Growing threat perceptions call for urgent sprucing up of the military machine which has been grossly neglected in India so far.
The Pakistan Army’s strategy in the near future will be based primarily on two perceptions. First, it believes that the ‘Kashmir’ issue is dying down; fading away from international focus and ‘Kashmir’ is slipping from Pakistani control. Second, internal turmoil in Pakistan is seriously threatening its territorial integrity as it dodders on the verge of becoming a totally dysfunctional state.
In this situation, GHQ Rawalpindi headed by General Kayani has two choices. If India attacks Pakistan, the country under an ‘anti-India’ sentiment will unite once again. However, New Delhi is not likely to oblige. In India’s perception, Pakistan is falling apart in any case and war, unless imposed by Pakistan, makes little sense. In such an eventuality, it would be prudent on the part of Kayani to hold his flock together, needle India in Kashmir thus enabling Pakistan to regain a degree of unity and simultaneously bring back ‘Kashmir’ onto the centre stage of its international agenda.
The Western forces led by America require Pakistan’s assistance to ensure a smooth and honourable exit through Karachi port. Withdrawing forces would need to be escorted by the Pakistan Army to obviate the possibility of ambush by the local militia. Therefore, New Delhi is not likely to receive support against Islamabad from the international community till US withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete. General Kayani will utilise this opportunity to further Pakistan’s agenda against India.
The Pakistan Army comprises the regular conventional army and the irregulars or guerrilla forces under the jihadi flag, the likes of Hafiz Sayeed. On completion of the withdrawal by US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army plans to let loose the irregular forces such as the Afghan Taliban to capture large territories inside Afghanistan. The residual US forces may not even be allowed to ultimately retain a toe-hold in Kabul. Subsequently, attacks on the Union of India will be mounted from Talibanised Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Couple this threat with the principal challenge posed by authoritarian China in cahoots with Pakistan. Besides claiming 90,000 sq.km of Indian territory, the Chinese, with the help of Pakistani regular and irregular forces, will attempt to obtain a stake in mineral-rich Afghanistan. The long term objective of the Chinese is to open up the route to Central Asia, gain a sizeable presence in the Indian Ocean by positioning themselves at Gwadar port, replace US influence in Asia and eliminate completely, the Indian footprint in Afghanistan.
The Union of India is in turmoil and transition. The internal circus in the name of governance continues owing to dearth of visionary and honest leadership. The Maoists, who control 40 per cent of Indian territory, will increase their influence primarily due to the inept civil administration which is failing on all fronts. On the one hand, external threats mount due to contradiction between dictatorial regimes in the neighbourhood and the Indian multi-cultural democracy. On the other, corrupt and failing instruments of the State are creating massive internal instability. Obviously, there is a connect between the external adversaries and the internal dissidence which makes the situation explosive.
Primarily therefore, the country is held together by its military and in particular by the Indian Army. The internal charade in the name of governance is only possible so long as the invincible Indian Army along with the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy continue to secure the nation.
Due to neglect by the state for decades, Indian military power is in decline and its capabilities are shrinking. Though India is densely populated with 65 per cent of its population below 35 years of age, the huge shortages in manpower defy logic. The Indian Army has a deficit of nearly 10,000 officers. Surprisingly, despite the large population and high unemployment rate, the Indian Army is short of over 30,000 soldiers. There is a shortfall of approximately 2,000 officers and 15,000 sailors in the Navy. The Air Force is deficient of nearly 1,000 officers and 7,000 airmen. Shortfall in Young Officers in the Army is creating havoc with the traditional cohesion and bonding between the officers and soldiers. This state of affairs can be attributed primarily to the lack of incentives and unattractive terms and conditions of service in the armed forces.
Similarly, the equipment held on the inventory is ancient and archival. Yet, the military is expected to successfully defend the borders of the country. New Delhi’s neglect of its military over decades is gradually but surely, destabilising the ‘final’ instrument of the State with morale plummeting to the lowest levels since independence. To add insult to injury, the budgetary cut of Rs 10,000 crore imposed recently by the finance ministry will adversely impact the much-needed military modernisation. China and Pakistan must be delighted at the move by the Indian Finance Ministry that will degrade the Indian military.
Meagre budgetary allocation for defence and the bureaucratic red tape involved in the acquisition process have placed the defence services in a tight spot. In such a milieu compounded by acute scarcity of equipment and human resources, plummeting morale in the armed forces is not surprising. Today, India is in no position to deal with threat from China or fight a two-front war if imposed on it after the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan.
The harsh reality is that if the Indian Army is incapable of protecting the borders, the Union of India will disintegrate within no time. Another issue of concern is that the police and the CRPF cannot successfully counter the Maoist onslaught. Sooner or later, and unfortunately, the Army will be called in to take charge of the operations against the Maoists. By arming Maoists, Beijing and Islamabad want to ensure that Indian Army’s attention is diverted from the borders to handle the growing internal turmoil. This will further stretch the military which is already under considerable pressure on account of capability degradation owing to the callous apathy of the political leadership.
In order to avoid the collapse of the Union, the military capability in its entirety needs to be refurbished on a war footing. Foremost, integrate the Service Headquarters with the Ministry of Defence by posting serving officers in the Ministry to increase efficiency and knowledge base. Integrate the armed forces through the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff and create theatre commands with integral army, air and naval elements to optimise the military punch and avoid duplication of effort and resources. Strange that New Delhi should find it a herculean task to bring about a tri-Services integration along with its MoD to enhance India’s war-fighting capability even as China and Pakistan boast of a combined military strategy against India!
The foreign policy of a country is only as good as its military and economic power. Hence it is important that the military be part of the national decision-making process in strategic and security matters. What is astounding is that the professional advice of the military is not sought prior to shaping diplomatic strategy. The nation won the 1971 War as Indira Gandhi sought professional military advice of the Generals. However, if military officers had been a part of her delegation at the Shimla Summit, wily Bhutto would not have won on the negotiating table, the war he had lost.
In the 21st century, with wide ranging and attractive options for employment available to the youth, a career in the military is not really a priority. Also, with India constantly in conflict with her neighbours or insurgents, the youth shy away from a hazardous career in the defence services. Therefore, it is vital for the government to provide extra-ordinarily lucrative package and incentives for the young to voluntarily put in five to seven years of commissioned service. Similarly, service conditions of soldiers need to be substantially improved.
It is an operational imperative to keep the military young. The colour service of the jawan should be reduced to 10 years from the current 17. There should be lateral induction of the Short Service Commissioned Officers and the jawans into civil administration. This will beef up the civil administration, which in turn will help tackle groups like the Maoists. For example, an officer from Signals inducted into the civil, can not only help organize communication systems but also protect against and conduct cyber attacks effectively. With multiple professional skills acquired in the military, this exchange will beef up the civil administration and enhance civil-military interface.
In addition to human resources, no military can pack the extra punch unless it is equipped with the most modern weaponry. At the same time, a nation cannot be a great power unless it boasts of a fairly large defence industrial complex. The reason India is one of the world’s largest importers of defence equipment today is due to the fact that under the disguise of ‘self-sufficiency’ mantra, scarce and precious resources of the nation have been squandered largely due to the inefficiency of the Defence Public Sector Units. One of the main reasons for delay in the production of the Scorpene submarine is the fact that it took a huge effort for DCNS of France to upgrade and modernise the public sector shipyard Mazagon Docks!
Today, the war-fighting equipment held by the armed forces is in a dismal state and the state defence industries are in no position to correct the situation. The only way to equip the defence forces is to privatise the state defence units, bring in the private sector as tier-1 supplier, encourage collaboration and joint ventures between Indian and international defence industries with minimum 49 per cent FDI. In case of sunrise defence technologies, permit 100 per cent FDI. This will, in the next decade, create a large and modern defence industrial complex in India that will not only equip the Indian armed forces but also earn revenues for the state through exports.
It is unfortunate and demoralising for a soldier to not even possess a reliable assault rifle to tackle the insurgent or terrorist equipped with the latest weapons. Therefore, at the initial stage by-passing the long-drawn acquisition process, it is imperative that the basic requirements are met with through quick imports. To save costs, an assault rifle should be selected to meet the requirements of defence services as well as para-military forces. In addition, transfer of technology to a designated private sector unit in India should be done simultaneously.
On the other hand, there is a dire need to eliminate cumbersome red-tape and indecisiveness. The tender in which six in-flight refueling aircraft were selected by the IAF, was cancelled due to a clerical mindset of the MoD. The irony is that in the tender re-floated, the same company has now been identified as the preferred bidder. This reflects unimaginative application of mind by the MoD causing huge delay. In view of the prevailing threat, timely provisioning of the required hardware for the IAF ought to have priority over procedural imperatives. Similarly, if companies continue to be blacklisted without cleaning up our own stables, it can only lead to disaster. For example, if five companies in the world make 155mm artillery gun and three are blacklisted, it will kill competition and deprive the nation of getting the best value for money. The rules of engagement should be fair and consistent with international norms for India to succeed in creating its own modern defence industrial complex. With the rapid march of defence technologies it is not possible today to be entirely self-sufficient in the production of the complete spectrum of weapons. Therefore, India also should become a part of global supply chain of defence equipment by being one of the important hubs of research and development of a variety of main and sub-assemblies.
In the event of any future conflict, New Delhi’s political will and the capabilities of the Indian military should be such that China and Pakistan are hard-pressed to defend Tibet and Lahore respectively instead of threatening Arunachal and Kashmir. This is only possible if we end the demoralisation of the Defence Services by perpetual neglect.
Bharat Verma, a former Cavalry Officer is Editor, Indian Defence Review. He frequently appears on television as a commentator, and is the author of Fault Lines and The Indian Armed Forces
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Courtesy Indian Defence Review