear strategy, the report said.