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Prejudice against the military

In a democracy, political authority lays down policy parameters for the military to follow. Yet in a mature democracy, consultations are carried out and expert advice sought from the military before major policy decisions related to it are taken. Writes Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd).

chandigarh Updated: Mar 16, 2014 09:48 IST

In a democracy, political authority lays down policy parameters for the military to follow. Yet in a mature democracy, consultations are carried out and expert advice sought from the military before major policy decisions related to it are taken. In rendering such advice the military must spell out, not only the reasons thereof, but also the implications of not carrying through its recommendations. Thereafter, it is for the political executive to accept or reject the advice.

Normally, there are sound reasons and sometimes simply political expediency for turning down such recommendations. But to contend that the military need not be consulted even on matters directly concerning it, as suggested by Kuldip Nayar in a newspaper, is untenable and a reflection of the deep-seated bias and prejudice against the military. It goes without saying that once a political decision is taken the military has to fully and faithfully implement it.

Nayar's contention that the government need not have consulted the military for the withdrawal of troops from Siachen glacier is preposterous. He may be a votary of peace with Pakistan (so are all of us) and an active member of the Track-2 team, but he is ignorant of the Siachen talks. All that the military asked for was that the existing positions on the ground (Saltaro range) be authenticated and marked on the maps of both sides, which incidentally Pakistan was not prepared to do and why not! So Pakistan's intentions were suspect and if to that one may add the existing trust deficit, the army's advice can be better appreciated.

Supposing the government, taking Nayar's advice, simply asks the military to vacate and Pakistan occupies the Saltaro range, then recapturing it would result in loss of lives of thousands of soldiers and officers. Unless Nayar like Pandit Nehru would tell us that 'not a blade of grass grows on the Saltaro range', and we need forget it. But here too, there are strategic implications, which besides much else relate to the defence of Ladakh region itself: no matter what those in Track 2 may tell him.

Nayar's ardent desire to scrap the AFSPA or at least withdraw it from Jammu and Kashmir is in line with the wishes of the chief minister and merits serious discussion. He may know that the state has to first declare an area as 'disturbed area', apply the disturbed area Act then and only then the AFSPA can be promulgated. So all Omar has to do is to remove the disturbed area Act for the AFSPA to go. As far as the army is concerned, it will be too happy to return to barracks.

Counter-insurgency is a messy affair and the least preferred job by the army. But what Nayar may not have discovered is that politicians often indulge in doublespeak, one part for public consumption and the other behind closed doors and the two are often diametrically opposite.

In counter-insurgency environments, situations often arise where you either kill or get killed and mistakes can happen. To justify even genuine encounters, army personnel may have to spend the rest of their lives doing the rounds of civil courts, if AFSPA is removed. So troops will simply avoid engagements with the insurgents and that would be a very serious matter for the army.

Nayar has brought in the Pathribal encounter case into refocus. He may not be aware that in this encounter police played a major role.

The SP of Anantnag was suspended and so also many policemen and legal proceedings initiated. Later, they were all acquitted and the SP retired as IG. Acquittal was presumably due to lack of evidence. When the police were let off, Nayar had nothing to say. The military recently held a detailed investigation and examined over 80 witnesses and no case could be established. Yet Nayar must hang the army!

In insurgency environments false allegations against the security forces is a common feature. The army has diligently investigated every case of allegation of alleged false encounter and where found correct, court-marshals have been held, guilty punished and that included a number of officers. In counter-insurgency operations unintentional collateral damage can take place under certain compelling conditions.

Finally, the so-called 'coup' to which Nayar has alluded, supported by, what he thinks as corroborative evidence, is merely the hallucinations of a psyched political class: periodically frightened by the bureaucracy and the intelligence agencies and not without ulterior motives. Anyone who dreams up a military coup in India is in urgent need of psychiatric help.

(The writer, former deputy chief of army staff, is a commentator on defence and security issues. Views expressed are his personal)

First Published: Mar 16, 2014 09:43 IST