BOTTOMLINE | Pravin Sawhney

Clash of Interests
The army has no case for continuation of AFSPA in J&K
Pravin Sawhney

It saddens me to watch the Indian Army go to rack and ruin over its undesirable position on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir. Today, it seems so unlike the hallowed institution that I was commissioned into in the Seventies. What could have possessed it that it is doing the opposite of what it should. Instead of giving primacy to its tasks on the disputed borders,
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It wants to continue garnering honours,laurels and promotions on internal security role.In army parlance, this ‘aid to civil power’ role used to be looked down upon, something of a necessary evil. All professional armies demand the ‘End State’ from their government; what exactly is expected of them. What military aims should they set for themselves to accomplish desired political objectives against their adversaries? This does not seem to be the case with the Indian Army. Its top brass is insisting on continuing with an elusive ‘End State’ task; the need to create an environment for governance and political process to commence. And just when that matrix is achieved, instead of going back to its primary task gladly, it has pitted itself as a stakeholder in the troubled state. It is army against the state government in Jammu and Kashmir with a hapless Prime Minister caught in his own national security ignorance whirlpool with little help from his senior ministers responsible for defence and home affairs. Let alone the motley people, the state chief minister, Omar Abdullah feels compelled to pay deference to what the army says. But, then J&K is no ordinary state; it has a 746km long Line of Control through which Pakistan continues to wage a proxy war since 1990. The credit goes to the army for consistently thwarting Pakistan’s nefarious designs of wresting Kashmir at huge costs.
Lt Gen. S.K. Singh
Lt Gen. SK Singh, who was earlier heading the South Western Army Command, has taken over as the new Vice Chief of the Indian Army on 1 November 2011......
  Since 1990, the army has been fighting the proxy war tooth and nail. The then army chief, General V.N. Sharma wanted to go to war with Pakistan for fomenting terrorism in J&K. Unfortunately, the army was not ready. The unusual military activism of the Eighties that saw Operation Brasstacks,
the Sumdorong Chu crisis, Operation Trident, and Operation Pawan had battered the army equipment and personnel so hard that it needed a year to recover. The next army chief, General S.F. Rodrigues’ tenure from 1990 to 1993 saw the biggest deployment of regular troops in internal security operations in the state. The army chief told me in 1991 (I was working with the Times of India newspaper), that he was unhappy with the army in such large numbers being in ‘aid to civil power’ with an undefined End State. His successor, General B.C. Joshi, reconciled with the obvious, was determined to fight the proxy war on his own terms. He met me the day he assumed office on 1 July 1993 (I was with the Indian Express newspaper then) to both share his daring plan of massive Rashtriya Rifles (RR) raisings, and to assure that the army would go back to its primary task once the situation stabilised for civilian government to function. A total of 30 battalions and 10 sector headquarters which translated into 40,000 RR troops were raised by him in a record time of nine months by milking existing army units. In hindsight, he was a towering figure with a vision and determination to take calculated risks.
Subsequent army chiefs have both refined and consolidated the CI ops to make it humane, and raised new RR units. Unfortunately, owing to prolonged proximity with civilians, the army along the way tasted blood. With the sole exception of the northern army commander in 2008, a man of rectitude who had a truncated tenure, all army commanders and their chiefs could not get themselves to decide when to recommend termination of the ‘aid to civil power’ role. Refuge has been taken in self-coined military phrases like ‘attack by infiltration’, ‘proxy war’, and recently, ‘agitational terrorism’. So much so, the army in 1996 offered to replace border areas officials with men in uniform. A major general rank officer was sought to substitute the divisional commissioner and a brigadier, a tehsildar. The bizarre offer, of course was declined. At present, the RR in J&K has 62 battalions and corresponding headquarters with a total strength of about 85,000 troops. In addition, there are three infantry brigades (each with 3,500 troops) also tasked on CI role. This is the largest professional CI force anywhere in the world.

So much was the army focussed on CI ops that it misread the 1999 occupation of Indian territories by Pakistani forces (Kargil conflict) as another large scale infiltration. This was the wake-up call for the army that it was losing sight of its primary role. Had Pakistan been militarily prepared to convert the Kargil conflict into a full-scale war, the Indian Army in my assessment would not have fared well. Rather than heeding the warning signals, the army remained loathe to go back to its primary task, pretending all along that CI ops were its bread and butter. It is army’s good luck that when Operation Parakram (the 10-month military stand-off between India and Pakistan) happened in December 2001, the entire blame for not going to war was placed on the political leadership. The then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee later admitted that not going to war with Pakistan in January 2002, when GHQ Rawalpindi was not fully prepared, was a mistake. Few know that the then northern army commander had told the army chief, General S. Padmanabhan that he was not fully prepared to deliver desired military objectives. Giving the example of the 1971 war when the then army chief, General Sam Manekshaw asked the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for six months’ time, he sought more time before going to war.
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