Safety in numbers
Indian Army’s record has many parallels with that of the Indian cricket team; one unmitigated disaster (1962), one unqualified success (1971), two stalemates (1948 and 1965), a cataclysmic foreign policy blunder (IPKF in Sri Lanka) and a pyrrhic PR victory in Kargil (1999). The pusillanimous display by the top brass and their strategic and leadership failures have been offset by bravery and courage of young officers and soldiers (For a pithy insight into the Kargil war, see A Soldiers Diary, Kargil: The Inside Story by Harinder Baweja, Books Today, 2000). In the history of modern warfare, human casualties have reduced drastically since the Second World War and these days, it is only in internecine and tribal wars in Africa and the Middle East that such heavy casualties take place. It is ironic that these heavy casualties have been brandished around by the Indian army as tales of valour and sacrifice, that divert attention from and gloss over major strategic and organisational deficiencies. The Charge of the Light Brigade would be an apposite comparison – individual bravery and sacrifice amidst inept handling by the top brass. The official Indian army website makes a virtue out of necessity.
A common indicator of the type of leadership extant in the Army are casualty ratios. In all our wars, officer casualties have been high. This is an internal assessment criterion. Management experts point out that high casualties bespeak of poor command. The point, however, is that Officers of the combat arms lead from the front and do not manage from the rear.
The quality, unfortunately in this case, is directly related to the quantity. While the world has flattened, the Indian Army has added to its hierarchical structure along with a significant increase in numbers. Protecting one’s fiefdom and enlarging its scope has been the hallmark of most government bodies and the army is no exception. The US army has been blindly aped by creating an Army Training Command more than 15 years ago, with no reduction in the training directorate at Delhi. South-western command and a new corps have been raised to ostensibly improve the operational effectiveness of the army. But many insiders believe that it is to create more avenues for promotions at the middle and higher levels. A new operational logistics and a public information directorate were also created in the recent past, adding to the existing layers of military bureaucratic structure. While all this has happened, there has been no talk of reduction in numbers ala the western armies. The US, UK and French military training schools are either outsourced or largely manned by civilian employees. No modern army worth its name runs its own logistics; their logistics is totally outsourced. The Indian army, on the other hand, still waxes eloquent about its teeth-to-tail ratio and takes pride in the large inventory of its ordnance corps – from a shoe nail to a tank.
Can we have a leaner army that is as effective an insurance for the nation’s future? Arguably, yes. General Malik reduced 50,000 in his tenure as the army chief, but it all went away in the aftermath of Kargil. The political willingness to correct this anomaly is distinctly lacking. After all, there is safety in numbers. The annual report of the ministry of defence (2006-07) puts forth this grandiose justification in buckram prose.
India’s national security environment is determined by a complex interplay of its geographical attributes, historical legacy, and socio-economic circumstances as well as regional and global developments…The security environment that has been highlighted above clearly brings out four key elements that are fundamental determinants of our security planning. These are:
- The Indian Armed Forces have a two front obligation, which require them to safeguard the security of our borders with Pakistan as well as with China;
- India is not a member of any military alliance or strategic grouping, nor is this consistent with our policies necessitating a certain independent deterrent capability;
- Due to external abetment, India’s Armed Forces are involved in internal security functions on a relatively larger scale than is normal requiring a force structure that will be able to cope with it; and
- India’s interests in the North Indian Ocean, including the security of our EEZ and Island territories, highlight the need for a blue water Naval capability commensurate with our responsibilities.
Notwithstanding this pontification, acquisition of modern military equipment and implementation of latest military strategy in the current geopolitical scenario should have led to a concomitant reduction in the strength of the army. This reduction can not be to please the peaceniks or to score brownie points at international platforms; it should be based on current geopolitical realities, acquisition of latest weaponry and equipment, concurrent organisational changes and a coherent military strategy. The modernisation plans have not even been finalised in the past, as with the tenth plan, and it would be naive to hope for any improvements with the eleventh plan. In any case, these capital acquisition plans need money and three-quarters of the army budget goes towards salaries and other revenue expenses. So, where does one start? The hawks may seek larger allocations to the army for modernisation but the cogent argument is that the numbers must reduce for greater capital acquisitions. It has to be a well thought out process, backed by deft political and diplomatic manoeuvres, and implemented after a fundamental change in the noesis of the top military brass. This is not to make a case for a cadaverous army, but to trim the extra fat for a well sculpted lean and fit fighting machine; else the organisation will continue to be wanner by the day.
Besides, the happenings after the parliament attack and the détente with Pakistan are a pointer to the geopolitical situation that befalls the Indian army. Kargil could not escalate into a full fledged war due to international fears of a nuclear showdown. In his book ‘The world is flat’ Thomas Friedman has highlighted the pressures at the highest levels on the Indian government that prevented the détente with Pakistan from escalating in 2002. A full-fledged war with Pakistan and China seems far-fetched at the moment, but it would be imprudent to rule out its possibility altogether. In any case, it has been acknowledged in most quarters that the army was unable to mobilise in time after the parliament attacks and thus the small ‘window of opportunity’ was lost. The current army chief thus came up with a new strategy to mobilise faster and score short term gains (read occupation of enemy territory) before international pressure leads to a ceasefire. But even this hortatory thinking and bold strategy hasn’t been backed by any talk of reducing the strength of the army. What you hear in turn is the huge shortage of officers in the army – this is again a myth that needs to be demolished.
To be continued…