India’s Security : Snippets From Gurmeet Kanwal’s Thoughts

 By Maj. Gen. (Dr.) P K Chakravorty


Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery on 31 March 1972. A brilliant officer, he had a flair for writing, which he exhibited in the early years of his service. He commanded an Infantry Brigade on the Line of Control and voluntarily retired in 2003 to devote time to strategic analysis and issues of national security. He served at the ORF, CAPS and finally became Director, CLAWS, under whose shadow, CLAWS grew and prospered. His articulation, prolific writing diligence and painstaking research brought CLAWS on the international map. Later he became a Distinguished Fellow at IDSA. Having known him intimately for 52 years, I would rate him as a strategic thinker who was an officer and a gentleman. Recently he was awarded the CLAWS Scholar Warrior Medal by the Chief of Army Staff. He was not keeping in good health and despite his audacious fight, he finally passed away on 16 March 2020. May God bless the Scholar Soldier[1]. Gurmeet delved into Strategy from his early years and his thought process was dynamic. His views have been taken note nationally and internationally. For posterity, there is a need to analyse a few areas on which he wrote extensively. These pertain to the aspects of Vision 2020, National Security Strategy, Shaping of the Nuclear Arsenal and the Current Perspective. This paper aims to focus on the strategic vision of Gurmeet Kanwal.

The strategy of Uncertainty and the Need for Modernisation of the Indian Army (Vision 2020)

     Vision means imaginative insight- statesman likes foresight and sagacity in planning as stated in The Concise Oxford Dictionary.[2] In his first book published about 12 years ago, Gurmeet visualised the Indian Army to be “Forever in Battle” and having numerous operational commitments; for him, the Indian Army was an organisation who is the custodian of peace and defended India with vigour and compassion. The Indian Army has been continually embroiled in external and internal conflict earning the sobriquet, “Forever in Battle”[3]

Apart from this, the Indian Army was tasked in dealing with Internal Security in Jammu & Kashmir as also North East India. Further, the Indian Army was involved in peacekeeping operations, contributed to nation-building and function without a National Security Strategy. The Indian Army, today,  is in a state of transition from ‘blood and guts’ fighting force to a ‘modern technology –savvy’ 21st’ century force.  It is important to recommend a path for the Indian Army.[4]

Emerging Security challenges to India:

Gurmeet was very accurate, when he visualised the emerging security challenges, that India was about to encounter. Some of his visualisations are listed below:

  • Mass Migrations. India’s growing population and the likelihood of mass migrations into India from Bangladesh and Nepal will threaten the existing food reserves and endanger food security.
  • The proliferation of light weapons. These would enter India through various sources and would be procured by terrorists and used sporadically.
  • Energy Security. India’s demand for oil will be increasing exponentially. Accordingly, the oil will continue to be a strategic resource and the security of India’s oil supplies from abroad, as well as that of oil reserves and installations will need to be ensured.
  • Water Security. The ravages of global warming and changing monsoon patterns are likely to deplete India’s water resources and threaten water security even as the increasing population, rapid industrialisation and the enhanced requirements of irrigation raise the demand of water.
  • Information Warfare. Information Warfare is a domain in which state, terrorists and even disgruntled elements within a state can play havoc with a nation’s telecom, banking, stock exchanges, power grids, railways and air traffic controls besides military communications and network. The prevention of large scale damage through a complex cybersecurity system requires an inter-departmental approach in concert with the private sector and can only be undertaken by a duly-empowered organisation. We are undertaking the same in the current set- up.
  • Maritime Security. The threats to India’s maritime security will increase exponentially as the world will turn more and more towards the exploitation of ocean resources for food, energy and raw materials.

Along with many Naval Strategists, Gurmeet wrote in 2008 that this long-neglected aspect needs to be incorporated in the management of national security so that India’s resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are not poached at will by state and non-state actors. Oil platforms and drilling rigs for oil and gas exploration thus faces a threat from maritime terrorists. The security of India’s island territories has now acquired added significance.

  • Environment Security. This is an emerging challenge and needs attention.
  • Security of Indian Diaspora. As is viewed currently, the Indian Government will have to plan on this important aspect.

As per Gurmeet, the Indian Army has been often described as a ‘first rate army with second rate equipment’, ready for the battles of the early 20th century.[5] In my assessment, it is to the credit of the Armed Forces and the Government that the modernisation is now gradually gathering momentum with the involvement of the private sector, though budgetary support continues to be a problem. As regards Generating Firepower Asymmetries, it is due to persistent efforts of all concerned, that the Artillery Gun Rockets and Missile Systems have gathered steam leading to the induction of 155 mm 45 calibre Dhanush, 155 mm 39 calibre Ultra-Light Howitzer, 155 mm 52 calibre Self Propelled (SP) K 9 Vajra, 214 mm Pinaka & 300 mm Smerch Rocket Systems as also the BrahMos Super Sonic Cruise Missile System. All this along with a Surveillance System based on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Battle Field Surveillance Radars (BFSRs) and Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) make it possible for the Indian Army to generate Firepower Asymmetry which is essential for a current conflict in the sub-continent.

 The areas where there is a need to expedite are the rest. The Army Aviation needs the Kamov 226 T to replace the ageing Cheetah helicopter. 60 Kamov 226 T is likely to be provided in fly-away condition to India, hopefully beginning as early as possible and 140 of these will be made in India at the production facility at Tumkur close to Bengaluru in Karnataka. This would be a joint venture between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Russia. The first batch of helicopters will be out by 2025 if all goes as per plan.[6]With regard to Attack Helicopters, 17 Apaches have already been inducted into the Air Force for usage in Mechanised Warfare. Six Apaches have been cleared by the Government for the Indian Army in a $ 930 million deal to be executed under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. The six Apaches will be identical to the helicopters being supplied to the Air Force. Overall there would be possibly 33 Apaches with the Air Force and 28 Apaches with the Indian Air Force. This would see the induction of new helicopters into the Army Aviation.[7] As regards Command, Control and Intelligence, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is appointed and he heads the Department of Military Affairs (DMA). It has the crucial task of establishing theatre Commands and other formations to improve jointness.

As regards Restructuring, Gurmeet visualised the need for breaking up the Strike Corps into Battle Groups, which is currently an issue under discussion. The most important recommendation by him was the creation of a Rapid Reaction Division. This would compose of an Air Assault Brigade an Amphibious Brigade and the third would be a light brigade capable of offensive and defensive operations in all types of terrain. He visualised two such divisions for the Indian Army possibly by 2027.[8] Gurmeet felt the need for the Indian Armed Forces to have Expeditionary Capabilities. This is expected to see the light of the day soon.

National Security Strategy

Currently, the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) was formed under the Chairmanship of the National Security Advisor (NSA). The Committee was formed to create a National Security Strategy[9]. As on date, the document is still at the Draft stage.

Gurmeet’s interest in India’s National Strategy goes back to his tenure at the Army Headquarters, New Delhi (1996-98). As Director MO-5, he was dealing with threats, strategies and force structure. It had begun to dawn on policymakers that the challenges of national security went well beyond territorial defence. This was particularly necessary for the view of Pakistan’s proxy war expanding beyond Jammu and Kashmir and the growing China -Pakistan collusion in the field of nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles and military hardware. The absence of a comprehensive national security strategy was sorely felt.[10]

India’s policies on national security have been shaped by certain broad objectives, principles and policies. Gurmeet has logically suggested the ends, ways and means approach for formulation of National Security Strategy. Further, it is necessary to evaluate the threats and challenges confronting India over the mid and long terms. Threats and challenges have a dynamic of their own and are never easy to assess or predict with any certainty. They appear, disappear and reappear when least expected and in a form and manner that invariably comes as a surprise. Hence, the strategies once drawn up can never be treated as sacrosanct and need to be reviewed periodically to fine-tune them with the changes occurring on the geostrategic landscape. The progress of implementation needs to be monitored on a regular basis so that midcourse corrections can be applied where necessary. [11]

It is pertinent that vital national interests must be defended by applying military force, if necessary. India’s vital national interests would include the following:-

  • Security of Indian territory to include land, sea and airspace.
  • Protection of Indian citizens.
  • Peaceful and stable internal and external security environment for unhindered socio-economic development
  • Protection of critical infrastructure against physical disruption and cyberattacks.

Keeping these national security interests in view India’s major national security objectives should possibly as enumerated below:-

  • Maintaining the territorial integrity of India’s borders on land, sea and air as defined by law and enshrined in the Indian Constitution, including the defence of its island territories.
  • Defending India’s coastline against aggression and infiltration and ensuring the security of Indian personnel and assets such as ships and oil rigs operating in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
  • Resolving the territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan on favourable terms through negotiations in an early time frame.
  • Protecting the lives and property of India’s citizens, including during insurgencies and against acts of terrorism.
  • Maintaining effective nuclear deterrence against the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons against India.
  • Protecting critical infrastructure and military command and control against cyberattacks from state and non-state actors and developing cyber operations capabilities to deter such attacks.
  • Ensuring the security of India’s energy resources, refining facilities and modes of transportation especially the security of oil and gas fields, ships transporting oil and gas fields and where necessary oil and gas pipelines within India and abroad.
  • Undermining the China-Pakistan nexus and reducing the salience of the Pakistan Army in the country’s polity.
  • Ensuring through diplomatic means and in conjunction with strategic partners that India will not be required to fight a simultaneous two-front war with China and Pakistan.
  • Providing a stable and peaceful external environment in India’s area of strategic interest to facilitate unimpeded socio-economic development and free flow of trade. This may involve military intervention singly or in conjunction with strategic partners when India’s national interests are threatened.
  • Creating and sustaining an effective capability for out of area contingency (OOAC) operations through military intervention when necessary to ensure peace and stability in the Indo Pacific and security of global commons (freedom of navigation in the sea lines of communication, air space, cyberspace and outer space).
  • Being prepared to provide security and other assistance to the Indian diaspora, especially in west Asia and the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Preventing narcotics trafficking and smuggling of small arms and disrupting the linkages of the smugglers with terrorist organisations.
  • Bringing to speedy justice both overseas and local perpetrators of terrorist strikes in India and against Indian assets anywhere.
  • Preventing the destabilization of friendly countries in India’s area of strategic interest extending from the South China Sea in the East, to the Horn of Africa in the West and providing military and other assistance when required by them. (In this context stability in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is a major national interest).
  • Developing balanced relationships with strategic partners, including through defence cooperation, to deter conflict and manage crises. Engaging with organisations such as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation (SCO) to launch cooperative security initiatives while preserving India’s strategic autonomy.
  • Pursuing security and strategic dialogues to address key challenges before the international community.
  • Following a consistent and principled policy on nuclear disarmament and international security issues based on universality, non-discrimination and equal security for all.
  • Working dynamically to achieve the goal of self-reliance (70 to 80 per cent of indigenous content) in defence procurement by 2025. (The indigenous manufacture of microchips, the basic building block of ICT –information and communications technology-products must be a national priority).
  • Investing appropriately in the development of high-end defence technologies in conjunction with strategic partners to gain an edge in combat capabilities over military adversaries.-
  • Developing a proactive strategic culture.[12]

Application of Gurmeet’s Strategic thoughts

Gurmeet applied his thoughts and advocated that India must find her place on the high table. As per him, for far too long, since the Pallava and Chola empires. India has been inward-looking and strategic restraint has been a key feature of its foreign and security policies. Resurgent India is now at a break -out moment in its history. It must reassert its primacy in South Asia, particularly in the Indian subcontinent. It should broaden its strategic outreach by looking and acting outwards in ever-growing concentric circles. In keeping with its growing comprehensive national power, India must be able to use smart power across its Area of Responsibility. India should enter into and where necessary, upgrade its strategic partnerships to undertake multi-nation contingency operations. The real test for Indian statecraft, over the next few decades, would be to balance India’s engagement with its growing strategic partnership with the US. India must remain fully conscious of the reality that, while China is a large trading partner, it will continue to be a military adversary as long as the territorial and boundary disputes are not resolved and given its nexus with Pakistan perhaps later. The US may, in the future, be a strategic competitor but is extremely unlikely ever to become a military adversary.[13]Further if India continues to grow economically at a brisk pace and begins to act proactively to shape the environment and provide stability there will be no need to hanker for great power status or a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council –both are destined to come India’s way. [14]

It is in this context that Gurmeet wrote his views on sending Indian Troops to Afghanistan in The Tribune on 11 February 2020. Given its geographic location on the strategic crossroads to Central Asian Republics (CAR) and West Asia, a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is of national interest for India. By definition, vital national interests are required to be furthered or defended by using military force, if necessary. India has not been invited to join the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), nor is there any support for intervention in India’s policy community. However, after being kept away from the high table for decision making for conflict resolution by the George W Bush and Barrack Obama administrations, in deference to Pakistan’s sensibilities, India is now being urged by the Trump administration to help resolve the conflict. Further, Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib reportedly paid a visit to New Delhi to privately press on a request for at least a brigade – perhaps even a division of Indian troops to be deployed in peacekeeping roles.

Gurmeet has also written immensely on Nuclear Weapons. His first book was Nuclear Defence: Shaping the Arsenal (IDSA and Knowledge World 2001). The second book was Sharpening the Arsenal (HarperCollins Publishers India). As rightly enunciated, Gurmeet was of the view that India’s nuclear weapons are only meant to deter, they are not to be used in wars against an enemy unless the enemy initiates a nuclear attack. The position stems from the ‘No First Use’ posture India adopted as part of its Nuclear Doctrine in 2003. However, times have changed. The late Manohar Parrikar, then Defence Minister said in 2016 that there should be an element of unpredictability in the country’s military strategy. Expressing a personal view, he wondered whether the nuclear doctrine should be constrained by an openly declared ‘no first use stand’ as ambiguity enhances deterrence. Sharping the Arsenal delves into the debate and charts out the way ahead. It covers the developments in the nuclear force structures of India, China and Pakistan show that tactical nuclear weapons are inherently destabilising and makes recommendations to enhance nuclear deterrence.[15]

The most interesting aspect in this book is a hypothetical conflict scenario following a Pakistan sponsored terrorist strike in India. Gurmeet beautifully creates a situation where this is correctly orchestrated. The trigger is the capture of a Pakistani Major in a terrorist attack in New Delhi. This is followed by a proactive conventional conflict launched by India with a feeble response by Pakistan. Indian Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) capture territory to a depth ranging from 8-10 Km in Punjab to 20 km in desert terrain and have caused sizeable material damage. Pakistan retaliates using two nuclear strikes on the Indian Division advancing in the Cholistan Desert. Indian casualties are limited, 60 soldiers killed or wounded and 32 tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles damaged. India retaliates after 36 hours and the Prime Minister of India demands ceasefire or threatens to destroy Pakistan, in case of a Pak second strike. Pakistan listens to the advice of the US president and agrees to a Cease-Fire after 14 hours. A fictional scenario which concludes that de-escalation during the conflict will be possible only if strategic communications are in place and there are trustworthy backchannel interlocutors.[16] Overall the visualisation of Gurmeet on Strategy, Nuclear Policy, Modernisation and getting India on the high table has turned out to be true. President Trump has invited India to the G-7 summit. We are currently on the high table.


Gurmeet was a scholar warrior who was a renowned strategic thinker. His focus was on making India a Smart power. His writings lead us to many objectives, some of which have been attained and some yet to be attained. Those not yet attained are National Security Strategy, Modernisation of Armed Forces, Review of our Nuclear Doctrine, Strengthening our strategic relationship with the United States, Breaking the China Pakistan collusion, Intervention to aid a friendly neighbour like Afghanistan, Jointness under the Chief of Defence Staff- formation of theatre Commands, fighting a hybrid war, development of our capabilities in the fields of cyber warfare and outer space. The Ministry of Defence and strategic think tanks would do a commendable job by acting on these issues which will see our country sitting on the high table.


[1]P K Chakravorty, “Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal-Obituary”, CLAWS Facebook Page through March 17, 2020. Accessed on March 20, 2020

[2] Gurmeet Kanwal,”  Indian Army Vision 2020”, Observer Research Foundation, Harper Collins Publishers India a Joint Venture with India Today Group, 2008, pp. xvii.

[3]Ibid. pp.4.

[4]Ibid. pp. 15-16.

[5] N.2. pp 192-193.

[6] Press Trust of India,” First batch of Made-in –India Kamov choppers to be rolled out from Tumkur in the next 5 years”, The Economic Times,, February 06, 2020. Accessed on March 25, 2020.

[7]Shiv Aroor, “6 Apache Helicopter Deal for Indian Army cleared by Indian Govt”,, February  20, 2020. Accessed on March 26, 2020.

[8] N.2, pp. 313-314.

[9] Ananth Shreyas, “Defence Planning Committee likely to review Draft National Security Strategy in first meeting”, Financial Express,, May 2, 2018. Accessed on March 27, 2020

[10]Gurmeet Kanwal, “Editor’s Note; The New Arthashastra”, A Security Strategy for India, Harper Collins Publishers India, 2016, p. ix.

[11] Gurmeet Kanwal,” The New Arthashastra, A Security Strategy for India”, Harper Collins Publishers India, 2016, p.342.

[12] N’14.pp 353-355.

[13]Ibid. pp.356-357.


[15] Gurmeet Kanwal,” Sharpening the Arsenal”, HarperCollins Publishers, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India…

[16] Ibid. pp 218-222.