Date: 21/09/2013

Leave it to the troops to ensure the sanctity of the Line of Control, and it will deliver. It's time the mocking shouts from across the border about getting orders from Delhi are silenced forever.

Every time the men who rule India find themselves under attack militarily, the Union Minister for Defence rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of various scandals to assure Parliament that ‘if and when’ the country is threatened, the Armed Forces will give the enemy a fitting reply. This is invariably greeted with the thumping of desks and the Opposition, having made the requisite amount of noise, withdraws.

This is a travesty, for the ‘if and when’ happened a long time ago and the thumping of desks in Parliament is no substitute for military action. Words of bravado cannot ensure a nation’s security. When our soldiers get beheaded or our patrols get ambushed well within our own territory, only then do we momentarily accept that something is seriously wrong with our existing system. However, in a nation where scandals have dulled sensitivities, the real issues are rarely addressed.

Armies are like an insurance policy. The money spent on them is the premium a nation pays. And smart countries ensure that the resources are optimised and their Armies are sharply-honed instruments that can not only defend the country but, also, render massive retribution if someone else steps over the line. Accordingly, each country has its own ‘command and control’ methods that nurture these forces. One thing, however, is common and is guarded with great zeal — the ‘institutional integrity’ of their fighting Forces.

Since Independence, the Indian leadership has been terrified of its Armed Forces. That Jawaharlal Nehru was apprehensive of a military takeover is no great secret; as was Indira Gandhi who eyed Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Lieutenant General PS Bhagat and General SK Sinha with suspicion even at the height of her post-1971 popularity.

Playing on this insecurity, the bureaucratic establishment has created a web of ‘babudom’ to ensure that it effectively calls the shots.

In the last 65 years, India has developed one of the most lopsided civil-military ‘command and control’ structures anywhere in the world. The wheel turned a full circle with the virtual sacking of an Army Chief who was sent home without even a retirement order by the UPA Government because he wasn’t playing by the rules that were designed to weaken and destroy the fighting capabilities of the force he commanded. The message to the Armed Forces’ officers is clear — mess with us and we’ll sort you out; if you are well-behaved, you might get sent as Governors or Ambassadors in your twilight years.

The system has ensured that the Armed Forces’ senior leadership is not only subservient to the bureaucracy, but even decisions best taken on the ground by local commanders are constantly referred to higher-ups. This action-paralysis has all but ensured that the moral ascendancy on the Line of Control is today with the Pakistani Army, something which will only encourage them to strike again and again. A series of amazing blunders, the latest helping shift the blame from the Pakistani Army to terrorists, has made us the laughing stock of the entire world.

The babus have also dismantled the Technical Services Division, set up after the Mumbai terror attacks by the Army to develop covert capability. Once earlier, in a burst of sentimental woolly-headedness, former Prime Minister IK Gujral had defanged the Research & Analysis Wing and other Intelligence agencies by dismantling their covert ability against Pakistan. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s amazing faux pas in Sharm-el-Sheikh, these agencies could never quite develop teeth again.

The Line of Control has a peculiar dynamics of its own. Every minute, the security of the country boils down to individual battalions and company commanders — young captains and majors — who must marshal everything at their disposal to dominate the enemy who in turn is looking for the slightest of chinks to strike. Eventually, regardless of the Army’s size, it is a handful of men — perhaps a section of 10 or less — who will take the brunt of any enemy probe.

And when the probe comes, the commander on the ground must have the confidence and the knowledge that whatever he does will be backed to the hilt by his entire nation’s resources. Let us not fool ourselves. The attacks will come with greater regularity as the Americans prepare to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014.

Both China and Pakistan are going to test our willingness to fight. The troops and the young leadership of the Army — uncorrupted at that level with the trappings of senior ranks — have proved that they are among the best in the world. Leave it to them to ensure the sanctity of the LoC, and they will deliver. It is time the mocking shouts from across the border about getting orders from Delhi are silenced forever.