It’s going to be a long haul with periodic flare-ups as China is not going to back down from strategic heights in Ladakh
Its Foreign Ministry statement following a fresh flare-up at Pangong-Tso, where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) once again tried to cross the border, is indication enough that China is never going to back down. And it is going to provoke and exasperate India till it extracts something in return. It said its troops “never cross the Line of Actual Control (LAC)”, a familiar trope to justify its border claims — considering it is unmarked on the ground — and appropriate geological features to redefine it time and again according to its convenience. In its book, salami-slicing is a perfect geo-political art where it plays on perceptional differences of what is implied and gets its way by heaving down militarily. Is the latest attempt to change the status quo at Pangong Tso the result of India quietly sending warships in the South China Sea post-Galwan, along with those of the US, to flex some muscle? So far, China had stared India down but now that there is a robustness of response from our side, the tension is only expected to aggravate. India should be prepared for the long haul. And though a Siachenisation at the heights would mean a waste of man and resources on both sides, China seems to be preparing for a stakeout this winter and beyond. For all the diplomacy around eastern Ladakh, it is just a diversionary tactic as the Chinese will not forfeit what they have gained in Pangong Lake and Depsang areas. That’s because this geographical wedge between Gilgit-Baltistan in the west (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), where China is heavily invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Aksai Chin in the east, is an irritant to its regional supremacy, strategically and economically. And it wants an unhindered run of the highway from Xinjiang to Tibet, 179 km of which is under Indian shadow. So far, its contiguous hold on Central Asia, Pakistan and beyond was a low-cost, undemanding exercise, playing as it did on interpreting its version of the LAC on the ground. But now that we have ramped up our border infrastructure, China is extremely uncomfortable about the proximity of the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) Road to sensitive areas and strategic highways to the north of the Karakoram Pass. And as Galwan has shown, our troops are more than capable in high altitude warfare. So China simply won’t give up the spurs it has now because it doesn’t want to compromise its edge in the Karakoram. Already, it has browbeaten India at the talks table by calling for a buffer zone, which means our forces cannot patrol up to the points they used to because of the Chinese insistence of a no man’s land. This would allow it to build resources on its side unmonitored and reverse any disengagement move at a short notice. This clause also makes Indian vigilance difficult besides stretching our alertness at all times. China is hoping that it will be able to renegotiate the status quo on Pangong Tso by wearing out our troops and patience, particularly during a long, hard winter. We should be wary of the fact that the PLA, which has been pitching tents, building roads and marking territories since 2013 and which takes orders from Chinese President Xi Jinping himself, may lie low but not go silent.
India, which has now empowered troops to counteract any infringement on the LAC, has to focus on a multi-pronged approach to hold off the dragon’s territorial and economic imperialism. It can challenge China in the Indian Ocean region, get more active in the Quad initiative with US and Japan and use its international goodwill as a nation that respects “rule-based order” to build a case against China’s “wolf warrior” tactics. And it must now confront the boundary question, insist on marking the LAC. For years of denial and yielding to the Chinese template of working around the boundary dispute have only left us with trade dependencies and a deficit. Today, it is eastern Ladakh but if the territorial push in Bhutan is any indication, China may very well push its claim lines in Arunachal Pradesh now. Fortunately, we have begun ramping up the naval strategy around the Malacca Straits, which happens to be China’s trade and strategic corridor. India has deployed its vessels to keep a check on any activity of the Chinese Navy and is planning to maintain hawkish patrols through autonomous underwater vessels, unmanned systems and sensors. Diplomatically, India should be transactional in its approach to China and lay down in no uncertain terms that the latter’s avarice for global domination would not come at the cost of the second largest Asian entity tilting towards the US. In fact, we have to be overt about our strategic partnership with the US. At the same time, we must use every multi-national forum, alliance and bilateral ties to make enough noise about the asymmetric relationship with China. And reclaim our neighbourhood which China has debt-trapped into subservience.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
As talks for pullback continue, they are just a diversion as it isn’t easy for China to give up Pangong Tso
As the Chinese are reluctant to significantly pull back from Pangong Tso, fortifying their positions around it, and making concessional retreats at other sites just to keep talks going, India should be prepared for the long haul. And though a Siachenisation at the heights would mean a waste of man and resources on both sides, China seems to be preparing for a stakeout this winter at least. For all the diplomacy around eastern Ladakh, it is just a diversionary tactic as the Chinese will not forfeit what they have gained in Pangong Lake and Depsang areas. That’s because this geographical wedge between Gilgit-Baltistan in the west (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), where China is heavily invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Aksai Chin in the east, is an irritant to its regional supremacy, strategically and economically. And it wants an unhindered run of the highway from Xinjiang to Tibet, 179 km of which is under Indian shadow. So far, its contiguous hold on Central Asia, Pakistan and beyond was a low-cost, undemanding exercise, playing as it did on smartly interpreting its version of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the ground. As it is unmarked and fluidic, it has justified its salami slicing to perceptional differences and pre-empted counter-attacks by heaving down with military presence and developing border infrastructure, the scale of which has held India back from a robust counter-challenge for years. But now that we have ramped up our border infrastructure, China is extremely uncomfortable about the proximity of the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) road to sensitive areas and strategic highways to the north of the Karakoram Pass. And as Galwan has shown, our troops are more than capable of bloodying noses in high altitude warfare. So China simply won’t give up the spurs it has now because it doesn’t want to compromise its edge in the Karakoram. Already, it has browbeaten India at the talks table by calling for a buffer zone, which means our forces cannot patrol up to the points they used to because of the Chinese insistence on a no man’s land. This would allow it to build resources on its side unmonitored and reverse any disengagement move made so far at short notice. This clause also makes Indian vigilance difficult besides burdening soldiers with knife-edge preparedness at all times. China is hoping that it will be able to renegotiate the status quo at Pangong Tso by wearing out our troops and patience, particularly during a long, hard winter. If anything, the “push and extract” policy might continue even as nominal concessions are made to show that it is committed to the dialogue process. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cannot be written off simply because it has had a history of winter offensives, be it the occupation of Tibet or the incursion of 1962.
For China, the loss of troops at Galwan is a loss of face. And the fact that it has maintained somewhat of a radio silence on casualties means that it will strike back. Right now, tainted by the Wuhan virus, China may have stretched itself too thin in using the pandemic to reshape its imperial dream of colonising the world. But it won’t acknowledge India’s neo-assertiveness by withdrawing. Instead, it will consolidate, given that it will be the only economy to register growth, even if it is as low as one per cent, and will bet big on fighting for Asian pride against a US-dominated West. Despite the US opposition, it has already got aggressive in the South China Sea, claiming islands, setting up bases and enveloping South and Southeast Asians with its transactional economic largesse and debt-trapping. Many have given in to the bullying but India hasn’t. Besides, with the US using us as its proxy, we will increasingly become a pawn in the game of two big powers for world domination. If China loses its stakes in India, the second biggest Asian power, how would it be able to convince other Asian nations to go with its hegemonic vision? So there will be need-based engagement all right but coercion will be constant. India may not match up to its economic and military might as yet and while it develops self-sufficiencies of its own, it has to take on a partnering role with both Western and regional countries. It can challenge China in the Indian Ocean region, get more active in the Quad initiative with US and Japan and use its international goodwill as a nation that respects “rule-based order” to build a case against China’s aggressive tactics. And it must now confront the boundary question, insist on marking the LAC. For years of denial and yielding to the Chinese template of working around the boundary dispute have only left us with trade dependencies and a deficit. Today, it is eastern Ladakh but if the territorial push in Bhutan is any indication, China may very well expand its claim lines in Arunachal Pradesh now, just to stretch us beyond our extremities. We should be wary of the fact that the PLA, which has been pitching tents, building roads and marking territories since 2013 and which directly takes orders from Chinese President Xi Jinping himself, may lie low but not go silent.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
As speculation over Chinese intrusions and occupation of up to 60 sq km in eastern Ladakh gained ground, the Government and the Army responded by resorting to prevarication and dissimulation
As the pandemic continues to rage, it is but natural that it remains our primary focus of attention. It would, however, be foolish and shortsighted to lose sight of events unfolding on our northern borders as many within the Government and the security establishment probably hoped we would. Despite the BJP’s formidable perception-management skills, invariably such occurrences tend to render Prime Minister Narendra Modi dumbstruck, showing up his Government’s utter lack of transparency. Especially when caught flat-footed, as has been the case, because of the Chinese incursions in Ladakh.
As speculation over Chinese intrusions and occupation of up to 60 sq kms in eastern Ladakh gained ground, the Government and the Army responded by resorting to prevarication and dissimulation. They used subterfuge, dodgy satellite pictures and pliable analysts to bolster a patently false narrative. They could not hide the fact that these intrusions were along the Galwan River Valley, the Hot Springs Area and at Pangong lake in strength, along with supporting artillery and armour.
While there are differing perceptions with regard to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at the Pangong lake, the same is not the case at either Hot Springs or Galwan River Valley where the LAC is clearly demarcated and accepted by both sides. We are now informed, again by Government proxies and not formally, that based on the meeting between the Leh Corps Commander and his PLA counterpart, the disengagement process has been set in motion and the PLA has reportedly withdrawn approximately 2.5 km, except in the Pangong lake area. We are once again left wondering as to the credibility of this latest report and also as to whether the Government is being completely honest about the manner in which it is handling the situation.
Thus, while the incursion at Pangong lake may be explained away as arising out of differing perceptions, as the Defence Minister had suggested, the other two incursions were deliberately provocative and hostile acts probably aimed at testing our alertness and resolve. By occupying the heights, the PLA was in a position to easily interdict the Darbuk-Shyok–Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) Road in the Galwan area and deny us access to the Kongka La pass, which is on our side, in the Hot Springs area.
While the PLA’s deployment at Pangong has now made it impossible for us to patrol areas claimed by us up to “Finger 8”, it really has very little tactical significance. However, this ingress in Galwan also raises a far more serious question, pertaining to our ability to utilise the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at DBO operationally. For our military leadership, the PLA’s ingress should not have come as a surprise. The Doklam stand-off led to the PLA’s public humiliation at the hands of the Indian Army. Clearly no country aspiring to global leadership could accept such humiliation without a fitting retaliation. Obviously our military’s top leadership must have been swayed by those within the Modi Government into believing that the PM had done enough at Wuhan to adequately assuage President Xi Jinping’s feelings. One must remember that after Wuhan, Modi turned a Nelson’s eye to the manner in which the Chinese successfully took control of large parts of the Doklam plateau and constructed a road through it till the base of the Zampheri Ridge, giving us a nominal face-saver by keeping the alignment away from where the stand-off had occurred. One sincerely hopes that we are not seeing a repetition of this false narrative in the sudden turnaround that has now occurred.
All of this could not have come at a worse time for Modi. First, all our attempts to ward off the spread of COVID-19 seem to have fallen flat, adversely impacting our economic recovery. More pertinently, not by accident but by design, our military finds itself in a particularly poor shape. Wedded to his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology, Modi abhors the military for its apolitical and secular institutional stance. He has been keen to make it more acquiescent and in line with the political ideology his party embodies.
Moreover, he felt let down when his attempt to woo the ex-servicemen through the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) initiative ended in a fiasco.
He then turned his anger not just on them, but against the military as a whole. As a result he has managed to demoralise the rank and file, damage their credibility and reduce the Service Chiefs and the senior hierarchy to caricatures. He has left them with endemic shortages in manpower and material and with weaponry that is largely obsolete.
Ironically, however, at the end of the day, Modi has only won a pyrrhic victory. Like the US author and motivational speaker, HH Ziglar, once said, “You are free to choose but you are not free from the consequences of your choice.”
In any case this turn of events must be quite a come-down for the Government and its ideological mentor, the RSS, elements within which have become increasingly vociferous in demanding that the Government free Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), including the Gilgit–Baltistan region, from Islamabad’s clutches. Indubitably, it should be an even bigger embarrassment for the Army chief, General MM Naravane, who on assuming command had gone on record to affirm that the Army was ready to recapture PoK if the Government so wanted it done.
Clearly, the Government has been responsible for once again putting us in harm’s way, much in the same manner that its previous iteration under the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee did at Kargil. It cannot be emphasised enough that while we ultimately succeeded in throwing out the intruders then, it came at an extremely heavy cost. The lives of young men were deliberately sacrificed by the very people whose apathy and disinterest were responsible for the fiasco in the first place, allowing them to get away from being held to account. If they had been, it would have exposed politicians, bureaucrats and senior military leaders, who were so focussed in the minutiae of their own personal ambitions and agenda that they had little time or inclination to devote to issues of national importance.
In the interim, nothing seemed to have changed as the Government, instead of building military deterrent capabilities, focussed on opening up military cantonments to civilians, notwithstanding its adverse implications on security. At that time, one was unable to understand the Government’s motives but they are now becoming increasingly crystal clear, as it has put in motion steps that would allow it to monetise defence lands within cantonments. This would ostensibly go towards filling up Government coffers, but more importantly, fulfill the long-held aspirations of the land mafia that has eyed defence lands for its own use. Undoubtedly, they would make a killing, much of which will no doubt line party and personal pockets.
Clearly not only have we not learnt any lessons from the Kargil episode but are likely to see a repeat of the same playbook that got those responsible off the hook. Though, given that Modi never lets his reputation be tarnished, it must now be dawning on the military brass, who have never hesitated to carry out his every wish, as to who will pay the price if things go wrong.
However, that need not be so because even in these difficult times, it is worth emphasising that positives far outweigh the negatives and we must not lack faith in our own abilities. For one, there is a very real possibility that Xi, in his haste to protect his own position within the CCP following the pandemic, may have over played his hand and underestimated Indian resolve. Just as General Pervez Musharraf did during Kargil, he may well have bitten off more than he can chew. For all its talk, the PLA suffers from a lack of combat experience, at all levels, further accentuated by its dependence on conscripts who undergo just two months of recruit-training prior to joining their units.
Moreover, despite first-rate infrastructure, its forces have to travel great distances along roads and railways, vulnerable to interdiction, to reach their deployment areas, traversing through hostile populations where insurrection is just hidden below the surface.
In sharp contrast we have a proven, battle-hardened military that has extensive experience in high-altitude warfare, led by combat leaders who are not lacking in physical toughness, courage or determination, with many among them veterans of the Kargil campaign.
More importantly, at present, despite infrastructural constraints, terrain and force ratios are greatly tilted in our favour, in addition to the tactical advantages that our Air Force and Navy enjoy. Finally, Modi’s resolve and fighting spirit must never be underestimated because unlike Pandit Nehru he will never concede defeat when the chips are down.
Of course, “to jaw-jaw is preferable to war-war” and one hopes talks and diplomacy will finally resolve the issue and we will be able to return to the status quo ante. However, have no doubt if push comes to a shove, we will emerge victorious but that would not even be necessary if Modi reversed course and gave the military its due. There is much to be said for deterrence when compared to dissuasion.
(Writer: Deepak Sinha; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The grim reality is that our armed forces run the risk of giving in to societal and political passions without fulfilling their reciprocal duty to address the institution’s own concerns
Reassurances of trust, confidence and power are naturally vested in the “sword arm” of the nation ie, the armed forces as part of a societal consciousness. This is especially true in a participative democracy like India, where the mandated “restraint” and “dignity” of the “uniform” is underpinned by its apolitical, external-facing, non-interfering and patriotic service, which is Constitutionally subordinate to the will of the people as manifested in a civilian Government. Odd aberrations and derelictions that are attributable to individuals or at worst a group of individuals aside, the “institution” retains its sheen as a shining and working example of the “idea of India.”
The inherent composition of the armed forces seamlessly weaves soldiers and regimental denominations of India’s myriad ethnicities and diversities. They could theoretically have an Infantry Brigade in the sweltering deserts of western India, which is represented by a Naga battalion (from the North-east), Madras battalion (“Thambis” from South) and a Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry battalion (soldiers almost equally divided from the Kashmir Valley and Jammu plains).
They operationally combine and defend India’s sovereignty from any hostile intent from across the border. The culture, training and ethos of this institution are such that societal “divides,” that sweep just across the iron-clad cantonments, usually have no echo, tolerance or acceptance within the barracks. Therefore, in every opinion poll after poll, the “Indian soldier” emerges as the most “revered” in the imagination of the citizenry.
But this idyll comes under threat whenever the fundamental coordinates of the armed forces stray from the course. When increasingly internally committed, it is being accused of political leanings. It even gets involved in matters beyond its traditional roles, rectitude and traditions. Such optics and the accompanying murmurs weaken its institutional steel, which has survived various dissonances and uprisings like the Dravidian movement, North-eastern insurgencies or even the Jammu and Kashmir imbroglio.
Metaphorically defying the worst instincts of our societal regressions, distortions and perceptions, a 26-year-old soldier, Sepoy Aurangzeb from the Kashmir Valley, was abducted and killed by Pakistan-supported terrorists. Poignantly, his father ensured that his brothers, too, would don the “uniform” of the Indian Army. Inadvertently, he slapped the wasted, misplaced and ignoble energies of conversations outside garrison towns.
Like all Government institutions, the armed forces, too, have their own concerns that primarily involve two realms. First, the annual budgetary allocation and second, the non-financial and incalculable realm of izzat (honour) that encapsulates the soul of soldiering. Despite the uber-muscular political posturing of the dispensation that naturally posits the “Indian soldier” in an emotive context, cold statistics of the annual budgetary allocation towards the defence forces tell a different story and lay bare power preferences.
It is true that salaries and pensions consume a sizeable component of the Budget. However, this is a matter of requirement in terms of boots-on-ground, given the fractured relationships across the border. Importantly, neither are the salaries, pensions, work-life balance or other material wherewithal for the soldiers better than those of other Governmental colleagues (the dishonoured spirit of incomplete OROP as promised haunts till date). The point on modernisation need not be belaboured as it routinely faces delays or downsizing (take the example of Rafael) with brazen impunity.
Much was made of the structural changes like theatre commands, two-front capability and jointmanship among others. But so far, the only notional change has been the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This is potentially a game-changer as it can bring the much-needed security gravitas to the policy tables, raise institutional concerns and address the reckless invocation and requisitioning of the armed forces in internal strife. In parallel, it could also sensitise the armed forces to governmental constraints and requirements.
So far, only the flow of unilateral governmental constraints and requirements (to the discomfiture of traditional moorings) is visible. The more critical flow of the reverse, ie addressing defence concerns, is either invisible or inaudible. The so-called “reforms” also pertain to the domain of cost-cutting by way of experiments like a three-year short-commission or lateral intake from Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) for a seven-year tenure.
While this may statistically fill the shortages in the staff and even expose many in the civil and CAPF to the “military experience,” it does not add specialisation, quality or seriousness in the officer as this intake comes with limited tenure. To use the armed forces as a “training school” may be a matter of pride for their unmatched standards to those who gain “limited” exposure but it adds limitedly to the institution itself.
The calling of soldiering in the Indian armed forces has had its own élan, righteousness and flavour. It survived the Nehruvian neglect and the subsequent political penchant for postured frugality, regional passions and social unrest as the cantonments brook no affliction.
Today, literally, the cantonment gates have been opened and the risk of societal and political passions infecting the able-bodied is a grim reality. Indeed, the slide in the institutional narrative ensued immediately after independence but the bare-all societal virus today threatens to infect the psychological character of this institution. Its “voiceless” nature is necessary but ironically, its undoing as the silent ramrod posture, irrespective of the challenges faced by it, is being taken for granted.
It clearly seems to be partaking and venturing into a lot of unmandated and undesirable directions that seek to milk its historical equity and professionalism. This without a sense of reciprocal duty to address the institution’s own concerns. Any political appropriation or leaning of the “uniform” will nail its fate akin to the policing forces. The national and institutional leadership needs to visibly maintain its preferred “distance” and “concern” in the same enthusiasm as it invokes requisitions and explains governmental constraints.
The proverbial “glint in the bayonet” has been retained for decades as the necessary “spit and polish.” Decorum and motivation have been ensured with no unnecessary drama or distractions. If the critically-required modernisation, parities and promised guarantees are not possible, then condescending political shenanigans or creative misuse are even worse substitutes.
(Writer: Bhopinder Singh; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
As we celebrate the first anniversary of Balakot, one of the biggest challenges facing the Indian subcontinent and West Asia is of managing cross-border air strikes
On the first anniversary of Balakot, which is today, challenges of managing cross-border air strikes are worth recalling. Prevention of high-stake military action — initiation or retaliation — from escalation is the challenge. Recent air, drone and missile strikes in the subcontinent and West Asia demonstrate diminishing appetite for war and conflict. Whenever a conflictual incident has occurred, the immediate aim has been to de-escalate. Uri, Doklam, Balakot and the targetted assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani demonstrated marked preference for containment and defusion rather than confrontation or escalation. A classic case of the absence of escalation control occurred during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war where both sides played tit-for-tat.
Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar, attacking by infiltrating Jammu & Kashmir. India retaliated at Hajipir and Kishanganga bulge in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Pakistan responded in Chhamb-Jauriyan. Pressed against the wall in Chhamb, India called in its Indian Air Force (IAF) and crossed the International Border (IB) in Sialkot and Lahore sectors, taking the war into the Punjab plains. Rawalpindi had believed its war would be confined to Jammu & Kashmir.
Now compare India’s surgical strikes in Uri and Balakot with the US drone strike against Soleimani. Language and vocabulary employed following these incidents make it clear that both the initiator and the responder aimed at de-escalation. Both the US and India have tried to alter the behaviour of Iran and Pakistan respectively, making both end their use of terrorism as instruments of State policy. In retaliation to the acts of terrorism, neither has wanted escalation after they initiated pre-emptive strikes or acted in anticipatory self-defence — a terminology used by India and the US. Although India’s air strike in Balakot was in retaliation to the Pulwama suicide attack, it was presented as pre-emptive action to ward off imminent terrorist attacks. The US drone strike on Soleimani was portrayed as revenge for earlier Iranian attacks on American interests and its allies in the Gulf region as also to prevent future attacks. As India wanted no escalation, it stated upfront that air attacks targetted the terrorist bases and that no further action was planned. The read-out was similar to pre-emptive attacks in 2016 against terrorist launch pads as reprisal for Uri. By completely denying Indian attacks, Pakistan absolved itself of any response.
But in reaction to Balakot, where the IAF struck for the first time inside Pakistan after the 1971 war and not in PoK, a Pakistani retaliation was inevitable. It came swiftly the next day when a package of F-16s crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and dropped their payload in Nowshera in a void, not on Indian military installations to obviate escalation. But Indian fighter jets scrambled, and in the dogfight, India claimed shooting down of a F-16 while Pakistan shot down a MiG 21 Bison, taking its pilot hostage. Content with retribution but intent on de-escalation, Pakistan agreed to return the pilot, though under US pressure. Pakistan’s announcement of the release of the pilot and India’s declaration that there would be no response to the Nowshera foray hastened the process of de-escalation .
Now compare Balakot with the US drone strike that eliminated Soleimani. Washington explained the operation as anticipatory self-defence. In order to deter wider conflict and asymmetric retaliation by Iran, the US counselled proportionate response even as Tehran put a bounty of $80 million on US President Donald Trump’s head. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said: “The US’ act of international terrorism targetting and assassinating Gen Soleimani is extremely dangerous and foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all the consequences of its rogue adventurism.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, promised revenge, which came through 12 precision-guided missile strikes against two US bases in Iraq, which were programmed to cause no harm to its soldiers and assets (like Pakistan bombing in Nowshera) to minimise scope for escalation despite Trump’s high-octane warnings for reprisals.
Retribution delivered, Zarif said: “Action taken in self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter has been concluded. We do not seek escalation or war.” Like Pakistan’s retaliatory strikes after Balakot caused no harm to India, Iranian missiles were sanitised to avoid escalation. Trump chose to step back and imposed only additional sanctions on Iran. For consumption of domestic audience, the Pakistan Air Force claimed causing huge damage in Nowshera.
Similarly, Iran fed its people the fake news that 80 US terrorists had been killed in revenge attacks. At the same time, it was able to demonstrate the impressive capability of its missiles, which were fired for the first time outside Iran in Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war. Neither the US nor Iran targetted each other’s territory. The US was deterred from escalation by the threat of stepped up asymmetric Iranian response against more than 70,000 American troops in the region scattered over US bases in 10 allied countries.
While in India-Pakistan conflicts the nuclear bomb was a factor for deterrence, in the US-Iran fight it was not. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed during an election rally after Balakot that he had a couple of missiles ready for launch in case the Indian pilot was not released.
Although both the ground and air strikes launched across the LoC/IB were in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Uri and Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir, New Delhi did not invoke Article 51 and the right to self-defence to retaliate. Instead, it utilised the principle of pre-emption to thwart imminent attacks in both cases. Arguably between pre-emptive action and anticipatory self-defence, the latter is more acceptable in international law.
While the US invoked anticipatory self-defence in eliminating Soleimani, Iran used the right to self-defence in attacking American bases. The problem arises while responding to non-State actors like India did in response to Jaish-e-Mohammed attacks in Uri and Pulwama. It specifically targetted terrorist launch pads/training bases in Pakistan, the country supporting/sponsoring terrorist groups and on whose soil they were located. The UN Charter covers only armed attacks by one State against another State under Article 51 that covers self-defence provision. In the US-Iran case, America attacked a terrorist entity in a third country, Iraq, and Iran, too, responded in Iraq.
Restraint and de-escalation have ensured that the imminent threat of war in West Asia has passed, though tensions remain. But another Pulwama or Uri will set alarm bells ringing again. On assuming charge, Army chief Gen MM Naravane warned Pakistan of pre-emptive strikes to deter cross-border terrorism. For military action, pre-emptive or in anticipatory self-defence to be salutary, it has to be executed periodically against terrorists bases like what the Israelis do: Mowing the grass in Gaza. But comparing Gaza with PoK/Pakistan will be wrong. Surgical air and ground strikes — even after the induction of Rafale — will not be the new normal as they were made out by the BJP during election rallies.
(Writer: Ashok K Mehta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
With the apex court ruling in favour of equality for women, the armed forces will have more candidates to choose from. In defensive engagements, they could well be superior to men
Women soldiers would be a serious problem if and when they happen to be taken prisoner. But as commanding officers, they would seldom be in the first line of infantry fighting. Nor are cavalry officers acutely vulnerable. This question of prisoner of war possibly confused the entire issue of command qualities. The question of strength and stamina has fortunately been resolved as infantry weapons have become light and fire-efficient. There is no comparison between the .303 and today’s assault rifles. Even this writer found the former heavy to lift and carry for long.
For the rest, the issue of women as jawans or officers was highly relevant, dominated by the bias of tradition and mindset. Until firearms came into existence, prospects for women were indeed not that bright as the “sword” or the “lance” was heavy and needed strong arms. Women were also weaker due to the quality of diet and the number of childbirths. Mumtaz Mahal, queen of Shah Jahan, who was possibly the wealthiest man in the world of his time, bore 14 children, of whom only seven survived. Imagine the waste of female stamina and strength; how could they be soldiers? She, who cannot be a soldier, cannot be an officer and in turn a commander. To add to this was the patriarchy that refused to see women as anything else, except as householders and mothers.
The invention of the musket in the 16th century sprouted the first ray of hope for the woman as a soldier. The gender of an individual pressing the trigger makes no difference to the target. Early models, however, were very heavy and were often operated by two soldiers resting the weapon on a portable table. This innovation by itself limited chances for women. As the weapon became better and lighter, the lesser was the muscle required. The better and stronger the vehicle, the lesser was the stamina needed. The lesser the child-bearing, the stronger the woman remained. We have arrived so far through four to five centuries.
There has been a new dawn for the military. The armed forces have many more potential candidates to choose from now. Women can make equally good fighting stock whether on land, air or sea. In fact, in defensive engagements, they could well be superior to men. For instance, a tigress or any female animal protects her young, quite ferociously. Arguably, the male may not be so determined while defending even his own house. When a woman defends her homeland, this writer believes, she would be equally committed to saving her progeny. A brave man would defend his country with equal zeal but when he finds his situation hopeless, he is likely to retreat or even surrender. A woman is less likely to give up on protecting her own people, like her own children. An order like “victory or death” is less difficult for a woman to obey than for a man. Apparently, the braver the commander, the more courageous should be the battalion.
The recent doubt, which the Supreme Court had to clear about whether women officers would make equally effective commanders, is unusual. The male ego fattened since the beginning of time, which, it is widely believed, could find it difficult to obey a woman in public. In private, it is different and even a stronger, wiser person has been listened to readily. Shorn of such mindsets, the issue is one of leadership. In the 1960s, who could have believed that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would have made a leader superior to say, Morarji Desai? This question is one of leadership and neither of statesmanship, nor prime ministership.
Indira Gandhi retained the leadership of her party, the Congress, until her death. True, she had the advantage of being former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, which gave her an enviable start. After that, she had to rely on her own wit and resources in order to survive and succeed.
The problem hitherto is that women do not get the exposure and opportunity to be able to perform on the right platform and at the right level; at least in most fields. Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), gave a start to Mayawati and she came up to be the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee has risen exclusively on her own initiative; she has demonstrated eloquently the qualities needed to make nine crore people of West Bengal to follow.
For some time, maybe some years, women commanders would have to develop superior qualities such as military knowledge, bold initiatives and quick decision-making. Leaders must be superior to their followers. Once that is demonstrated, there should be no difficulty. There is a phenomenon generally not remembered and at times not known. This writer can communicate it through his experience during physical training in college. The Elphinstone College in Mumbai had no ground and, hence, its physical training (PT) classes were occasionally held at the neighbouring Oval maidan. The entire class of 110 students would together move to this ground. There were less than 25 boys, the rest were girls. The latter were given light exercises, which could be done while wearing sarees (this is what most girls wore 65 years ago). However, boys had to sprint, do sit-ups, push-ups et al. This writer was neither strong nor practised and by himself, could do no more than 15 to 17 sit-ups and push-ups. At the Oval, however, in the presence of girls, he could go up to 50 of them. The only explanation for this was gender pride. How could he let his pride down? If this gender pride could percolate to the armed forces, we can expect extraordinary performance from our sailors, soldiers and airmen in an inclusive atmosphere.
When we move from the commander to the level of a senior general, the situation would change. The progress from tactics to strategy is a big leap. The former is adequate for a skirmish or a limited battle. Anything bigger or more on-going would call for greater military imagination to be able to visualise what is neither visible nor obvious. And women make for good strategists. A well thought-out strategy must ensure that the war plan is not upset even if the future brings forth enemy action that is surprisingly different. World War II German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is probably the most famous General. But when compared with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, Rommel is considered an exceptional tactician. Whereas Manstein, by his defence and in-depth strategy, delayed the Russian Army from reaching Germany by a whole year. The Manstein brilliance lay in retreating faster than the Russians could move, then wait on the sidelines until the Reds had arrived, only to be surrounded and taken prisoners in thousands.
France has six borders beginning with the North Sea in the west, then Belgium, then the German border, which was defended by a chain of fortresses called the Maginot line. The Ardennes forest was considered impassable as it would have led to Germany, then Switzerland and finally Italy. Berlin was in search of a point of utter surprise attack. Manstein suggested the presumably impassable Ardennes forest. France had left it undefended; his idea was accepted. It took only 40 days to compel France to surrender. That was gem of a strategy. An integration of genders would mean that many evolved minds are at play.
(Writer: Prafull Goradia; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
SC allows women officers to get command positions in the Army and quashes use of gender stereotypes as an argument
Thanks to the Supreme Court, women officers in the Army can now get command positions at par with male officers and break the glass ceiling in the forces. In non-combat roles for the time being. However, the sad part is that they had to fight for it legally rather than being naturalised in the just order of things, considering that they were inducted in the Army in 1992, a long 28 years ago. An entire generation has grown up in between. In this sense, the ruling is more than significant, it is a landmark. For it reminded the armed forces that as part of an institution that codified discipline, values, honesty, decency and honour, their despotic version of patriarchy, preventing women from leading men beyond event parades, was “discriminatory” and “disturbing.” In fact, it went against the very principles of equality and fairness that the Army professes from time to time. In the process, the court also underlined the need for a mindset change in the evolutionary flow of changing times, not just in the Army but everywhere. It said that deep-rooted stereotypes, that men are dominant and women are primary caretakers, need to go away. It even dismissed the argument of women being unfit physically and compromised by family duties as creating an “artificial” distinction, considering that they have still not been cleared for active combat. The court demolished all chauvinist arguments that can be used as a precedent in deciding similar cases of gender parity, tersely: “To cast aspersions on gender is an affront to their (the women’s) dignity and to the country. Time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts. Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change. Women work shoulder to shoulder with men.” With these words, Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi upheld the equality of opportunity for all citizens, elevating functionality above gender and treating human resource in any discipline as deserving of respect than either an entitlement or a consolation prize. It also implied that cultural arguments have no place when it comes to the larger duty of protecting the nation. The court, knowing the tendency of institutions to not follow its orders, said permanent commission would be available to all women, regardless of their years of service and that the judgment had to be implemented within three months. What all this means is that service conditions of men and women officers will be exactly the same and that the latter shall also be provided with choices of specialisation like their male counterparts. A woman can rise to the rank of Colonel and even lead battalions. Women officers, who have been retired, will also get pension benefits.
If the court had to admonish one of the highest institutions of the land — one that is expected to rise above societal ills and be progressive and liberal — on gender injustice, then clearly it is confirmation of inherent biases among the privileged, too. Where women officers can be test cases but not decisive enough, where they may be relegated to staff duties but not challenge the male bastion. The Government’s regressive stand on limiting women’s role in the Army is hypocritical considering its own departments have had all-women marching contingents in Republic Day parades, the Indian Air Force (IAF) allows them to become fighter pilots and the Army has even sent them to tough UN peacekeeping missions globally. Unless they were just tokenism to boost propaganda than really honour winners of the Seva medals and Vishisth Seva medals. The next question, therefore, is should the buck stop with just entrusting greater responsibility to them? Are women just worthy of being included in non-combat roles only? In actuality, like their male counterparts, they, too, give up on all familial commitments to be part of the Army. They, too, undergo the same rigorous selection and training procedures as their male peers. None is arguing that the Army lower its standards. But if women have made it through all kinds of selection criteria, then they should at least be given a chance to prove their mettle. For they are often made a scapegoat for the failure in upgrading standards and changing the status quo. The issue is not only about whether women can be inducted in combat roles but how to make it happen with a radical overhaul of personnel policy. Other nations, including the US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Israel, allow women to be part of certain combat units. By resisting change, the Army wouldn’t want to be out of sync with an India that is resetting itself. Certainly, it doesn’t suit its image when the court has to prod it all the time. It needs to be the initiator, not a follower.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Winning elections and wars are not in the same league. The Govt can no longer camouflage its declining defence modernisation programme with high symbolism and hyper-nationalism
Two recent trends inimical to the country’s national security — the politicisation of the military and a flat and negative defence modernisation Budget — worrying as they are, will soon become the new normal. In this space, I have written enough as to how the ruling political elite has milked the armed forces for electoral gains — be it during the Uri surface strikes or Balakot air strikes — but in the process, it has brazenly politicised them. Carrying pictures of serving Army officers on political posters by the BJP is terrible. But terming the Army and the Air Force as “Modiji’s sena” is unacceptable. So is the usage of Air Force commanders to legitimise breaches in the procurement procedure to justify the purchase of the Rafale aircraft.
During the Karnataka elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi needlessly revived seven-decade-old political events involving Gen KS Thimayya but erroneously named Gen KS Cariappa, thus hurting both families. In contrast, it was heartening to listen to the new Army Chief when he reminded his soldiers about the Constitution. It was, however, disappointing that he read out the Government’s political script on the merits of its actions in Jammu & Kashmir, especially when the legislation is under arbitration. The deep selection of Service Chiefs, overriding the seniority norm and the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) will have political resonance.
The ruling dispensation has become immune to criticism by the Election Commission, its political opponents and the veteran community about involving both serving and retired personnel to promote its partisan agenda, much of which is sub-judice. The Prime Minister’s choice of themes, while speaking to the military during the inauguration of the National War Memorial (NWM) or the young cadets at the National Cadet Corps (NCC) during the annual parade recently, was political and inappropriate. Feeding impressionable cadets with political achievements while casually claiming that India could defeat Pakistan in war in seven to 10 days has left many bedazzled. Fuelling nationalistic hype when the military is starved of funds for modernisation is intriguing. The Prime Minister, aiming with a Kalashnikov rifle at the highly exaggerated achievements of the Defence Expo 2020, which is now held wherever the Defence Minister’s political constituency is, will become an ironic visual.
Military politicisation peaked at the NCC rally. Strangely none of the Service Chiefs nor the CDS present there stopped the Prime Minister from speaking to the cadets about the political events aimed at the Delhi elections. In contrast, recently the Australian CDS, Gen Angus John Campbell, did precisely this: Tap his Defence Minister Christopher Pyne when he switched from speaking about military issues to answering political questions in the presence of senior military officers, telling him that he would ask the military to move out — and they did. Campbell did not want his officers to be seen backing his Minister over his party’s claimed political achievements.
For the fourth year in a row, defence allocation was not mentioned during the 2020-21 Budget presented this month. In her marathon speech, the Finance Minister quoted a Tamil sage and said: “Just as national security was important a millennium ago, for her Government, it is the number one issue today.” But the funds she provided for defence modernisation suggested otherwise. According to one official in the Ministry of Defence, the funds are barely sufficient to pay instalments for weapons purchased earlier. The Defence Minister issued a lofty Press release, lauding the Budget, without mentioning a word about the impoverished plight of her own Ministry. Similarly, the Prime Minister, who is still nursing the surgical strike’s hangover, said nothing, though his remarks on defeating a nuclear-armed Pakistan in seven to 10 days remained puzzling, especially as officials in the Ministry of Defence have said that ammunition for a 10-day intense war will be available only by 2022-23.
US Ambassador Kenneth Juster said recently that the economic slowdown, which the Government has not admitted to as yet, will affect modernisation of defence capability. On paltry modernisation funds year on year, former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said, “Defence forces do not have the mechanism to spend the money; we do not have the funds to give them; will have funds only once the tax net expands.” Since 2014, when the BJP came into power, defence Budgets have been at their lowest since 1962 at around 1.5 to 1.6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). BJP’s own stalwarts in the Standing Committee on Defence and Estimates Committee, Gen BC Khanduri and MM Joshi, had pointed out big holes in defence preparedness. Khanduri lost his job for indicating this.
Soon after the current five per cent dismal increase in defence allocation, the CDS apparently put the lid on any comments by single Service Chiefs, telling some journalists that the Budget was adequate; that the management of the Budget is critical; and that it is more of a management issue than a question of adequate funds. He also said that he would prioritise acquisition, raise age of retirement to 58 years, create funds from within and if necessary, take additional requirements to the Government. The Prime Minister, while speaking to the NCC cadets, mentioned the appointment of the CDS, elaborating that along with single Service Chiefs, this represented one plus one plus one, equalling 111, implying that the CDS is the Alibaba of defence issues.
The decision on One Rank, One Pension (OROP) taken by the Prime Minister in the heat and dust of the 2014 election campaign was one he must be regretting now. The defence pension Bill has reached Rs 1.33 lakh crore, which is more than Rs 1.18 lakh crore for salaries and Rs 1.11 lakh crore for capital. In 2010, it was Rs 41,000 crore and last year it was Rs 1.13 lakh crore. Another Rs 6,500 crore will be required for OROP equaliser this year. This incongruity in tooth to tail ratio must be corrected. Equally, more funds must be allotted for modernisation to catch up with China, whose defence Budget is three times more than India’s.
Clearly, the josh of the surgical strikes is no cover for lack of defence preparedness. Winning elections and wars are not in the same league. The Government can no longer camouflage its declining modernisation programme with high symbolism and hyper-nationalism. Its seriousness about defence can be judged from the appointment of five Defence Ministers in six years. Still, the CDS is a positive step though the way he has been located in the hierarchy, he is another ‘1’ in the Prime Minister’s 111 arithmetic.
The politics of national security has trumped its economics, leading to the 15th Finance Commission fire-fighting for the creation of additional defence funds. Given the tight fiscal situation, the Government should temper its national security ambitions and goals and leave the professional military alone.
(Writer: Ashok K Mehta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The architecture under which the newly-appointed CDS has been placed and the charter given to him is commendable, provided the system lets him do his work
As the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen Bipin Rawat has hit the ground running. He has been tasked with — or is expected to achieve — in three years what the country could not in 70. With all its fire and fury, the office of the CDS has finally arrived. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Government has fulfilled one more electoral pledge. The despatch with which 40 bureaucrats are being sidestepped from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to its own newly-created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) is breath-taking. As a founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, which was revamped into the existing Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), I am familiar with the colossal teething problems and bottlenecks in creating a new institution in spite of the goodwill of the three Service Chiefs. In this instance, the civilian bureaucracy is relocating for the first time under a military head. Unique to India, the DMA will correct the aberration of the three Service headquarters being outliers. It will become integral to the MoD, thus facilitating, absent so far, the military’s role in decision-making. Wisely, this re-location in MoD has mandated existing single-service structures; their charters should remain undisturbed.
The CDS is multi-hatted. He is the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-CoSC), the head of IDS, Secretary to the DMA, Principal Advisor to the Defence Minister on tri-service matters, Advisor to the Prime Minister in the Nuclear National Command Authority (under which comes the Strategic Forces Command, which will be administered by the CDS), member of the Defence Acquisition Council and the Defence Planning Committee. The CDS’ charter is monumental. Essentially, he will prepare for the conversion of existing military commands in a phased manner (three years) to theatre commands; facilitate synergy and jointness in defence planning, operations, training and logistics, including prioritisation in inter-service arms procurement. Equally and importantly, the CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, thus reducing him into the ultimate Chief of General Staff. He is clubbed with other Service Chiefs at Number 12 in warrant of precedence below Cabinet Secretary at Number 11.
The pivotal change has come in the MoD. That means grafting the extracted components from MoD that were dealing with service headquarters and other military agencies back into the MoD under the new DMA. The Defence Secretary, who is the principal secretary in MoD, has lost most of his military turf to the CDS. He is, thus, left with organisations like the Defence Estates, the National Defence College, the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses and, of course, the functional coordination of four other departments of defence. Curiously, the presumably amended Government rules of business still leave him responsible for defence of India, defence policy and war preparedness. The DMA will ensure that the CDS replaces the Defence Secretary, who acted as the de facto CDS in determining priorities in arms acquisition of services and other tri-service issues. At long last, the CoSC, which historically had a rotating chairman from among the longest serving Service Chiefs, will now have a permanent incumbent, the CDS, to address tri-service matters and engender jointness more effectively.
For the CDS, the major challenge will be to implement the five-year defence acquisition and two-year annual roll plan based on “anticipated budget.” Without any financial commitment, defence planning will enter the realm of wishful planning. Unless this is grounded and realistic yardsticks are provided, the planning process will remain stymied. The second challenge is to integrate single-service plans into a synergised tri-service plan. Till joint theatre commands are introduced — based on national security doctrine and national security strategy — the CDS will at best be able to fine-tune services plans into an optimally effective joint plan. This should be done better than was done till today.
The MoD will now have one more Secretary (fifth) rank officer, the CDS, but in the pay-band of a Cabinet Secretary heading the DMA. The CDS elevated from among the Service Chiefs will be head and shoulders above the Defence Secretary. Until now, all matters relating to defence were channelled through the Defence Secretary to the Raksha Mantri. Will the CDS have direct access to the Defence Minister as he should, or will the existing system of “routing” prevail?
Similarly, relations between the CDS and the three Service Chiefs are one of primus inter pares among Generals who are equal and yet unequal. A Government statement read: “The CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs so as to be able to provide impartial advice to political leadership.” This directive is badly drafted. Simply stated, the CDS will not ride roughshod over single-Service chiefs. But how this plays out on the ground only time and personalities of the Chiefs will tell. In the Army, three-star Lt Gen-rank Corps Commanders are subordinate to three-star Army Commanders of the same rank and pay-band. In the reporting channel, too, there is an implied problem. Would the Service Chiefs report to the Defence Minister through the CDS or access him directly, or via the Defence Secretary? Some of these wrinkles will no doubt get ironed out in the times to come.
Stripping the CDS of all military command has been done to serve a political purpose and requires re-thinking. He should at least “command” and not “administer” the tri-service commands like the Andaman and Nicobar Command that was established in 2001, the cyber-space and Special Forces Commands, when raised. As for the SFC, he should command it but without operational control. All tri-service military organisations and institutions (including the dormant National Defence University) that have been retained with the Defence Secretary should gradually be transferred to the DMA.
The CDS should over time improve civil-military relations. Equally, the exaggerated fear of the military acting unconstitutionally should go. Baring one or two past aberrations, including one with an Army Chief who is now a Minister in the Union Government, the military has behaved impeccably, displaying unique, apolitical, professional and secular credentials while maintaining allegiance to civilian control. Reducing tension between civilian and military bureaucracies will require unbiased political intervention. The choices for theaterisation are either the British or American models. Both require to be studied for their relevance to the Indian geo-strategic environment. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh should order the winding up of the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval-led high-powered Defence Planning Committee. It has contributed little to defence planning and sharpening higher defence management.
Whether the CDS, bereft of all command, will be a paper tiger and his advice binding on Service Chiefs, as is doing the rounds of South Block, only the future will tell. The biggest handicap for the CDS in streamlining military robustness will be the continuing paucity of funds for defence modernisation due to a shrinking economy. Overall, the architecture under which the CDS has been placed and the charter given to him is commendable, provided the system lets him do his work. Still for a change, the Government has hit the bull’s eye.
(Writer: Ashok K Mehta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement on revising India’s No First Use nuclear policy in the future is open to interpretation
The Indian Defence Minister’s recent statement, anticipating a possible change in India’s nuclear policy in the future, is open to interpretation, and what it means for its nuclear doctrine in coming times is contingent on how the contours of India’s conventional escalation with its neighbour Pakistan shapes up.
The statement by Rajnath Singh signals a facile if not deep thought within the Narendra Modi Government for some time now on the need to revise India’s No First Use (NFU) policy, especially when seen as a corollary to the former Defence Minister, the late Manohar Parrikar’s statement in 2016 about being open to revision of India’s NFU policy.
Rajnath Singh’s recent statement on NFU seems only a step forward, as unlike previously, it does not come with “personal opinion” caveat.
India first adopted a NFU policy after its second nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998. Soon after, in August 1999, the Indian government released a draft of the doctrine which asserts that nuclear weapons were solely for deterrence and that India would as a nation pursue a policy of “retaliation only.”
The document also maintains that India “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail” and that decisions to authorise the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the Prime Minister or his ‘designated successor(s)’.
That the Defence Minister’s NFU comment came in Pokhran, the site of the 1998 nuclear tests, gives wings to speculation. It also comes days within the Modi Government’s decision to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir, but most noticeably, amidst an ongoing diplomatic and cross-border escalation with Pakistan.
If this is any indication, it shows that the rungs of conventional escalation between India and Pakistan may be reaching the fag end, and the Indian government wants to come out of the retaliation-counter-retaliation cycle with a conventionally inferior power, which is on a quest to gain conventional parity with India. Pakistan’s constant threat of battlefield nuclear weapons further complicates India’s conventional superiority gap assessment vis-à-vis Pakistan, setting foundations of a strategically revisionist thought process within India.
Chances of nuclear policy revision seem more plausible in the light of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) historical assessments about making India a credible nuclear power through a directly proportional relationship between the country’s political will to revise its nuclear policy and deterrence-based posturing.
The Vajpayee Government’s decision to conduct the 1998 nuclear tests and project India as a credible nuclear power is a case in point. The Pokhran link to Rajnath Singh’s comments further underpins this government’s conviction about the aforementioned proportionality.
The Defence Minister’s assertion has reignited the debate on the need for India’s nuclear policy revision but whether it means that India is ready for a change in its NFU policy and will move to a First Use (FU) strategy is debatable.
Currently, there are various technological and financial constraints for New Delhi in erecting an effective first strike capability against Pakistan or China. A credible FU nuclear strike capability, before anything, would require significant investments in Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) and Target Acquisition (TA) capabilities. The essence of FU strike capability is pre-emption and accuracy, and would require an unfailing intelligence and shorter time-gap in the readiness sequence: passing of intelligence, civil-military decision-making, mating weapons with warheads, leading to final pre-empting strike on the enemy.
India’s first strike aspirations also face structural constraints, particularly apropos the decision-making paradigm that exists as of now. The civil-military gap in India’s strategic forces decision-making is deliberately made to create a non-provocative yet punitively reassuring second strike stance towards the enemy and, most importantly, to avert any rash decision leading to catastrophe. Such a doctrinal posture makes a lot of sense when viewed in the light of India’s non-alignment past, but is increasingly losing currency in the eyes of a revisionist government and a rallying nation.
India’s current civil-military gap is ideal for a country with a NFU policy. It’s a purposeful decoupling to mandate civilian supremacy in strategic decision-making and create checks and balances. In direct contrast to this, the FU force structure would possibly require an ever-vigilant and ready strategic posture with quick and decisive calls for action when needed, which in turn would need a smaller gap between the civilian go-ahead and the military’s final call, leading to the targeting and firing of the weapons with nuclear warheads.
New Delhi’s lessening of the civil-military gap can be seen in the context of the government’s recent decision to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a five-star General with possibly a Cabinet rank whose role would supersede the three armed forces chiefs.
The centralization of power through the office of the CDS will not only consolidate general decision-making in one office, but is likely to reduce intra-forces rivalry on issues of budget and government favourability between the three wings of the armed forces.
In the strategic context and in relation to the country’s nuclear force posture, the office of the CDS is likely to be more in tune with its FU strategy than it will be with its current NFU strategy. As such, the Defence Minister’s statement hinting at a possible revision of India’s nuclear strategy could also be seen in the context of India’s decision to appoint a CDS.
While it is unlikely that India will go for a doctrinal alteration anytime soon, it could serve as an extremely potent plank to fight the next general elections in 2024. Given the kind of investments needed for readying a FU force structure, a revision anytime soon will be difficult.
However, to the extent that deterrence behavior in nuclear states is as much psychologically induced as it is from concrete, stated and factored capabilities, the Defence Minister’s statement has caused visible concerns in Pakistan.
Locating India’s overall NFU strategy, its force posture towards hostile neighbours, the number of warheads and the escalatory potential in a comparative context, paints a picture of a benign nuclear giant.
Doing away with NFU will repaint this picture, besides possibly affecting stability in the region.
That is a price this government is considering to pay in the light of New Delhi’s increasing fatigue with a rapidly lessening conventional gap with Pakistan, especially with Pakistan’s increasing tendency to factor Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) within conventional escalation spectrum, and with the solidifying China-Pakistan axis.
If Balakot lowered the threshold for India’s conventional response to Pakistan and altered the nature of response, a doctrinal shift from NFU to FU might go a long way in ushering an altered deterrence-induced behaviour in Pakistan, hopefully leading to a better future for bilateral ties between India and Pakistan.
(The writer is Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington D.C & Deputy Director Kalinga Institute for Indo-Pacific Studies)
Writer: Vivek Mishra
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Jointmanship won’t have a cascading impact unless we upgrade the basic infrastructure and tech edge of our forces
After pitching a nationalist campaign foregrounding the valour of our forces post-Balakot, the Modi 2.0 regime was considered as cold-shouldering them when it slow-pedalled their concerns on One Rank One Pension, cut their disability pension before retracting it and generally didn’t talk anything about reforms or shortage of infrastructure. So although Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post in his Independence Day speech, it was long overdue and almost a necessity in the time of short-term, intense but technology-driven and multi-pronged warfare. What this essentially means is creating a single point-of-contact in coordinating with the three armed services to synergise functioning, training, logistics, planning and procurements among the forces and evolve a unified and targetted crisis response module. What this practically works out to is better utilisation of existing limited resources, better harvesting of intelligence for a unified approach to preparedness (the demand for CDS emerged after we were taken quite unaware in Kargil) and given the worsening nature of conflicts worldwide, build a robust expert advisory that can guide the political executive of the day on swift and decisive action. Of course, the fact that the post will become operational nearly 20 years after it was first conceived or that we are among the last nuclear weapon States to do so and well past our time, is not registering yet. The bigger question to answer is whether joint service command is allowed to function the way it should or serve to be another bureaucratic front. What our forces need to look into urgently, particularly in times of technology-driven warfare, is to upgrade fleet, equipment, weapons systems and infrastructure and manpower, the essential requisites for developing strategic depth, some of which have attained a critical mass of deficits. With a chronic crunch in funds, the lack of standardised indigenous systems and an overt focus on Army deployments, there needs to be a shift of balance to the Air Force and Navy requirements, Balakot exposing the chronic need to have state-of-the-art fighter jets. No matter how able, empowered the CDS is, it cannot take a call on such policy issues.
Have we learnt enough lessons from Kargil, where in the absence of air support, our soldiers were almost faced with hand-to-hand combat? Have we enough rifles and ammunition to save our soldiers who make for easy fodder even now? The Navy is saddled with outdated aircraft carriers. Even though India has inducted the Arihant as a nuclear submarine and has leased an Akula-class submarine from Russia, China’s navy has built a fleet of attack submarines as well as several ballistic missile submarines with which they can contain India. We have only 11 destroyers, China has 36, all commissioned after 1999 or Kargil. China may not match the smart American Navy but in a short time has emerged as the second-most powerful Navy in the world. Unrealistic planning, a socialist mindset towards protecting PSUs in the defence sector without upgrading or revamping them and corruption in defence deals have meant that we continue to be the world’s largest importer of military hardware when we should be making and customising our own. And if we could make our space programmes work, there is no reason why we cannot sharpen our defence capabilities with affordable and innovative technologies. For example, much like other advanced military nations, India has proven anti-satellite capabilities. But more resources have to be poured into research and development of military potential. There needs to be far more thought and money put into building up India’s military preparedness. Even if a war isn’t around the corner, we should not fall back decades behind and not anticipate scenarios. India’s chest-thumping nationalism will not have much dare if we don’t develop real power and build ground-up rather than a fancy imposition top-down. Our military mediocrity is the reason why even the neighbourhood is not convinced of our potential strategic weight and gets drawn by China’s assumed superiority. As the CDS decision shows, it comes after a prolonged debate on political consensus. Modi may not have a consensus problem anymore but then that consensus should now set the compass of course correction.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer