Friday, May 8, 2009

Forgotten Shishir Gupta

Forgotten Kargil

Shishir Gupta

Posted online: Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New Delhi : Learning the hard way, the Indian politician has now realized that wars and terror attacks cannot be used as an opposition stick to beat the incumbent. Congress used it in Kargil and lost the 1999 elections to NDA and the BJP lost Delhi Assembly elections by using 26/11 to bludgeon the UPA.

Both the main stream parties have now realized that Indians have an uncanny habit of uniting in wake of an internal security crisis and equate legitimate criticism to sleeping with the enemy. Hence, a suitably chastened politician on both sides has made national security an issue without frontly attacking each other on the two major upheavals in the past. Little wonder the LS 2009 political campaign has fallen back on bread and butter issues such as economy and governance.

Much as we Indians like to don Bollywood style patriotism, mounting internal security threat to the country cannot be swept under the carpet purely on the grounds that it does not make a political issue.

The huge gap between Indian capacity and its response as illustrated during Kargil and 26/11 makes the citizens all the more vulnerable. But have we learnt a lesson from these historical blunders? The answer is a flat no.

Exactly a decade ago, on May 3, 1999, a patrol of III Punjab battalion of the Indian Army for the first time sighted 3-4 Pakistani intruders dressed in black in Yaldor area of the Kargil sector. On May 9, 1999, the Intelligence Bureau, according to Army records, identified them as the Taliban and two days later Operation Vijay was launched.

Although the then Defence Minister (like Home Minister in 26/11) went public saying that intruders would be thrown in hours, it took the might of Indian military to evict the intruders in 45 days at the loss of nearly 600 precious lives.

Many a corrective measures were taken post Kargil with Groups of Ministers looking into various aspects of national security reforms on the basis of Subrahmanyam Committee report.

One such group, headed by Rajiv Gandhi’s Minister of State for Defence Arun Singh, looked into the critical aspects of higher defence management and came up with radical solutions to reform the military. It is a shame that ten years down the line, the political leadership has only taken half-baked measures to reform the defence establishment. This half-hearted response was partly responsible for 26/11.

Consider this:

The Arun Singh Committee had recommended creation for Chief of Defence Staff, a single point military advisor to the Indian government, with an integrated headquarters functioning under him. Thanks to the phobia of a military takeover since the days of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the CDS has not been appointed to date but an orphan integrated services headquarter has been set up that is headed by an over the hill three star officer. And the Chiefs of Staff meeting are reduced, as always, to coffee break sessions.

It was decided that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)’s 50 odd laboratories would be synergized with Defence PSUs in order to allow faster provider-consumer response and transfer of technology. In simple terms the DRDO’s LRDE lab would be merged with BEL PSU so that there is dedicated development of military related electronics under specific time schedules. A rather uninterested government could not contain the turf war between the DRDO and the PSUs and the result is that the DRDO has literally produced nothing more than Leh Berry juice and grown cauliflowers in Ladakh desert. All the major projects from LCA to Main Battle Tank to Missiles have gone into overruns at humungous costs with little or no accountability from either the DRDO or the PSUs.

An umbrella Defence Intelligence Agency was set-up under the integrated headquarters as a single window for military intelligence. Today, the DIA is virtually a garbage collector of all non-actionable intelligence originated from the intelligence wings of the three services, which have grown in size and manpower since Kargil, respectively. This manifested in the Indian Navy not sharing the intelligence on 26/11 LeT ship with its own Western Navy what to talk of the Coast Guard.

The higher defence management group had also recommended that Commander-in-Chiefs in the three services should be selected on merit with the board under the CDS having a final say rather than on the basis of seniority and residual service. Thanks to its non-implementation, the C-in-Cs are even today appointed at the whim and fancies of either the Service Chief or an intrusive Defence Minister.

Last but not the least, the Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services was to be put under CDS to streamline the health services. However, till today, the Ministry of Defence has held that order under ambiguous abeyance. The result is that the top military medic does not report to the integrated headquarters but to Defence Ministry. This leads to politicians like Arjun Singh frequently getting admitted to military facilities like R & R hospital in Delhi.

Kargil is gone so are heroes of that war. To make the matters worse even the lessons have been either been largely ignored or unlearnt with every passing day. With India so engrossed in this month long election mela, the ogre of Taliban raising its head in Buner and Swat is largely confined to TRPs of TV channels.

The insularity of national security from national politics has ensured that we even forget that the first flag of Wahhabism of the kind practised by current day Taliban against the ruling British in the 19th century was raised at Buner, Swat and Malakand by Indians from Bihar and Bengal.

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