The veterans simply do not articulate their views on national security. But if they did, this is what they would speak about

by Alok Asthana

Ghazala Wahab has rightly reminded the veterans of India that their relationship with the Army must not end with entitlements of personal nature – like the Canteen Stores Department (CSD) and One Rank One Pension (OROP) – but should extend to them becoming conscience keepers of the Army they so profess to love.

The veterans simply do not articulate their views on national security, particularly on contentious issues. Though it cannot be proved through data, this is mostly the result of surviving long careers by not speaking up and not objecting to anything. Career consciousness is a reality in all jobs but in the Army, the pyramid structure ensures that every red mark matters.

However, veterans do know exactly what is going wrong. Here is what is going wrong.

‘Tour of Duty’ Project

The project envisages youngsters being given a year’s training and then being commissioned for three years of service, which is non-pensionable. As a pilot project, it is a good idea.

However, it is feared that the results will not be seen objectively. They will be managed to suit political masters. One thing is already proven – the Army can no longer justify training anyone for more than one year. If those recruited through the Tour of Duty (ToD) are expected to deliver after one year’s training, why shouldn’t others?

At present, entry into the National Defence Academy means four years of training – and then, you take up the same responsibilities as the ToD youngsters will after one year. All of them will undoubtedly be used in combat arms.

On the other hand, several ex-NDA entries will, after four-year training, join non-combat services, where the daily workload is not one that calls for experience in riding a horses or boxing. It’ll be ridiculous to have youngsters with one-year service leading platoons, while those with four years arrange sacks of logistics!

How an officer turns out after the first three years depends on how he is handled in these first three years. The length of pre-commission training has absolutely nothing to do with delivering in battle or command, after the formative initial three years.

Had that been the case, the Army would have provided some career benefits to ex-NDAs over others who take up the same job with much less training and expenditure. That is not the case and rightly so.

The Army need simply not train anyone for more than a year. As for jobs in the services like ASC and AOC, six months will do.

With this system, the brightest youngsters India has, will be in the Army through the ToD route and use the certificate to move into the civil sector, which will gladly pay for what the Army refuses to. Only those who know that the civil sector may not hire them even after the ToD certificate will opt for permanent commission. With that, our Army will be of those who know they were not good enough in the competitive world of the civil sector. This is already happening, but the problem will be further accentuated.

I am sad that the Army has decided to go in for the cheapest labour available rather than improve career prospects so that these so-called ‘patriotic’ youngsters serve for life. But since the Army is hellbent on following the political diktat, there is really no point labouring this issue.

Excessive Casualties In J&K

There is no doubt that the Army suffers excessive casualties in J&K, particularly at the level of commanding officers. The martyrdom of Col. Ashutosh Sharma is what caused Ghazala to write that piece.

Unfortunately, several veterans have gone public with defending whatever happened in this case.

They approach the topic from the safe stand-point of ‘Isn’t it the job of an army leader to lead from the front? Shouldn’t we be proud of it?’ That’s a good example of the Strawman technique wherein a weak argument is falsely created on purpose, demolished with ease and then success claimed.

Of course, leaders should lead. But should they lead four-man teams? I note with concern that COs are dying in engagements where our side has the initiative i.e. the terrorist is cowering and we can choose the time and place of the attack. I know of just one case where the CO got involved in a fire fight because he had no option. This is when Col. NJC Nair, CO 16 Maratha, Kirti Chakra, laid down his life in 1993 in repulsing an ambush and earned the Ashok Chakra.

It is not for nothing that the authorised personal arm of a CO is a pistol and not an AK 47. I know of a CO who went into a full attack with just his swagger stick. Yes, he has the responsibility to influence battle, but the teaching is that he does so by employment of reserves.

The point here is – should COs be leading small teams, completely out of communication with the unit, in order to ferret out terrorists? The answer is a resounding no.

Why are COs doing so? Is that the SOP? If not, what is being done to ensure compliance of SOPs? If the events are any different than what is repeatedly coming out in the press, then the Army has a duty to rebut it – with facts and some evidence, which it never does.

If one or two terrorists (essentially civilians with a few days of training) are able to inflict such casualties on thorough professionals with 15-25 years of specialist training – something is surely wrong. The earlier we do something about it, the more lives we save.

Our training and equipment is pretty bad. We’re investing too little in it. Also, we are too liberal with our casualties. These will definitely reduce if more questions were asked by the parents of the martyrs, or better still, those of the fauzis still alive.

The veterans asking them will not change anything. We have lost the leverage.

ROI of Indian Armed Forces

At the apex of all issues lies this poser – why such poor return on investment (ROI) from armed forces that take up such a large part of the national budget?

The best ROI of any armed forces is not to win wars; wars cost too much money. The best ROI is to prevent wars, so that the national resources can be used for prosperity. The second-best ROI is to win wars decisively, such that the scale of victory and annihilation of the aggressor works as a deterrent for others.

It is clear to all that Indian Armed Forces have failed in being a deterrent of any type. Not only nations, even small-time insurgency groups are not scared of taking on the might of the Indian Army. What we call terrorist attacks in J&K are not what terrorist attacks are supposed to mean i.e. terrorising unarmed civilians. These are daring attacks on the best that the Army has to offer – some well inside fortifications. Even small teams are taking on the Army. We have never been able to inflict a heavy price on aggressors.

Earlier, the enemy was always attacked back with all the might the armed forces had – even if not very successfully. But now even that is not happening. After our strike at Balakot, Pakistan Air Force attacked the Indian mainland openly in daytime on February 27, 2019. They attacked, lost some and took some and went back. There was no response by India thereafter, much less massive retaliation for extracting severe penalties for the daring.

This is a new development – in the Modi era. Who will take Indian Armed Forces seriously?

Yes, our young officers have delivered well, but at a very high cost. And they have had to do since many others refused to do their bit. All that Indian Armed Forces have achieved in 72 years is that India has not lost to Pakistan – a country one-fourth its size, and with numerous problems. Is that good enough for such a heavy investment of money and lives?

There is, however, no doubt that the veterans must get their act together and speak up. However, while we are ‘guilty, as charged’, there are some mitigating circumstances that may help reduce the sentence. Most veterans are quiet because they can see that the damage is already too heavy and deep. The creation of the department of Military Affairs, meanwhile, has been a masterstroke.

Now, there is no need to get the defence ministry involved. All that is required is a nudge to the Chief of Defence Staff. The Chiefs are wrongly projecting that orders of CDS cannot be refused. The CDS is merely the secretary of the Department of Military Affairs. The commander of all Chiefs is still the defence minister.

The CDS has authority only in matters of jointsmanship, not in deciding how armed forces must choose to respond. However, when it comes to the COVID-19 issue, the chiefs have taken the easy way out and have abdicated their command.