|By Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment (Bhaduria), Indian Army
When India became independent, the overriding feeling amongst our leaders was that the Indian Army was a remnant of our colonial past, and best forgotten. Since “Ahimsa” was to be the nation’s guiding principle, the army was really not required. The police would be sufficient to handle minor disturbances. For nine weeks, that was the over-riding emotion. Then, Pakistan attacked. The 1947-48 war was the longest post-Independence war we have fought.
Between 1948 and 1962, even when war clouds loomed in the horizon, we were the proverbial ostrich. After the humiliation of 1962, realisation dawned that war and strife wanted us, even if we didn’t want them. Pakistan again attacked us in 1965. Wars and insurgencies came and went. An insurgency morphed into militancy and is now full-blown terrorism. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.
This entire image of India as a nation not seeking war and taking pride in not having an expeditionary army is true. We have never gone looking for war. But wars have often come looking for us. I don’t have to tell fellow Indians that we live in a very rough neighbourhood. And yet, the sheer necessity of a strong military escapes us. Platitudes cannot replace weapons. But the real issue is vastly different.
Our thinking is strategically stunted.
Think of national security as a horse with four legs. All four legs must be strong, for us to gallop. Economy, diplomacy, intelligence and armed forces are the power profile of any nation. Except that in our case, we are one leg short.
I am not an economist and I don’t understand money too well, but I am told that independent institutions say we are the fastest growing economy in the world. People also say that we are doing very well diplomatically. I don’t know. These are not my areas of expertise. What I state is hearsay. About intelligence, I know even lesser than what I know about the economy or diplomacy. And anyway my “spook” friends sip coffee and talk about football. They don’t talk shop…ever.
Our fourth leg is broken. I deeply apologise for being blunt and making this transactional, but a nation gets the army it pays for, and payment is not about money alone. It is many things. Money is just one part of it.
Bravery alone does not win wars. An MQ9 Reaper stationed in Afghanistan can receive an input from a US Air Force desert base in Arizona, USA. It can hover at 50,000 feet above sea level for 36 hours and can put a AGM-114 Hellfire missile inside a 2×2 window, whenever the operator in Arizona so desires. Sounds like science fiction? Well, this technology is more than a decade old.
China is developing/stealing this technology, and since the Chinese focus only on work and don’t have to bother with red tape and babus, they are going to clone this weapons system and get it operational this year.
This is less than 1% of what is happening in our neighbourhood. If I were to mention just 10% of what China is doing, it would take several pages to simply state facts.
We, who often claim a permanent seat at the United Nation Security Council, have not been able to give our soldier a decent rifle. Was I talking about MQ9 Reaper? I am sorry…I do get ahead of myself, sometimes.
The issue is not so much with the budget. We are a growing economy and as we grow, so will the budget. The issue is that the things that can be done with minimal expenditure are not being done. Many reasons…envy, jealousy, rivalry…name it and its at play. We don’t need the Chinese and Pakistanis to harm us. We are doing a fantastic job of it ourselves.
Lets play a little game. Go to www.mod.gov.in and then click on Menu. In the drop down menu, click on Who’s Who. Finally, click on Department of Defence. Study the list carefully. Then click on Department of Defence Production. Then click on Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare. Finally, click on Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).
Once you have gone through the names on all lists, you would have understood the problem. More than 95% of the people, who are actually in-charge of India’s defence and national security at the Defence Ministry’s policymaking level, have not spent a day in uniform. Ditto for the DRDO list in which names are not mentioned.
The people who make policies don’t know the people they make them for.
The production people don’t involve the end user.
The people who look after ex-servicemen welfare have no clue about veterans.
The DRDO designs with little end-user input, giving us eggs like Tejas and INSAS.
These are the people who give orders to the Army, Navy and Air Force without having served a day in either service. And their orders are followed in letter and spirit. India is a democracy and civilian supremacy cannot be questioned. It must not be questioned. But would you agree to undergo a bypass surgery, by a person who is not a cardiac surgeon? And if your answer is NO, then why don’t you, the people of India, protest when the security of YOUR nation is entrusted to people who don’t have the expertise to do that?
The Defence Minister must be someone elected by the people, and of that, there can be no doubt. Power in a democracy flows from the people. Many people have been clamouring for a military man to be made Defence Minister. While politics will decide that, the problem is clearly elsewhere. It is in the lists you read earlier. You can make a former general the Defence Minister of India but unless structural changes are made in that list, nothing will help.
The four legs of India’s national security work in silos. In any nation, the military forms an integral part of diplomacy because it is the military that is a nation’s final insurance against diplomatic failure. If you want to be derogatory, you can call this gunboat diplomacy. But it mostly works, mind you.
Posting a middle level officer as a Defence Attaché to an Embassy or High Commission is simply not enough. When the Prime Minister of India sits down to negotiate with another nation’s leader, both heads of state must know that somewhere in the background lurk INS Vikramaditya and INS Arihant. Subtlety is the key, but 1.2 million soldiers is a compelling argument.
For too long we have shunned projection of hard power. There has been the odd success like Operation Cactus in Maldives in 1988 when Brig. Farouk Bulsara entered Maldives with 1600 Indian Army paratroopers. The enemy was spooked witless. Then there have been gigantic foreign policy failures like Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. In Op Pawan, the army was consulted only when it became difficult for the political dispensation to distinguish soldier from cannon fodder.
The economist and the diplomat alone are not enough to catapult a nation to superpower status. Somewhere in the background, a soldier underwrites all the ebbs and flows. We may like to look at the world through the prism of justice and morality, but there is nothing just and moral about the way the world does business. The United States Marines are humorously referred to as the last hundred yards of US foreign policy. It’s both funny and true.
Lets not shy away from projection of hard power. China did not withdraw from Dokalam because India gave the world Yoga and Kamasutra. They withdrew because we were strategically and tactically far stronger in that particular area. They are building a road in general area Dokalam, but it’s not the same place that we defended. The army Chief said that if we can defend Siachen for more than three decades, we could defend Dokalam indefinitely. He was just stating the obvious. Anyone who has been posted to Dokalam will tell you this. This is hard power projection.
Our national power profile is skewed. The Indian Armed Forces must have their say, as subject matter experts. They must be involved in policy at the highest levels. Administrators are generalists. We need specialists advising the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. The Chief of Defence Staff position is years away, if at all. The low hanging fruit is immediate restructuring of the Defence Ministry.
Percentage of GDP committed to the budget is one way of looking at defence preparedness. India has other equally important priorities. Education, health, infrastructure and human resource development are as critical as defence. But everything is not about budget allocations. How smartly we spend that money is up to us. For that, we need soldiers to lead policy making. And that does not cost money.
When we have our policy imperatives sorted, we will start acting the part of an emerging super-power. It is then that the people of India will see global projection of hard power, and not just tableaus of missiles on Republic Day. Parades are an important part of military culture, but there is far more to the armed forces than shiny uniforms and marching to a drumbeat.
A shark is a predator of the deep seas. It is in the nature of sharks to hunt and kill. For too long, the armed forces have been sharks masquerading as goldfish. It goes against the DNA of soldiering. One day India will find its rightful place in the comity of nations, and the soldier will be an important part of that journey.
To our East and West we have two nuclear powers, and both have waged war on us. We are swimming in very dangerous waters. India must choose whom it wants defending its flanks, in these murky waters.
In the dark depths of the ocean, a shark is the final argument.