India is being caught between a rock and a hard place in dealing with Pakistan’s culpability for the Mumbai massacre of November 26. If it had militarily struck Pakistan in the heat of the moment, the world would have understood. But at the time it had no evidence of direct Pakistani complicity, so it risked being branded an aggressor and blowing up four years of the peace process. The dilemma is that today, when it has the evidence, it still cannot strike.
But the reasons are different. First, Pakistan is ready. Second, because it is not the heat of the moment, and there is a sharp awareness in New Delhi that India lacks the military capacity to ensure the outcome is anything other than a messy stalemate. In other words, it can punish Pakistan, but it will have to take some punishment itself, along with the possibility that the situation spirals out of control and imposes damage which will close the country’s economic window of opportunity.
As a result, India is in an uncomfortable — but by no means hopeless — position of having to use international diplomacy to contain the terrorist threat from Pakistan. We have had some success — the UN Security Council has mandated that Pakistan shut down the Jamaat-ud-dawa. Islamabad may try and brazen it out by claiming that it is anything but a terrorist organisation, but that will work only for a while. Maneuvering desperately at the sunset of a US administration which was tolerant of its deviant ways, Pakistan may find the going difficult. There is a signal of sorts in Barack Obama’s decision to send the US Vice President-elect Joe Biden to Islamabad.
But all this is little comfort for India which must now think of a longer-term politico-military strategy to contain and possibly bring about the end of the Pakistan of today — the state which uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy and sees nothing wrong in running a nuclear Walmart that has sold nuclear weapons technology to anyone and everyone.
The first item in this agenda is the need for a military that can deliver its part of the strategy we pursue. As of now, besides saying that all options were open and that the armed forces were “in a state of full preparedness,” our politicians have not said much about the military option. But the military is cribbing about the politicians’ lack of will to press a conflict with Pakistan, while politicians grumble that our armed forces don’t have the kind of military capability that enables the United States and Israel to use military power without the fear of any significant retribution.
This is exactly what happened in 2001. The NDA government says that they authorised the armed forces to “do something” in the wake of the attack on the Parliament House. The army mobilised, the air force and navy readied themselves, but in the end the political authorities hesitated to give the final orders because no general could give them the guarantee of a clean and controlled outcome.
In September 2002, after the crisis had waned and India had done nothing after the second terrorist attack on the families of military personnel at Kaluchak, President Pervez Musharraf traveled to the US and in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, he had this to say: “… my military judgment was that they [Indians] would not attack us… Militarily…there is a certain ratio required for an offensive force to succeed. The ratios that we maintain are far above that — far above what a defensive force requires to defend itself...”
What he was saying was that our million-man army was not sufficient to overawe Pakistan.
After Mumbai, the country has pushed through several long overdue steps in the domestic arena to fight terrorism.
This is also then an opportune moment to reflect as to why we do not have a military force that can dissuade continued Pakistani adventurism which could one day take on a much more dangerous edge. Currently, by any reckoning, India enjoys a qualitative and quantitative edge over Pakistan in its air and naval assets, but the armies of the two countries are evenly matched, which means that if India can capture territory in Pakistan, the latter could also do the same in India.
On paper, India’s 1.3 million-man army with more than 12,000 tanks, artillery guns, rocket launchers and infantry combat vehicles is almost twice the size of Pakistan’s 620,000 force with some 6,000 tanks and artillery guns. But fully one-quarter of the Indian army is involved in counter-insurgency operations, and a significant number are committed to defence on the Sino-Indian border.
The Kargil review committee report had noted that “the heavy involvement of the Army in counter-insurgency operations cannot but affect its preparedness for its primary role, which is to defend the country against external aggression.” India spends some Rs 150,000 crores on its defence every year. It is unlikely that it can afford to spend more without compromising its economic development and social welfare goals.
Also, bean-count assessments, of course, do not take into account what a SIPRI study on military capacity and the risk of war pointed out: That traditional analyses do not provide an adequate measure of “military capacity or effectiveness.” It points towards “cultural” factors, as well as the role of organisational and political issues, as additional factors. Pakistan is a case in point. The state which uses terrorism as policy and which casually plays around with nuclear technology has a pathology whose characteristic is a morbid fear and historical loathing of India. Militarily deterring Pakistan has not been and is not, an easy proposition.
There is another problem arising from our own cultural mind-sets. India has a political-bureaucratic class that profoundly distrusts its own armed forces. Through our history as an independent country we have paid a price for this.
The incomplete outcome of the 1947 and 1965 wars with Pakistan and the disaster that India suffered at the hands of China in 1962 are examples of this. The latest manifestation of this is the refusal of the United Progressive Alliance government to press ahead with deep structural reforms suggested by the NDA government designed to make our armed forces a much more capable fighting unit.
Some of the reforms such as the establishment of a Defence Intelligence Agency have been accepted. But despite the creation of a Defence Acquisition Board, the process of acquiring new weapons system remains slow and encumbered with all manner of problems. As for the Defence science establishment, it remains beyond reform and repair.
But this is small change. The big ticket item that would make a difference is the creation of the office of the Chief of Defence Staff who would become the principal military adviser to the Minister of Defence. The Integrated Defence set-up that the CDS would head would ensure that there was no duplication in the acquisition of equipment or training facilities. But his most important function would have been to oversee the creation of integrated theatre commands where all the arms — the army, navy, air force — would function under one command. Not only would this be a major measure of economy, it will vastly increase the combat power of our armed forces.
Unfortunately, the UPA has let things be. Its top leaders have refused to appoint a CDS and the three services are happy because they are able to retain their own respective commands and privileges. But the price we pay is in the bureaucratised military which has little or no taste for war, and lacks the kind of ambience which will produce generals who can guarantee results.
This article appeared first in Mail Today January 7, 2009