Short on Answers

General V.P. Malik stays away from sharing his thoughts on specific issues on defence

By Pravin Sawhney

General V.P. Malik stays away from sharing his thoughts on specific issues on defence To my mind, there are two reasons why a retired service chief should write a book: One, he has participated in a piece of history. And two, borne out of long experience at various levels he has some original thoughts on pressing issues of the day. General V.K. Singh was an exception because he was the first rebel chief to have taken the government to court.

General V.P. Malik’s first book, Kargil: From Surprise To Victory, was a good read because he was the chief of army staff during the 1999 Kargil war. Whether one agrees with his interpretations of events or not, they will remain valuable for the understanding of the event. His propounded concept of a limited war would be debated with interest.

However, his recent book, India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy does not fall in the genre of compelling work. This book, according to the writer was conceptualised when a retired colleague working in the United Institution of India in Delhi suggested to him to write about his experience of decision-making and defence management at the highest level. With this brief, General Malik set out to provide glimpses of his service life, whose two highpoints were two momentous events: the 1998 nuclear tests (Operation Shakti) and the Kargil war (Operation Vijay).

On Operation Shakti, the writer says that the military was not in the decision-making loop. They were brought in at the last minute well after the decision to do the nuclear tests had been made. The three service chiefs met at Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee’s residence where he wanted to know the security implications of the tests vis-à-vis Pakistan. The unsaid message from the writer is that he as the chief of the army staff was not inquisitive to ask either the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) or the National Security Advisior (NSA) Brajesh Mishra about heightened activity at the Pokharan test site where digging for the tests had started seven months ago. Moreover, the three service chiefs, who got separate calls to meet at the Prime Minister residence, were not, as part of the chiefs of staff committee, eager to confabulate with one another.

Now, if the service chiefs are content not interacting with each other or reaching out to the government on obvious questions, can the political or civilian leadership be really blamed? If the COSC system has not worked, it has a lot to do with the proclivity of service chiefs to run down one another. When General Malik says that rules of business of Government of India should be amended to give powers to service chiefs, why can’t the three service chiefs meet the Prime Minister together (repeatedly if necessary) to pursue this matter? After all, they do meet the Prime Minister on pay commission and ex-servicemen issues which concerns all the services. To quote Shakespeare, ‘The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but ourselves, that we are underlings.’

On Operation Vijay, I would hesitate to even call it a limited war. Given the state of Indian Army’s preparedness and defensive-orientation, it was General Malik’s good luck that General Musharraf failed to grasp the fact that India would be compelled to fight and throw out intruders across the Line of Control (LC) who would make the Indian Army’s lines of communication to north Kashmir vulnerable. General Musharraf had no intention of entering into a ‘limited war,’ as except for his 10 corps commander, all other eight corps commanders and his air force were not even aware of Pakistan’s gameplan. The Kargil war and the politico-military diplomacy during that period was, to say the least, an unusual phenomenon.

On higher defence management, General Malik has nothing new to add. He simply quotes various analysts and harps on the half-hearted post-Kargil reforms and the shelved Naresh Chandra Task Force report. He talks about faster decision-making, integration, jointness and interoperability, self-reliance in defence, need for military advice to the political leadership during peace time, the defects of the acquisition and procurement systems and so on.

What was expected were the writer’s thoughts on specific issues concerning defence. For example, if the government is unwilling to accept the CDS or permanent Chairman, COSC because of some imaginary fears, what is the way out? Can something be done through the NSA office? Does the army really have to prepare itself for the range of conflicts, or could low intensity conflicts be made the responsibility of paramilitary forces, and the army could do with reduced aid to civil authority duties? Has the pivot of war operations shifted to the mountains? Should the Cold Start doctrine and now the concept of transformation be cleared at the political level? How should the military press for change in government rules of business and be a part of policy-making for border areas? Is the military’s involvement in nuclear weapons management enough? How do tactical nuclear weapons affect war in our scenarios? Are service chiefs’ visits to foreign countries without any say in foreign policy formulation meaningful diplomacy? Let’s hope that General Malik will provide answers to such strategic and operational questions in his next endeavour.
India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy: An Inside View of Decision Making
General V.P. Malik
HarperCollins Publishers India, Pg 300, Rs 699


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