Oversight of national security is a sorry state of civil-military relations.

I came across a news item headlined “Kargil Visit Induced In Me New-Found Respect For Indian Army: Rajnath Singh”. It was indeed no surprise to those of us who have served in the Indian Armed Forces. Not only seasoned and experienced, but our Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is also a hard-boiled senior political functionary. It took him a visit to Kargil on the 20th Kargil Divas, for the realization of ‘new-found respect’.

We have for many years been making the point about the major infirmity in the decision-making apparatus. This infirmity pertaining to the evolution and oversight of India’s security is the tenuous state of civil-military relations. For the country’s state of military preparedness to be credible and effective, this must be set right without further delay.

Shifts in National Security Policies

Sadly, the malaise is in the origins of our country as an independent nation. The political leadership assuming the reigns of independent governance never addressed national security. Post-independence from the British, that was run from London. In fact, as it happened, on becoming independent, India’s security policy was premised on non-violence and abhorrence of militarisation. This, however, ended with the outbreak of hostilities and prosecution of the war in Jammu and Kashmir soon after Independence. It took fifteen years for the political leadership and the civilian bureaucracy to come out of their self-induced stupor. It was when the Chinese launched military operations against us in October 1962.

The governing establishment was forced to come to terms with reality. It led to some tentative steps to redress the sorry state of affairs in the military. But even so, a continuing deep distrust of the military as an institution and an unforgivable lack of understanding of its vital role in the conduct of international relations remained. A comparison with the status of militaries in the rest of the world at that time may be appropriate to place things in perspective.

National Security, Governance, and Military

India gained Independence a couple of years after the end of World War 2; a war that lasted about six years; and followed only about 20 years after the equally, if not more, devastating experience of World War 1. Both wars had taken a huge toll in terms of loss of life and had severely impacted the global landscape. And before we forget, the contribution of the Indian military, from the colony of Britain, was crucial in both wars. But in context of the matter under discussion, an important fall-out of the two wars merits mention.

In almost all democracies of the Western world, as also Communist countries like the Soviet Union, China and those in East Europe like Yugoslavia, large sections of the political leadership that emerged, both in governance and in opposition, had served in the military in one or both world wars. Even in the newly emerged independent nations like Indonesia, Egypt, Cuba, Philippines, South Korea, etc former military men were at the helm of affairs. And of course, in our immediate neighborhood, Pakistan and Burma fell to military dictatorship; in due course, Bangladesh also briefly went down that path.

Indian Governance: Leadership Without War Experience

India was possibly the only major country in the world at that time with a different reality. The Indian political leadership, both in governance and in opposition, as also the civilian bureaucracy, had absolutely no war experience. In fact, they did not even have first-hand knowledge of matters military.

Service in the military is no guarantee that relations between the governing establishment and the military will be smooth. However, the infirmity pertaining to national security results in bigger issues –

  • Deep distrust of the military that prevails
  • Non-incorporation of it in the evolution of security policy at the top level
  • A sorry state of civil-military relations in our country

… And We Have Paid Dearly

  • Calling-off military operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 1948 when poised for the capture of Muzaffarabad and most of POK
  • Not acting on the well-considered advice of the military regarding deployment on the borders with Tibet; it resulted in the 1962 debacle
  • Not seeking military advice during negotiations with Pakistan following the 1965 and 1971 wars
  • resulting in the return to Pakistan of strategic territory secured in Jammu and Kashmir in 1965
  • Surrendering at Shimla despite the military victory secured in the Eastern theatre in 1971; it included repatriation of about 93,000 Pakistani prisoners-of-war

The unfortunate fall-out of the political leadership’s distrust of the military and its consequent exclusion from top-level involvement in evolution and decision making on national security issues is that the civilian bureaucracy and the intelligence establishment have found it expedient to interpose themselves between the military and the political leadership. Almost as if there is a need to interpret for the politician the viewpoint of the military.

Bidding of Political Masters & Matters of National Security

This is no doubt considerably facilitated by the closeness that develops between the civil service personnel and the police to the political class in the running of the administration, both at the Central Government and State Government level. Significant sections of civil administration and police are more than ready to do the bidding of their political masters. This adds to the comfort level of their mutual relationship.

This stands in marked contrast to the military, whose tasks are reasonably well-defined and brook no compromise. To that extent, there is a perception in the military, and not without good reason, that the civilian bureaucracy has over the years, used this proximity to the political class to steadily downgrade the status of the military and to ensure its continued exclusion from the decision-making apparatus. This perception, therefore, has added to the slide in civil-military relations.

A Proposal for Civil-Military Relations

We now have Shri Rajnath Singh as Defence Minister. He previously completed a five-year stint as the Home Minister. One expects, that he would have been privy to the vested interests at work in other corridors of power. This may be the right moment to forcefully reiterate a long-standing proposal many of us have made in the past towards addressing the aspect of civil-military relations—a proposal that found endorsement in the Report of the Kargil Review Committee, as also the Report of the Group of Ministers.

For the lateral induction of volunteers from among Armed Forces personnel with about seven to eight years of service, into State Police, Central Armed Police Forces and Para Military Forces like the Assam Rifles and the Coast Guard. Implementation of the proposal will bring in some Armed Forces ethos and culture into the police forces. Moreover, it will also conserve state resources on training. Laterally inducted Armed Forces personnel will benefit by serving longer and in many cases within their own state.

Armed Forces to Benefit from the Proposal

The Armed Forces will benefit significantly by maintaining a younger age profile. It would also reduce the pension bill of the Defence Ministry. As one, among many others, who have propounded this case at various forums over the years, while in Service and after retirement, I would suggest the implementation of this proposal without further delay. It has been stalled over the years by vested interests that should not be allowed to call the shots any longer.

I will go further and reiterate another earlier recommendation. All entry into Central and State Government employees including into public sector undertakings, be made contingent on two/ three years of compulsory service in the Armed Forces—a selective “national service” concept. This recommendation includes induction of personnel into the IAS, IFS, IPS, etc, as well as entry at lower levels including into the state police, CPOs, the para-military and public sector undertakings. Such a measure, besides ensuring ready availability of trained manpower to deal with internal security situations that often call for coordinated ‘muscular’ response, will also address the shortage of personnel in units of the Armed Forces at the junior level.

Final Suggestion

A final suggestion, given the content of the statement attributed to Shri Rajnath Singh. It may be a good idea to formulate a statutory arrangement for every person elected as a Member of Parliament and to State legislatures, to spend a minimum of seven days with Army units deployed at selected places on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir or the Line of Actual Control on our borders with Tibet; and maybe even in counter-insurgency deployment. This would give our political leadership at various levels, a better idea what service in the Armed Forces is about, even when the country is not at war, and hopefully bring in some more “newfound respect”.

Lt Gen Satish Nambiar, AVSM, VrC, retired from the Indian Army as the Deputy Chief of the Army Staff in 1994, having earlier held the prestigious appointment of DGMO. He was the first Force Commander and Head of Mission of the United Nations Forces in Yugoslavia and has also done a tenure as Military Adviser, High Commission of India, London. A veteran of the 1965 and 1971 India Pakistan wars, he is a Vir Chakra recipient for gallantry in the 1971 Liberation War. Post-retirement, he has served as the Director, USI of India. He contributes regularly to periodicals and journals on national security, international relations and peace operations.

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Lt Gen Satish Nambiar

Lt Gen Satish Nambiar, a Vir Chakra awardee, commanded 1 Maratha LI and 20 Maratha Light Infantry (now 10 MECH), and is a recipient of the Padma Bhusan. He retired as the Deputy Chief of the Army Staff.

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