The Edge of The Sword
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
For seven decades, there has been a systematic and institutionalized humiliation of the armed forces of India. It started with Nehru and the then ruling elite wondering why we needed an armed force, to begin with. The police was all that was needed to maintain law and order, they argued. After all, hadn’t our forefathers conceived of the unique concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”? Yes, the world would live like one happy family, mutual respect firmly ensconced in the deepest recesses of everyone’s heart, and everyone’s moral compass pointing north.
The Pakistani invasion of Kashmir in 1947 and the subsequent wars in 1962 and 1965 did nothing to convince our benighted rulers that we lived in an extremely dangerous neighborhood. And that if we were to survive as a nation, we needed a well-equipped and motivated army.
In 1971 we defeated Pakistan and there were two factors responsible, the Indian Army and geography. General Sam Manekshaw was a great general and he attacked when he thought it was prudent to do so. He waited out the monsoons and made preparations. When he attacked, the Army, Navy and Air Force played havoc with Pakistan in perfect symphony. The London Philharmonic Orchestra would have been proud. Geography was the villain for Pakistan. East Pakistan was just too far and geographically disconnected. It could not be supplied easily. India cut off lines of communications and supply. Pakistan was a headless chicken in less than two weeks.
In 1999, Pakistan broke trust and attacked us in Kargil. We were unprepared in more ways than one. We had no intelligence of the impending attack. We should have asked ourselves why Pakistan was suddenly buying massive quantities of high-altitude clothing from Switzerland. We must also ask ourselves today why we chose to trust Pakistan. After 1971, every winter both the Indian and Pakistani armies would vacate their respective bunkers and climb down, only to come up again in summer. In the winter of 1998, some Pakistani soldiers moved down. Just some. And while Vajpayee was embracing Nawaz Sharif at Lahore, the Northern Light Infantry of the Pakistan Army, led by high-altitude warfare specialists of the Special Services Group were slowly making their way up to Dras, Kaksar and Mushkoh. Names like Tiger Hill, Batalik and Point 5060 became part of Indian folklore.
But we should have known. It is unforgivable not to know. War is dirty business. Information is life, and death.
India did not realize that it had lost 527 brave hearts. They fought with rifles that jammed in the extreme cold, lack of high-altitude equipment and basic facilities that any modern army takes for granted.
Its young officers and jawans have saved India’s honor many a time. It is the young Captain who will put his foot in a minefield. It is the young major who will kick down that door knowing fully well that there are terrorists waiting for him on the other side of the door. Jawans will risk their lives to accomplish missions that seem impossible on paper. They will charge headlong into machine gun fire, knowing well that their chances of survival are next to zero.
For too long the Indian Army has depended on the blood and guts of its very young. This must change. We are fighting modern wars now and we must realize that “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is an excellent poem. That’s all.
We are trained to kill the enemy. Ek Goli Ek Dushman. Across Indian Army firing ranges, you will see this written on walls and on metal. Shoot to kill, without mercy and without remorse. This is drummed into every officer and jawan, again and again.
It is the infantryman who wins wars. This truth cannot be contested. After the attack heptors have gone back to their bases, the tank engines are silent and the big artillery guns have stopped booming, it is the infantryman who wades ankle deep in blood. When he thrusts his bayonet into the stomach of the enemy, he is looking at him in the eye. For him, war is up close and personal.
It is this infantryman who has no bulletproof jacket, works with sub-standard equipment, wears a helmet that affords minimum protection and uses a rifle, of which the lesser said the better. Our NVDs (Night Vision Devices) are 2nd generation. Our ammunition/ equipment reserves (War Wastage Reserves) should ideally cater for 40 days of intense war. Currently, we are at about 20 day’s reserves, maybe less.
As I write these lines, I understand that there is frantic movement to make up for shortages. The Government is cranking up the machine and factories have been told to make up for lost time. And they will. But Indians must know that the last few decades have been terrible on our defence preparedness.
Artillery is an extremely important and vital arm of the army. Without it, infantry almost stands decimated. India gave the order for 145 artillery guns just last year. For over 30 years, we had not inducted artillery. While 145 new guns are a big shot in the arm, can you imagine the criminal neglect that had been going on for the past 30 years? There are hundreds of such cases that require immediate attention.
I would have understood if India did not have the money. But not having had the intent is unfathomable and unforgivable.
What we need is possibly a smaller army, but highly advanced technologically. Numbers don’t count for much in modern wars, but technology does. We need broad-based satellite interface. We need modern equipment. We need a more mobile army to fight wars of the future. These things cost money, I know. And they will happen over a period of time.
There are emergency purchases underway. There is certain urgency in the air, to fill in the vacuum, and our ports and airfields are receiving critical material as fast as we can write cheques. We are also building indigenous capability rapidly. While this can stave off the immediate threat, we need a long-term vision for material and weapons technology procurement. When a nation that puts a satellite into the Mars orbit cant make a decent assault rifle, it points towards a dangerous malaise of mala fide intent, not capability. We simply don’t have the attitude of a warrior nation.
What we can do immediately is appoint a Chief of Defence Staff, a five star ranking general officer to whom all the three Chiefs (Army, Navy and Air Force) will report. Let the CDS advise the Prime Minister on all matters military. There will be dissonance within the services regarding this, and that’s all right. We win wars when the Army, Navy and Air Force fight together. The office of the CDS must have teeth. It cannot be a ceremonial appointment.
Another improvement could also be to actually have defence people in the Defence Ministry. The Defence Ministry is virtually run by faceless bureaucrats and their whims.
We must realize that our real long-term enemy is China, the smiling China that is ever so polite and proper, and blocks our efforts to declare Masood Azhar a terrorist. That same China that stands between India and the NSG membership. China will never fight us directly, but it has the capability to cause us tremendous pain. It will continue to increase bilateral trade with us. For fighting, it has Pakistan, a country that is always available to the highest bidder. For Pakistan, it was the Americans earlier. It is the Chinese today.
Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry recently released a study in which they stated that by 2048, the Baloch would be in a minority in Balochistan. The majority population would be Chinese. And today they are teaching Mandarin to children of Class 6, in Sindh. Pakistan is already a Chinese colony. It’s just that they don’t know it yet.
CPEC is not just about trade. China is using CPEC to expand its geographical frontiers. And Pakistan, blinded by greed and savage ambition to somehow appear to be equal to India, does not see what is so obvious to the rest of the world. China is nothing but the East India Company on steroids.
We have always had China to the East and Pakistan to the West. In the next 20 years, we will have China to the East and China to the West. The encirclement of India will be complete. This is the underlying logic of the two-front war. And if it not, it should be.
War will come to our doorstep, if not today than in a decade. But it will come. It will be multi-pronged and lightening fast. That is what the Chinese have been learning for 2500 years. We Indians may have forgotten Chanakya, but the Chinese remember Sun Tzu.
Wars are fought in the mind much before they are fought on the battlefield.