India finally gets moving The Statesman 08 Nov 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


India finally gets moving The Statesman 08 Nov 2022

          Threats never reduced nor attitudes of neighbours changed, nor did we learn from history. Indian defence planners shouted from rooftops of a two-front threat for decades, but their cries were ignored. As a nation we failed to modernize our forces to counter emerging threats, despite being aware that capability enhancement takes decades. The national leadership was awed by the nuclear scenario and presumed that wars are unlikely, never realizing that localized conflicts can never be stalled, nor can cross-border terrorism be contained without capabilities to pose a threat to nations which challenge us. This weakness was exploited by both neighbours.  

Such was the scenario that the then army chief, General Ved Malik, stated during Kargil that we will fight with what we have. High casualty figures were not only because of offensive operations in mountainous terrain but also due to shortfalls in capabilities. Directions to not cross the LOC were issued on account of fear of escalation into a nuclear war. Blasts in major metros and the attack on the Indian parliament were due to India’s inability to pose a military threat to Pakistan. Added was the weakness of the Indian leadership in being unable to convince the world that India will not back down.

          Even post Kargil, realization failed to dawn on the political leadership. Anthony, as the defence minister, refused to sign any procurement contract fearing corruption accusations which could tarnish his clean image. The ghost of Bofors continued to haunt Indian polity for decades. Pakistan was the global favourite and hence acted with impunity in Kashmir.

In Kashmir, we lost soldiers and innocent civilians, permitted society to become radicalized solely because Pakistan knew we would do nothing. Political parties began toeing Pakistan’s line of separatists being true representatives of the populace. Such was the breakdown of political will that Kashmir was indirectly ruled by the Hurriyat, which determined when there would be a hartal or violence. The anti-India narrative was also built by the Hurriyat, which no government had the power to challenge but on the contrary, mollycoddled them. The words ‘Kadi Ninda’ was all one heard post every terrorist strike.

China developed its infrastructure in Tibet thereby enabling it to project its forces upto its claim lines, while we hesitated on the premise that China could exploit our infrastructure in case of operations. While the Chinese came in vehicles we moved for days on foot. This was because we believed that the PLA was for more superior and hence it was better to handle China diplomatically with kid gloves. The polity lacked trust in the ability of the armed forces. Even service chiefs failed to convince the political leadership to the contrary.  

The domestic industry was kept at a distance while the DRDO determined what could be procured and what would be developed. The end result was most of DRDO’s projects failed while procurement never happened. The OFB (Ordnance Factories Board) ruled the roost and the forces had to accept whatever was produced, despite poor quality and quantity. They remained white elephants, sucking in funds. OFB functioned under the MOD, which was king, and service HQs its subjects. Each institute had its own space and was satisfied.

Political leaders, lacking military knowledge, were content to let the armed forces be run by service chiefs. Their only concern remained a military coup which they countered by ensuring divided forces fighting for a share of the budget pie amidst bureaucratic control.  There was no intent to follow a logical model for enhancing military power. Service HQs projected their requirements and the MOD decided.

There were multiple reasons for our tardiness, most importantly being lack of political will and desperation to ensure the armed forces are kept at a distance and not a threat. This kept service chiefs away from major national security bodies. It also gave the chiefs the independence to run their forces the way they desired with minimum interference. Everyone had settled into the status quo and accepted it, service chiefs included. 

Changes which began being pushed by the current government shook organizations out of their slumber. The involvement of the domestic industry caused panic within the OFB as they knew their tardiness was no longer acceptable. OFB unions protested but to no avail. They had to change. Their breakup into corporate entities was decades late. The DRDO knew it had lost its power and would be challenged. This would impact their budget. It was forced to get its act together and suddenly began displaying progress. HAL, which had a monopoly in aircraft manufacture suddenly found itself surprised by the establishing of the C 295 factory in Gujrat. Much more will follow. Modernization has begun moving, slowly but surely.

The Border Roads Organization became one of the most efficient government entities building roads and bridges at an amazing pace. It was finally fulfilling its role for which it was created but denied funds for decades. Service chiefs started fighting to retain their independence and dual role of force providers and force employers with the appointment of a CDS and directions to implement theatre commands. They feared loss of power. In short, the entire system faced upheaval. What never occurred for decades began being pushed at breakneck pace.

Pakistan was rattled by the cross-border and Balakote strikes as also Indian retaliation across the LOC. This led to reduced interference in Kashmir. Simultaneously, the systematic breakdown of the Hurriyat brought an end to hartals and violence. Galwan and occupation of the Kailash Ridge gave the government confidence on the ability of the armed forces to stare down China. India moved to prepare its forces for oncoming challenges. 

However, there are shortcomings. The government has yet to publish a national security strategy, essential for military capability development. It still avoids inducting service chiefs or the CDS into national security decision making bodies. It has commenced pushing half-baked schemes such as Agnipath without a pilot project, which could be a disaster. The government must reassess its overconfidence in reforming as too many changes too fast are also not ideal. It must remember that an elephant moves slowly but surely.