A recurring view in the media holds the Army responsible for withholding repeal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in the North East and in J&K. A powerful former Home Minister lent credence to this narrative citing his unsuccessful endeavour given the Army’s resistance to the proposal. Without discussing the merits of the case which has received adequate coverage, this article only highlights that this debate is spurious.
The Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India as per Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules. The armed forces are seldom consulted.
The Indian Armed Forces are peripheral and underrepresented in government decision making. There are many research studies in India and abroad to substantiate this fact. They are at best a ‘virtual attached office’ of the government, an improvement from the de jure ‘attached office’ for six decades. The Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India as per Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules. The armed forces are seldom consulted. A mere joint secretary signed the directive to the military that initiated the 1962 war with China. The government decides on a course of action they deem fit with little consultation when they so desire. Constitutionally they represent the supreme authority ‘we the people’.
Therefore the armed forces have not been consulted whether it was for the ‘forward policy’ against the Chinese in 1962, the 1965 surrender at Tashkent of our territory in J & K (including the strategically significant Haji Pir Pass) or the ‘surrender’ of 93000 prisoners of war captured in 1971. The political wisdom of these historic decisions in pursuit of illusionary gains is difficult to uphold.
Nobel peace laureate President Obama pandering to the peace constituency withdrew US troops from Iraq prematurely against military advice, defeating the very purpose for which American lives and resources had been lost. He corrected course in Afghanistan based on the same advice. Thus to believe that ruling elites do not learn any lessons is to be naive. Frequently governments the world over seek alibis or albatrosses to stick their politically expedient decisions on, or responsibility is adequately defused to shield the decision maker from any adverse impact.
In the case of the AFSPA, when an orchestrated campaign by militants in Manipur (in 2004) to repeal the Act received substantial traction and support from civil society (as in J&K today), it was politically necessary to do so, despite professional advice to the contrary. This resulted in the withdrawal of AFSPA from four constituencies of Imphal.
In Chanakya’s India the state appoints suitable candidates in the designated appointments using criteria like ‘line of command’ etc. While they may have been helpful in altering ‘cabin height’ or ‘shoot and scoot capability’ for procurements…
To resolve the larger issue, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee was appointed. The methodology of appointing committees and commissions with ‘suitable’ members and ‘tailored’ terms of reference, to produce ‘desired’ outcomes is an ‘art’ that governance has mastered universally. Still the end objective is yet to be achieved. The delay is the wisdom of the decision maker and the fact that the decision may come back to haunt the political executive faster than the next election cycle. Thus it is not the ‘military’ but its ‘professional advice’ that is a stumbling block. The military’s constraint being that while professional advice may we wrong it cannot by definition be doctored.
Similarly there is a constituency that desires to ‘demilitarize the Siachen glacier’ a euphemism for an ‘Indian withdrawal’. They enumerate this as another example of the army’s intransigence. During cycles of peace talks with Pakistan, Siachen is seen as a ‘low hanging fruit’, sought to be plucked at the first instance to Pakistan’s advantage. Repeated Pakistani perfidy with respect to the numerous agreements it has made, starting with the Standstill Agreement with J&K in 1947, to Ufa last year, seems to induce no enlightenment at the altar of political / legacy gains.
No state is helpless, it has other expedients to prevail. The recent British Chilcot Report re-emphasised that President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair could receive the ‘desired’ inputs from their intelligence community to execute the Iraq war. Similarly in Chanakya’s India the state appoints suitable candidates in the designated appointments using criteria like ‘line of command’ etc. While they may have been helpful in altering ‘cabin height’ or ‘shoot and scoot capability’ for procurements, they have failed to deliver on the macro issues under discussion. This stems from the institutional strength of the value based organisations they lead. For all authority in a manpower intensive organisation stems from ‘moral authority’ other powers that rank bestows are coercive and of limited utility. Therefore, ‘professional advice’ has remained unaltered.
A statesman can transcend hurdles and contrary advice with his ‘vision’ and leadership.
Human ingenuity has no boundaries and hence in the case of Siachen another stratagem was devised to bypass both the leader and the institution. An Indo-Pak Track II conclave added a number of distinguished veterans for their discussions on the Siachen to give the forum the requisite credibility. While the members discussed the issue, nominated experienced interlocutors on both sides (from the foreign service in our case) agreed to the desired ‘demilitarization’ proposals. Fortunately the agreement leaked prematurely on the website of the foreign think tank sponsoring the discussions and ran up against the existing hurdles in India.
Harmonising different view-points is the essence of democracy. A statesman can transcend hurdles and contrary advice with his ‘vision’ and leadership. The last Prime Minister to attempt that was Mr. Vajpaee with his Lahore Bus Yatra and ceasefire with the Hizbul Mujahadeen in J&K, alas Pakistan did not measure up to his ‘insaniyat’.