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1971 too far back: India no longer at peak of its military preparedness

News1971 too far back: India no longer at peak of its military preparedness

India has been overtaken by geopolitical developments and considerable defence, security mismanagement.


CHANDIGARH: Exactly 47 years ago, the very nation created on the basis of the Two-Nation Theory after the British-facilitated bloody partition of India, was itself dismembered. For, on 16 December 1971, Lt General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, the Commander of the East Pakistani armed forces, who had been made Governor just two days earlier, surrendered to Lt General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command, in Dhaka, which was immediately declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to be “the free capital of a free country (Bangladesh)”. East Pakistan had formally broken from Pakistan, the world’s first country in recent history to be artificially created on the basis of religion (Islam).

Pakistan broke up because of its internal flaws: a perceived supremacy of Punjabis over the Bengali people, perceived supremacy of Urdu over the Bengali language and culture, perceived supremacy of West Pakistan over East Pakistan as a geographical and political entity, and the Urdu speaking Punjabi polity of West Pakistan considering themselves to be the sole territorial and ideological custodians of the newly founded theocratic state of Pakistan. In the end, the unaccommodating and undemocratic minded military and political leadership of West Pakistan lost out in its quest for power, control and domination, even as it cynically disregarded the lingual, cultural and political aspirations of a large section of its people who, instead, were subjected to sustained economic, political and electoral mismanagement along with unimaginable brutalities and terror.

Niazi was to subsequently describe the single most horrific crackdown by the Pakistani military on the night of 25 and 26 March 1971 in Dhaka as “a display of stark cruelty more merciless than the massacres of Bukhara and Baghdad by Chengez Khan and Halaku Khan or at Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) by the British general Dyer”. As a consequence, India was compelled to host 10 million refugees, 7.2 million of who entered India within a span of just four months—between end-March and end-July 1971.

The Indian armed forces of course played a key role. Along with the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau, it trained and armed the Mukti Bahini, which provided critical intelligence about the Pakistani armed forces and fought alongside the Indian Army which defeated the Pakistani forces in just 13 days to record a spectacular political and military victory that also comprised, until then, the largest ever surrender since World War-II. Indeed it was the crowning glory of the Indian armed forces and a negation of the Two-Nation Theory. Even so, the victory did not come easy. The Indian Army took eight months to prepare for the war and that too against a portion of a country that was geographically segregated and difficult for West Pakistan to militarily support along a long sea route that required circumnavigating Sri Lanka. Over and above, the Indian armed forces had the active support of both the Mukti Bahini and the local population, which served as a considerable force multiplier.

Two and a half years later, India, riding high on its military victory, conducted its first nuclear test which added to its military profile. China had conducted its first nuclear test only ten years earlier in October 1964 after defeating India in November 1962, which was India’s lowest politico-military moment almost akin to that of Pakistan in 1971.

But since then India has been overtaken by geopolitical developments and considerable defence and security mismanagement that has not done it good. The only two subsequent better military moments, which occurred in a span of four years, have been India’s quick and surprise pre-emptive wresting of the Siachen glacier in April 1984 (although that has come at a huge manpower and financial cost) and the successful arrest of those responsible for the attempted coup in Maldives in 1988. In 1999, the Indian Army fought a literally uphill battle to regain the many lost ridges and peaks along a 160 km frontage on the Indian side of the Line of Control in the Kargil and Ladakh districts of Jammu and Kashmir that had been unwittingly lost to a surreptitious Pakistani attempt at salami slicing a portion of India’s northern most state. Assisted by some able international diplomacy and support from the United States, India overcame that moment at, once again, considerable manpower and financial expense.

But India’s overall defence, security and geopolitical story has not been a happy one, mainly due to a series of negative developments in the region that have helped Pakistan. Immediately after its defeat in 1971, Pakistan increased its military ties with China, expanding into the nuclear domain and quickly developing a nuclear weapon capability. US President Jimmy Carter’s halt of military aid to Pakistan was short lived due to the Soviet Union’s military presence in Afghanistan that instead led to a massive US military and economic aid to Pakistan. This boosted Pakistani ISI’s guerrilla warfare capabilities that led to adoption of terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

Arjun, a third generation main battle tank developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is seen during a live demonstration by land systems at the DefExpo 2018 in Chennai, on 11 April. REUTERS

Thus, within a decade-and-a-half of its ideological and territorial partition, a nuclear-armed Pakistan, emboldened by its experience of training the Mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan along with quiet support from China had ceased to feel deterred by the Indian armed forces and its conventional military superiority. The thousands of lives lost in hundreds of Pakistani supported terror incidents in Punjab (1985-1995) and Jammu and Kashmir (1989 to date), the scores of terror attacks in various parts of the country including the Pakistani ISI-organised December 1999 hijack that witnessed the capitulation of the Indian state in the rugged terrain of Kandahar (Afghanistan) before a barbaric and regressive Taliban regime and the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, all combine to serve as a sordid testimony to this. India’s response to Pakistan’s thousand cuts remains a thousand bandages. Of course, political and administrative management in that state has done little to help. But what is more than evident is that the world’s third largest military force is unable to deter a Pakistan which is one third its size.

Successive reports prepared with monotonous regularity by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and the Comptroller and Auditor General, answers to the many questions on defence asked in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and the occasional statements, some subtle and some forthright, by Service Chiefs serve as a constant reminder of the long list of serious problems that the Indian defence establishment continues to face. The perennial equipment deficiencies, the qualitative and quantitative shortcomings in the armed forces’ officer cadre, the grossly inadequate state-owned military industrial complex, India’s research and development of high-tech equipment barely crossing the technology demonstrator stage, the long cumbersome procurement procedures for an import-dependent military and the constant scams and controversies in defence purchases and a flawed higher defence management system all combine to reflect India’s woefully poor state of military affairs and preparedness.

India is no longer at the peak of its military preparedness, performance and strength as was evident during the 1971 war. With China expanding its political, economic and military footprint, Pakistan riding piggyback on the giant military advancements that China, its all-weather strategic ally, is making, India’s woeful defence preparedness and a delicately balanced economy and the practice of realpolitik perfected by the United States, there is urgent need for some serious introspection and innovative thinking if India has to quickly build a credible and deterring defence capability.

Dinesh Kumar is a defence analyst

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