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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2762

Military Imbalance With Pakistan…?

By Chandra Mohan - Syndicate Features

There is a sudden spate of “hard luck” stories (including a letter written by Chief of Air Staff to the Defence Minister) highlighting how there is a slump in ratio of India’s conventional military capability vis-a-vis Pakistan. This is a far cry from the nuclear lobby’s assertion that once India achieves nuclear weapons capability the cost of defence would be reduced because deterrence would prevail. The lone voices that warned that nuclear parity would shift the equation back to conventional weaponry were ignored in the aftermath of Pokharan II.

The current outcry over "slackness in modernisation" is a symptom of that miscalculation for which the nation could pay very heavily if the demands of the armed forces become translated into Kargil-style off-the-shelf purchases.

Indian Air Force has had to make one such purchase of a surface-to-air missile from Israel recently to fill the gaps in its air defence ground environment system (ADGES). This is because the Defence Research and Development Organisation, (DRDO), has failed to ‘deliver’ Akash as promised even three years after the deadline. Several prestigious DRDO projects have got stuck in the pipeline for years. This has largely contributed to "slackness" in the modernisation of our armed forces and made the turn to imports.

Despite loud talk, acquisition of military equipment remains a victim of middlemen. It in fact has become a political football as the FIR against George Fernandes, the NDA defence minister shows. That Fernandes himself was not a bit player in the infamous Bofors row is beside the point.

The Israeli connection too is threatening to become controversial. It is a fall-out of Indian move to consider withdrawing its military contingent posted in Lebanon under a UN mandate. New Delhi’s action is justified as the terms of engagement have been altered. Intriguingly, a hesitation on the part of Israel to deliver the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and night vision equipment has coincided with this rethink. The contracts were signed before the Lebanon war erupted. Another interesting coincidence is the remark by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres that he hoped that Israeli military equipment sold to India would not be used against Pakistan. Is this new concern a reflection of growing contacts between Israel and Pakistan or a clever attempt at arm-twisting India to fall in line with Tel Aviv plans for Lebanon?

Another factor accentuating India’s concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan is the US decision to resume supplies of F-16 fighter aircraft to Islamabad. Frankly, much of the strategic imbalance has not occurred overnight. There has been a steady fall in the squadron strength of the IAF. Because, we have failed to heed the La Fontaine Committee recommendation to buy an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) and allowed the issue linger on for decades. What is more we also ignored problems in ‘maintenance’.

It was only after the AJT contract was given to the British Hawk that the maintenance problem came into focus. Immediately thereafter came claims that the rate of accidents had fallen by 50 per cent. If this indeed is true, what prevented our defence mandarins to act much earlier and thus saving the lives of the scores of young flying officers who had been killed because of machine failure?

The erosion of the ratio of conventional fighting units is directly connected with our miscalculation that our nuclear weapons capability would contribute to a reduction in the budget for conventional forces. Pakistan changed the scenario by resorting to war by proxy using jehadi terrorists closely supported by its regular infantry.

Counter-insurgency is manpower intensive. The fable of the invincibility of the "Kashmiri freedom fighters" grew till India did a better job of raising counter-insurgency forces in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the crushing of the Khalistani movement in Punjab occurred when force levels and synergy between the Army, the paramilitary and the police reached an optimum level. The same needs to be done in Jammu and Kashmir.

Empirical studies show that there should be more security forces in terrorist infested areas. The theory is that for every one terrorist there should be at least upto fifty armed force personnel on duty. That there is some validity in this postulate is highlighted by Pakistan’s demand that the Indian Army be withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir.

Accepting the demand which Pakistan gratuitously calls ‘de-militarisation’ will leave the field open to the jehadi terrorists 5000 of whom have received training in camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Pakistan itself and are waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate across the Line of Control (LOC). This lot is bolstered by the more than 150,000 retired personnel of the Northern Light Infantry of the Pakistan Army (the same lot who disguised as "mujahids" infiltrated and captured the heights in Kargil in 1999).

It is not for nothing that the ULFA in Assam and the Manipuri insurgents should choose this moment to intensify their militancy. The intention is to stretch the Indian security forces and make it difficult for them to concentrate their efforts.

Thus ratio and force levels have deteriorated over decades. That the issue should suddenly surface at this point of time beginning with the leaked letter from the Chief of Air Staff to the Defence Minister points to an orchestration. Military force levels and concomitant military equipment cannot be enhanced in short time frames. Manpower improvement would take the better part of one year and acquisition of equipment would range across a decade (in the case of aircraft).

Any attempt to stampede the government into making off-the-shelf acquisitions will, in the first instance, undercut the intent and purpose of recently declared acquisitions policy. There should be no a single vender situation not merely to strike the best bargain but also to ensure that the arms procurement will not become political football.

- Syndicate Features -

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