Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Army’s Subculture in the Coming Decade


A decade is long enough to leave an imprint of change on any institution, including those generally regarded as conservative, such as the army. While informed commentary is plenty on the operational and technological environment, there is little on the cultural aspect. This article dwells on the challenges and likely changes in the Indian Army’s subculture as it navigates the coming decade.

The changes in equipment profile through impending acquisitions, organisational expansion in terms of inducting a mountain strike corps, technological absorption of net centricity, and doctrinal innovation reflected in the army’s doctrine, would all no doubt continue in the coming decade. The problems that remain would continue to attract attention, such as assimilating the impact of nuclearisation on warfighting; furthering jointness; competing for bureaucratic space, etc. However, despite the importance of these issues, the major change would instead be in the sphere of military subculture.

Even as the military as a social entity has witnessed considerable change since liberalisation, such as induction of women officers into the army, it has retained its distinct identity. But this is likely to come under assault from changes occurring within society which are predicted to speed up considerably over the coming decade. The conclusion therefore is that the army would do well to be forewarned and therefore proactive, instead of being defensive and buffeted by these changes.

The Army’s record of coping with change has been impressive so far. Each of the preceding decades since Independence has left a mark. The fifties witnessed the development of the remarkable apolitical character of the Army, for which General Cariappa was retrospectively elevated to Field Marshal. To the sixties can be dated the Army’s professionalism. This flowed from the army’s expansion, particularly in emergency commission into the officer cadre, the passing on by decade end of the reins of the army to IMA-commissioned officers, and the learning experience of a loss and a draw in two wars. These changes resulted in the triumph of 1971, but which in its wake left the remainder of the decade look like a jaded anticlimax. The transformation through the eighties has been possibly the greatest change in a single decade. The main features were mechanisation and, secondly, a greater willingness to use force, be it conventionally in Siachen, subconventionally in Punjab, in out-of-area operations in Sri Lanka, or in exercises such as Digvijay and Brasstacks. In the nineties, the army was only ‘officially at peace’, to quote a Chief of the period, and by decade end had fought what may yet turn out as the first limited war of the nuclear era. Coming to terms early with the changed context, the first decade of this millennium has been one of doctrinal and organisational adaptation.

The coming decade bears comparison with the sixties and eighties; decades that saw expansion in the midst of social change. Lessons from the responses in both instances may prove useful. Traditional military anticipation, caution and preparation should help meet the challenge of the onrushing decade.
The changing social landscape will impact the army. The most significant aspect is that the promise of liberalisation has ensured high economic growth. This has been transformational for India, evident from changes in entrepreneurial energy, political concerns, aspirations, and shifts in the urban and rural landscape, youth attitudes and social mores. India is looking to leverage the demographic dividend of its youthful profile to gain great power status over the decade.

The army has been responsive to these developments. It has taken steps such as catering to higher aspirations by implementing the A.V. Singh committee proposals and insisting on a fair pay commission package for its members and veterans. With higher budgets, its cantonments have the look of modern townships and there are additional married quarters. The format for interaction with the soldiery has changed over the last decade. It is more attuned to self-esteem needs, reflected in institutes such as NCO Clubs, Sainik Institutes and conduct of functions like Sainik Sammelans and Barakhanas. Thinking on how to manage the marital relationships better is ongoing, particularly with the profile of the Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA) coming under judicial scrutiny over the last decade.

The direction of the future is in moving from authoritarian to a democratic leadership model; privileging and respecting specialisation; preserving institutionalism in the face of an expanding occupational ethic; and remaining in sync with changes in society. Some areas that require intervention are highlighted here.

Firstly, societal queries about the ‘peace dividend’ are likely to arise. Even as the region is currently unstable, it is possible that with increasing prosperity society would move towards a ‘war less’ one as obtains in developed states. And it would not like to put its economic gains at military risk. The long awaited ‘trickle down’ effect may catch on, plateauing out India’s insurgencies. With the precedent set by Op Green Hunt of increased reliance on central police forces for internal problems, the military would be able to concentrate on its core functions. The manner in which the border is currently being held is also likely to end. The implications for the army are that it would be nudged from ‘war readiness’ to a ‘war deterrent’ state. This would mean downsizing, increasing manpower efficiencies, higher per capita manpower costs, a ‘capability’ as opposed to a ‘threat’ based force, and a shift in the internal balance away from the infantry and armoured corps.

Secondly, recruitment could prove a site for competition, particularly given increasing self-selection to the soldier’s occupation by hitherto under-represented regions and communities. Increasing revenue budgets imply greater transfers through the pay cheque into local economies. The army would need technology savvy manpower, perhaps from urban centres. The regimental system may get a rethink. Communities traditionally providing manpower may not continue to be the source of recruitment. The controversy over the Sachar Committee’s query on army recruiting figures of Muslims prefigures a possible future. Instead of affirmative action, information strategies bringing the army as an employment opportunity to such sections is desirable.

Thirdly, increasing representation of women in the officer corps, to handle technology intensive armament and management functions would heighten quality. Their average qualifications are of a higher threshold than those of male candidate applicants. The jobs that they can tenant in the future army are many. This implies that the glass ceiling may be pushed upwards, as elsewhere in all modern armies. The present restriction of fourteen years service, based as it is on the army’s ambivalence on whether a woman officer should tenant command appointments as colonels, would require review. This aspect would clash with the army’s intended switch to an officer profile in which the NDA officer is in for the long haul, while the short service commission would exit at mid-career level.

Universally, armies have a conservative social orientation. In this perspective, ferment in society is seen negatively, reinforcing a tendency for preserving the martial space from intrusion from without. Insularity has its underside. The antidote is openness. The army trying to hull-down as an anachronistic island of social conservatism would render it susceptible to political forces that similarly look askance at change. Also, the privilege system may require review in light of better emoluments. Lifestyle changes that do not rely on soldiery furnishing officer privileges need to be instituted, top-down. The suggested parameter for non-operational tasks is that manpower be employed only for tasks in which the benefit directly accrues to them. The traditional, paternalistic, relationship with the soldiery has changed for a transactional style in the technical arms. This is inevitable in the fighting arms too. Presently, there is considerable scope for exercising a personalised leadership model. This creates dissonance in subordinates. An institutionalized style needs to be encouraged, so that there is a reasonable predictability in senior-subordinate relationships.

The sister services are ahead in this regard and their experience have a few lessons. The fresh winds from peacekeeping duties and from the expanded and multifarious experience on military exercises with foreign armies need to be harvested. Army War College in conjunction with College of Defence Management could act as a resource centre for the direction and design of cultural change. It could answer the question as to how a warrior ethic can be nurtured even as shifts occur towards a managerial style. The primary instrument for building the constituency for change would be the military education system. A review of how this could be best used can form part of the study. The study leave system could be so directed as to tap the thinking in corporate schools and technology management institutions. A higher leadership that has a greater proportion of soldier-scholars may be useful in managing the change.

The usual disdain of the tumult in civil society, fashionable in military circles, needs to be tempered. The ongoing RMA in slow motion can only complete itself in a contemporaneous army, and the army would have to make a conscious effort to remain so

Firing at border Pak's ploy to push in terrorists


There have been three ceasefire violations in the last three days along the International Border with Pakistan firing on Indian border posts in the Samba sector once again on Monday night and Tuesday morning.

At dawn Border Security Force personnel conducted a search operation along the International Border in Jammu after their post came under fire from machine guns and automatic rifles from across the border.

The firing continued until early Tuesday morning before dying out.

Sources say that a group of around 12-14 terrorists of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba are in the area where BSF DIG OP Tanwar was killed on November 16.

The firing incidents bore all the hallmarks of the familiar Pakistani operation to push in as many terrorists as possible into India before the winter makes movement difficult.

"The terrorists are desperate to infiltrate. Arms and ammunition seized have signs of Pakistani involvement," said Jammu and Kashmir DGP Kuldeep Khuda.

Experts have also warned that the stakes for India are much higher this time.

With 25 border incidents recorded until November in Jammu alone experts say Pakistan hopes to raise the temperature on the border with India and use that to justify its refusal to the Americans to begin operations against al-Qaeda elements in North Waziristan.

"It fits into the pattern of telling the Americans and the world that there are tensions on the border. But we should not fall into the trap of the Pakistanis and deal with each incident as it comes," former high commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarathy said.

The incidents also help Indian Army give the impression that rogue elements within Pakistan are trying to provoke a confrontation with India.

The Americans, therefore, should not pressure Pakistan too much to crackdown on Taliban and other terror groups. If they do so the fabled unity of the Pakistani Army could begin to crack.

Sack Military Secy, says Army court of inquiry into land scam


An Army inquiry into the Darjeeling land scam, first reported by The Indian Express, has recommended “termination of services” of Lt Gen Avadhesh Prakash, Military Secretary at Army HQ and one of the seniormost Generals, and court martial proceedings against Lt Gen P K Rath whose appointment as Deputy Chief of Army Staff was later scrapped by the Ministry of Defence. 

The inquiry also favoured disciplinary action and court martial against Major General P Sen and administrative action against 

Lt Gen Ramesh Halgali, currently commanding the 11 Corps. A separate inquiry has also been recommended against a Colonel of the legal department for giving dubious advice regarding the land deal.
The inquiry found that Prakash was in constant touch with a Siliguri real estate developer, Dilip Agarwal, who brokered a controversial land deal in Darjeeling.

Prachanda blames India for Nepal's political crisis


KATHMANDU: Wrapping up a three-day nationwide general strike at a victory rally in the capital Tuesday, Nepal’s Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda warned it was also the announcement of a fourth protest movement against the government that would culminate in an indefinite general strike from Jan 24.

In the past, the Maoists had enforced a 15-day blockade during the 10-year “People’s War” and a 19-day peaceful general shutdown in 2006 as part of the pro-democracy movement against King Gyanendra’s attempt to rule the country with the help of the army. Prachanda said the new protests would start from Christmas Day as a mass awareness campaign to open people’s eyes to the presence of “foreign agents” in their midst. He also said the campaign would expose the corrupt indicted in the Rayamajhi Commission that was formed after the fall of the royal regime. Though the commission was formed to punish the perpetrators of the anti-people coup, including the king, its report was never made public.

The nearly two-hour rally in Naya Baneshwor - that was the site of violent clashes between protesters and security forces Sunday - saw Prachanda, for the first time throwing a direct challenge to India, accusing it of naked intervention in Nepal’s internal matters. “I held talks with the Nepali Congress (NC) leaders but they produced no result,” the former revolutionary said with biting sarcasm. “I held talks with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the Prime Minister... But none produced results. Now I have to go to Delhi for talks.”

Prachanda reminded his audience that in the years after 2002, when King Gyanendra had sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and propped up three successive governments of his own choosing, the then governments had asked the underground Maoists to declare a ceasefire and start dialogue. “But we had refused, saying we will not negotiate with the servants,” he said. “We said we will talk only with the master. It is now time to say the same thing.”

The Maoist chief alleged that New Delhi had propped up Nepal’s coalition government, which was a “puppet” and a “robot” in its hands. When Nepali Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal returned from the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Prachanda said the government did not project Nepal’s interests abroad but only tried to project that Indian premier Manmohan Singh had expressed his support for it as well as the Chinese government. “The Maoists are not NC or UML,” he said. “Treat the Maoists as Maoists.”

The new Maoist anger with New Delhi was stoked afresh last week after Nepal’s army chief Gen Chhatraman Singh Gurung went to India at the invitation of the Indian Army chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, to receive the traditional honour of being declared general of the Indian Army by Indian President Pratibha Patil.

During the visit, at a banquet hosted by the Nepali general, Gen Kapoor was reported as saying that he opposed the merger of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army with the Nepal Army as that would lead to the politicisation of the latter. “The comprehensive peace agreement (that ended the Maoist insurgency in 2006) promises the integration,” Prachanda said. “Kapoor's statement was a naked intervention in Nepal’s internal matters and yet the corrupt ministers of the current government remained silent.”

Prachanda said that at a time his party was striving to restore civilian supremacy in Nepal by campaigning against the President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, who had resurrected the possibility of another military coup by preventing his government from sacking the insubordinate army chief, it was clear that civilian supremacy was actually murdered in New Delhi.

The Maoists have laid down a five-point agenda for their talks with India. They have also announced a month-long campaign from Dec 25, after which, they have warned of an indefinite nationwide general strike from Jan 24.

Maoist agenda for talks with India

- All unequal treaties should be scrapped, including the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty; all secret treaties have to be revealed

- All border disputes have to be resolved; India has to recall troops from Nepal’s Kalapani area

- Trade deficit with India has to be corrected

- India should enact prompt strategy to make Nepal gain from being sandwiched between the world’s two fastest growing economies

- India has to accept Nepal as an equal state.

Orissa war veteran fights a lonely battle

ROURKELA: Former soldier Shivaram Behera (73) has survived three wars. But the army veteran's battle for government land has become the toughest fight of his life.

Behera, who joined the army on August 1, 1957, took part in the Indian offensive against Chinese aggression in 1962 and the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. After retiring from the army in 1972, he had applied for the government's provision for five acres of land for ex-servicemen. It's almost 37 years now, but Behera is yet to get his due.

"I have been running from one government office to another ever since I retired, but no luck. Once I was proud of having served my country. But I am a disappointed man today because nobody acknowledges my contribution and I struggle hard to get my due," said Behera, who joined a local bank as a security guard after his retirement. "I have two daughters, who I have to marry off. But I do not have enough money for that. I'm virtually living like a beggar in a local slum," he added.

For his outstanding service, Behera was conferred with several medals such as Pashim Star, Sangram Medal, 25th Indian Army Medal and SS Medal (J&K). "They don't hold any value for me today," he said.

After a lot of pleading, the under secretary in the state government's revenue and disaster management had written to the Sundergarh collector to consider my case on priority basis. This was in December 2007. The Sundergarh ADM had referred the matter to the local tehsildar on August 2009. "But nothing tangible has come out of it so far," the ex-serviceman said.

"More than being deprived from getting justice, the fact which pinches me most is the behaviour of government officials. The officials never even bothered to offer me a chair even after knowing that I have fought in three wars for the country," Behera said. "Probably, God and soldiers are remembered only in the times of crisis and forgotten once it's over," he added.

But like a true soldier, Behera has decided to fight till the last. "Although I feel tired now, I still hope to get the land before my death so that my family members can have something to bank upon," he said.