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Military diplomacy can be made very effective as it is secretive: Gen VP Malik

Gen VP Malik recounted his experience of engaging with the leadership in Myanmar in 2000 when its army ruled the country.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 09, 2017 23:14 IST
Mukesh Rawat
Mukesh Rawat
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Military Literature Festival Chandigarh,Chandigarh,General VP Malik
Former Army chief General VP Malik at the Military Literature Festival, in Chandigarh on Saturday.(Anil Dayal/HT)

Wars can be avoided when there is a better understanding between the militaries of two nations, said former army chief General VP Malik during a session on ‘Military diplomacy -the Indian perspective’ on the concluding day of the Military Literature Festival, in Chandigarh on Saturday.

He said even though military diplomacy can never replace traditional diplomacy, it can be effectively used to supplement the latter.

“Unlike the past when military diplomacy came in only when traditional diplomacy failed, today the concept is also being used to avoid wars and send across messages which are not possible through traditional diplomatic engagements.”

Gen Malik added that the advantage with military diplomacy is that it is largely secretive. He recounted his experience of engaging with the leadership in Myanmar in 2000 when its army ruled the country.

“To engage with the vice-chairman, I flew to Mandley. Stayed there for two-three days and interacted with the leaders. I then asked the vice-chairman to come to Shillong and spend some time. When he was returning, I handed him a map that marked the militant hideouts that I wanted the Myanmar Army to attack. All this happened in complete secrecy,” he said.

Need subject experts for better engagement

Lt Gen Hardev Singh Lidder (retd), who was a military attaché to Washington after the nuclear test of 1998 and during the 9/11 attack, said the major difference between the strategic planning of the two countries is that while USA tries to take suggestions from everyone possible, to collect facts and expertise before finalising a plan, in India we don’t do it because the person who has to take the decision just takes it.

He added that for an effective diplomacy, we need to identify the countries that we want to engage with and then earmark the specific areas of engagement. “Unfortunately, this practice is rarely followed in India,” he said.

Participating in the discussion, Lt Gen SR Ghosh (retd), said , to boost our diplomacy, we need a tri-service military cadre of area specialists who will support the foreign missions and later work with other government departments.

He added that the external affairs ministry also needs to “shed its preference” for Western countries for military exercises and training and work more closely with smaller countries in Africa and Asia.

Speaking on the issue, Gen Malik rued the fact that the defence ministry and the external affairs ministry don’t consult the military adequately while making strategies. “This is the biggest handicap in achieving the best. We need to stop working in silos,” he said.

When asked if military diplomacy can be used as a deterrent, Gen Malik said that at best, it can be used to send across a message.

Why conduct military exercises

Discussing the relevance of military exercises with different countries, the panelists said these play the dual role of soft as well as coercive diplomacy.

“These are important because they help us know what others do and what equipment they have. It also gives us an opportunity to tell other countries about ourselves,” said Lt Gen TS Shergil (retd).

On the United Nations peacekeeping missions, Maj Gen MP Bhagat (retd), a veteran of these missions, said besides the humanitarian aspect, these operations are important as they provide opportunities for troop-to-troop engagement, besides helping us understand the operational techniques used by other armies.

First Published: Dec 09, 2017 18:56 IST