By V K Ahluwalia*
November 13 was a black Friday, with Daesh terrorists killing 129 innocent people and injuring more than 350 in Paris. They struck at different points in the city in near simultaneity, much like the Mumbai attack by the Lashkar-e-Taiba on November 26, 2008. Given the growing influence of ISIS and other terrorist outfits, Indian population centres and the youth are quite vulnerable to such threats. These threats include “soft” terror: internet and social networking sites that espouse extremist ideology and propaganda for indoctrinating the youth. In some cases, provocative messages on the social media have caused violent protests and agitations, resulting in a trail of death and destruction. The terrorist attacks at Dinanagar police station, Pathankot air base, and the attack on the CRPF convoy in the Valley as well as the cases of a number of youth influenced by ISIS show our acute vulnerabilities. Terrorists have been able to induce terror and fear amongst the population by their violent actions.
As a young nation, we have to recognise the power of the youth, a force which has great potential and one that needs to be harnessed towards nation-building. The current trend of the youth being hyper-active on the social media needs to be channelled by diverting their energy towards national integration and building a pluralistic society.
Challenges to National Security
Unfortunately, in India, we do not expose our youth to even the rudimentary aspects of national security and its impact on society. Besides substantial issues like the survivability of nation states, it is important to have the youth understand the basic concept of national security and the impact it has on “human security’ and “economic growth”. This is even more important in a country like India that has a very young demographic profile. This author is convinced that Indian youth would appreciate such an initiative; not only would it empower them but also instil a greater sense of patriotism in them.
This is not too ambitious a project. The aim of such an initiative would be to expose students to the very basics of national security and make them realise that national security requires the active engagement of all citizens, as it is a shared responsibility. Hence, any proposed syllabus need not be exhaustive nor an additional burden on the students.
India faces a number of challenges to its security, from both external and internal sources. As on date, globally, there are over a hundred ongoing armed intra-state conflicts and small wars. Given the growing influence of ISIS, indoctrination initiatives and the progressive increase in threats and challenges to security the world over, sub-conventional threats will be far more relevant to all countries than ever before. Closer home, proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir and the spread of terror networks in the subcontinent make the management of internal and external security challenges increasingly complex, especially since they are closely intertwined.
In India, high density population centres are repeatedly being put on high alert due to possible terror strikes. According to Census 2011, during the last two decades, the urban population has increased by 160 million (74 per cent) in comparison to the rural population’s increase by 204 million (32 per cent). Rapid increase in population, hyper-urbanisation, gross inequality with fairly large numbers living in slums, all make the monitoring of varied unlawful and terrorist activities increasingly difficult. In addition, the terrorists of today have acquired expertise in cyber space to derail IT-dependent facilities by targeting the economic, transportation, communication, command & control, and educational institutions. These threats and their impact on economic growth and human security are all too visible, both within and outside India.
Given the complex nature of our country with its vastness, illiteracy, poverty, massive unemployment and demographic divide, the security forces alone are not in a position to prevent attacks by terrorists or control unrests and conflicts. In addition to various measures like improving intelligence, surveillance, security, coordination among security forces, provision of basic facilities and employment of youth, we also need to sensitise society, especially the youth, to such threats and their manifestations.
In early December 2015, the UN Security Council adopted the first ever milestone resolution on youth, peace and security. It recognises the importance of focusing on the role of young men and women in peace building and countering violence. It would be prudent to mention that some foreign countries already have a National Security Community Outreach initiative or similar schemes to actively engage with ethnic, cultural and religious communities. In Israel, as every adult is required to serve in the military, though for different reasons, people are fully conscious of their responsibilities. The results are all too visible.
Engaging the youth from all communities in India would empower and encourage them to play a larger role in national security. Given the current reality, wherein the youth – between 15 and 25 years of age – are being indoctrinated, it would also help to wean them away from militant or fundamentalist organisations. The youth, in the same age bracket, are unfortunately involved in large scale violence, due to instigation by some political parties or other groups and individuals. All such actions are highly detrimental to national well-being and national security. There is an urgent need to promote awareness, through educational institutions, about national security and its impact on various facets of the country’s well-being. Under such circumstances, it would not be out of place to give serious thought to promote awareness about challenges to national security, beginning from to the universities to high schools (10+2), in that order, both in government and private institutions.
Once introduced, experts in this field could address various educational institutions both in the various vernacular languages and in English. To achieve uniformity in imparting instructions and to prevent misuse of this platform, experts would also require refresher training. They could organise engrossing and interactive workshops on national security and varied threats, national integration, strengths of diversity in a country, leadership, team spirit and team building, etc. Where required, counselling sessions could also be held for the youth. The multiple challenges, including security-related ones, posed by hyper urbanisation would also require the attention of the government.
As a long term measure, this would be a significant step, among other measures, to involve the community, through the youth, to promote a pluralistic society, monitor unlawful activities, prevent violence and promote national security.
*Lt General VK Ahluwalia, former Army Commander, Central Command, is currently, Member, Armed Forces Tribunal, Jaipur Bench.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India. Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://idsa.in/idsacomments/time-to-expose-youth-to-national-security_vkahluwalia_240216