Bottomline | Sound of Silence

Government should not ignore the demands of the military

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The Chiefs of Staff Committee has been bulldozed into submission over the sixth pay commission recommendations by the government. The fig leaf held out is the constitution of a three-member political committee comprising Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony and P. Chidambaram to review the genuine grievances especially the comparable lower salaries of officers of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and their equivalent in the air force and the navy with those in the IAS and paramilitary forces. No one in his right mind seriously believes that much would come out of this political confabulation under intense bureaucratic influence. The bureaucrats would caution the political conclave that doing more for the armed forces would have a detrimental effect on the morale of paramilitary forces, especially when they are fighting Naxalism and increased terrorism within the country. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly said that internal security is the biggest challenge facing the country.

Fully conscious of how things would unfold, the then Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Arun Prakash had asked the government that a military member should be included in sixth pay commission committee. That request was waylaid, much as would be the outcome of the Mukherjee committee that has been formed now. In a matter of months, the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee would retire, and his successor would need time to settle down before he joins the other two chiefs on this issue. By then, it would be time for general elections, and the armed forces would be looking hopefully to the next government and the next pay commission to better their lot. Those who would not be so patient would seek pre-mature retirement. But this will not deter the government as more numbers would be available to fill the created vacancies.

What few would pause to consider is how little a soldier gets in return for what he gives of himself for the country. Unlike any other vocation, being in the armed forces is a way of life, where a soldier is on call round the clock. A recent visit to Ladakh showed me once again why we need to be proud of our armed forces; they simply do the difficult as a routine. The air force officers fly the vintage Cheetah helicopters in Siachen glacier to overstretched technical limits not envisioned by the manufacturer. My heart swelled with pride, when they told me rather nonchalantly that they had learnt to feel when a machine would give trouble. Similarly, all army soldiers inducted into Jammu and Kashmir spend precarious minimum two-year tenure as something in a good day’s work. For three long months they live on the glacier where each day is a close shave with death; there are high altitude problems (medical research has established that no acclimatisation is possible beyond 18,000 feet altitude), the crevasses are unforgiving, and the weather is daunting. Officers there talk of amputations and death as nothing extraordinary. The Valley has its own set of problems. How many of us have paused to consider how infiltration is checked and how hardcore terrorists are dissuaded. It is a lonely, painstaking and dangerous task to ensure main roads are cleared of explosive devices much before day-break; troops get very little sleep from the night and day vigil on the Line of Control and the hinterland. Troops also provide administration in far flung remote areas of the Valley where few district officials care to venture. If this was not enough, the army is constantly on tenterhooks combating the propaganda war; most of the local media for well known reasons is biased. And the officers who lead these men are Lieutenant Colonels and their equivalent in the air force and navy who have been denied their dues by the sixth pay commission. It can be argued that the paramilitary forces, the CRPF in the Valley and the ITBP on the Line of Actual Control, are doing an equally dangerous job. The truth is that the paramilitary forces have been able to function because the necessary deterrence is being provided by the armed forces. The CRPF, despite their motivation, do not have the weapon, training and skills to outmatch hardened foreign terrorists. Similarly, the ITBP, when challenged by the PLA patrols on the LAC, looks up to the army to salvage situations.

By denying dues to soldiers, and by silencing the senior brass in the name of military discipline, the political leadership is simply proving the point that it does not understand the role of military power in nation-building. All major powers have its military in its policy-making loop; those who roughshod pay the price. Case in point is the Bush administration in the US. In good time, the world would come to know why secretary of state, General Colin Powell did not join the second Bush administration; he was opposed to the Iraq invasion, and did not believe that the Taliban had been vanquished for the US troops to be diverted from Afghanistan. Take China, where the PLA is part of the highest policy-making body, and the chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission is a member of the communist politburo. Hence, for India, the need is for the Chief of Defence Staff. He is not meant to scare the politicians or bureaucrats, but to give sound military advice.


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