At the Crossroad
The threats have changed and the Indian Army needs to change too

At the Crossroad The 13-lakh strong Indian Army cleared by the government to add another one lakh soldiers straddles two opposite worlds. One is the No-War-No-Peace (NWNP) environment in Jammu and Kashmir, and the other is a probability of ‘hot war’ with Pakistan and China; both requiring different mind-sets, equipment and training. Unfortunately, the NWNP combat, which is inward-looking, takes priority because it is both real and the army has honed its skills in it over 24 years since 1990.

Today, 40 per cent of the army is in the J&K theatre under the northern command headquarters in Udhampur, while an equal number prepares itself to replace those in the NWNP zone after four-week re-orientation training in defensive counter-insurgency operations (CI ops) at three corps battle schools in the troubled state. Considering that NWNP is the only familiar battle zone, it is here that a generation of officers have grown and won awards, laurels, promotions, prestige and status. This explains the long list of decorations with most senior army officers’ names, something which their predecessors who participated in ‘hot wars’ and ‘hot war’ exercises did not have. India’s Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who won the 1971 war for India, was a mere Military Cross.

On the other hand, with all present generals having donned uniform after the last war in 1971, preparedness for ‘hot war’ is an elusive concept which is more notional than real. Unless the army’s prioritisation gets reversed, India’s territorial integrity would be severely affected. India after all has three military held lines — the 746km Line of Control (LC) and 76km Actual Ground Position Line against Pakistan and 3,488km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China —, which require boots on the ground to provide credible and offensive conventional deterrence. The present army is over-worked and over-stretched and poses little threat to either adversary. This is borne by Pakistan’s uninterrupted infiltration of terrorists across the LC since 1990, and China’s successful military coercion in April-May 2013. Nothing short of a strong political leadership is needed to put the army back to its basics: training for its primary task of preparing for ‘hot war’.

The 24 years of army’s involvement in CI ops in J&K has witnessed five distinct phases. The first from 1990 to 1996 was the most difficult with numerous twists and turns. During chief of army staff (COAS) General S.F. Rodrigues’ tenure from 1990 to 1993, large numbers of regular army for the first time were inducted in Kashmir for internal security operations. General Rodrigues maintained that increased deployment of the army was in ‘aid to civil authority’ and not in counter-insurgency operations. The implication was that the army would leave the Valley as soon as the situation was brought under control to allow the civil administration to function.
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