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The Rediff Special/The Kargil Review Committee Report

'The country can no longer afford ad hoc functioning'

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Part I: 'The Pakistani establishment has a long and consistent history of misreading India's will'

Part II: 'This rapid and strong Indian reaction was obviously not expected by the Pakistanis'

Part III: 'The Kargil battle was fought with less than optimum communications capability'

Part IV: 'Kargil highlighted the gross inadequacies in the nation's surveillance capability'

There is general agreement that in the light of the new situation of proxy war and large scale terrorism that the country faces, the role and the tasks of the para-military forces have to be restructured particularly with reference to command and control and leadership functions. They need to be trained to much higher standards of performance and better equipped to deal with terrorist threats. The possibility of adopting an integrated manpower policy for the Armed Forces, para-military forces and the Central Police Forces merits examination.

The Army must be young and fit at all times. Therefore, instead of the present practice of having 17 years of colour service (as has been the policy since 1976), it would be advisable to reduce the colour service to a period of seven to ten years and, thereafter, release these officers and men for service here, older cadres might be further streamed into the regular police forces or absorbed in a National Service Corps (or a National Conservation Corps), as provided for under Article 51A(d) of the Constitution, to spearhead a range of land and water conservation and physical and social infrastructure development on the model of some eco-development battlations that have been raised with a fair measure of success.

This would reduce the age profile of the Army and the para-military forces, and also reduce pension costs and other entitlements such as married quarter and educational facilities. The Army pension bill has risen exponentially since the 1960s and is becoming an increasing burden on the national exchequer. Army pensions rose from Rs 1,568 crore in 1990-91 to Rs 6,932 crore (budgeted) in 1999-2000, the equivalent of almost two-thirds of the current Army salary bill.

The para-military and police forces have their own ethos and traditions and might well be chary of such lateral induction as has been proposed. This objection might be overcome were the para-military forces to undertake recruitment on the basis of certain common national military standards and then send those selected for training and absorption in the Army for a period of colour service before reverting to their parent para-military formations.

The Committee is aware of the complexities and sensitivities involved in any such security manpower reorganisation. Nevertheless, national security dictates certain imperatives which the country may ignore only at its peril. The proposed reorganisation would make a career in the armed forces attractive on the basis of the lifetime employment offered by the two or three-tiered secondment formula.

Border Management

Border management has become immensely more complex over the years: It is now handled by the Assam Rifles, the Border Security Forces and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Border fencing in Punjab has produced positive results. Elsewhere, vested interests have come in the way of effective border management. The smuggling of narcotics, many portable arms and explosives, illegal migration and the infiltration of trained mercenaries have all exacerbated border management. Narcotics is dealt with by the Finance Ministry while other aspects are handled by the Home Ministry.

If the country is to acquire increased capabilities for area surveillance and electronic fencing, the present structure and procedures for border patrolling must be reviewed. The Committee is therefore of the view that the entire issue needs detailed study in order to evolve forces structures and procedures that ensure improved border management and reduction, if not the elimination, in the inflow of narcotics, illegal migrants, terrorists and arms.

Defence Budget and Modernisation

A number of experts have at various times suggested the need to enhance India's defence outlays as budgetary constraints have affected the process of modernisation and created certain operational voids. The Committee would not like to advocate any percentage share of GDP that should be assigned to Defence. This must be left to the Government to determine in consultation with the concerned department and the Defence Services.

Among aspects of modernisation to which priority should be given is that of equipping infantrymen with superior lightweight weapons, equipment and clothing suited to the threats they are required to face in Alpine conditions.

National Security Management and Apex Decision-Making

India is perhaps the only major democracy where the Armed Forces Headquarters are outside the apex governmental structure. The chiefs of staff have assumed the role of operational commanders of their respective forces rather than that of Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister. They simultaneously discharge the roles of operational commanders and national security planners/managers, especially in relation to future equipment and force postures. Most of their time, is however, devoted to the operational role, as is bound to happen. This has led to a number of negative results. Future-oriented long term planning suffers.

Army Headquarters has developed a command rather than a staff culture. Higher decisions on equipment, force levels and strategy are not collegiate but command-oriented. The Prime Minister and Defence Minister do not have the benefit of the views and expertise of the Army Commanders and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force so that higher level defence management decisions are more consensual and broadbased. The present obsolete system has perpetuated the continuation of the culture of the British Imperial theatre system of an India Command whereas what is required is a National Defence Headquarters.

Most opposition to change comes from inadequate knowledge of the national security decision-making process elsewhere in the world and a reluctance to change the status quo and move away from considerations of parochial interest. The status quo is often mistakenly defended as embodying civilian ascendency over the armed forces, which is not a real issued. In fact, locating the Services Headquarters in the Government will further enhance civilian supremacy.

Structural reforms could bring about a much closer and more constructive interaction between the Civil Government and the services. The Committee is of the view that the present obsolete system, bequeathed to India by Lord Ismay, merits re-examination. An effective and appropriate national security planning and decision-making structure for India in the nuclear age is overdue, taking account of the revolution in military affairs and threats of proxy war and terrorism and the imperative of modernising the Armed Forces.

An objective assessment of the last 52 years will show that the country is lucky to have scraped through various nations security threats without too much damage, except in 1962. The country can no longer afford such ad hoc functioning. The Committee therefore recommends that the entire gamut of national security management and apex decision-making and the structure and interface between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces headquarters be comprehensively studies and reorganised.

'The fallacy of showing the LOC as running northeast to the Karakoram Pass must be exposed'

The Kargil conflict

The Rediff Specials

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