Marginalizing the army

It is a mystery why we don’t imitate the Chinese: act nice, talk peace, trade and  challenge China when it steps on our toes

Gen. Bikram Singh, Chief of the Army Staff, is bringing in as his Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) colleagues from his time at the Eastern Command in Kolkata, and others who have served with and under him. This is normal and reasonable practice because a COAS is ultimately judged by what he accomplishes, and who best to advise him and implement his agenda than the people he has confidence in.

Gen. Bikram Singh’s tenure began under a cloud — the Army he leads is divided over whether or not he deserves his post and how much favouritism, stratagem and intrigue by his predecessors, Gen. J.J. Singh and Gen. Deepak Kapoor, and a complicit government, played a part in his elevation. The controversy surrounding his appointment because of their alleged “plan of succession” is history, but the bad blood it may have created should not lead to the discarding of the good schemes former Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh initiated, the most notable being the Army’s China thrust. Gen. Bikram Singh would be well advised to push that slant as well. It is a particularly awful habit the Armed Services have fallen into, of allowing every new Chief of Staff to inaugurate and nurse his own pet projects. Whatever Gen. Bikram Singh’s take on his predecessor’s focus, unfortunately, the desperately needed China tilt is already endangered.  With the government instructing the three service chiefs to come up with a “joint plan” to deal with the China threat, the concept of the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) is possibly being readied for burial.

While a joint military plan to counter China militarily is an imperative, shelving the embryonic idea of a Mountain Strike Corps does not make any sense unless that old sentiment from Jawaharlal Nehru’s days is returning, this time dressed up by the China Study Group (CSG) as a pragmatic posture. Since the 1970s, the CSG has been the fount of advice resulting in pusillanimous actions and policies related to our northern neighbour. And it is now proposing that India and China rise peacefully together. Admirable outlook, except we better also have a strike capability to hit back in case they pick a fight.

It is a mystery why we don’t imitate the Chinese — act nice, talk peace, trade as much as the traffic can bear, build up the military for offensive action and challenge China when it steps on our toes. If the overarching concern with not provoking China — India’s main threat, economic competitor, geopolitical rival and military adversary — is to take precedence over acquiring strike forces, then we might as well mentally prepare ourselves for a pummelling.

An Army capability to attack Chinese targets within Tibet has been sorely missing from the start. As envisaged, the MSC comprises several brigades, each able, after being detached from the main force, of mounting independent offensive action across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Tibetan plateau, a capability required to keep the massed Chinese group armies honest. These brigades are conceived as having integral logistics, heli-lift and attack helicopters under their command. Some nine Indian Army divisions are at present arrayed defensively in the eastern sector, and one and half divisions each in the northern and central sectors with an armoured brigade as a divisional component in both cases (to debouch from the Demchok Triangle and the northern Sikkim plains respectively). These two brigades worth of T-72 tanks divided between the central and northern sectors is a daunting mobile military force and it may be tested soon. The pre-positioned stock of shells for the tank guns in those areas cannot last more than a couple of days and recent military field intelligence suggests that the Chinese may be concentrating on an incursion into northeastern Sikkim in the next few months. If logistics support is strengthened, and to this mix is added the independently-operable brigades with T-90 tanks aided by the full aviation complement of the MSC for deployment anywhere along the 4,700 km border and able to affect a breach or two for meaningful ingress into Tibet, then the People’s Liberation Army of China will have reason to sweat a bit.

Is such an option to be left to the mercy of a military talk-shop? One thing is certain, had Gen. Bikram Singh stood firmly behind the MSC concept, it is unlikely the defence ministry, even less the finance ministry, would have written finis to it. A.K. Antony’s defence ministry is, like the rest of the Manmohan Singh caboodle, known for indecision and inaction. That finance ministry has suddenly asserted its fiduciary responsibility and questioned investment in the MSC based on its belief that China poses no threat and that even if it does the threat won’t last long into the future, is laughable.

Could it be that Gen.  Bikram Singh is influenced by one of his benefactors, Gen. J.J. Singh who, as governor of Arunachal Pradesh, put out that the Indian Army needs to concentrate its efforts on the western front, while the government goes about cultivating China’s friendship? Gen. J.J. Singh, rather than ensuring that the road and other infrastructure projects are speeded up on the border east of the Kameng sector where Army forward posts are still serviced by mule packs, is busy shooting off his mouth. It is the sort of unenlightened advice that needs to be trashed publicly, except, tragically, it seems to be in sync with this government’s thinking.

As it is, the Manmohan Singh regime has tried to marginalise the Army by making the Navy and the Air Force the main elements in tackling the Chinese threat. In war, the Navy should interdict China’s energy and trade traffic transiting the Indian Ocean. But in short, intense conflicts, when territory will be at stake, naval actions cannot replace a land attack option, which will be at a premium for a riposte for immediate effect. In this context, jettisoning the MSC is to not take the fight to the Chinese. Gen. Bikram Singh would be responsible for ditching a potential capability that any self-respecting Army would want to have.

[Published as "Delhi is in a China daze, again. Beware!" on August 30, 2012 in the 'Asian Age' at www.asianage.com/columnists/delhi-china-daze-again-beware-869 and in the 'Deccan Chronicle' at www.deccanchronicle.com/columnists/bharat-karnad/delhi-china-daze-again-beware ]

This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Pakistan, Pakistan military. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Marginalizing the army

  1. Kfir says:

    In all probability Bikram Singh will spend most of his tenure paying off “political debts” incurred in his appointment of COAS. He joins the ranks of a long lineage of brilliant, honest, and competent Indian military top brass glorified by the likes of Kaul, Thapar, Sikand, JJ, Vij, and Kapoor.

    The tri-services plan for a MSC is brilliant. I’m sure the Indians plan to air drop a few missile frigates into Lake Manasarover. To the uninitiated, it’s a secret MMS/SG /RG strategy to extend Nehru’s glowingly successful “Forward Policy”. All the pieces on the Chess board (mountain divisions, supplies, equipment, artillery, infrastructure, air supremacy, etc.) are in order , and damned be to silly ideas like Operation Chequerboard.

    Leaving sarcasm aside, a thrust into Northern and North Eastern Sikkim and Nathu La is indeed a plausible opening gambit.

      • Kfir says:

        Sq. Ldr. Brij Pal Singh Sikand virtually gifted away his intact Gnat to the PAF after panic landing in Pasrur in 1965, despite having had time to destroy it. This intact IAF Gnat IE 1083 takes the place of pride in the PAF museum in Karachi. Instead of being court marshaled and dismissed from the IAF, Sikand was retained and eventually became an Air Marshal “winning” an AVSM in the process. His proximity to a certain politician in the INC is well known.

  2. Kfir says:

    Pakistan has been ruined by its psychopathic infatuation with India. Similarly, the infatuation of Indian military planners of re-fighting WW-II on India’s western borders will lead to a repeat of 1962 and perhaps an eventual disintegration of the Indian State.

    The agenda of Gen. Mullick (of 1962 infamy) is obvious as are the identities of his paymasters, or his “good friends” as he is quoted as referring to them in an article by AVM Tiwari on the non-use of air power in 1962:

    http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/no-use-of-combat-air-power-in-1962/

    The degree of penetration of Mullick’s “good friends” into the current Indian power structure is not only significant, but disturbing. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether there is a critical mass of persons currently in place with a mandate to pursue Mullick’s agenda.

    Friendship and cooperation with the PRC is critical to India. However, the train of events which led to the tragedy of 1962 is disturbingly similar to the current situation in India as brilliantly highlighted by Karnad.

    • Kfir says:

      Correction: B. N. Mullick was never a general as mistakenly stated in the above post. Thus, the above post should read as:

      “Pakistan has been ruined by its psychopathic infatuation with India. Similarly, the infatuation of Indian military planners of re-fighting WW-II on India’s western borders will lead to a repeat of 1962 and perhaps an eventual disintegration of the Indian State.

      The agenda of B. N. Mullick (of 1962 infamy) is obvious as are the identities of his paymasters, or his “good friends” as he is quoted as referring to them in an article by AVM Tiwary on the non-use of air power in 1962:

      http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/no-use-of-combat-air-power-in-1962/

      The degree of penetration of Mullick’s “good friends” into the current Indian power structure is not only significant, but disturbing. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether there is a critical mass of persons currently in place with a mandate to pursue Mullick’s agenda.

      Friendship and cooperation with the PRC is critical to India. However, the train of events which led to the tragedy of 1962 is disturbingly similar to the current situation in India as brilliantly highlighted by Karnad.”

  3. Anjan says:

    Bharat Karnad, Sir,
    In the past there has been sporadic mention in the media about CIA moles in the PMO. But those news never got further.
    Is there any record or statistics to suggest how far the western intelligence have penetrated India ….. or is the Govt. of India serious to find out the traitors within, in the corridor of power …?

    • John Kenneth Galbraith, Kennedy’s ambassador to india, wrote in his memoirs (Ambassador’s Journal) that the most sensitive GOI secrets were divulged at high levels for a bottle of Scotch. That was the 1960s. Today it is, I’m sure, deposits in offshore accounts, “scholarships” from Ivy League schools for “brilliant”progeny, and Green Cards. But yes, GOI is pretty deeply penetrated. And, no, the system cannot go after the wrong-doers for the obvious reasons.

      • Anjan says:

        Is not the time ripe for our Army to act, because they are, by oath, obligated to protect the nation from the enemies, within and without …… ?
        Regards,

      • Kfir says:

        Apart from the ones who have been recruited, there is another bunch of deluded and mentally sold out clowns who carry out their activities in the hope that they will be recruited.

  4. Kfir says:

    My dear @Anjan, the innocence (or naivety) reflected in your statement “…by oath, obligated to protect the nation from the enemies, within and without….”, is both touching and alarming. No disrespect meant.

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