Saturday 28 January 2023
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ViewsArticleOur Defence Grossly Unprepared

Our Defence Grossly Unprepared

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]o moan about equivalence and hyphenation between a large India and a smaller, truncated, Pakistan, is now a bit of a folly. The fact is, we are talking of an India on its own in 2016, the USSR being long gone. It is building bridges once more, under prime minister Narendra Modi, militarily speaking. There is a drawing closer to Japan, America and its NATO allies, and the European end of the erstwhile USSR-Russia. There is a move to blunt the Chinese antipathy, if not hostility, and even embark on a new era of cooperation and friendship.

As the fastest growing economy in the world, and a relative nation of calm in a troubled West Asian/South Asian theatre, India is, to many, worth preserving now. That may be why America has asked Pakistan to deliver on the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack, allegedly the JeM, thrice already in the few days since it happened. And this, and not India’s submissions, will likely yield results.

The Pakistani stance is intrinsically powerful too. It is still in lockstep with its ‘all weather friend’ China, and reasonably warm with another Chinese satellite, the hydrogen bombing and bizarre North Korea. It is said that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons scientist AQ Khan helped North Korea to go nuclear in the first place, probably with Chinese tacit support. Still, it makes quite a troika in strategic and military terms, and India has to look out warily at all of them.

What compounds Indian misery is the backward and inadequate state of its conventional military preparedness. The reach and stretch of its modest nuclear arsenal is also inferior to that of Pakistan. Strategic experts do not think India currently has the wherewithal to even win a short conventional war against Pakistan. This was the case in decades past, but not anymore. This is because our war equipment has grown antiquated compared to Pakistan’s, and there are huge gaps in the armour as well. We have no covert striking capacity of the hot pursuit variety either.

Against China right now, we don’t stand a chance, and against both combined, our only recourse would have to be help from abroad, just as it was, way back in 1962.

A question worth asking, though there are no easy answers, is why we are so ill-prepared at this juncture when our economy is so much bigger than it was in the early years after independence? And why our military does not have the armaments and equipment to a level of war preparedness, with two menacing neighbours on our borders. Are we reliant on the madness of mutual nuclear destruction alone to save the day? What will we do if our territory is overrun like it was in 1962?

Over the last decade, at least, our rivals have raced ahead, while we have neglected our conventional military, both in terms of budgets and purchases. The Indian Armed Forces are respected the world over only because of the excellence of their training, which shows up in every joint exercise. And very little has been accomplished in our attempts to build any of our defence requirements domestically, through the tardy and wasteful government monopolies. This is ironical, given that India happens to be the largest importer of military hardware in the world. No acquisition is ever processed on time, and most have been routinely kicked down the road as bureaucrats and politicians tried to avoid controversy.

Was this state of affairs created deliberately by a corrupt political class only interested in a defence purchase if the kickback was right? Or can we put it down to bureaucratese and plain political callousness? The truth, as has been pointed out recently after the Pathankot attack, is that the nation’s security is not a vote-catching proposition, and so the netas do not worry very much about it.

India does have a sizeable standing army, well-trained to cope with its inadequate resources, and so we carry on. But one commentator said, the way it is structured and operates has changed little from how Louis Mountbatten and Hastings Ismay it! But increasingly, this kind of mid-last-century security apparatus is unfit for modern external threats; it can only help in insurgencies, natural calamity relief and the like. But the Army playing nanny to the civilian state can hardly be called its fit function!

The Navy does not have enough ships, aircraft carriers, submarines, missiles or the protective air cover that accompanies all modern navies today. Far from being a blue-water navy, it can barely secure our coastline at present, a function usually to the Coast Guard.

We have just one refurbished aircraft carrier and need at least two more, and these, along with other ships and submarines, are now in some stage of interminable, indigenous production. Our submarine fleet is surviving somehow, meanwhile, on leased vessels from abroad.

The Air Force has near obsolete fighters from decades ago, perpetually going down in technical malfunction crashes during routine sorties, often killing their pilots in the process. There are an inadequate number of deployable squadrons due to such attrition. There is a paucity of spare parts for our ancient fighters, mostly from the erstwhile USSR, with modern Russia not too keen to service old Soviet commitments. Its bomber fleet and transport planes, its helicopters, and other aircraft are also old and depleted. An occasional acquisition or two, attempts to plug the most glaring gaps, in order to carry on, but the IAF is not nearly as well equipped as the PAF, let alone the Chinese Air Force, which makes a lot of its own aircraft, mostly from stolen designs or retro-manufactured, and has had the money to buy in the best.

Meanwhile, India is diversifying its sources and buying planes from the US and now France and possibly Sweden, too, in the near future. This, in addition to Russia, partly to go with its ‘Make in India’ initiative. But even so, right now, we are grossly ill-prepared.

The infantry too has old generation guns, hardly any protective gear, like bulletproof vests and other clothing, night vision equipment, drones, electronic surveillance equipment and so on. The Army is also suffering from a vastly depleted officer corps and inadequate replenishment. The armoured corps has old tanks, our indigenous effort being riddled with problems, and again, too few in number.

All these may just be examples, but the detailed picture is actually uniformly gloomy, too. Indeed, if it weren’t for the patriotism and dedication of the Indian Armed Forces, we would be sitting ducks for almost any modern military power with aggressive designs. But our soldiers have had to make a virtue out of necessity, and manage to make a little go a long way.

Otherwise, how could we have repulsed the invasion at Kargil, partially thanks to the Bofors guns? This field artillery was infamously procured in the Rajiv Gandhi administration of the eighties. Still, it is worth pondering how that engagement would have eventually played out if US President Bill Clinton hadn’t summoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Washington to give him his marching orders.

Some analysts feel that India has raced ahead of Pakistan economically precisely because it has absorbed very many terrorist attacks without expensive retaliation or war. But surely this is a cold consolation for the families of those martyred. And we refuse to develop an offensive capacity via commando raids and the like of our own.

As things stand, even a minimum level of deterrence in military preparedness and counter-terrorism is in danger of slipping away if we don’t execute all the new initiatives on the cards at the earliest.

india-china-pakistan-flagThe Modi government is indeed trying to stem the rot, and it is this that may redress the balance. Once we are better prepared, Pakistan may be forced to review its long-held ‘proxy war’ policy. Besides, having become a geopolitical pariah for its promotion of international terrorism against the West, Pakistan may be on the brink of being forced to change tack now. It is no longer crucial for the scaled back US presence in Afghanistan. Its creature, the Afghan Taliban meanwhile, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.

The global focus has, in fact, shifted towards the ISIS and West Asia. And, to some extent, even away from Pakistan’s terrorist ‘6th front’ of the LeT, the Pakistan Taliban, the JeM, and so forth. This, even though the possibility of their getting their hands on a Pakistani nuclear weapon is always an abiding worry. However, thanks to the oil prices crashing, Saudi Arabia is no longer able to support Pakistan with the kind of funds it once could; and this is true of any other of its erstwhile Arab friends, including Libya, no longer run by Gaddafi.

And China too is also in economic trouble, trying to stave off a severe recession.

So, it may indeed be time for the Pakistani establishment, the politicians, the Army, the ISI, and all its ‘non-state’ others, to close ranks, for their mutual survival.

Pakistan is not capable of waging even a proxy war without someone else footing the bill. That is how it has always been, given the rent-seeking and otherwise bankrupt economy of Pakistan. But, with both America and China increasingly going off the table for their own reasons, and even the Wahhabi Saudis unable to provide succour, a settlement on Kashmir, and peace with India, may start to look increasingly attractive.

And not least of all because the West is not willing to countenance any more violence against it on its own territory emanating from a ‘terrorist central’ located in Pakistan. They may not be able to dislodge the so-called ‘deep state’ so easily, but replacing an Army Chief or a Prime Minister with one or more amenable people is always possible for such hegemons. This point has, no doubt, been absorbed by both Nawaz and Raheel Sharif in the recent times.

When it came to the fandango, India and Pakistan on their own have never been able to resolve their differences. Others have let them have at it because it suited them. But now, because of the changed geopolitical situation, the lesser need to cater to Pakistan and the real threat of nuclear weapons going from a rogue state into the hands of terrorists, the determination of events must change to suit.

And so, a action between India and Pakistan, pushed hard by a number of world powers from the wings, is likely to see a favourable outcome, sooner rather than later. It will have the salutary effect of putting a lot of terrorists out of business, at least in the subcontinent, while ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity for SAARC, which includes Afghanistan. In time, SAARC could well include China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran, as observers, if not members, at first. The more, as they say, the merrier.

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Gautam Mukherjee
Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs


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