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Task Before New Minister:SAVE FORCES FROM ENEMY WITHIN, by B.K. Mathur,30 October 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 30 October 2006

Task Before New Minister


By B.K. Mathur

Pranab Mukherjee’s shifting from the Ministry of Defence to the External Affairs has hurt the armed forces most. He is the one who had understood right from the day he took charge of the Defence the requirements and priorities of the forces---as did his predecessor George Fernandes of the Vajpayee-led NDA Government. Mukherjee stressed throughout on acquiring state-of-the-art machinery for the three Services and on manpower training without too much involvement of the forces in aid to civil power. The forces are now hoping the new Minister, A.K. Antony will concentrate on these two urgent requirements of the forces and keep up their morale.  He is equal to the task, as proved by his earlier assignments as the Chief Minister of Kerala and a Union Minister.

Given the present security scenario, the new Minister is expected to complete the task taken up by Mukherjee, of providing to the three Services what they need, irrespective of the cost involved in the import of the expensive machinery to modernize the Army, Air Force and the Navy.  What is more, there is need, as Mukherjee stressed time and again, to keep the forces away from civil duties.  The forces should remain in barracks and in training on expensive machines --- and be prepared to fight a war on the borders.  This thinking was well reflected only a few hours before Mukherjee left the charge of the Defence Ministry.; He was bold enough to accept that the armed forces were tizzy over Pakistani moles.

Reacting to the arrest of two Armymen, both ORs (Other Ranks) of spying that blew the lid off a deep-rooted conspiracy by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, the Defence Minister (Mukherjee) stated: “Sometimes we catch their moles in different organizations. But if it is in the Army, it is a matter of serious concern.  We will have to ensure the leakage or laxity wherever it exists”. The Minister accepted that over one hundred military personnel have been found to have connections with the ISI in the last five-six years.  Despite the counter-intelligence measures, the ISI continues to make deep inroads into the armed forces. The arrest of the two jawans is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

More than one hundred personnel of the Army, Navy and the Air Force who have been found to having connections with the ISI agents across the country are “just the ones that were detected…. for every such case several go undetected… Though the ISI penetration is by and large in the lower ranks, and not among Officers, sometimes top operational information and plans do leak to the opposite side,” discloses a well-informed source. The latest arrests of a Signalman and a Havildar of the Army Group Insurance office needs a thorough investigation about the growing trend. Both were arrested with classified documents and pen drives by the Delhi Police acting in conjunction with the Intelligence Bureau.  The Signalman posted in Leh was allegedly carrying secret information about deployment of forces in Jammu and Kashmir.  Efforts are now been made to unearth the entire espionage network which had come to light with the arrest of the two jawans.

In this context, it has been relevantly pointed out by sources in authority that many a time the Officers, even senior commanders, show laxity by ignoring safety and security guidelines on handling of classified documents, making it easier for the lower staff to supply photocopy to them and pass them on to their ISI “handlers”. Remember the case of Lance-Naik Mohammed Javed Khan and his retired IAF Sergeant father Hanif Khan, who were arrested in July last year for “leaking classified documents from the Army’s 4 Corps HQ in Tezpur, Assam, to officials in the Pakistan Embassy in New Delhi.  The classified information contained all the information about the Corps, including deployment of forces and exercises being conducted along the border with China. 

It has been discovered time and again that ISI agents hover around important military establishments and field formations, luring personnel with “hard cash”, “honey traps” and the like.  There is substance in what a military intelligence source opined the other day, obviously in a jest, that India’s neighbouring armies, particularly those of Pakistan and China know as much, if not more, of placement of strike Units, especially the movements and plans of the four strike Corps of the Indian Army.  The agents want to keep tabs on movement of armoured columns and operational strategies and exercise plans.  How do the classified documents go out? They invariably go out from the units deployed for civil duties and get into what has been repeatedly described in this column as “civil pollution”.

There was a time when “Paltan” areas were out-of-bounds for the public and in fact only a few civilians used to freely walk into Cantonment areas.  Cantonments were then the preserve of the militarymen and the civilian families who lived there were either employees of the units or those whose whereabouts were known.  Today, Cantonments are reduced to another mohallas of the city and, worse, the troops go into the city areas deployed for civil duties.  After duties, the guidelines are not followed by the officers and men in regard to “after duty hours”.  They mix with civilians socially, which is the result of increasing Pakistani moles in “Paltan” areas getting defence secrets at a prize. This is the reason why there is the need to restrict deployment of forces in aid of civil power. 

In fact, Pranab Mukherjee had expressed this opinion in Parliament as the Defence Minister in July last while reacting to an allegation against a retired Major for leaking out some classified information in Mumbai.  He had started in so many words that military deployment for civil duties needed to be restricted and that the troops required to be kept in barracks for training to defend the borders. Really they are trained to kill, and not to control law and order. Besides this, there is need for the policy-makers to ensure quality intake into the forces by improving recruitment norms and working of the Recruitment Centres which are presently steeped with corruption that leads to undesirable persons getting into the armed forces.

Another difficult task that the new Minister faces is to meet the present procurement requirements of the three Services, including expensive machines to upgrade the military preparations. Mukherjee had planned acquisition of the latest weapons and weapon systems for the Army, a number of fighter aircraft for the IAF and Naval equipment.  None has ever disagreed with the forces’ Headquarters to keep on upgrading their mechanical power.  Successive Finance Ministers have always stated that there would be no dearth of funds for national security. But proper, considered priorities must be worked out. You can’t buy all the machines available in the world market.  Moreover, there must be total accountability for all the purchases. Indeed, entire procurement system is presently crying for a fresh look, Mr. Minister.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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