The Indian Army can be relied upon to ensure that the Mayan prophesy for 2012 being the doom’s day for the world will not apply to India. However, living up to such a reputation is hard work. So even as it understandably congratulates itself on a lap well run in 2011, there is no time for any over-indulgence. As is evident in hindsight, even as resounding a victory as obtained four decades ago did not prove an antidote for insecurity for very long. This article attempts a cautionary crystal-ball gazing exercise to possibly pre-empt the contents of the last Army Day parade speech of the Chief.
The foremost consideration in any such exercise has to be the Army’s preparedness for its primary task: the defence of territorial integrity and political sovereignty. Over the last year, there appeared to be crystallisation of the ‘two front’ perspective. This is not a new ‘threat’; it was foreseen by K. Subrahmanyam 40 years back in his post 1971 survey of India’s strategic predicament, ‘Our National Security’ (Economic and Scientific Research Foundation, 1972), where he wrote: ‘India must be in a position to face successfully simultaneous conventional threats from China and Pakistan’ (p. xxii).
On the Pakistan front, instability is set to continue with Pakistan having denied itself an opportunity for reprieve by staying away from Bonn II. At the subconventional level, this implies the prevailing levels of peace in Jammu & Kashmir could prove momentary. This apprehension perhaps reinforces the military’s abundant caution in respect of the AFSPA controversy in that state. At the conventional level, the possibility of a strained regional environment implies that the move away from Cold Start rhetoric has been a wise one. That the ‘option’ remains on the table does not need amplification; understated exercises as the ongoing Ex Sudarshan Shakti does that in any case. The exercise conducted by the Pune-based Southern Command is being led by the Bhopal-based 21 Corps, Sudarshan Chakra Corps. Participation of troops of the 31 Armoured Division and aircraft such as SU-30 MKI, Jaguars, Mig-27, MIG-21, AWACS and helicopters suggest little else. Pakistan’s nuclear posturing must however be taken seriously. The implications of Nasr need studying in that light. A possible outcome could be reliance on stand-off firepower led punch rather than a physical one, in the form of Cold Start, in case of grave provocation.
For the China front, the late K. Subrahmanyam’s words need heeding: ‘When Chinese troop strength goes beyond 150000 it will be necessary for India to consider stepping up the forces deployed along the northern border’ (p. xxii). With infrastructure in Tibet reportedly upgraded to sustain three times that number and China having practiced rapid reaction reserves for long distance deployment, India’s approval of an expansion by 86,000 troops appears inevitable. The mountain strike corps set to be raised is billed as the Indian Army’s largest expansion since mechanization in the eighties. One point from the eighties however remains relevant; expansion then in all three dimensions was part of the profligacy that led up to the economic crisis. In the event, the force proved unusable in the security context of the nineties, signified by the stability/instability paradox. The implication for the China front of this experience is that India should quietly go about its upgrades and engage China without indulging in premature, ego-massaging, muscle flexing. The expansion and ongoing infrastructure building itself suggests that India is playing catch up. At the nuclear level, the penultimate piece would fall into place next year with the expected test launch of the Agni V. The final piece, assured second strike capability in the form of a nuclear armed and nuclear powered submarine still lies in the distant future.
At the subconventional level the several SoOs (Suspension of Operations) agreements need to be converted into comprehensive peace agreements to remove vulnerability. The recent exposé (‘Arms and the Rogues’, The Week, 3 December 2011) on the Chittagong arms haul of 2004 should spur the special interlocutors on.
While the military can be expected to rise professionally to the strategic challenge, it would understandably need assistance in grasping the military sociology agenda; given the very human tendency to miss the warts in any mirror image.
Acknowledging that expansion necessarily implies dilution in quality should help the army focus on training. The earlier significance of socialization into military mores through observation and mentoring has suffered an immeasurable setback with the raisings of the Rashtriya Rifles and the two divisions. This cannot now be redeemed. Focusing on the training regimen implies a deepening of professionalisation. This can inject primary group cohesion under threat from personnel turbulence and organizational hyperactivity. Secondly, the earlier paternalistic leadership ethic needs abandoning without remorse. The corresponding concern for ‘welfare’ can be reviewed, with training being taken as the best welfare. Thirdly, the AV Singh committee brought on expansion of the officer cadre is set to be replicated at the Other Ranks and JCO levels. Even as the expansion and the sixth pay commission largesse are useful from the morale and status points of view, the system cannot sustain the privileges and authorizations that go with rank. These would require review, obviously beginning with the officers. This would reduce top heaviness and prevent the Indian Army going ‘Mughal’. While there is no need to preserve the ‘British’ attributes, modernization of social mores and professional relationships will help preserve the Army from wholesale indigenisation. Lastly, on ‘internal health’, the KRA of the chief and courts martial of two lieutenant generals suggest a refocus on leadership. Mundane aspects such as the balance between ‘flexibility’ and ‘integrity’ in the desired personality type need input from best practices in the human resources field.
The last point on leadership brings one to the last issue in this inevitably subjective wish list. At the organizational level, 2012 could well bring in a major change, long desired by the Army. The Naresh Chandra task force will likely tender its report. It may set a timeline for organizational evolution of the national security structure. A point on this may be greater uniformed representation in the ministry of defence. Two implications arise: one is reconfiguring the professional military education system to produce officers who can tenant these appointments; and, secondly, a reevaluation of the command culture to shift from a ‘jhanda and danda’ bias towards a collegiate manner of decision making and a democratic leadership style.
In fact, the latter is perhaps behind the impression left by the Army in its tackling of two issues in the fading year: expansion in the job profile of lady officers and AFSPA. How the military tackles these two issues set to ‘dog’ it into the future will reveal if it has indeed transformed (with a capital ‘T’) into a 21st century force. Academically, the locus of professionalism is the officer corps. The onus rests with it. At the 40th anniversary of the Army’s most famous victory it would be churlish to point out that 2012 holds a significant 50th anniversary.