The Doklam crisis & beyond

 Deepak Sinha, Doklam, Kargil, Armed Forces, Strategic Studies, Internal Security, Bhutan, Tri-junction

Chinese and Indian soldiers on the border

The Doklam crisis continues to meander along with the general public unaware and unsure of what exactly is the current situation on the ground or what its likely fallout will be. However, one thing is certain, that in the event of a conflict we will once again be faced with the distressing sight of our Service Chiefs being forced to repeat General Malik’s words of utter helplessness at the height of the Kargil Conflict, “We will fight with whatever we have”.

And as the Comptroller and Auditor General’s recent report suggests, with only 20% of its critical ammunition available, there is not much that the military has to fight with. So we would be well within our rights to question this Government, and the earlier ones as well, as to why are the Services still in the sorry state that they were at the time of the Kargil Conflict? Why must Servicemen always pay with their lives while politicians and bureaucrats get away without being held accountable? Who will be held accountable for this disastrous state of affairs over the past seventeen years?

While General Malik may have got away with the high stakes gamble of denuding resources from the Strike Corps and other formations to concentrate and fight only in the Kargil Sector, do the present Chiefs really believe they can get away in a similar manner if it came to fighting a two front war? We should be under no illusions that if it is China with which we are drawn into conflict, Pakistan will do whatever is in its means to take full advantage of the situation, though it may certainly not be another Kargil or a similar venture. There is off course the fact that General Rawat, the Army Chief, has gone on record to suggest we are prepared to fight and win not just for a two front war but for a two and a half front war. He should certainly be the one to know, but one cannot help but wonder if his pronouncement was just plain bravado or an ill- conceived attempt to reassure the public and simultaneously keep up the soldier’s morale for the facts suggest something quite different.

It is true that this Government has recently enhanced the financial powers of the Vice Chiefs for procurement of certain items but that has little meaning when the current Defence Budget, for example, has been reduced by 0.9% to 1.56% of GDP compared to the last FY. Incidentally this is the lowest since prior to the 1962 Conflict when allocations were kept at 1.5% of GDP. This is at a time when large quantities of equipment held by our forces are beyond obsolete and need immediate replacement, leaving aside the fact that we are critically short of ammunition and spares for the equipment we hold. As per one report the Army has identified “critical deficiencies in 46 types of ammunition and certain spares for 10 types of weapon platforms”, procurement of which works out to over Rs 40,000 Crores. The fact that our Air Force has been reduced to 32 Squadrons from its optimum requirement of 45 while the Navy has only 15 submarines at a time when Chinese Naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region has jumped substantially only add to the woes that years of neglect have led to.

Add to this the reduction in status, pay and allowances and perks that the approved recommendations of the 7th CPC and its earlier editions have willfully wrought. You have a military that is not only unpopular as a career choice but suffers from low morale, divisions within the rank and file as well as a growing distrust of the political-bureaucratic nexus that runs the MOD and of the highest military echelons who seem to have sold out. Not for a minute has it been suggested that the Armed Forces will not deliver if confronted tomorrow, but the stark fact is that combat units in the Army, for example, will be expected to perform their tasks with less than 50% of the junior leaders that the unit is otherwise authorized thanks, to the overall 20% deficiency in the officer cadre. They will be fighting with unreliable and obsolete personal weapons with limited night fighting capabilities equipped for the most without bullet proof jackets or a ballistic helmet. They will have in support aircraft, tanks, artillery guns and Air Defence weapons the vast majority of which saw service in the 1960’s, if not earlier.

One can be certain of our Armed Forces that fight they will with what they have, as they have done repeatedly before, but it is shameful that a Nation demands so much of its military and so less of itself or its politicians. PM Modi would do well to start the ball rolling quickly, yes off course, by appointing a full time Defence Minister for a start. As we all know part timers can only do so much.

This commentary originally appeared in Times of India.

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