ON THE CUSP OF CHANGE

When viewed in a historical context, the year 2016 will perhaps be remembered as the year where change was attempted for the first time from the status quo mindset that has consumed India since Independence. For the Armed Forces, the past year has seen many positive developments and some downsides too, but the process of change is visible, though it is still a work in being.

Three issues merit attention. The first of these pertain to operational issues, the second pertain to the acquisition process and the third to the state of relations between the military and India’s bureaucracy.

Operationally, there has been a distinct change in India’s response options to the war by other means that is being waged by Pakistan against India using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The surgical strike was but a reflection of a more robust approach being taken to address issues that have bedevilled India’s response to Pakistani intransigence. Many defence analysts, this writer included, have long felt the need for increasing the cost to the Pakistan Army exponentially for supporting terror groups, thereby forcing Pakistan to act in a more responsible manner. It is no one’s case that just one strike will motivate Pakistan to follow a more rational path. The Pakistan military’s pride was hurt by the surgical strike and it was only to be expected that they would retaliate. With their nuclear bluff being called, Pakistan found that its only option was to continue with using terrorists to attack Indian Army posts. This does not signify a failure of India’s offensive gambit, but perhaps speaks of its success.

The proactive response to Pakistani terror must now be renewed with greater force on the Line of Control (LC), without pause. The possibility of escalation remains, but that is the price that the nation will have to pay if retribution to the Pakistan military is to be effective. The Army must not get into a besieged mentality but must dominate its surroundings and ensure that armed attackers are eliminated before they are in a position to strike. This could lead to collateral damage at times. The military leadership must hold the hands of its units in such cases and simultaneously, sensitise the political leadership of the same. Post demonetisation, the terrorist groups are on the back foot and over time, will find sustenance difficult. This must be exploited to eliminate such groups from Indian soil.

The acquisition process is now getting streamlined with faster decision making and an increased focus on the Make in India campaign. The attempt towards indigenisation are still small baby steps, but they represent a forward movement, which earlier was conspicuous by its absence. The forces too must look for indigenous solutions, else India’s fledgling defence industrial base will never take off. The Tejas aircraft and Indian ship building represent important steps in this direction but much more needs to be done, especially in terms of making the DPSU’s, Ordnance Factories and the DRDO, more accountable and responsive to user needs.

The state of relations between the military and India’s bureaucracy remains abysmal, largely a product of legacy attitudes wherein the babus continue to spare no effort in denigrating the Forces. Why the defence forces are denied space in the decision making process remains a mystery, with India being perhaps the only democracy in the world where such practises obtain. The babus in the MoD lack expertise to advise on defence matters, yet they are vested with complete financial and decision making powers without being held accountable for the same. That accountability continues to rest on the shoulders of the military’s leadership, sans the financial and decision making powers. Such a paradoxical situation will sooner rather than later invite disaster. It is time that the entire MoD is revamped and staffed with at least 50 percent officers from the Armed Forces, with the post of defence secretary and secretary defence production being held by four star ranked officers from the Armed Forces. The CDS will come about in the New Year, but that by itself is not enough. Unless the rules of business are changed and the primacy of the bureaucrat is removed, India’s defence structure will remain compromised.

We are at the cusp of change for the first time since Independence. The tide is flowing, but will we take it at the proverbial flood, which leads on to fortune? Or will we let the opportunity go by, and stagnate? The future beckons and is exciting. Happy Reading and a Very Happy New Year to all our readers.

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