Threats to Internal Security in India


By Colonel B. S. Nagial (Retd.)

Threat to the security of a nation is a matter of grave concern not only to Armed Forces and Para Military Forces or political leadership but also to every citizen, irrespective of profession or vocation. While those at the helm of making arrangements to meet the threat must study and follow its development very closely, every citizen must also be well aware of the matters related to the nation’s security. Today, war is no longer confined to a clash between two armies in isolation of the people. It involves the whole nation.

The security of a nation involves two aspects: external security and internal security. These are two essential aspects of a nation’s security. While external security refers to protecting a nation’s borders and sovereignty against external threats, internal security refers to maintaining law and order within the country and protecting citizens against internal threats.

External security protects a nation’s borders, territorial integrity, and sovereignty against external threats such as military aggression, terrorism, espionage, cyber-attacks, etc. It involves using military, diplomatic, economic, and political means to deter and counter the external threat. External security also consists of forming alliances with other countries to strengthen the country’s defence capabilities and promote regional and global security.

Internal security refers to maintaining law and order within the country and protecting citizens against internal threats such as terrorism, insurgency, communal violence, organised crime, cybercrime, etc. It involves using law enforcement agencies such as police, paramilitary, intelligence, and other security forces to prevent and counter internal threats. The primary responsibility for internal security lies with the police and other law enforcement agencies. Internal security also involves the promotion of social harmony, the protection of minority rights, and the prevention of radicalisation and extremism.

External and internal security is crucial for a nation’s stability and prosperity. While external security protects a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, internal security ensures the safety and well-being of its citizens. A balanced and coordinated approach towards both aspects is necessary for maintaining national security.

India’s Internal Security situation

Contrary to popular belief, the threats stemming from the internal security situation in India are enormous and intricate. Faced with various challenges, India’s experience in dealing with these challenges is mixed in nature. No nation in the world has faced such a magnitude of problems as India has encountered and is still coping with them. Though difficulties posed by internal security have been largely overcome, they have not been wholly routed from Indian soil. Because of the seriousness of the issue, an attempt has been made to acquaint ourselves with India’s Internal Security situation.

As per the Ministery of Home Affairs of India’s annual report 2022, the internal security of India could be classified into the following categories:

  1. Terrorism in hinterland.
  2. Left Wing Extremism(LWE) in certain parts of India.
  3. Insurgency in the Northeastern States.
  4. Cross-Border Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Terrorism in Hinterland

Terrorism in any city or town deep inside the country is called hinterland terrorism. Terrorism in the Indian hinterland results from a complex set of interrelated factors. India’s rendezvous with terrorism and violent extremism is deeply rooted in history, partly due to the religion-based partition in 1947, which divided the sub-continent into India and Pakistan. The sub-continent witnessed the most shocking ethnic riots in modern history, marked by extreme violence and acts of terrorism. Instead, seeds of terrorism were sown with the Arab Invasion of India and culminated in the demand for a two-nation theory. However, India moved away from the horrors of the past and carried on the path of development both of nation and human resources. But Pakistan has not come out of the two-nation theory and still holds this ideology. Since 1947, Pakistan has left no chance to weaken India internally.

To understand the significance of the threat posed by terrorism, we need to go back to Afghanistan War in the 1970s and 1980s. The former USSR intervened in the internal affairs of Afghanistan to support the pro-communist regime against the Muslim Mujahidin. The Muslim Mujahidin appealed to world Muslims to support them in Jihad against USSR. Muslim volunteers came from around the world to Afghanistan to form part of this jihad. Most of these Mujahidin were trained and funded by the US through Pakistan. Pakistan conveniently and cunningly diverted these funds to launch terrorism against India.

When USSR left in 1989, there was chaos in Afghanistan. The Muslim volunteers from around the world were divided into three groups: one group remained in Afghanistan, and members were united under the guidance of Osama Bin Laden to form Al Qaida. Members of the second group returned to their native countries and joined/started Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorist organisations. The third group dispersed to the western world to spread Islamic Fundamentalist ideology.

After its defeat in the 1971 war, Pakistan primarily launched a policy to bleed India by thousand cuts. It started waging a proxy war against India by targeting significant cities. Khalistan terrorists also used this strategy following the insurgency in Punjab. Examples of this kind of terrorism include the 1993 Bombay blasts, the 2001 Parliament attack, the 2002 Raghunath Mandir and Akshardham attacks, the 2005 Delhi Blast, the 2006 Mumbai Train blast, the 2008 Gujrat and Jaipur serial blasts and Mumbai Attcak, the 2016 Pathankot &Uri attacks, the 2019 Pulwama, etc.

Left Wing Extremism in India

Left Wing Extremism (LWE) is embedded in the communist political movement, which started in 1920 and has grown in numerous streams since then. However, their basic ideology is to establish a classless society in India, but they differ in achieving their ends. Communist Party India (CPI) adopted the electoral process in 1951. A few radical elements broke away from the CPI in 1964 to form CPI (Marxist). And when CPI-M adopted electoral democracy, a more radical Maoist faction within CPI-M initiated the violent Naxalite movement. In 1969 Charu Muzamdar formed a new group called CPI-M&L based on Marxist and Lenin philosophies. By 1972 the communist movement in India was defeated.

From 1972-1991, Naxalism remained in a dormant state. It was repeatedly fragmented on ideological grounds, strategies and personality clashes. Then the second phase of Naxalite violence commenced. The origin of Maoist violence can be traced to two factions of Naxalites – the People’s War Group (PWG) of Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) of Bihar.

It is believed that the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 deprived the fundamental rights of forest produce. Colossal dislocation of tribal population in the Naxalism-affected states due to development projects, mining operations and other reasons for the spread of LWE. A socio-economic vacuum was created and exploited by the Maoists to mobilise such people into Naxalism by Maoists. The national strategy to counter LWE was formed in 2015. It was a multi-pronged approach to combat LWE. Its main aim was to ensure participatory governance and the protection of the rights of local tribals, among other things. Left Wing Extremist activities have dropped remarkably by 77% from the highest level of 2,258 in 2009 to 509 in 2021. The influence of Maoists has also come down notably in districts, from 96 districts in 2010 to only 39 districts in 2022. Bihar is free of Naxal terror as of today.

Insurgency in the Northeast

At the time of independence, the state of Assam covered most of the Northeastern region of India. This area represented ethnically different people. India divided this area into smaller states considering ethnic and tribal lines. This was done to solve the disputes along the ethnic divide in this isolated region, but problems were not solved.

Historically, the people of this region of Tibeto/ Burman/ Mongoloid race are closer to Southeast Asia rather than South Asia. Ethnically, linguistically, and culturally very different from the rest of the people in India. Ethnic and cultural specifications were ignored during the demarcation of the boundaries of the states in the 1950s. This gave rise to discontentment, and people launched insurgencies to assert their identities. This area was loosely administrated frontier/ hill areas during British rule, never directly ruled by British India. The creation of East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) further threatened the relations between the Centre and the Northeastern states. 99% of these states share a border with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The primary causes of insurgency in this area are:

  1. Immigration
  2. Language/ ethnicity, tribal rivalry.
  3. Economic underdevelopment.
  4. Poor communication links.
  5. Neglected by the Centre Government in the past.
  6. Corruption

The underground insurgent groups indulge in violence and terror activities and intimidate people into achieving their demands. They usually maintain cross-border links, procure weapons and warlike stores, recruit and train cadres, and indulge in unlawful activities.

Cross-border Terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir

The cross-border terrorism in J&K is deeply rooted in history. As per the India Independence Act of 1947, all princely states were asked to join India or Pakistan before 14/ 15 August 1947. However, Maharaja Hari Singh of the erstwhile state of J&K didn’t join India or Pakistan and decided to remain independent. Then Maharaja Hari Singh offered to sign Standstill Agreement with both India and Pakistan, India refused to sign, and Pakistan accepted and signed it but never honoured it. After its independence, Pakistan started nibbling J&K at its borders and inciting the Muslim population against the ruler of J&K. Under the codename Op-Gulmarg, Pakistan launched naked aggression against J&K on 20 October 1947. The force which attacked J&K comprised Pakistan’s regular army personnel, ex-servicemen, tribal people and Muslims who deserted J&K Forces. On 25 October 1947, these raiders almost reached the outskirts of Srinagar. Sensing the danger at the doorsteps, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India on 26 October 1947; thus, J&K became an integral part of India.

On 27 October 1947, Indian Army troops flew to Srinagar. After great difficulty, they could land at Srinagar Airport. The Indian Army pushed back Pakistan raiding force. To avoid further escalation and maintain peace in the region India on 30 December 1947, took this matter to the UN under articles 34 & 35 of the charter. The Indian Government declared that Maharaja’s act of accession, which Sheikh Abdhula endorsed, should later be confirmed by a plebiscite. This declaration was conditional on certain factors, which stipulated that peace and order must be established and invaders must vacate the occupied territory or be forced out from Jammu and Kashmir before the plebiscite. But this condition was never honoured by Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Instrument of Accession was ratified by the constituent assembly of J&K. Until today, Pakistan has not vacated the territory (PoJK) occupied illegally. And since then has been trying to grab J&K by hook or crook.

After being defeated in wars with India in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971, Pakistan decided to wage proxy war through cross-border terrorism in J&K. Since 1989, cross-border terrorism in J&K has been the most critical issue in India’s internal security scenario. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was the first militant group to advocate the secession of J&K from India. From its beginning till 1988, the JKLF concentrated on spreading its secessionist cause and building its militant base through indoctrination and arms training. While several minor incidents occurred in the second half of the eighties, the insurgency began with two bomb blasts triggered by the JKLF in Srinagar on 31 July 1988.

JKLF was initially used by the ISI, as it was the only established militant group in Kashmir. Pakistan had severe differences with JKLF as the outfit was committed to J&K’s independence rather than accession to Pakistan. Pakistan recognised that the element of Kashmiriyat, the spirit of independence among sections of the state and JKLF, had to be countered with Islamic nationalism, which could be subsumed into Pakistani nationalism.

Between August 1988 and the end of 1989, JKLF was the only organisation involved in the insurgency. After that, these terrorist organisations multiplied in the early 1990s. There were about forty-four terrorist organisations active in J&K, and primarily, they were based in PoJK.

Since 1990, planned and organised secessionist terrorism has brutalised J&K. Organised efforts, have been made to finish its syncretic culture, traditions, and heritage by a revel of mindless violence fueled by religious fanaticism and extremism, aided and abetted from across India’s borders.

Cross-border terrorism supported by Pakistan forced 64,827 Kashmiri Pandit families to leave the Kashmir valley in the early 1990s and settle in Jammu and Delhi. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) annual report for 2020-21, 14,091 civilians and 5,356 security force personnel lost their lives to militancy in J&K between the 1990s, when militancy first reared its head in the valley and 2020.


Globalisation, per se, is facing backlash after the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The world seems divided into three segments – the US-led western world, Russia and China and the rest of the world, wherein India is becoming a natural leader. Realignments and increasing focus among countries to look inwards, reshoring and building capacities to source and manufacture domestically and with trusted partners, have become an emerging trend. But the existing inequalities among the countries impact internal security dynamics.

India’s centrality to global geo-strategic and geo-economic networks has meant that external shocks like the Russia–Ukraine war have had a defining impact on India’s internal security calculus, especially in food and energy security.

Challenges to human security, like climate change, food and energy, and health security, as apparent in the aftermath of COVID-19, are part of internal security. Technology manipulation by terrorist organisations and their supporters for recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, inciting lone wolf attacks, etc., in the age of fake news and disinformation via social media, also tests India’s law and order and internal security machinery.

Finally, internal security problems should not be treated as pure law and order problems. They must be dealt with thoroughly in all magnitudes and levels – political, economic and social.

*Views expressed in the article are solely of the Author

Colonel B S Nagial (Retd.) is a third generation Indian Army Officer, retired in 2019 after rendering three decades of service. He spent 15 years in fighting terrorism. He has also been the Director, Academy of Proficiency & Training, Tricity, Chandigarh. Various articles and research papers have been published in his name in Times of India, Times of Israel, Daily Excelsior, CLAWS, SecurityLinkIndia etc. Major areas of interests are National Security, Counter-terrorism and International Relations.


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