The new year brings with it a silver lining of hope  and resolve against the backdrop of the anger and anguish that the rape related death of  a brave young girl has generated in India. Internal security in the country is far from adequate and while this is  of immediate relevance for the common man, the larger spectrum of national security challenges also need to be reviewed in a holistic manner. The linkage between the internal and external dimension and the overlap between the two domains  was  brought home in a stark and horrific manner in the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008.

If  national security objectives have to be prioritized in 2013, then it is self-evident that the national will must ensure that neither a Mumbai nor a Mahipalpur  ( the location in Delhi associated with  the rape victim ) is repeated. For this kind of  a domestic  environment to be realized, the entire national security apparatus – both internal and external must  be aware  of the challenges that will emerge in the current year.

The UPA II led by Dr. Manmohan Singh is in its last phase and will have about a year plus of  political  credibility – a fact that the external interlocutor is cognizant of.  Among the principal external interlocutors for India who will define the global strategic context are the USA and China at the primary level – and Russia at a remove. In the Asian context,  Japan and the ASEAN collective remain important elements while the neighborhood will be animated by developments within the  Af-Pak domain in the run up to the 2014 US / ISAF withdrawal ;  the domestic contestation in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka ; and the transition that is taking place in Myanmar.

The more visible and immediate challenge will be the manner in which Pakistan and its military relate to India. The optimism generated in 2012 – as for instance over the MFN status and improved trade and economic ties has been belied and  the ambivalence in Islamabad continues. While the Pakistan military now acknowledges that internal security and the  Taliban stoked terror  have become their principal security challenge, the  conviction  in GHQ Rawalpindi  that ‘India-is-the-eternal-enemy’  has not changed. Consequently the Pak military is  reluctant to sever its links and support to terror groups and related ideology  and the progress in the Mumbai 2008 investigations  is indicative. Thus the LeT and the JeM among other groups continue to operate unhindered and India’s anxiety will grow.

The complexity of the challenges that will  engage India will be further heightened by current developments along the Pak-Afghan axis, as also the US led Western block engagement with Kabul and the Taliban  - initiatives that are preparatory to the post 2014  scenario.

The rapprochement with the Taliban under French aegis is gathering momentum and the Karzai regime appears to be moving towards accepting the primacy of  Pakistan in the post US scenario. The end result may be the return of the Taliban to Kabul with a degree of political legitimacy and a sense of déjà vu going back to 2001 and  the pre 9/11  Kabul is inescapable.

The   ideology associated with the Taliban in its earlier stint in Kabul  proved to be detrimental to the Indian security interest and the December 1999 Kandahar hijacking  and the ignominy of the Vajpayee led NDA government at the time should serve as a warning. How Pakistan will shape the post 2014 political transition in Afghanistan and the linkage with groups such as the Haqqani  will define the Indian co-relation to developments in Afghanistan.

Both the US and China have their own perceptions about their respective national  security interest in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan and in the past this has resulted in the US acting in a manner that negatively impacted India.  The fine-print of the Mumbai 2008 investigation  and the US reluctance to  interrogate the  Pakistani ISI  and the opaque status of the David Headley trial suggest that in consolidating its immediate interest in Afghanistan – the US could well adopt an accommodating posture apropos  Pakistan and the  terror linkage that  will be reminiscent of the first Clinton term. The appointment of Senator Kerry as the US Secretary of  State may also witness a review of the  US policy towards  South Asia  in general and Pakistan in particular.

China is now under a new leader – Xi Jinping – and the boundary issue along with Sino-Pak  WMD cooperation remains central to Indian security concerns. The next round of talks with the Indian  National Security Adviser is scheduled for January 10 and while no dramatic breakthrough is expected, the orientation of  the new team in Beijing to territorial issues  and acceptance of the prevailing global norms regarding the maritime domain will be critical determinants in the Indian security calculus of 2013.

At the end of the day, India’s  ability to deal with its external security challenges will be determined  by its own comprehensive national will and  tangible power in the economic and military sphere. Here the relevance of the major trading and investment partners – such as  ASEAN, EU  and  Japan on one hand and Russia in the defense sector looms large.

The allocation  of resources for national security – be it under the Defense or Home  Ministries  and their utilization has to be managed in a far more purposeful manner than  has been the case over the last few years. The morale of the Indian military has been dented over the last year and structural deficiencies in higher defense management remain unaddressed.

 From Kargil in 1999 to Mumbai in 2008 and Mahipalpur in 2012 – the spectrum of  security challenges for India are likely to become more complex and  intense in   2013 . Institutional integrity, sectoral competence and inter-agency coordination will need the undivided attention of the government  and the opposition  which alas, has  not been the case in 2012.