April 2002 News

Bring home the boys

8 April 2002
The Asian Age
Mohan Guruswamy

New Delhi: It’s been over one hundred days since our armed forces were put on hair trigger alert all along the Pakistan border. The provocation to that was the attempt to vandalise Parliament by Pakistani terrorists. It seems another matter that Parliament is vandalised almost everyday it meets by the shenanigans of its members, but our government took this one shoddy attempt to heart and threatened to go to war over it. We would have been more convinced about its professions had the UP elections not been imminent. Patriotism, synthetic or otherwise, is always worth a good try when you have done little in the five long years provided by the Constitution. Well, the bluff did not work and the people of UP and other parts of the country who voted were unmoved by the government’s professed concern for Parliament’s honour. Neither has Gen. Musharraf obliged by putting his tail between his legs and whining to his American masters. He has not just stood his ground but has marked his determination with renewed vigour. Whatever moral ascendancy we had been bestowed since December 13 has been squandered away by the behaviour of the BJP government in Gujarat. Mind you, this is not a fig-leaf NDA government but a true-blood BJP government and the deliberate manner it has conducted itself since the moment the train was attacked in Godhra is a shameful indictment of its cynical and callous pursuit of its narrow and exclusivist political agenda. Whatever the provocation, no government can abdicate its responsibilities by quoting Newton’s third law that “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Now the Gujarat government holds in its camps, now just sun-baked, stinking tin shanty gulags holding no less than 97,000 well-beaten and helpless Muslims, with a toilet for every 500 of them, with little else to look forward to than more life in some less secure ghetto, and few in the government willing to care for them. In 1971 the Indian Army took that many Pakistani soldiers prisoners in a war fought to free the Bengali Muslim majority from the oppression and tyranny of Pakistan’s Punjabi dominated elite. The BJP has since then castigated Indira Gandhi for letting go of the prisoners without getting anything in return. Now that they are incapable of emulating Indira Gandhi and taking prisoners like she did, let us see what the BJP does with its 97,000 captives. If it builds new homes and rehabilitates these Muslims, its faithful who put them there will look askance. This lot, not satisfied with their social boycott, has called for an economic boycott as well as it considers every Muslim an enemy of the nation. Whatever its true feelings, even the BJP can’t keep these Muslims in these camps forever, for that is not possible if you want to be considered even minimally civilised. So it will make conditions in the camps impossible to live in and hope that the inmates just disappear one by one. If it succeeds in this it would have truly gotten away with something far more monstrous than what any Yahya Khan or Milosevic has done. This would most certainly be more sinister than anything the jihadis have done in Jammu & Kashmir where ethnic cleansing began in 1991. Whatever the magnitude or severity it puts us in some pretty dubious company. It’s maybe just this that the BJP wants for India. The Muslims in various camps are not all that the BJP’s peculiar nationalism is holding hostage. The Indian armed forces are still deployed for a quick launch still not knowing across what and what for. But then it’s not for them to reason why, theirs is, if not to do and die, to deploy and wait! Like “they also serve who stand and wait!” All this is costing us quite a packet. Imagine almost a half a million men with expensive material strung out in the open under the hot summer sun for little reason than that the highest in the government have had a touch of the sun. This not only adversely affects our combat preparedness but also makes us a bit of a joke all over the world. Now even the Americans have stopped bothering to send emissaries to stave off an Indo-Pak war. The threat of war is an option that must not be lightly used. We have used it and the other side has not flinched one little bit. Our bluff has truly been called. But as Kenny Rogers sings You got to know when to hold up and know when to fold up! Now is fold-up time and to count our losses and ponder over how we got into this mess anyway. The threat of a massive conventional attack against every pinprick is just not credible. Military credibility requires a series of escalating capabilities to enable an appropriate or flexible response to every situation. We might have been well served if soon after mobilisation we had hit Pakistan with a single, quick and pin-pointed cross-border raid, say on a terrorist camp, and then pulled back to our side of the LoC or international border. Against this Pakistan would then have had the option of striking back in the face of a massive Indian deployment. If they did they would have been responsible for the consequences, something their American mentors would have advised them against. Assuming that they did, then we could have given them some more of the same. We could have kept nailing the terrorist camps till Musharraf could get himself another cease-fire, like after Kargil. That time has passed. While we are on the subject of deployment, there are many who believe that organising the Indian Army into holding and strike formations is an archaic way of structuring our defences. “Holding formations” are deployed close to the borders, behind the smuggler-friendly BSF, and are meant, as their description suggests, to hold off aggressive Pakistani forces till the three heavily armoured “strike formations” are unleashed upon the enemy. Holding divisions are mostly made up of infantry with artillery and some armour. They have extremely limited mobility. A strike division on the other hand is fully mechanised with a large tank component and with all its infantry on armoured personnel carriers. In theory, strike formations are meant to break through enemy defences and thrust deep inside. I say in theory, because doctrinal timidity and the play-safe mindset of the Indian general staff have twice in the past let theory be theory. Besides, a lifetime spent in bureaucratic manoeuvre does not leave them with much appetite for battlefield manoeuvre. In 1965 an Indian general went to war with his file on his correspondence with his superiors seeking a review of his supercession. Now they presumably write to their state chief ministers. The difference between normal deployment and a mobilisation is that at times like we have now, the strike formations are deployed alongside our holding formations to be able to strike at the enemy within his territory. It takes about three weeks to get our strike formations near the front lines and after huge dislocations to the civilian infrastructure. For instance rail and road networks are commandeered to move masses of men and material to the staging areas. Sometimes the civilian air system too has to be commandeered. Once you deploy after making the huge effort and expending huge amounts it involves as much of an effort to pull back. And the problem is that once you pull back it takes quite some time before the war material is refurbished and the troops rested before you get to set off again. A modern war, even if fought by relatively primitive armies like those of India and Pakistan, is unlikely to extend beyond a week or so. The fear of escalation into a nuclear war and the sheer inability of either of the forces to score a spectacular and quick battlefield victory will then take us into the familiar territory of letting a third party pull our chestnuts out of the fire. Like in Kargil. But it is that first week that could be crucial. A surprise and somewhat successful attack from the west to be followed by a cease-fire after the threat of an imminent escalation is a likely scenario. It almost happened in Kargil in 1999. Another day or two and the Pakistani Army would have been astride the Leh-Kargil road. In that case they would have had to use their Air Force to support their forces on the ground automatically escalating the war to its next level. Clearly, we can’t wait for three weeks till we are ready to strike back. Many well-regarded strategists have for long been suggesting a permanent forward deployment of our strike forces in new cantonments rather than have them deep in the hinterland in places like Bhopal, Mathura, Secunderabad, Ambala and so on. Since our strike formations are out in the field, with little forethought, may be it’s time for some after thought. It costs us Rs 5 crores a day to keep our strike formations in the field. So we have already sent Rs 500 crores down the tubes. And with the summer heat bound to rise so are the costs. But the Prime Minister’s response so far has been “mein geet nahin gaoonga!” But he mustn’t do that. He is still good for a few laughs! But if he wants to do something useful, he can bring the boys back home.


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