It is apparent that the Modi Government has shown great reluctance to enhance defence expenditure, and instead has been looking for ways and means to curtail spending, as any government should. This is reflected in the manner it has gone about slashing manpower and rehashing recruitment and manpower policies.
By introducing, what the vast majority consider, a flawed Agnipath Scheme, whose efficacy or otherwise only time will tell. In addition, it has also undertaken a concerted drive towards indigenisation of defence procurement. The Russo-Ukrainian conflict has clearly demonstrated rightsizing, reorganisation and reorientation of our military is unavoidable.
The proposed reduction in strength of the Rashtriya Rifles is indeed a welcome step that requires to be hastened. In fact, following abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir, while many may disagree, the logical follow-up should have been de-notification of AFSPA and withdrawal of the Army from the hinterland.
As a precautionary measure, the units being withdrawn could have been repositioned in a counter- infiltration role along the LOC, till the situation stabilised, so as to prevent Pakistani interference and support of indigenous militants. This action would have definitively confirmed or disproved the truth, of proclamations by many within the security establishment, that the insurgency is only being sustained by outside support from Pakistan.
However, by the logic applied with regard to the military, one fails to comprehend the Government’s motivation for enhancing the strength of the Central Armed Police Forces, as it has. Most recently that of the ITBP by nine thousand additional personnel. Is it its intention to withdraw the army from the LAC and let the ITBP handle the Sino-Indian Border? Much in the manner that the BSF is deployed along our International Boundaries with Pakistan and Bangladesh. If so, then should it not also by the same logic do the same along the LOC in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh? Anyhow, with the rapid advancement and impact of technology in the field of surveillance and communication, manpower enhancements are not the way forward.
Could it be that these steps are a part of a bigger plan to diffuse tensions along the LAC? Especially, in light of the fact that we are heading into two years of state and national elections and Mr. Modi and the BJP require peace and quiet along our borders to allow them to focus on winning them. This is not without precedent; the Dhoklam stand-off, for example, was followed up by the informal summit at Wuhan that diffused the situation and allowed Mr. Modi to concentrate on the West Bengal Elections.
It is another matter that within months of the summit the PLA recommenced its illegal occupation of the Dhoklam Plateau and has now occupied much of the area that falls within Bhutan’s borders, including the lower slopes of the crucial Zampheri Ridge, the occupation of which would allow it to interdict the vital Siliguri Corridor. If so, it would be a questionable step fraught with uncertainty.
Also, by this measure, the Foreign Minister’s seemingly innocuous reply to a question by Smita Prakashin a recent podcast makes sense. He went on to say “look, they (China) are the bigger economy. What am I going to do? As a smaller economy, I am going to pick up a fight with the bigger economy? It is not a question of being reactionary, it’s a question of common sense….”It is not a line of reasoning that would resonate with many here, especially within our military.
Especially given Ukraine’s indefatigable and courageous resistance against Russian aggression that has turned the concept of Comprehensive National Power, a term of Chinese origin, completely on its head. Whether we like it or not, the Foreign Minister’s statement sounded downright pessimistic, if not defeatist, and leaves Mr. Modi looking weak and servile. Certainly not how we would like our Prime Minister portrayed or perceived.
History informs that disputed international borders must be robustly defended, if ones claims and sovereignty are to be protected. More so, in our context, given Chinese aggression, intransigence and blatant disregard for agreements and treaties that they have acquiesced to. There is also no gainsaying the fact that in these circumstances border guards will never have the ability to fend off regular forces. It is simply not their job. Prime Minister Nehru learnt this to his cost in 1962, with his ill-conceived Forward Policy. There is no reason to believe that Forward Policy 2.0 will do any better, and its proponents are only setting up Mr. Modi for the fall.
What clearly emerged from our Ladakh setback of 2021 is that border management and coordination between the Army and the ITBP remain a persistent problem. These issues require a fresh look and a total overhaul, if we are to achieve even a modicum of the Army-ITBP synergy that is essential. It would be nothing more than sheer wishful thinking to believe that if we made a few minor concessions all fractious issues that have resulted in rising tensions with China will simply disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth; bullies never stop till they are confronted and there is never a better time than the present to do so.