Civil-military divide in India and impact on Pakistan
On January 15, 2012, the Army Day celebrations in India ended. The next day, Army Chief General VK Singh approached the Indian Supreme Court on the issue of his date of birth. While it was unprecedented for an Indian Army chief to move the SC, the developments several hours later were indicative of a growing schism between the civilian government and the military.
It was reported that on the night of January 16, a mechanised infantry unit, part of the 33rd Armoured Division, First Strike Corps, based in Hisar, Haryana, had started moving in the direction of New Delhi. The unit was equipped with Russian-made armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) that were being carried on 48 tank transporters.
Then came reports that from the other side, a large number of troops from the airborne 50 Para Brigade based at Agra had also started moving towards the Indian capital.
In both cases, however, the Indian Ministry of Defence had not been notified. This created panic in the capital and Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, who was in Malaysia, immediately returned. He called Lt Gen AK Chaudhry, Director General Military Operations, to explain the unauthorized movements. The DGMO told the government officials the army was testing its ability to make quick deployments during fog. On orders from the defence minister, the two units, one temporarily stationed near west Delhi and the other near Palam, were immediately sent back.
Nevertheless, the Indian government was not fully convinced in the wake of the explanation given by the army and there were questions why the concerned ministry was not notified though there were protocols about it. Also, the Indian Air Force was kept in the dark while the troops covered long distances towards New Delhi.
On the other hand, the Indian Army insisted that they had moved the troops towards New Delhi since Pakistan in the east was not notified. It said the Paras were moved so that their coordination with Indian Air Force C-130s could be checked. However, the newly-acquired C-130s were far away and not at the concerned airbase while the Indian Air Force did not know anything about the exercise.
Importantly, this incident and several others involving the incumbent Indian army chief clearly show that the civil-military relations in India are tense and there is a marked lack of trust in each other. It also raises serious questions about the management of the military by the civilians. The Indian military thinks that the civilian governments are slow to respond to their genuine demands for purchase of weapon systems and armaments. Requests take decades to be materialized and by that time the equipment procured becomes outdated and obsolete. This situation is alarming for the top military brass. The Indian military is convinced the country faces serious threats from abroad while it feels the civilian government is not responsive towards its requirements. According to one report, “defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than being based on carefully prioritised long-term plans that are designed to systematically enhance India’s combat potential”.
The top Indian military hierarchy is beholden to the idea that they should have a greater say in formulating the national security doctrine. Senior military officials are of the opinion that after spending decades in uniform and doing advanced courses in staff and war colleges, their input into the national security doctrine is largely ignored while bureaucrats and politicians decide how to run military affairs. The essential belief among the top military brass seems to be that the existing national security management system cannot deliver while they resent the institutionalised control by civilians over the military in India.
For Pakistan, there are several serious implications of the civil-military divide in India. If we consider the fact that the Indian army units were moved by the top brass intentionally and the thought was to give a message to the civilian government, the possibility that the Indian top brass could unilaterally decide and take some unwarranted step on the Pakistan border cannot be ignored. As such, an international incident could be used to justify certain agendas not linked to the Indian government’s official policy towards Islamabad. While chances of such an event seem to be remote, it cannot be totally overlooked.
On the other hand, the letter written by the Indian army chief to the prime minister about the state of affairs was telling in several respects. According to the letter, India’s tanks lacked shells to fire, its air defences were out of date and its forces short of weapons and the army was unfit to fight a war. For Pakistan, and also for China, the communication about India’s war preparedness is revealing and will help the two countries to work out new strategy in the battlefield.