B“ased on very credible and specific information which we received yesterday that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launch pads along the Line of Control with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu & Kashmir and in various other metros in our country, the Indian army conducted surgical strikes last night at these launch pads.”
WITH these words spoken in the afternoon of September 29, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, Director General Military Operations, summarised what happened across the border like a professional soldier that he is. He added that during counter-terrorist operations, significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those trying to support them. He was emphatic when he said: “the operations aimed at neutralising the terrorists have since ceased. We do not have any plans for continuation of further operations.”
This was a limited action. But because of the hype built up post-Uri, it became super-class ‘Breaking News’. Media anchors pounced on it and, in the company of assorted columnists/journalists, ex-diplomats, ex-Generals and party mouthpieces, went for a kill with unadulterated hatred peddling. As if eye-witnesses, they rattled out the number of ‘launch pads attacked’, army units that conducted the strike, number of soldiers in the strike force, distance the soldiers walked, weapons used, ammunition fired and precise number of terrorists killed. They also talked of intense diplomatic engagement by NSA and the Foreign Secretary and the critical conversation between the former and his US counterpart. Nothing was left to imagination. Some of them were in ecstasy as if India has won a war and annihilated Pakistan. In the social media were images of Prime Minister Modi’s face morphing into a ferocious lion!
Electronic media was at its worst. Many channels became super patriots, joining the most jingoist voices and, in the process, used adjectives that gave the game away. Media did not realise that this phase will pass, as all phases do, but restoring their credibility with their audiences will be a herculean task. They did not separate fact from fiction and did not draw clear lines between responsibilities of media and the task of governance. Instead, they became cheerleaders of the government and its spin doctors. In the process, they created panic resulting in largescale evacuation of people living in the border areas of Punjab, abandoning crops ready for harvesting.
Soon enough the true purpose of this warmongering media frenzy was revealed as serving the interest of business and arms lobbies. President of US-India Business Council, a business advocacy organisation working to boost India-US trade, made a brazen statement that the expected increase in India’s defence spending due to the current stand-off with Pakistan has presented a “tremendous opportunity” to major US companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, to expand their Indian operations. He went on to say that the technology on big ticket items will definitely come from the US, either from the aircraft carriers or secured communications or from the missile side.
While so, the military view is that successful surgical strikes is an event that could kickstart a new phase of confrontation between India and Pakistan, possibly characterised by wholly new strategies that will be tested over time and refined. This view is echoed by some former Generals. The big question is: confrontation for what purpose, to wage another war after 45 long years? Let us be realistic. An analysis of various reports shows that it is highly unlikely that India has the artillery and ammunition resources even to fight a limited war like Kargil.
ON war, India generally has three options—conventional, sub-conventional and nuclear. All-out nuclear war is out of question. Sub-conventional warfare involves stealth attacks and guerrilla tactics, similar to the Army’s surgical strikes. The third option is conventional warfare. Notwithstanding the importance of regional, strategic and political considerations and all that is lost in the rhetoric, the truth is India is not economically prepared to wage war in this manner.
In any conventional warfare with Pakistan, it is the Indian army that will be at the forefront. As of now, the revenue to capital ratio of army spending is highly skewed in favour of the former as much as 85:15. For the navy and air force this ratio stands at approximately 50:50 and 65:35, respectively. This indicates that a large amount of budget-spend for the army is towards pay and allowances rather than for capital expenditure. Further examination of data suggests that ratio of indigenous acquisition to foreign sources is approximately 70:30 for the army, 50:50 for the navy and 35:65 for the air force. Since army’s artillery and ammunition needs are exclusively met by ordinance factories (OFs), it is over-dependent on domestic acquisition. This has made the army very vulnerable in terms of its war wastage reserves (WWR).
As per the army’s operational doctrine, India is required to maintain a WWR of 40 ‘days of intense war’ [war (I)]. After the Kargil war of 1999, army headquarters introduced a new target of Minimum Accepted Risk Level (MARL), which was set at 20 war (I). The findings of a CAG report show that the army’s current WWR stands at a critical low of 10 war (I), or even less, as of March 2013. As per data in the report, of the 48 ammunition categories audited by CAG, it was found that OFs were unable to meet their production targets across 52 per cent of the product categories. Of this 52 per cent, in 23 per cent of the product categories, the shortfall was well over 50 per cent.
DATA further indicates that, between 2009 and 2013, the shortfall in ammunition has increased dramatically from 15 per cent to 50 per cent. These shortfalls would have further increased in the last three years due to several low-intensity conflicts across the border. As a result of the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) not being able to meet production requirement in line with WWR targets, the army had provided for a roll-on indent plan with a view to at least meet the MARL target requirements. Yet, the CAG report notes that the OFB was unable to meet even this target and fell short by as much as 73 per cent. In fact, as of September 2015, our shortfall for 17 types of critical ammunition continues to remain at 84 per cent. This is the abysmal ‘defence preparedness’ about which former Army Chief General VK Singh wrote to Prime Minister in 2012. This ‘secret’ letter was leaked out and the blame was wrongly put on the General. No action has been taken to remedy the situation and the real perpetrators of this treason are roaming scot-free.
Realising these constraints and shortfalls, top military brass has been reticent and restrained. It is the political and media minions who are queering the pitch for war with an obvious business agenda, with full knowledge of the devastation it can cause.
Coming to brasstacks, the surgical strike and the resultant war-mongering is the fallout of the failure of the Uri Brigade Commander to secure his base, which led to his removal from that position. But retired army brass insists it was an institutional weakness and not command failure. They want citizens and even uniformed personnel to be better sensitised about national expectations versus national willingness to part with more resources for defence and security. One of them has gone to the extent of asking the Army to unequivocally state that the nation will get the security it pays for and no more. One wonders whether mercenary language is creeping in!
These worthies should realise that Uri closely followed the Pathankot air base mess-up by Indian Air Force, National Security Guards, Indian Army and Defence Security Corps, all put together. A disturbing pattern continues—confusion in command and control, indifference to warning of a terrorist attack, abysmal physical security measures, leadership without responsibility, incoherent public communication and political one-upmanship. Added to this is the same old media nautanki and Pak-bashing. Regime change in 2014 has not made any difference.
Why this? Answer is not far to seek. Despite the cacophony on reforms—‘Make-in-India’, FDI and what not—India’s basic governance and administration is at its nadir and national security forms part of this basic. In the event, India does not even have national security architecture. We have Ministries of Home (MHA) and External Affairs (MEA) responsible for internal security and foreign affairs, respectively. But we have no geopolitical-based foreign policy or national security system. Instead we have a National Security Advisor (NSA), an office that has neither institutional sanction nor parliamentary accountability. Because of this structural defect and the concomitant decline of formal arrangements like the Crisis Management Group (CMG) headed by the Cabinet Secretary, national security is getting increasingly compromised.
What is worse, in recent times the institutional integrity and prestige of the Indian Army has been under severe assault by the arms lobby-infested Delhi Durbar. Some media honchos who were part of the Durbar even went to the extreme extent of cooking up a coup story in 2012 to discredit the then Army Chief and belittle the Indian Army as an institution.
Emboldened by their success, they then targeted the Technical Service Division (TSD), a covert-agency to counter ISI-type operations set-up by General VK Singh, the then Army Chief. TSD was pursuing activities directly related to the safety of the soldiers fighting on the borders, retribution on the enemy and the security of the citizens. By its very nature TSD operation was ‘top secret’. In the event, it is treacherous to publicise even the existence of TSD. Yet, this is what precisely happened and a frontal assault on TSD with the sole purpose of hounding General Singh resulted in its disbanding, thereby severely inhibiting India’s capacity to combat/avert ISI’s asymmetric warfare and Pathankot/Uri type humiliation. Both these acts of high treason have gone unpunished!
The surgical strike and the resultant warmongering is the fallout of the failure of the Uri Brigade Commander to secure his base, which led to his removal from that position. But retired army brass insist it was an institutional weakness and not command failure
This General was replaced as Army Chief by a beneficiary of the archaic ‘line of succession’. As the arms lobby is now celebrating the ‘surgical strikes’, the fallout prophesied by defence analyst Maroof Raza in 2012 has come true: “…the message for military commanders is that it isn’t merit or accuracy of documents that will get them promotions, but pandering to the politico-bureaucratic elite. The last bastion of professional meritocracy in India has crumbled. The damage will be lasting.”
Pathankot and Uri are evidence of the crumbling of the ‘last bastion of professional meritocracy.’ Integrity of the Army was severely compromised during UPA regime and NDA government that calls itself ‘nationalistic and patriotic’, has done nothing to set it right. In fact, things have worsened with the OROP muddle and the rise of ‘mercenary’ voices. In the event, individuals and vested interests are having a free run in pursuing their own agenda. Such perfidy is the worst form of threat to national security that has caused countries and governments to crumble and fall asunder. India cannot be an exception.
UNLESS this severe malady is addressed with extreme urgency and integrity of institutions restored in full, any amount of war mongering will be of no avail and India will continue to remain a nation sans security. War that is being touted by vested interests will only worsen things further.
There is a famous saying: “Freedom is the outcome of the tranquility of Peace.” Without these great attributes in a nation, there cannot be any ‘development’, which has been the war cry of Modi and his Ministers. War is the enemy of freedom and peace and, therefore, the ‘development’ agenda. The question in everyone’s mind is whether Modi is abandoning the ‘development’ agenda by drumming up the war cry. Or, is it to cover-up the failure of this agenda in the first half of the Modi Government? Are the warmongers using soldiers as cannon fodder, deliberately diverting scarce funds towards massive arms purchase? Will this cost India security and development? The sooner answers are found the better!
The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org