In this hard-hitting article, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji takes a look at the growing spectre of the spread of radical Islam and its impact on India’s security. Coupled with this is the threat emanating from China and the China-Pakistan nexus against India. To counter these threats, he delves on the need to revamp our acquisition processes and improve productivity of the defence public sector undertakings. The Air Marshal also pitches for an increase in budget to quicken the pace of military modernisation and posits for a change in mindsets and a reorientation of focus towards national security.An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command.
“Do not neglect the principles of foresight and know that often, puffed up with success, armies have lost the fruit of their heroism through a feeling of false security.”Frederick the Great
I think we need to take a serious second look at Nostradamus’ quatrains to interpret and figure out what he could have possibly prophesied about the Central and South Asian regions in the twenty-first century. Will there be a clash of civilisations, between radical Islamic beliefs and China’s preponderant rise to achieve world dominance? Will the countries located in the path of this tectonic collision suffer an upheaval so great as to get demolished as an entity or a sovereign state? While some may consider these to be in the realm of surreal imagination, the geopolitical transformations and mutations that have occurred in the region in the past three decades cannot be overlooked.
The growing spectre of radical Islam in the Middle East and the rise of terrorism, ably abetted by Pakistan’s ISI have started affecting India, for some time now. The untamed, lawless and ravaged country that is Afghanistan has ominously provided a safe haven for those with radical mind sets. The withdrawal of Russia from Afghanistan in 1990 created a spurt in foreign militants and mercenaries infiltrating in J&K and through the next two decades, India faced a major problem in trying to suppress terrorism in the area. Strong army presence and persistence in engaging the terrorists have paid dividends.
Events since May 2020 have precipitated the other issue of concern to our national security, namely, the LAC and Chinese transgression. The sudden, unforeseen (?) development along the border and the PLA’s infringement into our sovereign territory sent waves of concern through our security establishment. The oft quoted ability of the Chinese to create infrastructure at a rapid pace became even more evident as they amassed troops well out of proportion to their routine patrol incursions, indicative of an extraordinary back-up logistical chain. While it may not be appropriate to mention, this aggressive move by the PLA exposed the lack of infrastructure along our northern frontiers and more frighteningly, the inadequacies in equipment, logistical chains, armament and possibly the most critical, the inadequacies of our intelligence set-up, once again caught wanting. So what has changed since 1962?
All in all, the security scenario being faced by India is not very rosy and while presently it has been contained in some form, there is no knowing the future. But speaking of the future, one finds that almost every eventuality that unfolds seems to take us by surprise. One sometimes wonders if the government takes cognisance of the various Think Tanks which provide so much strategic insight and possible outcomes. Is the government short sighted or just unwilling to accept the fact that the world is no longer a place to practice ‘Ahimsa,’ that the world has become a bitter dog-eat-dog conflagration of prominent nations intent on world domination? The directions of future geopolitics and strategic posturing were there to see, as the USA under Obama made the move to rebalance and shift its pivot in the Asia-Pacific; and subsequently, the Trump administration going the extra distance to clearly define the strategic matrix and what would be the centre point or focus of future world interest, by re-orienting its ‘Asia-Pacific’ to a more comprehensive ‘Indo-Pacific’ posture.
Notwithstanding the country having fought four wars with Pakistan and one with China in the seventy-five years since its independence, the government, for some reason has maintained a passive national policy which, at best, is reactive in nature. Because of this approach, there has been no endeavour to provide the essential ‘teeth’ to the armed forces. Saddled with a poor R&D base and a barely functional government controlled defence industry, there is little doubt why we acquired the ignominious sobriquet of ‘the world’s largest importer of military hardware’.
Regularly bled by the acquisition process—high cost of military hardware and associated scams—the country seemed to wallow in its dependency on foreign arms. The lack of R&D and indigenous production cannot be a millstone around our neck. The biggest challenge to land, sea and air warfare in the context of the Indian Armed Forces is the ability to sustain in protracted or intermittent war. Sustenance cannot be through the import corridor but must be an in-built indigenous component of access, supply and continuity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood the situation only too well. His ‘Make in India’ thrust to the nations he visited soon after he assumed office was a huge move to imbibe technology for Indian industry, with a very finite thrust towards infrastructure and defence. Consequently, his ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ program has infused a sense of pride and ownership into those SME’s and Start-Ups which were struggling for want of avenues and recognition. The ‘kindest cut’ of them all (sic) was when he decided to throw open the defence industry, long shielded by the powers that be, to private players.
Financial support, so important to these small time entrepreneurs was forthcoming, partnerships in joint ventures with foreign companies accepted and a hand-holding approach to provide confidence, has seen a sudden uplift in the indigenous industry. This has been a long awaited move which will hold the country in good stead and ensure the self sufficiency that we so sorely need. The challenge here is to harness our resources and abilities to fuse them into a ‘productivity thrust’ which will propel our indigenous industry to greater heights.
The biggest challenge, however, is to re-orientate our focus and attitude towards national security, which has to undergo a perceptive change. The government must understand the security aspects of geopolitical fallouts and their long term security implications. Rather than take a pro-active stance, the fact that our paltry defence budget does not merit importance is a matter of concern. The government, it appears, fails to understand the increased pressure on the armed forces when faced with ever increasing technological developments being tweaked by inimical forces, to their advantage. Under such pressures the government still considers it appropriate to progressively denigrate and de-motivate the defence forces by reducing their status in relation to other central government services – what a sad state of affairs. The Indian military has proved its mettle on land, sea or air. The challenges it faces are from within rather than external threats.