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Foreign policy without credible military capabilities is baloney

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said what all defence ministers and service chiefs have routinely said since Independence: India is fully prepared to meet any external threats (read, China and Pakistan). While 26/11 attacks were not considered good enough reason to sound the war-bells, the earlier 1999 Kargil intrusions had left Delhi with little choice. It was then that the army chief, General V.P. Malik had muttered that ‘we will fight with whatever we have.’

After the one-sided conflict in which we lost many lives in vain, Delhi woke up to the need for a holistic review, something that we have done after every war. The Kargil review committee report recommended numerous national security reforms. While the government of the day showed exceptional courage by making the report public, it did little to implement it.

Two fundamental reforms were: the need for the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and integration of service headquarters with the defence ministry. Neither happened, but illusions were created of moving on with the jobs. The service headquarters remain divided as ever, the bureaucracy brazen, and the political leadership comatose.

Much of the blame rests with the service chiefs who have not risen to the occasion. If anything, they have given ample reasons to be the butt of jokes. Cases in point are the unwarranted controversy about the army chief’s age, and the naval headquarters’ futile attempt to deny its own senior-most officer the post of Chief of Integrated Staff to Chairman (CISC). While the outgoing air force chief has called for a debate on the CDS, he has not been asked who is to do this to make it meaningful. What good is a three-star officer (air marshal) as Chairman of HAL, when he will continue to report to the secretary defence production? If only the service headquarters and defence ministry were one, a three star officer occupying secretary defence production’s chair would have made sense.

When so much energy is being expended on massaging egos, self-aggrandisements and obfuscations, service headquarters cannot be expected to put their weights together in seeking necessary reforms; especially when it involves sacrificing own turfs. The service chiefs worked harmoniously for the six pay commission redresses. Why can’t they work for operational imperatives involved in air-land battle and now air-sea battle doctrines? For all the rhetoric about services cooperation, the army worries most about disputed land borders as it has boots on the ground. The air force has moved on from being a tactical force in support of the army to now fighting its own wars; hence its opposition to the CDS. The navy, obsessed with its peacetime roles, shies away from talking about its relevance to the land war.

This disharmony reflects in the services’ procurement needs as well. While the Integrated Defence Headquarters tries to bring a modicum of procurement discipline, it can do little as the CISC is junior to the service chiefs.

If the service chiefs could work together, the DRDO would have become accountable and the political leadership more responsive to national security. Fearing technical audits, the DRDO would end its skulduggery, and the military leadership would regularly remind the Prime Minister five cardinal truths about national security: India cannot become a major power unless it resolves land disputes with two powerful adversaries who work in cahoots with one another; foreign policy without credible military capabilities is baloney; military capabilities require a strong indigenous defence industrial base and cannot be imported; the DRDO should work closely with the services, something it is dismissive about; and most importantly, there is a need for a national security (traditional external and internal threats) strategy leading to long term desired capabilities with firm financial underpinning.

We need to ask ourselves this question: with unresolved borders with both sides, why has Pakistan refused expansive bilateral trade ahead of the Kashmir resolution, while China has encouraged it? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has conceded worry on account of the imbalance in bilateral trade with China which is over USD 60 billion and is growing exponentially. There is a burgeoning Indian industrial lobby which desires more trade with China. With profit as the sole motive, these industrialists care little about the border dispute and should the occasion arise, they will likely press the government to seek an unequal compromise on national sovereignty. This is why Pakistan insists that the Kashmir resolution precede bilateral trade.

An emboldened China has already reneged on 2,000km of the disputed border with India in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. They are obstructing construction work in Ladakh. Instead of contesting China’s claim, Delhi has resumed bilateral military cooperation and continues to pretend that all is well. Moreover, there is enough wrangling within; national security has got mixed up with environment issues. Since 2000, when strategic border roads in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh were cleared by the then Vajpayee government, work continues at snail’s pace. Rather than frenetically build border roads which China is certain to object to, the way found by Delhi has been to buy air lift capabilities for the defence services. The message it gives to China is one of appeasement, something that Beijing exploits.


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