The Army Day only by happenstance provides good marching training for the Republic Day. Its more important function is to serve as a juncture for introspection. As the first fixture of the calender early in the New Year, it gives an opportunity for navel gazing of the year gone by and to set the agenda for the year ahead. The Army Chief in preparing his speech for the parade is certain to be undertaking this. What would such an exercise entail on this Army Day? The year gone by has indeed been a trying one. Operationally, the year witnessed a close call for Army deployment in countering Maoist insurgency. This has presently been ruled against and instead the Army’s training footprint is set to expand in the affected area. The second operational issue has been the culmination of the effort to rethink the AFSPA brought about by an incident of custodial death in Manipur in the middle of last decade.
The Chiefs have had to go public with their position against tinkering with the Act. The Act has also figured in discussions to bring about normalisation through the peace process in Kashmir. It is seen as having provided cover to the Macchil incident that sparked off the clashes through summer in the Valley. On external security, the Army finally settled the controversy surrounding Cold Start by declaiming the existence of any such doctrine. Instead, the Chief, in contradicting the perspective of the US Ambassador that found mention on Wiki-leaks, has let on that there are operations short of war that the Army is in a position to unleash at short notice. However, the preceding year would be remembered for the Army figuring in breaking news for the wrong reasons. Clearly, the internal health front constitutes the ‘third front’ – the other two being well known and catered for.
The relevance of any glance backward is in helping appraise the route ahead. The coming year can only get the Army but a step ahead, given that it must be viewed in relation to the foregoing two hundred years of continued existence in its present form and over two millennia of martial history. A perspective such as this can moderate ambition and make aims do-able. India’s growth story will set the possibilities and constraints for the Army. Protection of the 9 per cent growth rate would be a national priority. Since it cannot be allowed to be waylaid by a bunch of envious extremists in a neighbouring state, the Army would remain on call. It’s recently unveiled contingency plans would certainly cut any linkage between state and non-state actors. Yet, in the eventuality of another Mumbai, no analytical stone should remain unturned.
The economic fallout of a military diversion would be such as to please the perpetrators and their handlers. Therefore, the possibility of continued Indian restraint, particularly if non-state actors action does not have state backing, must be reckoned with. A level headed leadership may require calming the media and political storm, kicked up among others by tough veterans. In this it would be sobering to remember that India is to match up to China by decade end, rather than have its national regeneration waylaid by a bunch of jihadis. Credibility of deterrence means thinking through exit strategies and build in containing the conflict. It would entail working with intelligence and diplomatic instruments to bring about a ‘pan government’, response that is, counterintuitively, not necessarily military. By this yardstick, 2011 can be expected to test the Army differently.
—Col Ali Ahmed(Retd) is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses , New Delhi