This is not about the government's decision to appoint Lt-Gen Bipin Rawat as the next Army Chief; it is a prerogative that is unquestionable. Nor is it about his suitability or otherwise.
This is about perpetuating the narrative with regard to the need for hands-on experience of dealing with counter insurgency and low intensity conflict currently being waged by Pakistan, and the increasing threat from China, as the central focus of the government’s decision.
The narrative is dangerous because it attempts to underscore the centrality of only infantry officers for senior appointments in the Indian Army at the exclusion of others. It is even more specious as a new crop of younger military leadership is being created that typifies low-level tactical operations in LIC environment at the exclusion of operational experience in mountains and deserts/plains.
It needs to be underscored that the low intensity conflict waged through a proxy war by Pakistan is a low-cost strategy to undermine our security, particularly in J&K.
India’s response to Pakistan's proxy war at best has been defensive. Although the recent surgical strikes against Pakistani terrorist camps, while they defined limits of our threshold of tolerance, were a bold political step, nonetheless they have done little to contain cross-border terror.
In fact, calibrated Pakistani retribution has resulted in large-scale attacks on military installations of India, including Baramulla and Nagrota, resulting in exceptionally high military casualties.
It is important to highlight that the Indian response beyond low-level surgical strikes will need to be broader escalation as part of a punitive strategy colloquially referred to as a Cold Start Doctrine.
This will essentially be a mechanised response to the Pakistani strategy of a thousand cuts through low-level proxy war. It is in this context that India’s overwhelming mechanised forces, being a credible strategic conventional deterrence that prevents escalation, provide us the luxury of undertaking offensive responses along the LoC as also upping the ante in terms of cross border attacks.
Seen in the above context, overall offensive capability is a function of synergised operations undertaken against the adversary’s centre of gravity, that alone will result in dissuading Pakistan from undertaking the proxy war and debilitating campaign in Kashmir.
It is for these reasons of broader operational options that could be exercised that both the armour and infantry, including mechanised infantry, are designated as combat arms, and there can never be a distinction between the two in terms of operational command.
Unfortunately, the current appointment by making such a distinction is rupturing the organic cohesion of the armed forces, for which the nation in future could pay a heavy price.
Combat experience in LoC is another fallacy. No doubt such an experience at lower levels is important and the reason for our armed forces to have acquitted themselves so creditably, however these are small level tactical operations undertaken at company or battalion level and not at higher levels.
Higher command echelons in this kind of environment like the Northern Command or the Corps HQ oversee these operations and are responsible for providing operational intelligence and logistic wherewithal.
Here also, it is important to note that the Army is deployed only in rural areas with towns and other critical infrastructure being guarded by the paramilitary forces. This is not an area in which the Army Chief has to get involved beyond directional level.
In so far as the China threat syndrome is concerned, while there is relative peace and tranquility along the borders, the situation can deteriorate under the present scenario of growing Chinese bellicosity.
In the Indian scheme of things, it is the Army commanders who are responsible for their respective areas of operational responsibility, in terms of force application and management.
In short, the responsibility of managing the threat from China lies essentially on the Army commanders concerned, ie Eastern for Arunachal, Sikkim and border areas along Bhutan and Nepal, and in the Western sector and in Ladakh with the Northern Army commander.
Thus, overlooking the current Eastern Army commander on account of lack of experience in dealing with the Chinese threat sounds a bit jarring.
Military modernisation is another aspect. The Army has singularly suffered with all its plans going awry or derailed. Artillery modernisation plans, which centred upon upgrading field artillery to 155 calibre remains unfulfilled; it is a similar case with the infantry, air defence, armour and mechanised infantry modernisation plans as well.
Thus, apart from managing the current threat situation, the next Army Chief will have major responsibility in addressing increasing obsolesce of the Army as also increasing asymmetry importantly with China.
The short point rationale of lack of operational experience in counter insurgency/low intensity conflict, as also managing the threat from China, appears insufficient for supersession.
Greater emphasis of chief designate must be rapidly increasing obsolesce and modernisation. These do not entail suppression.
Lastly, the recent agitation for One Rank One Pension, dissatisfaction on account of the Central Pay Commission and growing disquiet over quota systems in promotions is impacting the organic cohesion of the Army with increase in arbitration and court cases. The Army at this juncture could have done away with another controversy.
Courtesy: Daily O