By Firdaus Ahmed
The head of a think-tank writing in The Tribune (http://bit.ly/o0qXbO) lists military capabilities that India requires up to fifteen years. In strategic circles, ever since remarks of the former army chief were possibly deliberately leaked, the ‘threat’ has been magnified to becoming a ‘twinned’ threat from Pakistan and China combined.
The capabilities deemed desirable are to include a mountain strike corps both in the Northeast and in J&K. It is possible that with time that would mean two for J&K; one for each front. Offensive capabilities for defensive formations are to be created in imitation of those done in the plains prompted by ‘Cold Start’. The three strike corps in the plains are to continue for conventional deterrence purposes. Firepower resources, in particular precision guided munitions, are to be augmented for stand-off degradation, since territory may not be as relevant as an objective. Two rapid reaction-cum-air assault divisions (with an amphibious brigade each) are suggested.
It may be recalled that elsewhere the former Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee had required a wide-ranging intercontinental ballistic missile capability. The DRDO is keen on working on technology for a BMD system, despite its known shortcomings to deliver on more mundane equipment. Further, the Army has requested for placing of the ITBP under its command on the China border. The budget for internal security, handled by the MHA, has gone up three times over the past decade.
This article makes two observations on the foregoing threat-mongering. One is that this indicates expansionism in the security sector, with the consequences that amount to militarization. The second is on possible social consequences, generally neglected in strategic discussions.
The NSA in his Prem Bhatia Memorial Lecture asked for moderation in the criticisms mounted by think-tanks, stating, “This also requires that some of our media and commentators, whose unquestioned brilliance is regularly on display lambasting other countries for their politics and policies, learn the virtues of moderation.” His take was, “why create self-fulfilling prophesies of conflict with powerful neighbours like China?”
Our goal must be defence, not offense, unless offense is necessary for deterrence or to protect India’s ability to continue its own transformation. The think-tank recommendations, in their own words, go well beyond this: “Genuine deterrence can come only from the ability to take the fight deep into the adversary’s territory through the launching of major offensive operations.”
Clearly, there is a case for debate within the national security system on this divergence, with the NSA persuading the army that their recipe – ‘the defence of porous borders requires us to learn new rules for the use and combination of force, persuasion and deterrence, alongside other more benign means’ – holds water.
The second neglected dimension of the social impact of militarization requires acknowledging firstly that recruiting patterns in the security forces have a built in bias towards the ‘Hindi heartland’. In theory this is based on the recruitable male population of a state. Those traditionally contributing to military numbers stand to gain.
There are two implications. One is in the channelling of revenue expenditure of the government in terms of VI pay commission enhanced salaries and perks into certain areas. It is symptomatic of hidden affirmative action. The second is in the diversity of the country not finding reflection in the composition of security forces. A narrower concept of nationalism, emanating from the Hindi heartland, finds sway. This may be at odds with ethnically and culturally diverse host communities, where the deployment takes place. In areas of insurgency, it accentuates the cultural gap.
A result of increased deployment, particularly in thinly populated borderlands, is on the social landscape. For instance, Gautam Naulakha records that the move to provide the Rashtriya Rifles with cantonment accommodation in Kashmir has elicited a negative response from the people and the state administration since it involves land allocation. Likewise, the increase by two divisions in the Northeast and the recommendation of a strike corps there, implies that there would be a larger visibility and imprint on the consciousness of the people of a different ethnic stock. This remains an understudied dimension.
Also, an over-developed security sector draws discourse, policy direction and resources away from a development to a defence template. Higher returns in the defence sector will draw human resources into it. This has qualitative implications for the competing sectors. A fallout is advantaged groups developing a stake in India’s identity as a ‘garrison state’, at the expense of groups on the territorial and economic margins.
While economic growth has released the monies, this has alternative uses overlooked in threat induced expansion. Sole reliance on strategic considerations amounts to strategic determinism. This could prove particularly hurtful if the strategic calculus is misinformed and, worse, possibly motivated by parochial concerns.
The NSA is right in his warning on the dangers of India as a ‘premature superpower’ (Martin Wolf): “Their rise, as that of Wilhelmine Germany or militarist Japan, was cut short prematurely.”
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