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Enemy Within The Force:LET THE ARMY REMAIN AN ARMY, by B.K. Mathur, 7 August 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 7 August 2006

Enemy Within The Force


By B.K. Mathur

Following a report last month about two agents of a Pakistan-based militant organization joining the Indian Air Force, one concernedly learnt of existence of such enemies within the Indian Army every third day.  Within hours of the denial by the Air Force spokesperson of the report emanating from the National Security Council, two armymen deployed in J&K with the Rashtriya Rifles were held for connections with the militants.  And the entry of such elements in other regiments of the Indian Army is being reportedly discovered or suspected.  In fact, the trend is continuing for quite sometime now in India’s forces, which at one time used to be the envy of the world.

The latest report comes from Nashik where the Maharashtra anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) detained a retired Army Major over the week-end for allegedly passing on a sensitive military information to an agent of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.  The Major was picked up following confessions by the ISI agent. The documents recovered from the possession of the agent included several photographs of airbases in Pune, Mumbai, Jamnagar and Nashik.  Add to this the Union Home Ministry’s advisory to the Governments of the West Coast States of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala and Karnataka on the eve of the Independence Day celebrations about the suspected supply of arms and landing of terrorists.

Commenting on this alarming trend in India’s mighty armed forces a fortnight ago, this column had highlighted the need to review the entire recruitment system to ensure quality intake into the forces.  Undesirable elements get into the forces because of several lacunae highlighted in that write-up.   In addition to this two other points require to be seriously looked into to stop the damaging trend: Keep the military away from civil deployment as far as possible and a thorough review of the administration of Cantonments and overhaul of their Boards, as they used to be during the Raj.  There is now urgent need to keep the Army in barracks away from the “civil pollution”, as stressed in this column time and again – and for years now.  Let the Army remain an Army.

The question about the entry of undesirable elements in the armed forces was concernedly discussed in the Lok Sabha the other day and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had very rightly observed that the function of the Army was to fight the enemy from across the border and to train for that job without getting involved increasingly in civil duties.  What Mukherjee implied was that the increasing contact with the civilians led the Armymen to getting involved with undesirable elements for some considerations which are available in plenty to the militant groups and their local agents.

Take, for example, the case of the two Armymen who were detained for passing on some information to a militant group.  On interrogation they reportedly accepted their guilt and explained that they were forced to do so in view of a threat to their families.  Well, this is no defence.  But such a situation can be avoided if only the contact of the Armymen with local police, para-military forces and civilians is reduced and the commanders at all levels in the places of deployment keep a strong vigil on their men, instead of getting involved themselves.  There comes the question of recruitment in Officer-cadres about which we talked in the last column.  Generally what is required is that the Army must be kept away from the systems failure in civil life, an increasing curse of India!

It is true that the Army deployment is difficult to avoid in Jammu and Kashmir, where foreign forces are required to be tackled, and the north-eastern States where insurgency is being increasingly supported by foreign militant groups. Of course, the Army has to be deployed in such situations.  But in such involvements also, the Commanders must ensure implementation of military discipline for which the Army is known.   In such conditions, as also in times of such calamities like cyclones etcetera, the Army needs to be deployed.  But the force must be kept away from “policing” deployment to handle problems like communal riots or disturbances.  That is not the job of the Army.  Such assignments could easily be handled by Central para-military forces, if the local police fails.

This at once reminds me of the manner in which Mulayam Singh Yadav had reacted as the Defence Minister in Deve Gowda’s Government to my question at a Press Conference in New Delhi about too much use of the Army for civil duties.  He stated in so many words that the Army was a Government organization and it is for the Government to decide how and when it is to be used. After all, the Government spends so much in maintaining such a large Army and it should be used for civil duties in peace time, when there is no war.  Similar view was earlier expressed by Bansi Lal, Defence Minister in Indira Gandhi’s Government. 

One hundred per cent correct.  But whose loss it is when the armed forces suffer from too much engagement in civil duties for two reasons.  One, increasing indiscipline because of  contact with civilian agencies and, two, suffering from inadequate training. In these days of induction of sophisticated, state-of-the-art weapon and weapon systems in the forces, the jawans, airmen and sailors need more time during the peace time to train continuously on these weapons.  If that is not done, then the forces are bound to perform badly in time of war, as happened with the Pakistani force in wars against India in 1965 and 1971.  They were provided latest, state-of-the-art machinery by big brother America but failed to use them properly due to lack of training.

Another important aspect required to be reviewed is the management of Cantonments. It is true that the Cantonment Boards across the country are headed by the concerned Sub-Area or Area commander of the Army.  But the constitution of these is such that civilian influence and vote politics prevail in their functioning.  Moreover, a lot of civilian population has come to acquire land and properties in almost all the Cantonment areas, with the result that they now look like any other mohalla in a city, where clean environment is something wholly unknown.  There was a time in my school days at Meerut, which has one of the big Cantonments in the country, one was afraid of entering the “military area”, most parts of which were out of bounds for the general public. Cantonments must return to the Raj days --- clean environment with no “civil pollution”.

If all that happens --- quality intake, controlled deployment of forces for civil duties and clean environment of the Cantonments and barracks ---there is no reason why the discipline of the forces, at its nadir today, should not improve. When there will be little contact with the civil population and when the troops will have enough time for training on modern weapons which the Government of India has planned to acquire in plenty, there would be little chance of undesirable elements getting into the forces or the militarymen having contact with spies, militants or their agents. At the moment the state of India’s armed forces is alarmingly in bad shape, requiring urgent need to review all its aspects responsible for the present state of affairs. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




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