Monday, December 08, 2008

Our shield is broken, and our swords blunted

On Tuesday, when asked by media persons as to what India would do if Pakistan did not hand over the "most wanted" terrorists, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji said "We will wait for a week and then you see." This was a perfectly reasonable statement with just a hint of menace. Then motormouth Mukherji could not stop himself.

In quick order he declared that the military option was not ruled out and in equally quick time the Ministry of External Affairs started passing around the message that the military option was not on the table. By categorically ruling out war, Mr Mukherji needlessly threw away one of the instrumentalities at the command of this government. No reasonable person wants war. Yet, almost all thinking persons will agree that you need to be able to threaten your adversary with retaliation in order to prevent him from attacking you. This has been summed up in the old Roman saying si vis pacem para bellum. In other words, if your diplomatic and political policies work well, you deter war, and if for some reason things don't work out, you have an instrumentality to preserve and foster your interests. The reason why we spend hundreds of crores of rupees on defence is not that we intend to fight a war, but to avoid one, if possible, by warning the adversary that the price of adventurism would be unacceptably high.


To deter an adversary, both parts of your military machine — the shield and the sword — must work well. You should be able to block the worst your adversary throws at you, and at the same time be able to hit him where it hurts. Unfortunately for India, both our shield and sword are in a bad shape. This was manifest, most recently, by the many faultlines that the Mumbai mayhem exposed. But the problem is deeper, and there is a psychological element to it, too.
In the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001, India massed its entire Army on the Pakistan border to back up its demand that Pakistan give us the 20 most-wanted terrorists. After a tense stand-off lasting eight months, the Army was pulled back.

Not only did we not get any of the 20 terrorists, but we also had the ignominy of having to swallow another terrorist outrage — the attack on families of military personnel in Kaluchak cantonment—without being able to do anything about it.
To repeat the 2002 military maneuver would be futile and would hardly generate any confidence among the armed forces themselves. At that time, the political authorities authorized the armed forces to act. But by the time they were in their assembly areas for an offensive into Pakistan, by January 10th, the moment had passed. General Musharraf outflanked us by announcing to the world on January 12, 2002, that he was cracking down on terrorists in Pakistan. In the ensuing months he played a double game by hitting at the sectarian groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, but allowing the Talibani and Kashmiri groups to change their names and regroup. The LeT was allowed to set up shop in Azad Kashmir and its chief held in comfortable house arrest for three months and then let off. After the Kargil war, the army began to speak of the doctrine of limited war — finding the space between conventional and unconventional war. But so far they have not found it. They have, since 2002, spoken of the "Cold Start" doctrine which essentially means that the armed forces would be able to launch an offensive in quick order without the lengthy process of several weeks which it takes to get strike forces to their concentration areas from various locations in India. But such a doctrine is far from becoming operational. India has two armies — one is a largely static force which is strung out along the border to ensure that Pakistan or China do not occupy any Indian territory in the event of war. This is because the sub-continent's wars have been short affairs and victory is counted in the square kilometers of land you occupy at the end as bargaining counters.


The second army is the kind of force you see on Republic Day — with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, mobile artillery, surface-to-air missiles and the like. But these comprise just about a quarter of our million- man army. This is the army that has the firepower to punch through the adversary's defences and endanger his cities and road and rail networks. When it comes to such forces, India and Pakistan are roughly equal. Which means India lacks the firepower which is usually calculated on a 3:1 basis in the plains and perhaps 10:1 in the mountains to penetrate Pakistani defences. This is the situation that arises even after we spend more than Rs 100,000 crores on defence annually. To build up the ratios would be an impossible task, given our resources. But there is way out — integrate our forces. Currently, our armed forces claim they fight through "joint" operations, but the fact is that each service plans its own battle. This was evident in Kargil when the three services had their own respective code-names for the operations against Pakistan which were only loosely coordinated. Integrating the combat capabilities is the only way we can get a bang for the buck. The Americans, the Israelis and the Chinese follow this principle. But this is resisted by all three services in India because it means that there will be fewer three and four-star officers at the top. This is not unusual. Across the world militaries have had to be pushed towards integration, which also saves a great deal of money by preventing duplication and triplication of assets like aircraft, helicopters, missiles, etc. The NDA government group of ministers (GoM) recommended a process through which India could integrate its forces. They had suggested the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff to initiate the process, but the UPA has been hostile to the idea allegedly because Ms Sonia Gandhi feels that a CDS could overawe civilian authority and even carry out a coup!


The identical problem afflicts the intelligence services. The same GoM recommended far-reaching changes, but they have been undermined by the UPA government because of poor leadership by the National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and the ferocity with which existing organisations have defended their turf. To rebuild its shield, India needs to act bottom-up. Combat power and high-quality intelligence is the top of a pyramid that rests on very shallow foundations. The problem of ground intelligence begins from the poor policing of this country. There are large chunks of the country that are not policed. And where the police is active, it is distrusted, if not hated because of its corrupt and arbitrary ways. Information is hardly likely to flow to such a force. Overhauling the police forces of the country is an idea whose time came a long time ago. Poor policing not only limits our ability to fight terrorism, but also enables communal violence which generates support for terrorists. A reform through which people will begin trusting their police forces is absolutely vital to reconstructing our shield. It is true that India is faced with a complex situation vis-à-vis Pakistan. It needs to carefully navigate the Pakistani faultlines between those who are themselves victims of terrorism and those who think there is nothing wrong in using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The government is right in not taking recourse to the military option because, first, given the current state of our military, the option could not have delivered the desired result. And second, the outcome could well have been negative to our own interests, viz. the withdrawal of Pakistani army from the western front where it is being compelled by the Americans to fight the Taliban. By walking away from that unpopular war and confronting India, the Pakistan Army can regain some of its lost sheen in the minds of the ordinary Pakistani. So, it was important not to give them that opportunity. But we still need to work in a determined manner on a systematic plan that will defeat the enemies of our Republic.
This article was published in Mail Today December 6, 2008

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