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Tag Archives | army

Business as usual

The paralysis in decision making in New Delhi is adversely affecting India’s national security.

Pakistani troops ambushed and killed five Indian soldiers belonging to the 21 Bihar regiment and 14 Maratha Light Infantry on Tuesday.  The Pakistani troops crossed the Line of Control into Poonch to carry out the attack.

Several theories have been put forward to explain the attack on the Indian patrol.  Was this retaliation to news reports in Pakistan which claimed that Indian troops kidnapped four men from PoK?  Is this just another manifestation of Pakistan’s escalating hostilities towards India in Afghanistan?  Are hardline elements in Pakistan’s armed forces attempting to discredit and derail Nawaz Sharif’s alleged attempts to make peace with India?  Interesting questions, and maybe they will be answered in time and as more facts pertaining to the attack are revealed.  But reactions to Tuesday’s incident, like those during the January 2013 incident, point to a larger crisis in national security management in India.

A quick word first about Nawaz Sharif.  Whatever his intentions are with regard to India, India must judge Pakistan by its actions and not by warm and fuzzy notions of a trans-Punjab lovefest.  The problem with Pakistan’s peace brigade is that there is a significant gap between purported intentions and their ability to deliver on them.

The net result to India is that its neighboring environment continues to remain hostile and threats to its internal security persist. In this regard, it would be silly for India to get entangled in a debate over whether Nawaz Sharif wants peace with India or not.  Instead, India must judge Pakistan by its actions and not by the supposed intentions of some of its leaders.  As my colleague Nitin Pai argues, there is no case for India to engage the Nawaz Sharif government in dialog until there is credible proof of intent.

But to return to the August 6 attack on Indian troops, such incidents along the LoC are hardly new, regrettable though the loss of life is.  The Pakistanis have always attempted to stir up tensions long the LoC to aid in the infiltration of terrorists across the LoC or to elevate the visibility of tensions with India on the global stage.  Tuesday’s attack wasn’t the first of its kind and will not be the last.  There will surely be a tactical Indian military response to the provocation, and the Pakistanis are well aware that the response will come sooner than later.  This isn’t war mongering but merely a reflection of the realities of the situation along the LoC.

However, what should be of concern to us is the manner in which Indian leadership has chosen to respond to the attack.  Browse through statements issued by representatives of India’s political parties and it becomes apparent very quickly that objective number one was to either blame or deflect blame (depending on who you were) for the attack.

BJP MP and former External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha asked whether the Congress was with Pakistan or India (I mean, really?), while Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi affirmed that “the entire Congress party, as indeed the entire country” stood with the families of those killed. As ever, party first, country second.

In fact, further reading into statements issued in response to the attack tells us that there isn’t much consensus of opinion even within the UPA, much less between the UPA and other parties.  Defense Minister AK Antony, whose indifference to defending anything beyond his own reputation is now a thing of legend, alleged that the attackers were in fact terrorists masquerading as Pakistan army regulars, which contradicted the positions of almost every other UPA leader to have spoken on the subject.  It also happened to contradict the position of the army.  What is the Indian citizen supposed to make of the political theatrics that get played out with each bomb blast or border incident?

Confidence in India’s political leadership and national security institutions is eroding.  There has been systematic atrophy of existing institutions charged with managing India’s national security.  Worse, vested parties, both political and otherwise, have effectively stonewalled urgent reforms needed to our national security apparatus.  This includes the implementation of a recommendation first made  14 years ago in the Kargil Review Committee report that would allow the prime minister of the country to receive direct and timely military input.

The acute paralysis in consensus-building and decision making in New Delhi is now affecting India’s national security.  This cannot continue to be swept under the carpet.  If India’s leaders can’t even evolve political consensus on an expected and routine Pakistani provocation along the LoC, what sort of response do we imagine we can expect when we are faced with more serious challenges to our national security?

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The Indian army’s new strike corps

Five key questions that the country’s leadership must answer.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave its approval last week to the raising of a mountain strike corps along the border with China.  The Indian army’s only “China-centric” strike corps — first mooted in 2009 — will reportedly cost Rs. 62,000 crores (about $10 billion) and will raise over 45,000 soldiers.  Reaction to the announcement has been mixed; some commentators were encouraged by the government’s move, while others have taken the view that the reaction is latent and cannot mask the very real structural challenges that India’s armed forces face today.  China’s own reaction to the announcement was muted.

Indeed, opinion was also divided among friends and INI colleagues.  However, after vigorous debate via email, the following questions were arrived at that the powers-that-be ought to be answering with regard to the new strike corps:

1.  Given the timing of the approval by the CCS, it is conceivable that the motivation is related to the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), put forward by China but received with limited enthusiasm in India.  Should India continue to negotiate the BDCA with China, additional muscle deployed along the border with China can effectively convey red lines in negotiations and compromises.  But what good is a border defense cooperation agreement anyway, when India and China have different perceptions on what actually constitutes the “border” between the two countries?

2.  Important questions need to be asked on just how India expects to build capacity for a new strike corps numbering 45,000 soldiers.  Will the divisions and brigades under the corps constitute new raising?  If the answer is a partial yes, then what component of the new corps will absorb existing formations and units?  There appears to be very little clarity on the subject currently publicly available.

Assuming there will be an element of new raising, to what extent will the accretion be on a “save and raise” basis vs. only net spend?  This is important because it carries with it long-term financial implications at a time when there is additional pressure on defense spending as a result of the country’s slowing economy.  Questions of how additional capacity will be built also need to be answered.  The Indian army already suffers from a shortage of 10,000 officers and over 30,000 soldiers in other ranks.  If additional capacity has to be raised, what will its source be?

3.  Next, how effective can we expect the new strike corps to be without a mechanized component?  What utility can mountain divisions really provide as a strike force, given the terrain?  What is the airborne component to lift and shift forces, if there is no mechanized component?  How effective can the new formation be when the infrastructure needed for the rapid mobility of men and material along the border with China continues to be woeful?

4.  Will the new strike corps be a dual-tasked formation (i.e., will it play a role on the Pakistan border, if the situation arises) or will it be a formation solely focused on the Tibetan plateau, as some media reports suggest?  Given what we know about its constituent units, how effective can the formation be in areas like Ladakh, or in plain or desert terrain along the border with Pakistan?

5.  The final point gets to the crux of the issue where India is concerned: our collective thinking continues to miss the forest for the trees on defense-related issues.  We have been unable to break away from an army and land border-centric mindset that dominated our strategic thinking 65 years ago (back then, probably with good reason).If we really are serious about developing capabilities to raise the costs of a Chinese misadventure, would the resources not be better spent on the Indian Navy instead?

India continues to complain about being strategically outflanked by China, but has not done enough to address threats in the Indian Ocean.  The Indian Navy is stretched for resources and strategic projects meant to augment its capabilities have been waylaid.    Instead, we are about to create a new corps and raise as many people as the entire Indian Navy has today without adequate consideration of deterrence already at play where China is concerned. Indeed, what is the point of India’s nuclear weapons and missiles if it continues to obsess over and dedicate asymmetric sums of money and resources towards offensive formations that can achieve, at best, limited tactical gains if a border conflict with China were to break out?

Ultimately, bolstering capabilities along the border with China will always be welcome, but the effectiveness of such an endeavor will be limited if we don’t develop the necessary infrastructure along the border,  don’t address shortages in troops and equipment and continue to ignore the growing asymmetries between the Indian and Chinese navies.

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Sam, the wise and brave

When Manekshaw delivered the KM Kariappa Memorial Lecture.

June 27 marks the 5th anniversary of the passing of one of India’s greatest post-independence military leaders, SHFJ Manekshaw.  In honor of Field Marshal Manekshaw, the COAS Gen. Bikram Singh delivered a commemorative lecture at the Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi.  The Government of India’s Press Information Bureau tells us that the talk was “stimulating,” although we have no way of knowing this, since it was a closed-door affair.

(Comment: And so we continue to perpetuate this absurd practice in our country of largely insulating the armed forces and any discussion about the armed forces from civil society.  Modern nations succeed and thrive through the integration — rather than the isolation — of their armed forces and societies.  Yet we in India hold on to outdated beliefs and misplaced anxieties 65 years after independence.)

But I digress.  Sam Bahadur was not only a great solider but also a brilliant orator.  Excerpts of his Field Marshal KM Kariappa Memorial Lecture from January 1995 follow:

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a very thin line between becoming a Field Marshal and being dismissed. A very angry Prime Minister read out messages from Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. All of them saying that hundreds of thousands of refugees had poured into their states and they did not know what to do. So the Prime Minister turned round to me and said: “I want you to do something”.

I said, “What do you want me to do?”

She said, “I want you to enter East Pakistan”.

I said, “Do you know that that means War?”

She said, “I do not mind if it is war”.

I, in my usual stupid way said, “Prime Minister, have you read the Bible?”And the Foreign Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh (a Punjabi Sikh), in his Punjabi accent said, “What has Bible got to do with this?”, and I said, “the first book, the first chapter, the first paragraph, the first sentence, God said, ‘let there be light’’ and there was light. You turn this round and say ‘let there be war’ and there will be war. What do you think? Are you ready for a war? Let me tell you –“it’s 28th April, the Himalayan passes are opening now, and if the Chinese gave us an ultimatum, I will have to fight on two fronts”.

Again Sardar Swaran Singh turned round and in his Punjabi English said, “Will China give ultimatum?”

I said, “You are the Foreign Minister. You tell me”.

Then I turned to the Prime Minister and said, “Prime Minister, last year you wanted elections in West Bengal and you did not want the communists to win, so you asked me to deploy my soldiers in penny pockets in every village, in every little township in West Bengal. I have two divisions thus deployed in sections and platoons without their heavy weapons. It will take me at least a month to get them back to their units and to their formations. Further, I have a division in the Assam area, another division in Andhra Pradesh and the Armoured Division in the Jhansi-Babina area. It will take me at least a month to get them back and put them in their correct positions. I will require every road, every railway train, every truck, every wagon to move them. We are harvesting in the Punjab, and we are harvesting in Haryana; we are also harvesting in Uttar Pradesh. And you will not be able to move your harvest.

I turned to the Agriculture Minister, Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, “If there is a famine in the country afterwards, it will be you to blame, not me.” Then I said, “My Armoured Division has only got thirteen tanks which are functioning.”

The Finance Minister, Mr. Chawan, a friend of mine, said, “Sam, why only thirteen?”

“Because you are the Finance Minister. I have been asking for money for the last year and a half, and you keep saying there is no money. That is why.” Then I turned to the Prime Minister and said, “Prime Minister, it is the end of April. By the time I am ready to operate, the monsoon will have broken in that East Pakistan area. When it rains, it does not just rain, it pours. Rivers become like oceans. If you stand on one bank, you cannot see the other and the whole countryside is flooded. My movement will be confined to roads, the Air Force will not be able to support me, and, if you wish me to enter East Pakistan, I guarantee you a hundred percent defeat.”

“You are the Government”, I said turning to the Prime Minister, “Now will you give me your orders?”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have seldom seen a woman so angry, and I am including my wife in that. She was red in the face and I said, “Let us see what happens”. She turned round and said, “The cabinet will meet four o’clock in the evening”.

Everyone walked out. I being the junior most man was the last to leave. As I was leaving, she said, “Chief, please will you stay behind?” I looked at her. I said, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, would you like me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?”

“No, sit down, Sam. Was everything you told me the truth?”

“Yes, it is my job to tell you the truth. It is my job to fight and win, not to lose.”

She smiled at me and said, “All right, Sam. You know what I want. When will you be ready?”

“I cannot tell you now, Prime Minister”, I said, but let me guarantee you this that if you leave me alone, allow me to plan, make my arrangements, and fix a date, I guarantee you a hundred percent victory”. [Field Marshal KM Kariappa Memorial Lectures, 1995-2000]

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General rhetoric

Gen. Kayani finds himself in a very unenviable position.

There is palpable anger in the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi over U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last Saturday.  The most powerful man in Pakistan, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani has been forced to swing into damage control mode.  Pakistan’s first haphazard response to the attacks involved closing NATO supply lines and demanding  that the U.S. vacate Shamsi airbase (allegedly used to conduct drone strikes in K-P).  It then withdrew itself from the Bonn conference on Afghanistan.  Then there was a vague attempt to block the BBC and other “Western channels” from broadcasting in Pakistan — a strange threat at best, and one that is unlikely to hurt anyone, except possibly, listeners of the BBC in Pakistan.

Today, Gen Kayani apparently “upped the ante” by declaring that his troops would respond with “full force” to any future aggression by NATO or the U.S.:

“Be assured that we will not let the aggressor walk away easily,” the army chief said in a message for the troops and added that he had “clearly directed that any act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of the cost and consequences”.

He believed that the attack could have been retaliated effectively had the communications network not broken down. “Timely decision could not be taken due to breakdown of communication with the affected posts and therefore lack of clarity of situation at various levels, including corps HQ and GHQ.”

Gen Kayani further clarified that the troops could respond on their own, when attacked, without waiting for orders from the command. “I have full trust in your capabilities and resolve,” he stressed. [Dawn]

But this is all meaningless rhetoric for several reasons.  First, Pakistan is not the victim that it is claiming to be, but in fact the aggressor.  It has been reliably reported that it was Pakistan, not the U.S., that fired first, presumably in an attempt to aid the Taliban, which had come under siege from U.S. Special Forces.  This, of course, is not a new occurrence.  The Long War Journal catalogs at least eight occasions of unprovoked cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops in Mohmand Agency since September 2011.

Second, if the Pakistanis could have hit back at NATO or U.S. forces, they would have.  The fact that they didn’t indicates that they couldn’t.  Upon being initially challenged by the Pakistanis, U.S. Special Forces called in close air support from NATO, which proceeded to decimate the aggressors.  This is not an issue of a breakdown in communication between corps HQ and GHQ.  When you’re under attack and taking casualties, you don’t need “permission” from your Chief of Army Staff to defend yourself.

Third, bravado notwithstanding, how can the Pakistani army realistically “respond with full force, regardless of the cost or consequences?” Does Gen. Kayani not expect the U.S. to respond in kind to Pakistani military action? Is Pakistan really that stupid to get into a fight with the U.S. or NATO and trigger an uncontrollable chain of events?

The truth of the matter is that the proverbial noose around the neck of the current Chief of Army Staff is tightening since the humiliation of the Abbottabad raid in May.  Pakistan’s inability to respond to the recent “act of aggression” puts Gen. Kayani in a very unenviable position.  And the more that noose tightens, the more erratic Gen. Kayani’s actions will get.  There are already many Yahyas in Rawalpindi to Kayani’s Ayub. And as a restless nation bays for blood, Kayani is capable of attempting to placate them with little else than bellicose rhetoric.

Given the rather delicate situation that he finds himself in, Gen. Kayani in actuality should be praying for zero confrontation with NATO or U.S. forces in the short-term, rather than welcoming it. For should he find himself in a Salala-like situation in the near future, he might discover that the cost of backing down from another military confrontation with the U.S. outweighs its apparent benefits.

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