Sunday, July 12, 2015

Army – The Muscle of India's rising Power

Karan Kharb
The Army is the principal arm of our military might. With a strength of 11.77 lakh personnel on active list, it ranks second largest in the world after the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China.  More importantly, the Indian Army distinguishes itself from the rest of the world armies on many counts.  Firstly, in the post-World War II era, India's victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war was the most decisive victory that created an independent sovereign nation – Bangladesh. The surrender of 93,000 strong Pakistan Army in Dhaka was also a unique historic event in the modern world.  Secondly, deployed at the Saltoro-Siachen complex,  world's highest battlefield with heights ranging from 18,000 to 25,0000 feet above mean sea level and the sub-zero temperature as low as –50° Celsius, the Indian soldiers have beaten back numerous attacks launched by the Pakistan Army to snatch these strategic heights from India since 1984. Thirdly, despite having fought five wars and endless cross border skirmishes, troops remain actively deployed in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations in as varied environments as humid forests of the Northeast, hilly forests, valleys and icy mountains of Jammu and Kashmir in the north.  
Relentless Commitment
Nowhere in the developed world are armies physically deployed to protect borders as in the case of India. Here the army remains deployed and actively engaged along most part of the great Himalayas along the 4,056 km long Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and 2740 km long border with Pakistan from Pt NJ 4982 in the north to the point where Sir Creek meets the Arabian Sea including 740 km Line of Control (LoC) in J&K. There have been intermittent battles and localised wars along this line in the past and the cross border firing has hardly ever ceased. After years of sustained counter insurgency operations in the Northeast, some stability has been achieved but thanks to the porous borders and underdeveloped woody terrain, the region affords safer escape and support routes to and from Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and China. Influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh has altered the demography of Assam adding another dimension to the insurgency in the region. Deeper in the hinterland, the Maoist insurgency has already spread to a number of states forming what has come to be called a 'Red Corridor' connecting underdeveloped areas from Nepal to Karnataka and beyond. 
It hardly needs any elaboration that the Army has remained committed in the interior parts of Jammu and Kashmir fighting Pakistan sponsored proxy war that has frequently hit cities and towns considered safer being far away from the borders.  Audacious terror attacks have often surprised the authorities and the masses in the serene environs of heartland India from time to time. Vital institutions and establishments like the Parliament, Red Fort, Akshar Dham temple at Gandhinagar, Taj Hotel in Mumbai and so on have been audaciously targeted in the past.  Enhanced threat perception and probability of such attacks impose heavy responsibility on the army units and formations even in peace stations. 
It is common for the army units to swap roles every two-three years from plains to mountains; from the high mountains of Arunachal to the marshlands of Kutch; from the glacial north to the jungles of Nagaland; from the clammy jungles to the sand dunes of Jaisalmer. Diversity of operational environments, unpredictable time and spot of crises and fleeting nature of near invisible enemy have kept the Indian Army on the toes even in peace locations. On its flipside, nevertheless, there is an advantage of this 24x7 involvement. Every crisis throws up new challenges and more lessons. This abundance of experience has enriched the Indian Army professionally so well that doctrines and operational techniques conceptualised by the Indian military brains have been adopted by many other armies, especially those operating alongside Indian units in the UN peacekeeping missions.  
Charting a New Course
The Prime Minister, the national security establishment and foreign policy advisors in his government are a team of competent experts who could evolve effective strategies to foster relations and to assert India's legitimate role in South Asia and beyond. In the new age relations, India will require credible military muscle to protect its economic, commercial and political interests in the region.  Narendra Modi's aura as a connective and assertive leader with vision should inspire the policy makers in New Delhi to blend India's Hard Power into Soft Power so as to evolve 'Smart Power' that would not be coercive but powerfully persuasive; not offensive but effectively protective; not competitive but cooperative; not hegemonic but accommodating to harmonise with the Prime Minister's declared policy of 'Make in India'.
Even as the Indian Army has been so continually deployed in multifarious roles, its enormous potential has remained captive within India's land borders except, to a limited extent, its role in the UN peacekeeping missions. The world is changing fast. New matrices of power are emerging in which the two Asian nuclear giants and economic powers – India and China – are going to play roles that would reshape relations and equations regionally and globally. Their rise emits a mixture of hopes, expectations and apprehensions in the region. The emerging scenario thus puts new demands on the Army to be prepared for bigger military roles beyond its areas of present engagements.  Whereas the Navy and Air Force can adapt to this altered and enhanced role sooner if their projected equipment and organisational requirements are effectively met, the Army would need the proxy war and border scenario altered to be of value in strategic power projection beyond borders.   
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's blitzkrieg of diplomatic touring abroad has evoked enormous interest throughout the world. He started from day one by inviting the heads of SAARC nations to his oath taking ceremony. His thrust on the foreign policy and closer cooperation with neighbours in South Asia and East Asia has evoked great interest among most countries in the region even as some have failed to hide their envy and apprehensions at India's emerging role in this part of the world. It is quite obvious that India's expanding commerce and closer relations with countries not in Chinese good books shall be contested in many ways. Pakistan is already apprehensive of India's growing clout with the US vis-à-vis its role in Afghanistan.
To nourish diplomatic and economic relations in South Asia and Asia Pacific, India will need to develop its military into a credible power to protect and promote its national interests in the region.  Even as the Navy needs more urgent and extensive development, the Army will need strategic reorientation and urgent modernisation that has been pending for years. The tri-service A&N Command already has Army units integrated into it. Creation of marine army formations and enhancing of amphibious capabilities will be prerequisites for power projection across blue seas.  
Army units, formations and commanders at all levels have remained preoccupied with proxy war situations in the Kashmir Valley, insurgency in the Northeast, an ever-burning LoC and with the PLA troops lurking along the LAC. To break out for a larger role in the Asian/South Asian region, the Army will have to look beyond borders and chart its new course in consonance with the Government's foreign policy and national objectives. India needs to settle issues with Pakistan and China to ensure safe and intact borders between neighbours. A by-product of our border settlement and improved relations with China could be a positive influence on Pakistan. In the event of India and China resolving their issues and transforming the LAC into a mutually accepted international border, Pakistan should be expected to come to terms with the new realities and sign up with India. To many in India and Pakistan such a hope might appear far-fetched today but Pakistan, already a victim of multi-pronged anarchy, cannot afford to be pushed into isolation. 
Strategic disengagement of the Army from the borders and inner commitments will enable the Army Headquarters to plan and conduct programmes for strategic reorientation, structural reorganisation wherever needed and expeditious modernisation. Already, India is one of the frontrunners in subscribing Army contingents to the UN peacekeeping missions. Select teams and units have been carrying out joint exercises with the Armies of a number of other countries including China. An army trained and equipped with the appropriate arms and equipment, poised to execute missions of national interest abroad shall be a natural deterrent for mischief mongers closer home.  
Shed Inertia, Synergise Action      
Unfortunately, this abundance of unique military potential that could have been harnessed to strategize foreign relations and promote national interests has been dissipated by a convention of politico-bureaucratic inertia which has steadfastly kept the Army not only out of the strategic decision making process but also neglecting to maintain its war worthiness.  This weird legacy of keeping the Army at arm's length is rooted in Pundit Jawahal Lal Nehru's penchant for building up India as a peace-loving nation on the principle of Panchsheel and non-violence. He viewed Army as a symbol of violence. Thankfully, the Chinese aggression of 1962 jolted him.  Krishna Menon who was Nehru's Defence Minister, like his mentor, also preferred to give more credence to the bureaucrats around him rather than the Army Chief even on matters of military significance.  The anti-Army stance of India's first generation political leadership emboldened the bureaucracy to usurp authority pushing the Services Headquarters further away. Despite recommendations by a number of study groups and committees constituted by the Government, no significant improvement has taken place.  Nothing is 'integrated' in the 'Integrated Headquarters of MoD (Army)'. The Army Headquarters functions in the same manner as ever before.  
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visits to Siachen Glacier and other forward areas in J&K have kindled the hope for some far-reaching policy decisions. The Prime Minister's global vision is different. No longer restricted by the set-piece policies and options, his approach has the markings of a sagacious strategist who has the capacity chalk out a new course for India's march into the future. He is aware of the value of military power in such a journey and seems inclined to take Army, Navy and Air Force along in his quest to carve out a niche of power and prestige for India in the comity of nations. The arrival of Manohar Parrikar as the new Defence Minister also signals expeditious changes and far-reaching improvements including organisational restructuring of the Ministry of Defence.
The modernisation programme of the Army has suffered badly in the last 5-6 years.  During this period, a large number of sources of defence procurement – manufacturers and suppliers – were black listed. There being hardly any indigenous military equipment manufacturing, this retrograde action left the Army bereft of critical equipment and accessories for years to come.  Black listing has now been reviewed and revoked in many cases. Making up deficiencies of equipment will be, however, just one positive action in the system that requires extensive overhauling.  Of the two critical deficiencies – morale and material – the deficiency of arms and equipment has rightly caught the attention of the Government and appropriate actions seem to have been initiated.   
Match up 'Morale' to Modi's Global Quest
The most critical deficiency – the deficiency of MORALE – is yet to be addressed appropriately.  There are reasons for it.  The Government is unaware of this deficiency because no Army Chief has ever admitted lack of courage and morale in his Force leave alone reporting it to the Government.  Traditionally, admission of 'low morale' carries a stigma no soldier can bear. It is like admitting defeat and running away like a coward. That's unsoldierly! Even on deathbed, no soldier will ever admit his falling spirits. For the commanders, falling morale in command is a direct reflection on his leadership.  Yet, while high morale can compensate material deficiency to a large extend, no amount of material abundance can compensate the deficiency of morale – the primary battle winning factor for any army.  Therefore, the level of morale has to be gauged from the conduct and performance of men and units under stress. In the Indian Army, it has manifested through the rising trend of suicides, insubordination and fratricide, mutinous affront in units and reluctance of the youth to join Army as a career. As revealed by the Defence Minister recently on the floor of the Lok Sabha, as many as 362 soldiers have committed suicide since 2011 and the trend is rising every year. Giving more details in the current session of the Lok Sabha, the Defence Minister revealed that the Army was short of 7,989 officers and what should alarm all Indians, the major shortfall (7,764) was at the level of fighting leaders – Lt Cols, Majors, Captains and Lieutenants.  Infantry units, the cutting edge of the Army, are making do with only 11-12 officers against an authorised strength of 21. That means that officers at unit level are shouldering responsibilities twice their share!  
Intriguingly, factors such as socio-economic changes, smart phones and easy connectivity, enhanced awareness among troops and their families are being cited as 'causes' of suicides, insubordination and rebellious occurrences.  Nothing could be more humiliating and widely off the mark because the suggestion implied within such assumptions indicates official disapproval of social progress and the principle of natural growth. If education and societal development were a cause of the problem, would the modern Indian Army be happy enrolling school drop outs and homeless vagabonds instead of the educated, able bodied youth aspiring for a better future for self and family? Factors cited above as causes for the decay are in reality the tools of excellence that could only catalyse collective excellence in any team and organisation. The Army leadership has perhaps erred in perceiving the problem in its correct perspective. Dispassionate analysis of the situation and environments might throw up some real reasons for the declining morale and the trust deficit in officer-men relationship.
Nothing inspires a body of troops more than the personal example of their leader.  In the recent past, a number of poor examples have sprung up in the form of scams like Adarsh Society and Sukhna land scams involving top brass of the Army. Escalating rumours of bribery in equipment acquisition deals and fake encounters are some more glaring happenings of the recent years that have exposed the poorer side of military leadership. Observant subordinates who are often used as pawns in such unsavoury deeds feel cheated and exploited. Further, operating in proxy war scenario and frequently aiding the civil authorities, the soldier finds himself working in close proximity of the civil police, administration and politicians. It is in these environments that he observes from close quarters all the wheeling dealing between goons, touts, criminals and the police. The experience is disappointing for any soldier. Working with the army units of more advanced countries in different parts of the world has also had its effect in reshaping the traditional belief system of today's soldier. These experiences trigger new aspirations and leave lasting impressions on soldiers and officers.
Besides the spate of scams and court martial trials of some very senior army officers in the last five years, a large number of senior generals including at least one Army Chief were seen going to the court for personal gains. Even as they were all legally entitled to seek redress of their grievances, it only buttressed the growing belief among the subordinates that it is the self-interest and not virtues like altruism that spurs today's military leaders. This is a dangerous notion that cannot be allowed to grow and needs to be immediately reversed.
Besides the bureaucratic apathy and red tape, self-centric preoccupation of the top Army brass in the recent past has only facilitated the official neglect, which kept the fighting units waiting for essential equipment and accessories for years in the face of worsening security scenario in the country. Infantry units are still using weapons and sights of 1960s vintage. Induction of Arjun II MBT is further delayed for want of requisite missile system and tanks in service are mostly night blind for want of next generation night sights. No new generation gun has been added to the ageing Artillery since the mid 1980s when induction of Bofors made news for wrong reasons.  Such critical deficiencies also have had a telling effect on morale of the fighting units. When critical demands of essential equipment remain unmet for a long time, trust between the leader and his command takes a hit because subordinates attribute such lingering deficiencies to the incompetence of their leaders.     
Thankfully, the DAC has lately cleared acquisition of 8,000 anti-tank missiles (Spike ATGM), 300 launchers and 360 Armoured Personnel Carriers against long outstanding demands of the Army. The DAC under the chairmanship of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has also cleared acquisition of 814 artillery guns. In its quest to attain self-reliance in defence production, the Modi Sarkar has enunciated its policy of 'Make in India' under which most of the acquisition shall be on terms of technology transfer. For instance, only a hundred of the 814 artillery guns shall be purchased off the shelf.  The rest 714 shall be manufactured in India.  

To rise and match up to the Prime Minister Modi's vision of future India, the Indian Army will have reinvent itself culturally, conceptually and structurally to break free from outdated dogmas in the name of traditions.  The Army Chief must communicate directly with the political leadership so as to iron out misgivings if any and to educate the latter about the capabilities, limitations and requirements of the Army. Times are now ripe for evolving and firming up this process to integrate the Army as a co-axial component of India's foreign policy.  Undoubtedly, speedy modernisation of the Army is of paramount importance.  At the same time, ignoring the man behind the machine could negate all the advantages of modernisation.  
(Acknowledgement: This article was published in Geopolitics magazine (Jan 2015))

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