A battle behind the lines
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Organisational and structural changes in our armed forces are long overdue. So is the redefining of the civil-military relationship
Like the metaphorical iceberg, what is visible to us in the ongoing controversy involving the army chief and the defence ministry, is just the small fraction floating above the line. Much of the public debate has been occupied by trivial issues like his date of birth or scandalous matters like corruption in defence procurement. While the service tenure of an individual officer is of little relevance to national security, corruption among the top brass most certainly is.
What lies below the line is bigger, more dangerous and invisible to the naked eye: the controversies triggered by General V.K. Singh are manifestations of an organisational structure and culture that is in dire need of change.
Actually, it has been in dire need of change for decades. Ten years ago, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government constituted a committee of experts to study India's war effort in Kargil. The committee, chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyam, noted that "an objective assessment of the last 52 years will show that the country is lucky to have scraped through various national security threats without too much damage, except in 1962. The country can no longer afford such an ad-hoc functioning." It proposed a slew of important reforms, few of which have been implemented in spirit. The UPA government instituted another committee under Naresh Chandra last year which is in the final stages of submitting its report. We have all the reports. We just don't have the reforms.
India is facing the strategic environment of the 21st century with its armed forces structured largely as they were during World War II. The reduced likelihood of a big conventional war — thanks to nuclear deterrence — means our complacency in not restructuring the armed forces is unlikely to be punished in the battlefields that easily. What is more likely is the outdated structure will eat our armed forces inside out, through corruption, cronyism, indiscipline and inefficiency. Ossified structures seldom reward initiative, risk taking and integrity.
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