Challenges in an Era of Proxy Warfare


The shift from open warfare to ‘proxy wars’ has made the strategic establishments more vulnerable to ‘covert’ attacks of the enemy, writes D.C. Pathak

Those entrusted with the responsibility of preserving the sovereignty of the State can not do this without first safeguarding national security against external and internal threats.

The foreign policy of a country is the product of national security and economic concerns – in that order – making it incumbent on the political executive to remain fully informed of the security scenario facing the nation amidst an ever-shifting geopolitical horizon. 

Building a strong nation requires not only the upgradation of health, education and employment levels but also a conscious effort on the part of the national leadership to make the citizens aware of their duties towards the state – particularly their contribution to national security by way of upholding our defence forces and supporting the effort of the regime to neutralise the ‘covert’ attacks of the enemy on our own soil. 

Part IV A of the Constitution of India commends patriotism while setting out the framework of Fundamental Duties. 

National leadership is aware that security does not come cheap and therefore willingly provides for a suitable budget, despite financial constraints, for Intelligence agencies on which this function was anchored. 

Moreover, in today’s context, the role of National Security Advisor with his Intelligence background has become the prime determinant of international relations because his interaction with his counterparts in all major countries provides the best inputs on geopolitical developments and their significance. 

Intelligence liaison among friendly countries has in fact acquired a new-found importance in determining the strategic framework of bilateral and multi-lateral relations. 

It is a matter of great satisfaction that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s security and economic policies reflected in the Delhi Declaration of India’s G20 Presidency demonstrated the soundness of India’s strategy.

Three fundamental principles of security management in present times are that the function of security has to be performed on the authority of the top man of the enterprise, that security is an integral concept since it safeguards the three assets of the organisation – material, manpower and protected information – running through the length and breadth of the corporate body and that the first requisite of the new age leadership upholding ‘knowledge-based decision making’ applies unequivocally to security where any decision had to be based on reliable information of Intelligence value. 

A leader of today’s organisation particularly in the strategic sector has to fully understand the nuances of security just as at the national level the Prime Minister – as the chief political executive of the country – was fully seized of the issues of national security. 

The security essentially is protection against covert or hidden attacks of the adversary on the assets of the organisation. Terrorism is such an attack designed among other things to cause degradation of strategic and industrial assets of the opponent to weaken the latter. Hence a team of professionally trained hands has to be set up in the organisation to collate and analyse security-related inputs. 

In a sensitive enterprise, Vigilance function is built into Security since any sign of vulnerability like addiction, greed for money and promiscuity can make the member a possible target for the ‘unseen’ enemy and has to be taken note of as a ‘personnel security’ issue. 

Just as the national security set-up deals with sabotage, subversion and espionage – corresponding respectively to the enemy’s attack on physical assets, manpower and protected information – a sensitive enterprise has to conduct a risk assessment for drawing up an appropriate and comprehensive security framework and infrastructure to provide for physical security, personnel security and information security. 

Security is now understood to be not a stand-alone function assigned to a ‘hired’ set-up but a ‘mainstream’ exercise connecting the leadership with the bulk of employees below.

The qualities needed in security management must exist in the leadership that runs the entire organisation – in fact it can be said that security perceptions sharpen that leadership. 

A security professional observes what he sees, absorbs what he observes and discreetly translates it into policy formulation. This makes for informed decision-making. 

In security management, delegation of authority is necessitated by the fact that the person closer to the ground could be required to take a quick decision about further action and this is a feature a successful leader brings to bear on his or her management style. 

Since in the Age of Information, it is mandated that a leader would make decisions on the basis of reliable facts – and not under any notions of personal ‘charisma’ or ‘inherited’ right – it would be essential for the leadership of the enterprise to keep itself updated on the relevant developments outside and within the organisation and be information savvy. 

All organisations – whether a business corporate or a public sector entity – embrace human activity and therefore their leaders have to have a good idea of human psyche and behaviour which is something intrinsic to successful security management. 

In the sphere of security, the individual is at the centre of all productivity and in business management also, this is considered something pivotal to a successful functioning including the allocation of work to teams. 

Again, in the sphere of security, bureaucratic hierarchy is minimally in play because the senior can task the junior persons but he or she has to remain available for any guidance that the team might seek in a difficult situation. This is the kind of boss-subordinate relationship all successful organisations doing brisk business were presently having to promote and practise. 

Finally, in a security set-up there is no confusion about credit sharing and the leader of any successful organisation would also see to it that there was no favouritism about granting recognition for good performance. In view of all of this, it is established that experience of security enriches the leadership of the enterprise in terms of the traits that should be emulated and that like in security, inputs on the environment within and outside of the organisation improve the decision-making process.

The shift from open warfare to ‘proxy wars’ has made our strategic establishments more vulnerable to ‘covert’ attacks of the enemy. 

The adversary knows that today ‘national security was inseparable from economic security’ and that hitting the economic targets would weaken the opponent. There is an urgent need for all such entities to have a strong security-cum-vigilance set-up manned by professionally trained staff with direct access to the top man of the enterprise. This was already happening but the emphasis now had to be also on the ability of sensitive organisations in the public sector to have a meaningful exchange of information with national Intelligence agencies on the security of their establishment. 

It is important to impart a certain amount of security education to All India and Central Civil Services officers during their foundational courses so that they are oriented to the future responsibility of managing the nation’s strategic establishments and handling the work of sensitive ministries. 


It is particularly important that people holding classified information in organisations of strategic significance should be under the watchful oversight of the vigilance head so that any sign of vulnerability like alcohol or drug addiction, living beyond means and an unnatural one-on-one friendship with some unconnected person of the opposite gender, is taken note of for further discreet action. In the Indian context, attempts at honey trap are not unknown. 

Further, today the citizens at large have to be made aware of their stakes in national security so that they realise the deeper significance of their Fundamental Duties defined in the Constitution. 

To safeguard democracy every citizen had a contribution to make towards preserving the sovereignty, integrity and security of India. Even school and college education should provide for a broad brush treatment of the concept of national security.

The mainstreaming of security function is an appropriate response to the fact that we live in an unsafe world and at the level of the nation, the organisation and even the family, the required awareness of the dormant risks in the environment around would always be of great help. 

In the times of Prime Minister Modi, security concerns related to both external threats and internal dangers at the national level were being addressed very well. What perhaps needs to happen is that all sensitive organisations in the public and private sectors should also spruce up their security and internal vigil against possible enemy activity. 

The covert operations of the adversary ultimately result in action closer to the ground and that is why for dealing with terrorism, illicit drug trade and even surreptitious arms smuggling police and Intelligence watch at local levels had become extremely important – apart from the unearthing of plans of the enemy by national Intelligence agencies. 

Liaison of Central organisations with state and district police has become a must for safeguarding national security in a situation where external threats were translating into covert operations of the enemy on our own soil. 

Our agencies are working with total awareness of this new trend that has been further strengthened by the use of cyberspace and social media as covert instruments of proxy war. 

Leadership at the national level is now greatly dependent on those driving security initiatives because there were new geopolitical developments on one hand and the operational collaboration between the two hostile neighbours of India -China and Pakistan – was becoming stronger, on the other.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)

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