Saturday, July 11, 2015

Indian Army – A Political Casualty

Karan Kharb
The splendid record of Indian Army's performance in wars and times of crises should be a source of great inspiration for the military personnel on the one hand and bolster people’s pride and confidence in their Army on the other. Quite on the contrary, however, serving military personnel and ex-servicemen are all visibly unhappy.
The rising trend of litigation and complaints of grievances against higher authorities also point towards declining morale and growing resentment. The present Government seems to have woken up to address some of these harsh realities but what is actually needed is a shift in the traditional political-bureaucratic mind-set about military vis-à-vis nation's defence needs. Be it war or other catastrophic situations, military is the last resort at the disposal of the government. Military aspects must therefore outweigh all other considerations because any compromise on military preparedness will imperil national defence and security.

'Proxy War' - A War of Attrition
            Proxy war is more sinister than conventional war in many ways. In a direct military-to-military confrontation, the enemy is clearly distinguishable from the civil population because in a conventional military scenario capturing and holding of territory dictates manoeuvres. In the proxy war scenario, the terrorists merge with the population and have no interest in holding territory. They operate in small groups, carry out their terror tasks and easily melt away in the masses. Besides, the conventional enemy would be logistically organised and self-reliant whereas the terrorists depend on the local sympathisers and havens in towns, villages or bahaks (shepherd huts in forests). Whereas the enemy supply lines would be discernible in the former case, there are no 'supply lines' in the latter case.
In the wake of counter terrorist military operations, freedom of people is frequently curtailed. Sometimes, innocent citizens get killed in the cross-fire between the army and the terrorists. There have also been a few cases where local informants have fed false information to the army units to get their rivals killed by planting credible evidence.  Two fallouts of these non-stop engagements are now having telling effects on the Army and the people: firstly, the Army is getting tired and frustrated; secondly, the local population is also becoming restive and anti-army. 
Military personnel are frequently taken to task for operations gone awry for want of workable intelligence or due to informer’s deceit. There are many cases filed against military personnel in various courts of law for ‘offences’ during operations. J&K and North East lead in such allegations and court cases against military personnel. Imagine soldiers having to operate under constant apprehension lurking to implicate them for excesses on innocent civilians. These are inevitable operational hazards that mar soldiers’ confidence in their commanders. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar recently informed the Lok Sabha that as many as 108 military personnel committed suicide during 2014 as on November 21.
What will further complicate the army operations in the affected areas is rising public opinion against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which is perceived as granting carte blanche to the Army.             That this perception is grossly misconceived is clear from the number of soldiers killed in J&K alone in the last 25 years: 7,443 (as in Feb 2014) as against a combined total of 6387 Indian soldiers killed in the three Indo-Pak wars - 1965, 71 and 99 (Kargil). And while the Army's performance in the wars was spectacular earning the soldiers love and pride of the people, the attrition suffered by the Army during the last few decades has dismayed and disappointed both – people and the army.
Rekindle Offensive Spirit
            One of the basic doctrines of war is that the side that the army that has the initiative and carries the war into enemy territory enjoys the advantage. In the given context, Pakistan has the initiative and all the fighting takes place on the Indian territory. The Pakistan Army selects, trains and pushes armed proxies not only into J&K but also to attack eminent targets in Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere leaving India to react to devastations planned in Pakistan and enacted here from time to time. The effect is that India has been chasing these so-called 'non-state actors' raised and deployed by Pakistan for over 25 years now and the end of this dirty war is not in sight yet. India cannot win this war conclusively unless Pakistan is convinced that investing in such initiatives shall be retaliated most fiercely imposing costs that Pakistan cannot afford.  
Professional modern armies like the western armies and the Israel Army have evolved decisive response system to deter perpetration of state sponsored terrorist acts. Israeli response to any provocation from any source has always been devastating. In its latest retaliation against Hamas kidnapping three Israeli teenagers in July 2014, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched an offensive into Gaza which left more than 2,000 Gazans killed. Israeli casualties were comparatively negligible:  66 Israeli soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians killed. After the 9/11 WTC disaster, the US Army invaded Afghanistan and continued man-hunt for the disaster's mastermind Osama bin Laden until the Navy Seals got him deep inside Pakistan in Abbotabad.  
In contrast to this India's response has always been feeble and only defensive. In 1999 when India was already a nuclear power, Pakistan Army dared to intrude and occupy Indian territory in Kargil. Rather than reacting fiercely against this misadventure, the Indian Army fought with self-imposed restrictions and lost nearly 600 lives only to regain its lost territory and 'refrained' from crossing the LoC 'to avoid escalating the conflict'.  Again, responding to the December 2001 terrorist attack on its Parliament, the Indian Government ordered what is known to be the biggest military mobilisation since 1971 against Pakistan. The Army remained deployed for nearly a year without achieving anything. Pakistani troops have frequently ambushed and even beheaded Indian soldiers on Indian soil in J&K. But retaliation even to such highly provocative acts has been no more than registering diplomatic protests and raising the volume of cross border firing.  Feeble response to these misadventures has established a pattern that has degraded the soldier's fighting potential and destroyed India's credibility as a military power in the region.    
Expecting Pakistan to punish Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and his associates is naïve and ridiculous. The Army commandos and Special Forces of India are fully competent to undertake special missions to strike at designated targets deep inside enemy territory. Special missions must, therefore, be considered and undertaken to pick up or liquidate criminals like Lakhvi and to destroy terrorist training camps in Pakistan. It is intriguingly self-defeating that instead of Nuclear India deterring Pakistan misadventures; Nuclear Pakistan has been deterring India unfairly but more effectively.  Indian military authorities and Special Forces must work out a more effective response system that should compel Pakistan to negotiate peace with India. Most politicians and military generals in Pakistan have fair assessment of India's nuclear capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. It is therefore unreasonable to suspect that any decision maker would be so insane there as to think of nuclear option to retaliate against India's covert raids on precisely designated small targets like proclaimed offenders and terror breeding camps.   
Pakistan Army's view notwithstanding, the pro-peace lobby in that country is growing with politicians, business community and intelligentsia favouring cordial relations with India. Fresh peace initiatives, therefore, should be India's first option but from a position of strength.
Preparing the Army for coming Challenges
The practice of deploying the Army in the interior civilian areas for protracted periods is a flawed concept which must change. Army's war fighting potential is degrading because in dealing with own civilians the soldier's 'killing instincts' are replaced by 'kinder restraint'. The awe and respect for the Army in the civilian mind also diminishes gradually. Therefore, dealing with security situations in the interior civilian areas should remain a police responsibility. The Army should be left to concentrate on what is most expected of it – come into action only as a 'last resort' to deal with exceptionally grave situations. After accomplishing their task, the Army units must quickly disengage and return to their primary role at the LAC, LoC or cantonments to train and prepare for bigger roles.
Although India's relations with China are apparently thawing, we still have claims and counter claims on territories across the 4,056 km Line of Actual Control (LAC).  Frequently, Chinese troops have intruded to stake claim on the Indian territory in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Development of rail-road network and military infrastructure in forward areas of the Tibet region has been a cause of concern for India. Despite fast growing trade and economic cooperation between India and China, they have contentious issues spread from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean besides the existing border issues.
Even more serious are the developments taking place further north where the Karakoram highway has been upgraded from 10 m to 33 m wide two-way road trebling its transport capacity and linking China to the warm water port of Gwadar. While Pakistan has already ceded Shaksgam Valley to China, there are also reports of Pakistan leasing the region of Gilgit Baltistan to China for a period of 50 years. With the Karakoram highway now upgraded from 10 m to 33 m enhancing transportation capacity by three times, China now has easy access to the warm water port of Gwadar. Its rising domination in the Gilgit-Baltistan-Karakoram region while China continues to hold the Indian territory of Aksai Chen is a matter of concern for India.    
Steadily, China is encircling India strategically from all directions. It is aggressively expanding its reach in Myanmar, Srilanka and other island nations in the Indian Ocean. Until now India had ignored the creepy Chinese advance that could result in India's 'continental isolation'. Thankfully, the Modi Sarkar now appears to have woken up to the emerging geo-political scenario in the region as indicated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's thrust in revitalising India's relationships with SAARC countries and island nations in the Indian Oceans.

A crucial fact that has been overlooked by strategists in India is that while there is always a strategic military component woven into development projects China undertakes in the East and South Asian countries. China negotiates partnership and retains long-term control of the facilities created through joint projects ranging from mining to infrastructure development, ports and highways. In the Indian context even today, it would be unthinkable to have a military say in foreign trade, commerce or matters relating to diplomacy and foreign relations. It is the flawed politico-bureaucratic perception of successive governments that has not allowed the Military to disentangle from the environs of insurgency and proxy war to prepare and attend to larger national interests on and beyond land borders.  Diplomacy, foreign trade and relations shall yield more if backed by credible military potential particularly when a number India's neighbours look up to it for support.  

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