A genuine effort: Armed forces need sober political leadership not the spurious praise of electoral season
After tarrying on vikas fleetingly, and waffling on the construction of a Ram mandir for a while, BJP decided on making national security the central theme of its election campaign. The Pulwama blast took place and before questions could be raised about the intelligence failure that led to the highest casualty event in the Kashmiri insurgency, the Balakot strike was conducted. Even so, it would be useful to analyse just what has been the record of the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
We need not go into whether the strike was successful or not. It did mark a new turn in India’s dealing with Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorist attacks. For one, the air force was used, and for another, the strike was on Pakistani territory.
Pakistan may have convinced itself that its counterstrike of February 27 has evened the score, but it will be fooling itself. The Indian air force may have been outranged and outgunned in the encounter, but that is not the end of the story. The ISI handlers of Jaish-e-Muhammed have to ask themselves whether they are ready to contend with repeated aerial attacks in the event of more terrorist strikes. The perception that the Indians can attack Pakistani territory has suddenly raised the cost of the proxy war for Islamabad.
This, of course, depends on many things. Principally coherence in New Delhi’s Pakistan strategy. So far it has been confusing. Famously landing in Lahore to wish Nawaz Sharif for his birthday in December 2015, the Modi government first adopted a diplomatic track to corner Islamabad. Then following the Uri attack, it launched the so-called surgical strike. But when equally serious attacks took place in Nagrota and Sunjuwan in the 2016-18 period the government did nothing. Then came the 2019 Pulwama blast. And now in the heat of the election, the PM has thrown caution to the wind and even threatened nuclear war.
It may or may not be a coincidence, but the retaliatory strikes coincided with elections – to the UP assembly in 2017 and the general election of 2019. Deterrence by punishment has value if the chastisement is inflicted every time there is a clear-cut Pakistani hand in an attack. Deterrence cannot be based on an approach linked to the electoral calendar.
If you ignore the hyperbolic electoral self-praise and the bombast, you will see that the Modi government’s actual handling of the security challenges has been pretty poor. In its watch the country has suffered grievous attacks in Pathankot, Uri, Nagrota and Pulwama and no one has been accountable for them.
Actually, the Modi government has been starving the armed forces of critical resources for modernisation. The percentage of GDP devoted to defence has gone down to a low of 1.44%. The three arms of the military have not even got enough money to pay for past acquisitions, leave alone acquire vital equipment for urgently needed modernisation.
The bigger problem is the lack of serious efforts to restructure and reorganise the military to enable it to take on adversaries like China who have moved to reform their own system to conduct information age warfare. Benchmarking themselves against the US, the Chinese are reshaping their forces to conduct integrated joint operations based on situational awareness acquired through networked sensors and weapons platforms.
The Modi government’s innovation of having the national security adviser chair a new defence planning committee will simply not wash. It has made no perceptible difference to higher level coordination and planning. The need of the hour is restructuring the military and providing them the equipment needed to fight in the 21st century. Staying ahead of Pakistan is one thing, but coping with China, quite another.
The armed forces don’t want to bask in the spurious praise of the electoral season. What they seek is sober political leadership and sustained attention to their organisational and resource problems.