However, since about the eighties, gentle winds of change have begun to blow across our security establishment. Thus periodically, we have statements from political leaders recognising the importance of military power and the imperative of initiating measures to acquire the requisite military capability. But regrettably, translating intentions into sustained action to build military muscle has been hopelessly lacking. Sporadically, individuals or events push a few acquisitions or some organisational or conceptual changes in military doctrine but nothing that is inspired and guided by a clearly articulated long-term plan. Unless we bring about some serious understanding and commitment to the subject, our military power will never be in synergy with our national security requirements or our aspirations to become a global or regional power.
Quite frequently, the way our defense decision-making apparatus works can really be laughable. For many years, a story not without good reason has been doing the rounds. The gist is that till the DRDO is around, India’s adversaries need not worry. It cannot be anyone’s case that the DRDO scientists are less patriotic or not sufficiently dedicated but yet for as long as one can remember, the Army and the DRDO have never stopped being at loggerheads. The Army truly believes that the DRDO is impeding its modernisation and the DRDO, similarly, is of the firm view that the Army is not encouraging self-reliance and indigenous capability. Surely these two positions are not irreconcilable. But since mature knowledgeable leadership is lacking, a CDS is not there, and the bureaucracy could not be bothered, the divide continues.
The new story is – defence deal scandals. It is being said that the simplest way to neutralise India militarily is to use the media to throw up news of corruption in defence acquisitions every now and then; maybe one story every two years; about the time the system begins to shake out of its paralysis. There is the very well known example of the perfectly good gun – Bofors that was a huge jolt, from which the system is yet to recover. The requirement for 155mm towed and self-propelled guns was first projected in the late seventies. Because of the Bofors episode and other similar allegations, the Army still does not have the guns it needs. Almost three decades of inaction. Posterity will find it hard to believe these anecdotes but ask the current generation of military leadership and you will notice their deep levels of frustration.
So even as we are engaged in a dialogue with Pakistan and are concurrently negotiating the border with China or entering into defence cooperation partnerships with the US, we need to have a clear idea of where we are and what we need. And since the military is the last and final instrument of state policy, it is always wise to look at worst case scenarios. Subsequently, one may indulge in some calculated hedging for there is only so much one can afford.
The point to be borne in mind is that appeasement and compromise have seldom solved problems, and negotiations from a position of strength are easier to manipulate and handle. Therefore, even while we are engaged in the peace process with Pakistan, there should be no let up on planning and preparing for military contingencies. If the nation requires taking punitive military action against Pakistan, the military must be equipped and capable of doing so.
In almost every instance of crisis, we have found the military hopelessly ill prepared. The most glaring example is the officer shortage of almost sixty per cent at the cutting edge level of infantry battalions and armour/ artillery regiments. Then there are problems of ageing and antiquated equipment, inadequate holdings of critical ammunition, poor state of command and control and communications equipment, and insufficient aids to battlefield awareness.
Going beyond the military, there is a requirement to give greater impetus to developmental administration and civic action in J&K. Concurrently, the intelligence machinery needs much more attention. Instead of mindlessly increasing the density of security forces in the state, the effort should be to improve intelligence in order to reduce troops; better the flow of actionable intelligence the lesser the requirement of forces.
The demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier has been much in news of late, especially, after the first-ever visit by the Prime Minister. A surfeit of articles and comments, some by retired service officers, has appeared in the print and electronic media on the subject. Most suggest that the Glacier is of little military value and India would be well-advised to vacate this inhospitable, expensive-to-stay-in-and-defend stretch of ice. God alone knows they may be right. But perhaps they would be more right if they suggested that the better option would be to move the Siachen line westward. Suddenly, all the reasons why in the first instance we moved on to the Glacier seems to have been forgotten. We also seem to be forgetting that the Pakistanis have fiercely and unrelentingly resisted our presence there. Would they do it if the Glacier had no military value?
In our desire for peace, and the eagerness to shed old mindsets and think out of the box, we should not underplay the significance of the Glacier. Yes, it admittedly costs us much more to stay there than it does the Pakistanis to confront us. And it would be good if we could withdraw from that barren stretch of treacherous snow and ice. The question is, on what terms and what safeguards? The answers to these questions have to be carefully examined. These are issues that require considerable deliberation. And we should remember that whatever we agree to might eventually have a close bearing on the overall security of J&K – meaning the country’s Northwest, the direction from which we have been invaded many times in the past.
Musharraf, to a considerable extent, has succeeded in forcing Kashmir as the main issue on the agenda. He has, contrary to our approach, insisted that this core issue must be addressed first. We have, for very good reasons, been prevaricating but it is likely that this thorny problem may soon become the main dish on the table. The worry is the influence of the innumerable pacifists, peaceniks and the advocates of – “even if we give away Kashmir, or, parts of what we have, how does it matter? Let us get on with peace and development” in the national decision-making framework. After all, only a short while ago, there were indicators from fairly authoritative sources that the government was seriously considering the movement of the Line of Control a few kilometres eastward. Would that not be disastrous? More recently we have been pushed into making concessions on sensitive issues like the travel documents required to travel on the bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad or the Hurriyat’s role. These moves have a knack of acquiring a momentum of their own from which it can become difficult to retract.
What should be our position on the Kashmir issue? It is, at least for the time being, a little too late to look for a solution other than a ‘draw’. We took this decision perhaps by default, immediately after the 47/48 war. And since then we have never seriously changed our stance. To posture differently now would lack complete credibility. But the truly disturbing indicators are that some of us do not seem to mind conceding defeat; the only concern being to limit the margin of defeat: a position that gels with Pakistan’s revised aims. This is the problem when the hype on the success of the negotiations becomes so overpowering, at least for us. Or so it appears.
Kashmir undoubtedly is a complex problem. But we must firmly believe that the nation has the capacity to solve this problem. It has been a fundamental error of judgment by some of us to accept that there is a third element in the Indo-Pak dispute over J&K that is the people in our part of that state. The problems of the people anywhere in India are an internal matter. There is no justification to display any kind of flexibility in this matter.
It is likely that there is considerable US pressure to keep the dialogue going. It is equally likely that the US is suggesting that we concede some face-saving concessions to Musharraf. The compulsions of staying in the good books of the US are also fully appreciated. We must listen to the US with attention. We must also tell them that we understand. But we need not and must not do everything they say. They do not even expect it. And if they did – so what? We have now come of age. And it is not that we have nothing to offer.
It is sound diplomacy to reiterate that the peace process is irreversible. But it would be poor statesmanship if we let our adversary win, even if it was to be by the slenderest of margins. Such concessions have seldom brought enduring peace, as a matter of fact, more likely that we shall simply reaffirm our image of being a soft state.
What are the infirmities, pressures and compulsions that are urging us to consider giving up our fight for a draw? We are stronger, bigger, have many more people, and are more prosperous. Besides we are a thriving secular democracy, and thus as a nation, have much greater resilience and staying power. With all these assets, we should surely be able to persuade Pakistan to back off and settle for an honourable draw. This is the challenge for our political leadership. There is no reason for it to not stand up to this test.