Wednesday, December 02, 2009

We lack the military that can deter terrorism

Last Friday, Defence Minister A.K. Antony reviewed the security scenario in the country at a high level meeting. According to press reports, the aim of the two-hour long meeting was to review the security scenario on the eve of the anniversary of the Mumbai attack. Among those who participated were the three chiefs and the national security adviser.

I wonder if the review looked into whether or not the three services had learnt any lessons from what happened in the wake of the Mumbai attack. Probably not. There seems to be little understanding in the armed forces as to their role in the war against terrorism. Speaking at a seminar on the changing nature of conflict on Monday, Army Chief Deepak Kapoor said that the already bad situation in the region could worsen and the lack of political and diplomatic unity made it imperative to develop new national security concepts to secure the nation.
Funny that the general has not heard of the word “deterrence.” The primary role of the armed forces in the nuclear era is to deter potential adversaries by maintaining a combat profile that will deter the enemy from any adventure. That is precisely the mission that the Indian Army failed in last year when it declared itself unready to act in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attack.

That the general has not understood the role the Army should have played was apparent earlier this month when speaking at a meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry, he expressed outrage at the repeated attacks by Pakistan-based terrorists on Indian targets. According to news reports, he had declared that enough was enough. Noting that the US had not allowed a second 9/11 to happen he said that “India has allowed people to get away after the Parliament attack, Delhi blasts and finally the 26/11 incident.”


India had no choice but to allow such people to get away because
neither through its doctrine, training or equipment has the army been ready to strike fast and decisively against Pakistan. In the wake of
the Parliament House attack in 2001, too, the political class wanted
the armed forces to act. But by the time the then Army chief declared he was ready, after three-and-a-half weeks, the political moment for a strike had passed.
Last year, too, in the wake of the Mumbai strike, it was the Army that said it was not quite prepared, though the other two forces were ready to go. In such circumstances, the government decided prudently, and correctly, not to order a strike.
As this paper reported at that time, the Army said they were short of key ammunition, artillery, air defence systems and other equipment. A 2007 Comptroller and Auditor General’s report provided shocking details as to the Army’s unreadiness that had built up over three previous five year plans. The acquisition of armour in the 8th Plan (1992-1997) was just 5 per cent of the planned acquisition. While this could be excused because the country and its principal supplier, Russia, were undergoing economic crises at the time, there is no explanation why in the period of the 9th Plan (1997-2002) only 10 per cent of the required acquisitions could be made. Or why in the more recent 10th Plan (2002-2007) period only 30 per cent of the tanks could be acquired.
The story was the same for other arms; in the 2002-2007 period, the infantry could only manage 48 per cent of their target for equipment purchase, the mechanised infantry 42, artillery 48, air defence 23, signals, 35 per cent. The report went on to add that, “of the 250 items planned for acquisition in the 10th Plan, only 96 items were acquired up to March 2006.” Some 46 items in the list of items that could not be acquired “were identified as capability gaps in the Army plans.”
Yet General Kapoor and the Defence Minister A.K. Antony have bravely and repeatedly declared in recent weeks that they are in a state of full preparedness. In capital acquisitions, two years is too short a
time to change things, and there is no indication whatsoever, budgetary or otherwise, to suggest that the Army has made up this shortfall. Needless to say, there are no signs that the Army has begun to restructure itself through the vaunted Cold Start doctrine.
Clearly, it is not “India” that has allowed people to get away, but the fact that we do not have the kind of military that can scare our adversaries. For this the military and civilian bureaucracy, as well as our political leaders are fully responsible.

So the military grumbles that the politicians lack the will to order a strike, and our politicians complain that the military does not have the capacity to deliver a decisive outcome. Were it not pathetic, it would seem that it is a well-scripted drama to fool the public.


No one doubts that the armed forces would carry out any order that they got to act, regardless of their preparedness. They displayed this bravery in 1999 when they launched frontal attacks against a well-entrenched enemy in Kargil. But the issue is not bravery, or dedication to duty. It is professionalism. Has the officer class adopted all the skills of modern warfare, have they ensured that their forces are equipped for it? Have they drilled their forces to perfection ? Since the answer is likely to be in the negative, the military option does not remain on the politician’s table for long. But the political class must shoulder the greater blame for not providing the leadership needed to set things right.
The past year has shown that the challenges to the Indian armed forces have, if anything, increased dramatically. They continue to face the bulk of the Pakistan military, even though it is seriously distracted by its Waziristan venture. But it also faces an increasingly powerful Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the north.


Given the balance of forces, the armed forces ought to have no problem in dealing with Pakistani adventurism, even though they are not capable right now of carrying out a deterrent strike against Islamabad. However, dealing with China is another thing. India’s defence strategy in the mountains depends on a fire-power intensive force, but the ministry under Mr Antony has been unable to untangle the process of acquiring artillery for the army leave alone get on with filling the other critical gaps in our combat profile. The message in the MOD is that the Defence Minister’s main aim is to preserve his saintly reputation, and since he has not been able to find a way to staunch the corruption in the ministry, he has decided to minimise it by refusing to buy anything.
For the record, the government has announced a new procurement policy, the third announcement in as many years, and no one is clear whether or not this will fit the bill either. The problem with the 1.1 million-man Indian armed forces lies in all three areas — organisation, equipment and doctrine, and, this is the joker in the pack — higher political direction. Unless all these elements come together, India will never have the kind of forces that will make our enemies think twice, and think hard, before they undertake an adventure like the attack on Mumbai.
This appeared in Mail Today November 26, 2009

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