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Of history and defence

Of history and defence
At the very core of the theme worded in the title of this compendium is civil-military relations, the foundation of which, sad to say, is rotten. For India, which after 10 centuries or so became independent, it is most unfortunate that in the most crucial aspects – its security and integrity – the start was bad. The duo of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and third Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon not only left no stone unturned in sowing weeds in civil-military relations, but were also utterly disastrous for India’s security. Till date the nation is paying dearly on both counts. The politico-bureaucratic combine continued to degrade both the status and morale of the services and India’s security related to two of its adversaries.

The Indo-Pak wars of 1947-1948 and 1965, the 1962 Sino-Indian war and the 4th war waged by Pakistan – “bleeding India by a million cuts” by use of proxy terrorism – which is continuing, all stand out as classic examples of soft options/approaches, for which India continues to pay a heavy price in blood and expense. In the 1947-1948 Indo-Pak war neither the Navy, nor the Air Force was used. As for India’s responses to before and during the Chinese aggression of 1962, the less said the better. Both Nehru and Krishna Menon refused to accept that there was a definite threat building up, for which the Indian Army was woefully under-armed, ill-equipped and worse still, ill-clad. The fighting element of the Air Force, which could have been a life-saver and war-stopper, was not used. For the 1965 war, although Indian Army at long last got a new assault rifle, India’s decision makers continued to be sea-blind; the Naval Chief was out of the planning loop and visited the battle areas only as an observer. Having reached the outskirts of Lahore, the Indian Army was stopped from going further and its vital blood-soaked gain of Haji Pir post in Kashmir was handed back to Pakistan on a platter during the Tashkent Talks. That loss is believed to have cost then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri his life. He returned from the Tashkent peace talks in a coffin and a shocked nation got glimpses of his darkened face at his funeral. Except for going soft as mentioned, Shastri did break the jinx of civil-military relations by conferring and agreeing with the military leadership.

Shastri was succeeded by Indira Gandhi, whose first acid test on national security was her response to the Chinese upping the ante in Nathu La, Sikkim in 1967. By sanctioning the use of artillery, which accounted for the killing of about 400 Chinese soldiers and destruction of many vehicles and bunkers (not unreported in media), she in one fell stroke overturned her own father’s flawed policy on China.

So far, since 1947, it is only Mrs Gandhi, who earned the reputation of being the only man amongst all of India’s political leaders. The 1971 Indo-Pak war remains unprecedented owing to her assertiveness on India’s security at a time when Pakistan was ironically supported by the US on one hand and its adversary China on the other. Unlike her father, she sought and accepted the advice of the military leadership and for the first time in India’s post Independence history, sanctioned the use of the Navy, which turned out to be a brilliant move. In a well planned and coordinated operation erstwhile East Pakistan was surrounded within less than two weeks, forcing 93,000 Pakistan Armed Forces personnel and civilians to tearfully lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally. Pakistani prisoners of war could not believe that they were not ill-treated or tortured as was their normal practice against Indian personnel. While even the presence of the US 7th Fleet in Indian waters of the Arabian Sea did not make Mrs Gandhi lose any sleep, where she faltered at last was during the Simla talks, when she fell for Zulfikar Bhutto’s dramatics and lies and by not using the 12,000 sq km of Pakistan’s territory in the Western sector as major bargaining chip of “Land for Peace”.

A rare case of cordial relations between former Army Chief, late Gen BC Joshi and then Defence Secretary NN Vohra resulted in sanction and implementation of a number of path-breaking projects like Rashtriya Rifles, Army colleges, ecological battalions etc. 

Handling of J&K left much to be desired. The government in late 1980s failed to protect Kashmiri Pandits from the diabolical designs of Pakistan’s Army/ Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and further failed to prevent their exodus from the Kashmir valley. More failures followed in responding to the fourth war by Pakistan.

The book IDSA has put together perceptions, views and recommendations of a fair mix of 17 bureaucrats, military commanders, diplomats and scholars who have deep insights into the complex gamut of India’s defence and its decision making structures and process. The book comes at a time when the BJP government is trying to revitalise the process of the Armed Forces’ modernisation/replacements/new acquisitions, which had been much neglected during two terms of the UPA and  had brought the Services state of depletion of critical arms and equipment, while the arsenals of China and Pakistan have increased tremendously. 
Anil Bhat

Anil Bhat

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