It is rare that a serving armed forces chief says something which could be seen as critical of the civilian government in India. Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha seems to have bucked the trend by saying that PoK could have been taken militarily had India not adopted the high moral ground and gone to the United Nations. The problem was not solved, he says, but continues to be thorn in our flesh. This seems to be the view held by some that India did not use its armed might to settle the Kashmir problem at a time when Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons.
These remarks will cause some disquiet in government circles because the army is not meant to speak out on the efficacy or otherwise of decisions taken by elected governments. In fact, this has been often showcased as the difference between India and Pakistan where it is the army which calls the shots. There have been moments of concern with armed forces officials refusing to fall in line with civilian orders. One was when the government had to dismiss Navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat when he stood in the way of the cabinet appointing his deputy as his successor. Fears of a coup have preyed on the minds of the government of the day. Indira Gandhi is said to have famously asked her army chief Sam Manekshaw whether he intended to topple her in a coup. The inimitable Manekshaw apparently replied, “Madam Prime Minister, don’t you think I would not prove to be a worthy replacement,” assuring Indira Gandhi that he had no such intentions.
At a time when Pakistan is seeking any excuse to suggest malafide intentions on India’s part, especially vis-à-vis Balochistan, it was not a wise move on the part of the IAF chief to open this can of worms. This also raises once again the issue of better integration between the defence ministry and the services which it presides over as a means of defusing any tensions that may arise. His reference to the utilisation of air power and the blending of the three forces to create Bangladesh is both unnecessary and counterproductive in this charged atmosphere. India has long tried to maintain that it is not a proactively aggressive force in the region. Mr Raha’s words seem to suggest that the armed forces are resentful of the curbs placed on them by the civilian government. His words should not encourage similar sentiments from other sections of the armed forces. The sooner he is told that he was out of line, the earlier the damage can be contained.