THE letter from a retiring Chief of Army Staff to the Prime Minister that made headlines in March 2012 calling attention of the Government to the critically depleting state of armament and equipment in the Indian Army’s principal fighting arms like mechanised forces, artillery, air defence, infantry, Special Forces and so on was neither the first nor the last. As a practice, prior to demitting office, all military chiefs have been submitting reports to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence on the state of their respective Services. These communications, however, remain hidden from public gaze because of their security classification. Gen VK Singh’s letter had, however, raised a brouhaha in and out of Parliament because it was leaked to the press. Despite so much public outcry, not much has changed since. Ironically, while the former General now holds a ministerial berth in the present government, his service time whining is being now echoed by the Parliament’s Defence Estimates Committee.
Even as the Modi Government had decried the UPA’s apathy towards national defence soon after coming to power, little has moved despite eloquent announcements to speed up the process of armament acquisition and the launching of Make in India for building up a robust indigenous military industry base. An absolute ignorance of matters military in bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and their ever-hardening abhorrence to military advice have proved to be formidable hurdles even for a government believed to be responsive and decisive. The harsh truth is that the Estimates Committee on Defence headed by BJP’s own seasoned MP Murli Manohar Joshi has expressed ‘alarm’ at the ongoing neglect of the nation’s armed forces. At a time when the armed forces are crying for modernisation and replenishment of their critical deficiencies, the 29th report of the Committee has pointed out the drop in defence budgetary allocation from 2.06 per cent of GDP (2014-15) to 1.56 per cent of GDP (2017-18), making it the lowest ever since 1962.
External Threats – The Future Scenario
Whereas on the western front, we have hardly seen ‘peace’ along the Line of Control (LoC) in the last 30 years, in the north there have been frequent intrusions and tussles between the Chinese and Indian soldiers with both sides asserting their conflicting claims on territory at several spots along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The world is aware how dangerously close to a military engagement India and China had come at Doklam. On the other front, no prior battle indications were picked up by a smug civil-military dispensation in India in 1999 until it was too late in the case of Kargil. Today again, even as threats from Pakistan are multiplying in the form of proxy war, narco-terrorism, sabotage and subversion through covert means and nuclear blackmail, India is content with its preparations for the past but unmindful of the future!
China, meanwhile, is playing the game even more smartly. On the economic side, India and China are on a upswing with last year’s bilateral trade reaching a high of $84 billion with India registering a 40 per cent increase in its exports to China. On the strategic side, however, China is keeping India busy along the LAC and reaching out to encircle India by pumping in aid packages, developing ports, airports, railway lines, pipelines in the SAARC countries to wean them away from India. At a time when India is cutting down its military budget and manpower, China is investing heavily to modernise and expand its navy.
Perhaps no other country in today’s developed world is threatened from as diverse and multiple threats as India. Pitted against her two major neighbours with their armies flaunting hostile posturing and no early settlement on existing border disputes yet in sight, India will drop its guard at its own peril. In the given scenario, it could be disastrous for India to ignore military advancements in her neighbourhood and remain smug about her own military that is losing its war-waging potential for want of funds, equipment and technology. As per the Joshi Committee report, “the capital outlay on Army, Navy and Air Force was 11 per cent, 11 per cent and 5 per cent lower than Budget Estimates 2016-17 respectively.”
Nonetheless, ignoring the inescapable defence needs, the Finance Minister has allocated to the Ministry of Defence a total of Rs. 4,04,385 crore (US$62.8 billion) in the Union budget for 2018-19. Of this total allocation, only Rs. 2,79,305 crore ($43.4 billion) was earmarked for what is essentially India’s defence budget. The balance would go to MoD (Miscellaneous) (Rs. 16,206 crore) and Defence Pensions (Rs. 1,08,853 crore), including a mass of retiring non-combatant defence civilians. Much of the marginal budgetary increase has to cater for rising manpower costs. This again leaves the armed forces gasping for replacement of their ageing tanks, guns, air defence, aircraft, warships and replenishment of critical deficiencies in weapons, ammunition and accessories.
NOW, let us have a look at our neighbours’ budgetary allocations for their armed forces. As per data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China’s defence budget for 2018-19 is $228 billion which is 1.9 per cent of China’s GDP, and 13 per cent of the total world military spending. It is four times India’s defence budget for the corresponding period. While China has many more strategic ambitions besides tackling India from multiple directions, Pakistan has only one ‘enemy’—India—and, therefore, almost all of Islamabad’s military preparations are directed against India. Yet, in contrast to India’s declining defence spending, Pakistan’s defence budget for 2018-19 was pegged at Rs. 1.1 trillion, a whopping increase of 20 per cent over the previous year’s allocation against India’s 7 per cent. According to The Express Tribune, this increase would become “30 per cent if the Rs. 100 billion allocated for the Armed Forces Development Programme (AFDP) is also included under defence spending”. Even more interestingly, unlike India’s defence budget allocation, these figures in Pakistan’s military allocation do not include Rs. 260 billion allocated for pensions of military personnel, which will flow in from the ‘civil’ part of the budget.
WHEREAS the numeric comparison would show India’s defence spending higher than that of Pakistan, a proportionate breakdown of their military budgets would reveal how Pakistan is exceeding India’s military spending despite its economy being in “shambles” and US aid suspended. The seriousness of Pakistan’s economic crisis was openly admitted by Prime Minister Imran Khan who recently announced several measures curtailing government spending and raising funds by auctioning luxury cars, helicopters and facilities used by his predecessor!
China’s military modernisation programme has also made stunning progress in recent years, especially after President Xi Jinping’s ascendance to power. After carrying out sweeping reforms in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Xi initiated numerous other measures to reorganise and reorient PLA to “newer, larger roles”. Besides upgradation of the existing equipment, dozens of new warships, aircraft and missile systems have been inducted enhancing PLA’s naval and aerial capabilities significantly. The PLA is now seriously organising and preparing for the next generation warfare.
Though much of China’s R&D in defence remains shrouded in secrecy, it is now widely known and reported online that China has reached very close to creating “a global, 24-hour, all-weather global remote sensing system including satellites with EO, SAR and ELINT payloads. BeiDou, China’s indigenous competitor to GPS, is transcending its regional capability to a system with global reach. After making significant progress in Artificial Intelligence, China has even launched the world’s first quantum satellite. Next is the launch of constellations of micro and nano quantum satellites in the coming years”. Whereas India is world’s largest importer of military hardware and its Make in India is moving wearily, China has already emerged as world’s third largest arms exporter!
There is no denying that the United States remains the most dominant power in East Asia, conscious of China’s rising power in the region though!To contain China in this region, it needs trusted allies like India, Japan and Australia as was highlighted in the QUAD talks held at Manila last year. In the wake of the emerging power matrices in the region—Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean in particular—India needs to revamp and modernise its Navy in a big way which is far behind China’s as of now. The faster India closes this gap, the better it will be for its own survival as a power in the region.
Adversaries like Pakistan and China are just one class of security threat against which India needs to remain always prepared. What is becoming even more menacing is the nature of threats to India’s security that is growing from within. Induction of criminals into the political mainstream has brought many of them into Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies. This increase of criminals among lawmakers has seriously vitiated the character of our political discourse in and out of the legislature. As per an affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court in March this year, as many as 1,765 MPs and MLAs, or 36 per cent of parliamentarians and legislators are facing criminal trial in 3,045 cases! Obviously, many of them are facing multiple criminal cases.
Among the internal threats are the havens, establishments and individuals that would present many complexities for the operating forces. There is, therefore, a need to harness covert and over support from different local and central agencies to identify, pre-empt, nab and destroy anti-national elements, terror sleeper cells, centres of sabotage and subversive activities.
WHAT must worry every honest Indian citizen is the growing tendency of some of our opposition parties to condemn every military action against terrorists in Kashmir echoing Pakistan’s outcry against India’s war against terrorism in the Valley. Many top leaders of different political parties have lent support to the anti-national sloganeering and frequent congregations of subversive elements in universities and elsewhere. They appear more in sync with the enemy stance against the Indian Government and speak like ‘proxy spokespersons’ for Pakistan’s ‘proxies’ fighting in the Valley and elsewhere.
Sympathies had poured in on the death of Ishrat Jahan, a confirmed LeT operative on a dangerous mission, who was killed in Gujarat in 2004.Tears of sympathy rained from the eyes of a Party President for the killed terrorists when she heard about the Batla House encounter. Although not a single ‘Hindu’ has so far been convicted for any terrorist act anywhere in the world, insinuations raising the bogie of ‘Saffron (Hindu) Terror’ were brazenly traded in Parliament and media by ministers and prominent leaders of a political party. While a Chief Minister recently extended an open invitation to welcome Rohingyas in her state, no serious political discourse has ever been heard to restore the rights and properties of the lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits—India’s legitimate citizens rendered refugees in their own country! These trends imperil India’s unity and integration far more dangerously than the combined onslaught of all external enemies which can be thwarted only by a nation united in solidarity. The quest for garnering votes by dividing communities and bartering national interests must end before the situation goes out of hand.
Official intelligence sources have been frequently discovering ‘sleeper cells’ of various terror outfits, including Maoists. The recent arrest of a gang of so-called intellectuals whose appeal for bail has been rejected by the Apex Court points to the dangerous dimensions to which the anti-national subversive dragnet has been cast in the country. While the army and paramilitary forces continue chasing terrorists on the icy mountains of Kashmir and in jungles of Dantewada, their ‘part-time masters and patrons’ operate insidiously from the safe sanctuaries of university hostels under the cover of human rights activists and champions of ‘freedom of speech’.
A KGB veteran who had defected to the USA long ago, is said to have advised Gen Musharraf after the Kargil episode thus: “Why did you go for Kargil? What did you gain? You can never defeat India militarily. There are easier, cheaper options for you to defeat India more decisively and easily!”
“What do you mean?” Musharraf asked. “If you can break the moral fibre of a nation, you will rule over it! Target India’s youth and invest in their anti-government movements and media,” said the KGB veteran.
Little wonder why counterfeit currency and drug trafficking have flourished in India more rampantly in the post Kargil era. Demonetisation did put a stop to this trade and illicit currency transaction for some time, but the operatives are back in business again. Drug addiction among the youths in Punjab has almost destroyed a generation in what was once India’s most progressive state.
Another security hazard mushrooming under political patronage is Hawala Transactions. Allegedly, almost all political parties patronise this practice for reaping unfair gains in elections, but most of these transactions are driven from abroad under ISI’s patronage. In India these funds are further funnelled to terrorists and insurgents through ‘patrons’ in politics, academia, media and numerous NGOs. A huge part of hawala transactions also goes to pay the ‘proxies’, their support bases and families.
In terms of professional competence, the Indian Military commands a high reputation internationally and is often envied by armies across the world for being the most versatile with operational experience in all types of warfare—glacial warfare, mountain, jungle, desert, plains and riverine terrain warfare besides capability to tackle numerous types of insurgencies and terrorism. The human resources, however, need the best of weapons, equipment and accessories that match their needs, enhance their efficiency and boost their morale. The nation must fulfil these genuine requirements of its military before expecting it to achieve desired results.
With the changing security scenario and growing threats from external enemies and internal insurgents and saboteurs, India needs to arm and equip its military with requisite wherewithal for fighting new threats swiftly and decisively. This calls for more allocation of budgetary funds to speed up new acquisitions and to replace obsolescent armament and equipment.
In 1934 when the United States was passing through an economic crisis, President Roosevelt announced a 51 per cent cut in the defence budget for the following year without consulting Gen Douglas McArthur who was the then Chief of Army Staff. On hearing about the cut, McArthur was furious. He sought a meeting with the President and when he found the President unrelenting, McArthur is reported to have said: “When we lose the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy boot on his dying throat, spits out his last curse, I want the name to be ‘Roosevelt’, not ‘McArthur’!”
The Indian Army is similarly anguished today but thankfully, the Indian generals today are not as harsh on their Government. If so, it is even more expedient for the Government to be more sensitive to the nation’s military needs especially when the security environment within and around India is getting more vicious in so many ways!