Coup in Turkey Now in a Coop
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Issue Vol. 31.3 Jul-Sep 2016 | Date : 25 Aug , 2016

The coup in Turkey ultimately ended in a coop. Turkey suffered a weekend of tanks, protests and uncertainty, as a military faction launched a coup to topple the Erdogan government. It was a disastrous attempt and failed. Turkey has a long history of coups. The Turkish military views itself as the guardian of secular democracy established by the country’s founder Mustafa Kamel Ataturk. There have been several instances in the past when the military has stepped in and seized power, claiming that the ruling government had deviated from the secular path laid out by its founding father. On the surface this coup would fit this mould: Erdogan the long-serving strong-man with non-secular leanings, being removed from power to protect the constitution. The enduring grass-root popularity of Erdogan doomed the coup.

The Turkish President ‘called up’ supporters to take to the streets in defiance of the curfew imposed by the military ‘coupists’ to quell the uprising a of a section of the military. He said that “there was no power higher than the power of the people. Let them do as they will at public squares and airports”. Thousands responded and came out on the streets and prevented the army rebels in tanks and armoured vehicles from reaching anywhere. They were effectively blocked off by barricades and road blocks put up by the people and overwhelmed by the weight of sheer numbers.

The rebels in tanks and armoured vehicles were literally drowned in the sea of human beings who came out to counter them. The coup ‘crumbled’ in a just a days’ time. There were casualties but these could have been many more had the rebels gone berserk and employed the firepower of their tanks and armoured vehicles. Then followed the rounding up of the recalcitrant ‘coupists’ and a purge thereafter in the armed forces and virtually every department – government or otherwise.

The Turkish military views itself as the guardian of secular democracy established by the country’s founder Mustafa Kamel Ataturk.

The UN Secretary General, Ban ki-moon, intervened and declared that – “It will be crucial to quickly and peacefully affirm civilian rule and constitutional order in accordance with principles of democracy.” He also urged the Turkish President – “to do their utmost to ensure that the constructional order and international Human Rights Laws are fully respected in line with Turkeys’ international obligations” (italics by author).

Another senior representative of the UN expressed his solidarity with the people of Turkey and their “democratic choice” (italics by author). Evidently these pronouncements had a message for Erdogan too – not to deviate from the constitution and maintain the secular profile of Turkey.

In 1989 in China, the Government warned the pro-democracy protestors in the Tiananmen Square to back off and when they did not heed, the Army was ordered to take appropriate action. The PLA took appropriate action to crush the protests. Now in 2016 in Turkey the President called upon the people to defy the military elements staging the coup and they responded by acting as the Presidents forces and quelled the coup. In both these instances the governments took steps to protect their regime which they considered as legitimate.

In contrast, in the Kashmir Valley terrorists of the likes of Sayeed Salahudeen, Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and their ilk, sitting in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir give a call to people in the Kashmir Valley to rise against the security forces and challenge a legitimate regime in power. So too is the case in the rest of the country. There are numerous organisations, groups, self-appointed protectors of their faith and rabid politicians who seem to be able to call up masses to undermine a legitimate regime with the ultra-liberalists making hay seeking brownie points. It seems ‘Mobcracy’ is pushing India’s democracy into the background.

Strangely, the Pakistan military has never been admonished by the UN for violating the “democratic choice” of the people! Neither has any Pakistani President been ever told to “quickly and peacefully affirm civilian rule and constitutional order in accordance with principles of democracy”. Nor, for that matter, has Pakistan ever been chided for not respecting “international Human Rights laws in line with its international obligations”!

Is it that these demands can only be placed upon a truly democratic country and not sham democracies where the government’s authority and writ has been abdicated to Army sponsored non-state actors whose hurly-burly are out of their jurisdiction? China turns a blind eye to these enterprises and continues to strongly support Pakistan. Any move in the UN Security Council brought up against Pakistan is promptly ‘vetoed’ by China. It brings to fore the values that China as a rising power, and a likely super power in a few decades, upholds. In this light will it be able to generate such soft power so as to garner support of the major democratic countries to build a “harmonious world” it envisages? As it now stands, China is supporting most of the ‘rogue’ states rather than peace loving democratic states. Its vitriolic harangue consequent to the judgement of the Permanent Court of Arbitration was an indicator of things to come. How will China ‘Photoshop’ this negative image?

…“there was no power higher than the power of the people. Let them do as they will at public squares and airports”.

With such acrimony in the neighbourhood, India’s security needs an urgent reassessment. Over the years the neglect and slow pace of the development of infrastructure along the periphery has resulted in loss of government control of these far flung frontiers. The Army cannot be absolved for its role in obstructing the construction of roads in the remote areas. It has done so by putting forward inane reasons such as that the “enemy will use these roads” and “these new roads will require the induction of additional troops to protect these roads” and that “no additional forces are available for this”. It’s a mindset that has been created by India’s excessive defensive mentality. A country cannot abandon its responsibility to protect every bit of territory it owns. Accessibility to every nook and corner is therefore paramount. In fact to protect the frontier it is necessary to have influence along a belt parallel to and running beyond the country’s boundaries.

It is similar to a boxer in the boxing ring. To protect himself the boxer must dissuade the opponent from attacking him on his target points and building up a score. He does this by preventing the opponent from delivering punches on his body, head and face. An aggressive way to do so is to hit the opponent and force him to recoil and defend himself. If he does not do that he will be hounded on to the ropes by the opponent where he will be cowering behind his gloves and protecting himself with his forearms thus losing all the initiative to counter attack. He may, however, be saved by the gong but not otherwise.

This analogy is applicable to our forces deployed on the frontiers. The current posture is defensive. Since there is no doctrine of pre-emption the forces will react to an enemy offensive. Thus in a reactive defensive scenario with the sheer weight of the enemy offensive there is bound to be loss of territory initially. Regaining the initiative will involve waiting for reinforcements and additional fire support resources which will be time consuming and may, finally, be too little too late to achieve a favourable end state. A nation endeavours to have its strategic boundary which should be beyond the land boundary. In a defensive scenario this line has ipso facto shrunk to own side of the boundary line ab inito. There is a belief amongst the Western scholars, studying security and strategy, that since 1947, India has found power and strategy hard to handle. They feel that India uses power merely as one means to demonstrate status, rather than to pursue its interests. It is said that India punches below its weight – it has more power than it uses. Is it due to India’s defensive mentality and abhorrence to use force, particularly, outside the country? Is our non-violent Gandhian world-image a constraint? In addition to these constraints it is also true that India is reluctant to accept a prominent role as a global power in the making. The fact is that India does not have the economic muscle or the technological edge to be left to the wolves all by itself.

In contrast, in the Kashmir Valley terrorists of the likes of Sayeed Salahudeen, Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and their ilk, sitting in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir give a call to people in the Kashmir Valley to rise against the security forces and challenge a legitimate regime in power.

Since independence India was witness to numerous instances of military takeovers in its neighbourhood – Pakistan and Burma (Myanmar) in particular, Nepal was a monarchy and so was Bhutan. Resultantly, there had been this gnawing discomfort in the government of a possible military takeover in India and this was consuming the politician including Nehru. It has since been regularly fed and fanned by the bureaucrat and some deviously motivated elements of the media. To hedge against such an eventuality the Armed Police Force has been periodically expanded. Its expansion, its budget and weapon and equipment procurement process is neither debated in public nor debated in the media. The system seems adhoc and personality driven and is maintained as a low key affair behind the closed doors of North Block in the corridors of the Home Ministry.

The Armed Forces of the Union of India is the hard power element of national power. It is a tool in the hands of the Government of the day to employ it to pursue its interests or to protect the interests from being interfered with. It is the Governments sword to secure the integrity of the nation and protect its citizens from violent internal disorders. Wars are a political decision to achieve a political aim in the national interest. The military is one tool available to the political entity in the government to secure its interest. The lack of a strategic culture and greater attention to internal internecine political machinations results in the truncated mundane employment of this resource by the government. The framers of the Constitution envisaged civilian control of the Armed Forces to be exercised by the elected members of the Parliament. The dependence of the politician on the generalist advice of a bureaucrat against that of a professional soldier/sailor/airman insulates the politician from professionals. The governance of the country is entrusted, by the people of India, to the elected members of the Parliament. The bureaucracy is there to assist the elected members to carry out their task within the bounds of the rules, regulations and procedures laid down from time to time. The interpretation of these is the bureaucracy’s only forte. The elected member cannot abdicate his responsibility or transfer it to the bureaucrat.

It is necessary to assess the long-term threats to the security of the country and how the government plans to deal with it. India’s conventional forces superiority is a subduing factor against Pakistan. Against China there is an element of ‘dissuasion by denial’ in the areas where it matters. Both are aware of India’s capability and thence deterred. Complacency in maintaining this edge would be detrimental to India’s security. Globally, today there is a benign environment of peace which should be exploited to make up the existing ‘hollowness’ in the forces and modernise at a brisk pace. Dithering and fumbling to tackle the issue head on is signalling to the adversary of cracks in the system and faint resolve. This would be interpreted as weakness and lack of will. In a national power equation, political will and resolve are more potent intangibles than the nation’s wealth and means.

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The regional and global geopolitical challenges require India to back her diplomacy, economic interests, and energy needs with a strong but benign military in the background. Turmoil in the West in Pakistan and Afghanistan needs India’s attention and preparation, as Shiv Shanker Menon says – “sooner than later India will have to make political and military contribution for security and stability in this region”. The global power shift will create situations where potent military presence will be required. The US ‘Pivot to Asia’ and China’s ‘Nine Dash Line’ marking out its maritime boundary in South China Sea are serious developments in India’s areas of interest and influence. India cannot stand and watch as an unconcerned spectator. India will, willy-nilly, be drawn into the situation arising out of an American decline and China’s rise.

The changing power balance will affect every aspect of our national security. Whether an aggressive America is drawn into a new cold war with China or a fading US appeases China, India will find itself in deep strategic discomfort unless it prepares for such an eventuality. There is the possibility of new world hegemony by Russia, China and Iran to create an alternative financial system, rules for trade and currency use. India can either reinforce it or limit it, as it will find itself reluctantly being sucked in as a key player in the future. A strategic net-assessment of the region would indicate rapidly changing scenarios. There should be no illusions of permanence. India has to decide how far it wishes to assume these varied new responsibilities and should stop shying away from using its hard power.

“Power is strength and strength changes minds” – Kautilya

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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