Of armed forces and disasters

The nation has faced two national calamities and one of the lessons that emerges clearly is that the first 24 to 72 hours matter. At the end of the day whenever stock taking is done of such an event the initial period is forgotten, the role of authorities who were to provide helps is neglected and the reactive process of relief and aid is put under the scanner. 

The role of the armed forces is taken as granted and other agencies that are specifically tasked to carry out such tasks get away without any critical assessment. The nation takes its soldiers for granted, but what if the soldier is deployed elsewhere and takes time in coming, especially when the first 72 hours matter? Why does the soldier succeed when everything else fails?

Soldiers, when deployed in aid of civil authorities have no room for failures and they go about the same, nonchalantly yet fully aware of their responsibilities. This is not a stand-alone national phenomenon but a universal fact and all nations deploy their respective forces in aid of civil authorities and each time the forces deliver.  Armies, world over develop an ethos yet each and every army has a special work centric national ethos, a way of conducting business, which sets it apart. Similarly the Indian army too has developed an ethos which is nationalist, secular, apolitical, humane, god fearing, success driven with a willpower to never let down the people to whom it is called to give succor.

A large number of soldiers as adequately shown in various TV channels were affected yet continued with their task. Various army installations are geographically in the same domain. Yet not a man flinched, espousing the motto of  ‘Service before Self’. With his own cantonment in twenty feet of water, communication links swiftly put in place, the soldier was out for relief, embracing the old lines, ‘thy necessity is greater than mine’, which were said at a medical center before an over worked surgical team treating war injured soldiers on the brink of death.  50 per cent of the military areas with 70 odd army installations were under floods, anti-social elements were throwing stones at them, their relief material was being hijacked yet the show went on. How does the same soldier who just the other day was wielding the gun so effectively turn and show the other side of the face so quickly? He does that because of his sense of discipline, commitment and core military values.

Core military values like loyalty, honour, integrity, duty, courage, respect, selfless service, make the sum total of the valve system. A large number of cantonments also have the words, naam, namak, naishan and izzat in Roman displayed all over on the roads. Slowly, the list has been enlarged and words like compassion and social sensitivity have been addedfrom experiences and need of the hour. The soldier goes by the core military valves and the facts that the valve system all over is seen as changing, thus the forces need to reinforce the same. It therefore becomes incumbent on the military to reinforce its core valves, to get back to basics which is does during training.

Each time the forces are deployed for a large scale operation the people of the nation expect something from it making it vulnerable to pass the litmus test  again and again. The nation expects the soldier not to work for himself but for the nation. The nation expects him to have exemplary ethics, morals and values in addition to ethos, consistent with national aim in furtherance of national objectives. They see the army as a professional force capable of delivering against all odds and expect it to score a perfect ten in all walks of life and all tasks given to it. 

Another aspect of the forces is the commitment to the task at hand, the fierce single minded obsession to accomplish the mission even at the peril of one’s life. It is only in wake of it  that the army chief said, ‘The army will not go back to the barracks till the last man is rescued’. Each and every soldier cherishes mission accomplishment and does not shy away like his civilian counterpart into obscurity. He wears his uniform because he is proud of it.

The secular valves that the Army has imbibed and the nation at large are best demonstrated by the adaptability that the nation has undergone. A look at the food habits clearly shows that all types of cuisines are relished at multi-cultural work places, dresses that  are worn are also shared, Dandiya dance is slowly becoming a national event so are a range of religious festivals, marketed for economics. It is thus safe to say that a secular environment is adaptable.

Thus in a secular environment especially like the armed forces, adaptability becomes a strength and the fact that the forces serve in all remote areas of the country they adopt well and take in the rich cultural heritage of the nation. This allows them to quickly adapt and work in aid of civil authorities.

The geostrategic environment that the forces operate in will continue to be challenging; the threats will also be diversified. Point in case is that the  forces from a lone fidayeen operate in a nuclear environment. The red dragon is ominously flexing its muscle; the American draw down from Afghanistan will open a new can of worms. The global phenomena of  climate change has only put one more challenging task which is quick, short and intense, something like a VIP visit to a unit, short in duration long in memory, and the soldier will continue to meet the challenge, no problems, as long as you give them their due which needs a systematic correction. Each time the forces are deployed in secondary role it is at the cost of the primary role.

The China-Pakistan axis is getting stronger and stronger, and a national diversion will divert the economic growth thus leaving only one regional tiger in Asia. China will thus ensure that an acme will always be present.     

The author is a retired brigadier
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