Brothers-in-arms

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The test-firing of the Agni-V intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) on April 19 was greeted with a heartening absence of official bluster in Pakistan. The matter-of-fact counter-launch a few days later of a medium-range Pakistani Hatf missile likewise generated no heat here. It was a wonderfully sober, low-key exchange of signals — India’s to Pakistan saying this IRBM should not concern you, and Pakistan saying, well, okay, but just in case, here’s a demonstration. That was that — no gripe, no fuss.

Maybe the subdued Pakistani response to Agni was on account of the unfortunate avalanche on the west side of the Saltoro Ridge earlier that buried alive Pakistan Army soldiers from the Northern Light Infantry, bringing home to a grief-stricken nation the human cost of the Siachen deployment. It triggered a wave of popular resentment against it. Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-(Nawaz) and Imran Khan of the Tehreek-e-Insaf Party called for unilateral withdrawal and hoped this gesture would be reciprocated by India. The mounting public pressure compelled the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, to talk of “peaceful coexistence” and the need to resolve all disputes in a peaceable manner.

What is fascinating to see is how, for the first time in recent memory, the space for public and political discourse and debate within Pakistan about the best way to deal with India was seized, and the lead in thinking given, by mainline political parties and civil society, and how much the Pakistan Army’s room for manoeuvre on even national security issues has shrunk. India should have reacted to the Siachen tragedy with prompt offers of material and expert help, and proposed an immediate meeting between Gen. Kayani and his Indian counterpart, Gen. V.K. Singh, to explore ideas the Pakistani COAS might have for resolving disputes and coexisting peacefully. India had nothing to lose.

When I said this on a television programme featuring two Pakistanis — former foreign minister Gohar Ayub Khan and retired Maj. Gen.  Rashid Qureshi — a former ambassador to Afghanistan Vivek Katju pointed out that because the Indian Army does not enjoy the same exalted position its opposite number does in Pakistan, it would be an interaction between unequals. What he, and the Indian government,  fail to appreciate is that regular meetings between the two Army Chiefs will advance the rapprochement process and put the stamp of approval of General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, on a peace dynamic created by warming economic and trade ties.

In the context of the Indian government once again whining about Washington not arm-twisting Islamabad enough to contain terrorist Hafiz Saeed and the Pakistani Lashkars to the visiting US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, making a case for restoring links between the armies of the two countries with shared regimental histories and background would appear to be quixotic. However, as I had argued in a research paper published 16 years ago, in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs in London, it is the soundest basis for confidence and security-building in the subcontinent. When Mr Gohar Ayub Khan referred to the strong “sentiment” of the shared past in the two armies, Mr Katju cut him short; negotiations, he harrumphed, cannot be on the basis of sentiment. Actually, between states that together once formed a whole, cultural ties, sentiment and fellow-feeling are exactly the right foundation to build a close relationship on — a line Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, perhaps, instinctively understands but lacks the political heft to push.

In India-Pakistan relations, among the low hanging fruit are military-to-military links forged by such things as joint sports meets, visits by officers to parent regiments and, dare I mention, seats allotted to Pakistan Army officers at the National Defence College in Delhi. Except, the Indian government’s atrocious treatment of Pakistani military attachés negates this possibility. We talk of “military diplomacy” but have failed since 1947 to do the obvious thing of cultivating Pakistan’s defence, air and naval advisers posted here — brigadiers, naval captains, and Air Force group captains headed for higher rank. Treating these officers well, according them courtesies beyond those enjoyed by big power defence attachés, making them feel special costs us nothing and the benefits are substantial. A growing group of such military professionals in Islamabad, with pleasant memories of their stay in India, will begin to temper the Pakistan Army and the government’s attitude.

Instead, the pettiness and small-mindedness encountered by Pakistani military-men posted to their high commission in Delhi is so sustained and unrelenting, it is a wonder more of them arriving here a little wary don’t turn bitter on the spot. That Indian defence attachés are similarly mistreated is no excuse. Once official India’s behaviour towards the Pakistani officers becomes less cussed, the situation of our representatives in the Islamabad high commission will automatically improve. Rather than dealing with them as honoured guests, however, they are subjected to indignities. They are not invited to any Indian military functions, invitations to passing-out parades at our various military academies are tardy, requests for meetings with Service Chiefs of Staff and their principal staff officers are rarely entertained, and they are not allowed to travel outside Delhi without permission, or even permitted to play golf in Gurgaon. This is entirely counter-productive behaviour.

Imagine the positive fallout from, say, encouraging the Pakistani defence attachés to observe our “integrated” military exercises, such as Operation Shoorveer now underway in the Punjab plains. It will help them experience at close quarters military formations being marshalled effectively by Indian commanders and to realistically compare their country’s capabilities and stamina with India’s. What’s there to be so secretive about? What new stuff could they possibly learn about our military that they don’t already know, or that departs hugely from how the Pakistani armed forces themselves practise fighting wars? It is amusing to recall, on this subject, what the late Israeli general, Moshe Dayan, said about the Indian and Pakistani armies. “They fight by the book,” he said, and, after a pause, with perfect comic timing, added, “the same book”.

[Published on May 10, 2012 in the Asian Age at www.asianage.com/columnists/brothers-in-arms-466 and in the Deccan Chronicle at www.deccanchronicle.com/columnists/bharat-karnad/brothers-in-arms ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Geopolitics, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Internal Security, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Brothers-in-arms

  1. vihan says:

    Regarding any Indo-Pak overture I must mention one important thing which is -that the covert action capability of the R&AW must be restored and kept ready despite all the pleasantries and future improvement.

    • Of course, that’s an imperative. It is much depleted, I am afraid, since IK Gujral’s time as PM in the mid-90s when RAW was asked to cease and desist ops in Pakistan, making India lose a generation’s worth of carefully cultivated assets, which are hard to recover.

      • Covert capabilities of RAW must be restored and increased.It is humiliating on the part of India with its stature to look up to US to assist in bringing Mumbai culprits to justice.All the terrorists directly threatening India, must be eliminated in Pakistani soil itself.We have traveled a long way by now from the time when we were concerned with Mao’s facial expressions.

      • vihan says:

        Indeed. What is more tragic is that few in government have understood it, and most have misunderstood it, interpreting it to be a political tool to pressure the opposition. At least 2 former R&AW chiefs have also opposed its restoration for reasons I can’t fathom. As matters relating to intelligence are always taboo, little public discussion of it happens except for a few enlightened former officers who raise the moot points in public in a way which does not compromise anything.

      • Ravi says:

        Labeling a missile as an IRBM, and, stating that a missile possessing a much longer range than an IRBM (a fact in the case of A-5) but was tested at IRBM range are two completely different and orthhogonal issues. A-5 was tested at an IRBM range not because it couldn’t go further, but certain Quislings decided it was not in their interest to exceed IRBM range.

  2. Joydeep Ghosh says:

    @Bharat sir

    While I agree with what you have said about the military attachés but to think that areas won in Siachen battle field north of NJ 9842 after 1984 at the root of dispute should be solved even at cost of moral, strategic loss for some political brawnie points will be a real harakiri by India.

    Though i believe its important to get a settlement as maintaining ‘000 of troops on the icy heights is not only cost prohibitive but also imperils soldiers life.

    Also whatever the proposal we must remember Pakistan is at a huge advantage operating out of Dansum, the staging point for their half of Siachen. Its an area which India should have gained control long back in 1984 itself. Staging its troops from this area Pakistan can easily walk back to the claimed areas in Siachen with ease whereas India will have to work hard tooth & nail to regain positions anywhere near Saltoro ridgeline owing to the geographical advantage.

    It must be remembered that India has had to spend huge money to maintain troops at much higher Saltoro ridgeline just to keep eye on movements out of Dansum. We must not forget that Pakistan despite agreements that say border will extend ‘north of NJ9842’ says it is ‘northest of NJ9842’. If ‘northest of NJ9842’ is given a thought we will know that Pakistan actually wants to link up with China from that position, and as such some reports say wants China to be included in talks for Siachen.

    If Pakistan really wants to demilitarize/withdraw troops, then it should do it from the entire Skardu valley, the hub for Siachen ops as well as Kargil ops as well as Haji Pir Pass, the staging point for miltants. We must not forget that we believed in Pakistan and Kargil happened, and we had to spend billions of dollars and lose countless lives such as those of Sourabh Kalia and Vikram Batra to get back those heights.

    India cant afford to allow Pakistan to maintain troops in these 2 areas other there is a big chance that Pakistan will try for multiple Kargil type ops once the dust/euphoria settles down.

    Thanks

    Joydeep Ghosh

    • Can’t argue with you re: Siachen. But my piece did not say anything about compromising on it. Its main point was that we should hear out Kayani and to contemplate the benefits from COAS-to-COAS meetings. India’s grand strategic aim has to be to distance Pakistan from China and, as part of this strategy, the value of keeping the two countries physically appart by denying them potential linkup via Siachen to Karakorum is indisputable.

  3. Jagdish says:

    What was the TV channel/show mentioned?

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