AFSPA Needs Constant Reviews, Not Knee-Jerk Repeal

The recent case of December 5, 2021 where the security forces in Mon, Nagaland killed 13 innocent civilians in an ambush and subsequent unrest and resulting in death of a soldier, has renewed the demand for repeal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act -1958 or AFSPA. As per the presumably draconian act, Security Forces (including the para military forces of Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles) and Central Police Organisations (CPOs) including BSF and CRPF, are given sweeping powers to search and seizure in civilian inhabited areas and arrest suspects without warrant for a limited period. Armed Forces can also open effective fire on terrorists or militants under this act.

AFSPA can only be applied by the Union Government where law and order has broken down and a defined area, district or the entire state has been declared disturbed, under the Disturbed Area Act, by the State Government. While the AFSPA gives special powers to the security forces and CPOs, the principle of minimum force and restraint is always exercised by commanders and troops at all levels. ‘One off’ actions like the incident at Mon happen due to the lack of judgment, scanty knowledge of the ground, and inept training at the junior level, and the actions by erring members of security forces never go unpunished.

Most of the areas where the Disturbed Area Act has been applied, fall in border areas wherein trans-border or trans-Line of Control (LoC) movement takes place with connivance of security forces of Pakistan, China and Myanmar. Immunity for acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, looting or drug trafficking is not given under this Act to any security forces under the AFSPA; as is widely misunderstood by a section of the society. Because the security forces in these border areas have to intercept armed infiltrating and exfiltrating groups in real time, immunity to take action against such groups is covered under AFSPA.

In practice, invariably, the security forces are accompanied by local civil police who are handed over the captured terrorists, militants, suspects, weapons, ammunition and dead bodies after the encounters. Utmost care is taken to use minimum force against such terrorist or militant in order to avoid collateral damage. However, if some unfortunate collateral damage takes place in conduct of bona fide duty, then the security forces who had operated in good faith are immune from being apprehended by the civil police and tried by civil court. However, the actions of troops are scrutinised under the Army Act and departmental disciplinary action is taken against defaulting service persons without delay; in pursuit of justice for the innocents, as per the law of the land.

The AFSPA is required to defeat the machinations of the adversaries who sponsor proxy war on our borders in a bid to destabilise the Indian state. AFSPA has also been applied in counter insurgency operations in hinterland in our Northern and North Eastern States of J&K (now Union Territory), Punjab, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Without the legal shield provided by AFSPA, the security forces would be hesitant to take offensive actions against the armed insurgents and those groups may continue to operate with impunity.

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However, utmost care has to be taken to ensure fire is not opened on innocent civilians and warning and restraint need to be exercised. Normally, the security forces only open fire in self defence when the terrorists open fire on to them from the opposite direction or from a flank. This restraining action also ensures that innocent civilians are not targeted. The life of an active terrorist or militant is not more than an year after he starts indulging in violent actions against the population, civil police or security forces. Therefore, if the information about the movement of terrorists is not confirmed, they are given the benefit of the doubt with the hope that they will fall in the hands of the security forces if they continued perpetuating violence in the society.

An issue related to continuity of AFSPA in some border states is the state and quality of the civil police in that state. Due to coercion or sympathy for the terrorist groups, who may be seen as freedom fighters by a section of the local population, a portion of the civil police invariably gets compromised and may not be acting in the interest of the Indian State. There is a dire need for police reforms in the country wherein politicians are stripped from the powers of employing the civil police as per their whims and fancy resulting in employment of overwhelming strength of the police force only on protection of the VVIPs leaving a small portion of the force to do the extended police duties for the common man.

Whereas the need to have AFSPA is paramount for security forces operating in difficult terrain against armed groups in border areas, its continuation in hinterland in less disturbed areas needs to be constantly reviewed and the act should be lifted wherever semblance of normalcy start showing up. The Act was lifted from Punjab after about ten years of its imposition once the state dramatically returned to normalcy in 1995. Similarly, in the North East, the law has been lifted from Tripura and Meghalaya but continues to be applied in Nagaland from 1958 onwards. There is a case for identifying less threatened areas of Nagaland and Manipur and lift the Disturbed Area Act and AFSPA from those areas. The state governments and security forces need to be dynamically reviewing the situation every three to six months to decide if a particular area needs to be removed from the listed Disturbed area so that AFSPA is no more applicable in that area.

(Lt Gen Ike Singha was on the Kashmir desk in Military Operations Directorate from 1993 to 1997)

Gen Bipin Rawat – First Among Equals

The tragedy that occurred due to the air crash on 08 December in Nilgiri Hills in vicinity of Wellington, Tamil Nadu, resulting in death of 13 out of the 14 passengers including India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and his wife Mrs Madhulika Bipin, left everyone including uniformed men, the government and citizens numbed. General Bipin Rawat, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, a man of destiny, came from a traditional military background. His father, Lt Gen Laxman Singh Rawat got commissioned into 5/11 GR, commanded the battalion and as a Lt Gen commanded the Maharashtra & Gujarat Area in Mumbai. The son following his father’s footsteps, not only did all that but surpassed his father’s achievements, became the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and the first CDS!

Little did I know on joining the Directorate General of Military Operations (DGMO) as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1993, that the young unassuming Major sitting opposite me would reach such amazing heights in his military career! I found Major Bipin Rawat totally grounded, quick on the uptake and possessing an analytical mind. He was meticulous in handling classified documents and would pull out the required file in a very systematic and organised manner inspite of all the ongoing chaos and confusion in our Section MO 3, during crisis management.

While Major Bipin Rawat looked after the conventional operations in Jammu &Kashmir, I was on counter insurgency desk and invariably both of us had to put our heads together and integrate our papers made for the DGMO to brief the COAS or the Raksha Mantri. Thus, we acted as a team and spent many a late nights together in the office if some important missions were going on. He always retained his positivity and demeanour and his levels of dedication and stamina to work under pressure were worth emulating. After long and grilling hours, once an operation was over, we made it a point to share a drink at his place or mine. We were both staying in NOIDA and were fortunate to have pick and drop facilities to the office at odd hours.

Over the years, in his outstanding career, Gen Bipin Rawat acquired a lot of operational experience and strategic vision which helped him in holding higher appointments very naturally and effectively. He got decorations after all his command tenures. As a Corps commander in the North East, he ordered a trans-border counter insurgency operation to annihilate terrorists belonging to NSCN-K group thereby setting a precedence for surgical strikes launched after Uri and Pulwama incidents and taking the battle into the adversaries land. As the first CDS of India, he set up mechanisms wherein his office was a bridge between the defence forces and the civilian government, thus giving a take off point to his successors who can further refine the procedures.

As we kept meeting at various levels, I was very happy to see that he was still brutally frank and as blunt and clear headed as he was in his younger days. Inspite of the higher and prestigious appointment that he held, underneath he remained grounded and accessible. Even as the COAS and CDS, he spoke his mind, calling a spade a spade, which sometimes did not go well with the public or powers that be. Since he meant well and spoke in the national interest, he could easily get away with it!

When we met at a wedding reception in Chandigarh sometime back, I could see the passion in him to bring in meaningful reforms and changes in the services to meet the challenges of modern day war fighting. He very swiftly took me through his plans to achieve time bound results and was aiming at making the defence forces “a lean and mean fighting machine”. Theatrisation of the defence forces by creating threat based Theatre Commands opposite our adversaries for Northern Theatre and Western Theatre was one of Gen Bipin Rawat’s pet project to achieve optimisation of all resources available in the theatre belonging to the three services.

In addition to the two geographical Theatres, Air Defence Theatre and Maritime Theatre have also been planned to be raised. This project remains work in progress. Whereas, Gen Bipin Rawat was well aware of the efforts of turf guarding by individual services, he was able to reason out the necessity of going in for these theatre commands to have better integration, synergy, optimisation and inter-operability during operations. He confided in me that he had political establishment, complete backing in what he was doing. Our northern adversary China has already raised the Theatre Commands and considering the posturing on our northern borders, it is essential that we also coordinate comprehensive national power in protection of our borders.

One is tempted to compare the journey of General Bipin Rawat with that of General Douglas Mac Arthur of the US Army. General Mac Arthur also inculcated the ethos and elan of the forces from his father who was also a General. Both were out spoken and had the convincing power to alter the opinion of their audience. Both the Generals had a personal connect with the rank and file as well as officer cadre. In different ways, both were charismatic and could influence people around them. Both were also coming into some controversies time and again, but like true fighters, stuck to their guns and had courage of conviction. Gen Mac Arthur and Gen Bipin were great orators and could articulate extremely well keeping their operational plans simple, workable and understandable by the commanders who had to get them executed. They were battle hardened and bold leaders who led from the front with personal example. They could easily read the minds and psyche of the adversaries and outperform them.

General Bipin with his great strategic vision has left a spring board for his successors to operate from. It will be an uphill task for his successor to foot the bill and move smoothly into his shoes. Above all, Gen Bipin Rawat has been the longest serving uniformed man in the history of Indian Defence Forces and died in harness by being at the pinnacle of his career!

(Lt Gen Ike Singha and Gen Bipin Rawat served together in Military Operations Director in 1993-94)

Does AFSPA Know A Mother’s Heart?

Deep sadness stalks the pristine landscape. The simmering shadow of angst and anger lingers like a specter of death across the villages and towns of Nagaland with its simple, hardworking people in the distant North-east of India. The legendary Hornbill Festival, with its pulsating rhythms, collective joy and beautiful oral and folk traditions, will not happen this year. The people of Nagaland are in mourning.

As many as 13 innocent citizens were killed by the security forces in the Oting-Tiru area on December 4, and in Mon one day later, in indiscriminate firing by the Army. One jawan was also killed in the clash which followed with people protesting the Army ambush.

You should see the silent suffering of the parents, including the mother and father of the twin brothers, among the six coal miners, shot dead in cold blood, for no rhyme or reason. The mother and father sit hunched outside their homes, stupefied, their stoic faces telling yet another story of the predictable pattern repeated yet again in the Northeast, reminiscent of similar massacres and killings in the past.

The six coal miners were returning on a pick-up truck, on Saturday, perhaps singing, happy to go back home and be among their people on the weekend, looking forward to go to Sunday church next morning. Instead, their coffins were neatly lined up for burial, from earth to earth, life to death — and so meaningless, brutish, short and nasty.

Video images have reportedly emerged of the Army trying to allegedly shift the ‘hidden’ bodies in another truck covered with tarpaulin, after wrapping them up in plastic. If these reports are authentic, and which sources in the Nagaland Police are claiming so, then why should the Army be indulging in this terrible camouflage?

The Indian Express (December 6, 2021) has reported from Dibrugarh: “Direct marise… they shot right at us,” said Sheiwang, 23. He is among the only two survivors of the eight coal miners in Oting village. Six of his friends were killed. He has been shot on his elbow and chest and he is battling for life at the Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) in Dibrugarh. Along with Yeihwang, 30, another survivor, now in a critical state, was shot near his ear. According to the report: “Union Home Minister Amit Shah in a statement in Rajya Sabha on Monday said the vehicle ‘was signaled to stop’ and was fired upon after it ‘tried to flee’. However, Sheiwang says: “We were not signaled to stop. They killed us directly. We were not trying to flee…we were just in the vehicle.”

The entire Naga society, civil society groups, the Naga Students’ Federation, political parties, the state government, have demanded that the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act-1958 (AFSPA), first enacted by the British, should go. This has been a universal demand across the country since long, but most regimes have refused to scrap AFSPA, except the Left-led government of Tripura, with Manik Sarkar at the helm. Under the Act, the Army can shoot and arrest, and they have total impunity.

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Over the decades, cold-blooded massacres and killings have become a method in the madness in the Northeast, but justice has eluded the people, despite huge public protests. The blood of innocents has been relentlessly spilled — what happened in Nagaland is nothing but a chronicle of a tale foretold.

Manipur, in the neighbourhod, has had its own litany of tragedy and injustice. Indeed, the lines of control of the so-called ‘disturbed areas’ where AFSPA has been enacted, are etched as lines of infinite sorrow in the hearts and soul of the people.

Extra-judicial killings had become rampant in Manipur earlier. The Mint, (August 1, 2018), reported: “A two-judge bench of the apex court on 27 July pulled up CBI for delays in investigating extrajudicial killings in Manipur and in filing of charges. On 30 July, Justice MB Lokur and Justice UU Lalit hammered home the point when they summoned CBI director Alok Verma… There is reason for the court’s impatience. The hearings are on account of a PIL by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur, and the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert (HRA), a watchdog. The PIL alleged 1,528 extrajudicial killings between 1980 and 2011. The allegations were against the Indian Army, its adjunct Assam Rifles, several central paramilitary forces, and the Manipur Police. While police are not protected by the immunity-and-impunity provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, they piggy-backed on the practice of security forces to conduct their own campaigns of… intimidation…” In July 2017, a Supreme Court bench also brushed aside the adequacy of claims by the government that compensation had been paid to families of the victims. The court underscored its own observation from 2015: “Now it’s like you kill 10 people, pay compensation and the matter ends there…”

In the picturesque mountain village of Malom in Manipur, amidst undulating meadows of the magical Imphal valley, across the rice fields and pristine ponds, a silent memorial tells its own sad story, with the names of the dead, young and old, all innocent, etched forever as a testimony of Army atrocities. Infamously remembered as the ‘Malom Massacre’, 10 locals, including a national bravery award winner, were shot dead by the 17 Assam Rifles on November 2, 2000 here. This massacre triggered the 16-year long Gandhian fast and satyagraha of Irom Sharmila, with iron in her soul, a nasal pipe for forcible liquid transmission in her nose, condemned as a prisoner for years.

As her fast in custody, drawing global attention, entered its 15th year, this reporter met her on November 5, 2015 in Imphal. In her one-room ‘cell’, with solidarity messages and newspaper clippings on the wall, including a letter by Nelson Mandela, surrounded by books, including one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  she had said, “How can nations call themselves advanced or civilised if they practice, sanction and legitimise organized barbarism in the name of law and order? Why can’t they repeal AFSPA if they know so well that it is completely inhuman, anti-democratic, brutal, and irrational; that, it has led to mass insecurity, relentless tragedies, angst and injustice in Manipur and Kashmir; that it has led to the armed forces going berserk without accountability and with absolute impunity? I am fighting for reason and humanity. My struggle is peaceful. Why should the armed forces be allowed to kill and torture and get away? Why are we treated differently from the rest of India?”

Indeed, while her protest continued, so did the peaceful vigil with candles of the ‘Mothers of Manipur’, night and day, even as the entire civil society, sat on fasts in solidarity with Sharmila. The mothers have been a rock in the protracted struggle against AFSPA. And it is they who shook the national conscience yet again, and with such amazing power and raw force, on July 15, 2004, outside the Kangla Fort in Imphal, then the Assam Rifle headquarters.

On that historic day, 12 of the mothers stripped themselves totally naked outside the Fort with banners saying: ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ and ‘Indian Army Take Our Flesh’. They were protesting the murder of of Manorama Thangjam, 32, who was picked up by the men of Assam Rifles four days earlier, and then, assaulted and killed most brutally.

Manorama’s bullet-riddled body was later discovered near a paddy field. There were gun shots on her private parts and thighs — clearly, with an intent to camouflage the sexual assault. This was the height of injustice and impunity, and this was simply unacceptable anymore. That is why, the mothers stripped themselves naked outside the Assam Rifles headquarters.

This reporter visited the poor home of Manorama surrounded by dense foliage outside East Imphal in November, 2015. Her mother was still heart-broken, remembering how she was picked up by the soldiers with such brute force, and for no reason whatsoever. That nightmare, as a dark and cruel memory of a night of terror, continues to haunt the Manipuri mothers till this day.

And, yet, AFSPA remains. And so does the nightmare.

‘Expansion Of Women Role In Army Will Benefit The Force’

Kerala-based Lt Col (Retd) Susan John, 62, welcomes the steps to ensure a greater role for women in Armed Forces. However, she says, the move hasn’t come a moment too soon

I joined Indian Army after my Class 12 in 1978 and am very proud to have served the forces. I was with the Military Nursing Service (MNS). Ours was the only Army corps way back then which gave lady officers permanent commission.

It was only after the Supreme Court, in February 2020, upheld the right of serving short service commission (SSC) women officers to be granted permanent commissions just like their male colleagues. And lately the welcome step of female cadets being allowed to enroll in Sainik Schools.

So you can see it took the government and the defence apparatus over three decades to realize what women are capable of when it comes to the uniform services, that too when prodded by the apex court. All I can say is the decision has not come a moment too early. Better late than never.

I see Armed Forces as the best career option for girls with the discipline, culture, respect and security that it gets with it. I felt so secured in my life as a lady Army officer in the army that it cannot be expressed. The Army unit was like a well-knit family and our matrons were our role models. Today when I look back I feel choosing the uniform was the best decision of my life. I have no regrets.

Lt Col (Retd) John says women know how to protect, be their family or nation

The expansion of roles for women in the Army will also benefit the force immensely. The whole notion of branding women as the weaker sex is mere patriarchal propaganda. In whichever roles women officers have served the defence forces, they made exemplary contribution without fear in the past. And now, there is no stopping the girls and women of today.

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I can say with confidence that women officers in their new roles will smoothly adapt themselves without a challenge. No one would be able to raise a finger on them when they ask for their promotions or higher ranks; such is the capability that women possess. Incapable men who opposed combat roles or higher positions for women can go sulk now that the SC has paved the way.

Even in the medical core we served in filed areas. In fact there are lady officers who are far ahead of men managing certain corps over their male counterparts. Army can reach to great heights in every filed with the support of women, I believe.

A woman knows how to take care of the family and protect it. She carries this conviction be at home or the warfront. Men can never match the mental strength and the skill of a woman, no matter which roles she takes up.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Milkha Singh: As We Knew Him

Milkha Singh, the Flying Sikh, passed away at the age of 91 on night 18/19 July in City Beautiful due to the deadly pandemic COVID-19 whom he had been bravely fighting for the last few weeks. His wife Nirmal Milkha Singh, another accomplished sports person of India, who had led the Indian volleyball team in her younger days was also the victim of the same pandemic a week back. The legendary couple was the epitome of the spirit of Chandigarh which is a unique, young, vibrant and happening city. For the Tricity, passing away of a highly motivating couple almost simultaneously, marks an end of an era.

Milkha Singh rose to become an international sportsman and a legendary figure after overcoming lots of obstacles. He was a survivor of the violence that erupted after the partition in 1947 which engulfed his entire family. Determined to make it on his own, he joined the Indian Army as a soldier and his talent and potential was spotted by some vigilant eyes of the senior instructors who watched his stride when he ran in the platoon group as a recruit during morning and evening physical exercises. Rest was history. He was named as the Flying Sikh during the Common Wealth Games by the chief host of the games, General Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan. He was the first Indian Athlete to have secured fourth position in an individual position in Olympics and the first four athletes broke the world record!

My tryst with Milkha Singh started as late as 2016 when I retired from the Indian Army and settled in the Tricity. I would meet him on the Chandigarh Golf Club at least once a week and greet him as was customary amongst the club members. Sometimes after playing the front nine holes, we would come across him in the restaurant before playing the return nine. I always found him to be warm, alert and inspiring. At so many occasions, I found him practising alone after or before a round. He walked fast and had an erect body, deceiving his 90 years of age.

Wall of Fame at Milkha Singh’s residence in Tri-City

On enumerable occasions, he would tell me, “General Sahib, I have great regards for the Indian Army who has given me everything from name to fame. I shall always remain indebted to the Indian Army.” This showed the depth of the character and humility that this great soul had. He has been a motivating factor for the youth of the country for decades till his very last moment.

When I told my wife Baljeet, for the first time, that I met Milkha Singh in the golf course, she was blown away and immediately dug out her old black and white sports album. She had played basketball for Punjab and represented the state at the nationals for seven times. There were pictures of her getting a prize from Milkha Singh. In another picture, she as the captain of the university team was introducing her team to the chief guest, Director of Sports, Milkha Singh. She recalled that Milkha Singh would always show up at their sports camps and was a favourite of all athletes. He would always be surrounded by the youngsters wanting to hear his anecdotes.

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A few months back we were sitting in the gazebo in the golf club when I greeted him. He asked me, “General Sahib, how do you spend your time after retirement besides playing golf?” I told him that I was working as a director with a cyber security company by the name of TAC Security which was founded by Trishneet Arora, a school dropout at the age of 19. He was quite intrigued and asked me how exactly we operated. I told him that we penetrate and test applications, with the prior permission of the owner or the company, for any vulnerabilities; and once we find them, we plug them. He was so inquisitive and interested at the age of 90 because he always wanted to remain relevant and upgraded his knowledge to be able to communicate with the younger generation.

Some weeks later, I again bumped into him and we got into a conversation which I always cherished. I told him that we had started a new subsidiary company to cover sports events which was called “Liberal Sports.” I quickly added that we had done features on Yuvraj and Rannvijay and he will be the next sportsman to be interviewed by the company. He immediately told me, “Anything for the Indian Army”.

Shortly thereafter, we got in touch with his manager and were invited to his house at 2 PM. I made it a point to emphasise to the media team that they couldn’t be late. Therefore, we collected them at 1 PM at the golf course and we reached his home and rang the bell exactly at 2 PM. Milkha Singha was immaculately dressed and sitting at the dining table with his wife. He was impressed that we were dot on time and took me to the two walls where I saw some rare pictures of his with very prominent national and international persons.

Milkha Singh flanked by hockey legend Dhyanchand (left) and Dara Singh

The photograph that appealed to me most was that of the trio, Dhyan Chand, Milkha Singh and Dara Singh. We were offered steaming hot coffee on a cold day and the interview would, probably, be the last one of the legendary athlete.

India has contemporary athletes who have achieved much greater heights but Milkha Singh would always remain a ray of hope and a beacon for all budding sportsmen of the country for decades to come. I am reminded of the quote used by Mac Arthur the junior, “old soldiers never die, they just fade away”. Milkha Singh may fade away as an old soldier, but his achievements in sports field will forever continue to motivate young India.

‘Modi’s Diwali Visits A Morale Booster For Soldiers’

Mohan Paliwal, 56, an ex-serviceman from Pune, says a soldier may feel a bit gloomy for having to spend a festival away from home and family. On such occasions, a visit by PM can raise his spirits

I have served Indian Army for nearly two decades in official capacity and after taking retirement a decade ago, I am still unofficially serving the force in my social capacity. Which is why I keep a close watch on the events related to the country’s safety and security.

I feel very happy with the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi has handled the situation on our borders so far. Ever since he assumed office, Modiji has spent each Diwali with the armed forces and tries to cover posts of strategic importance in each of his visits.

In my entire career, no political leader except George Fernandes visited the forward posts in his or her personal capacity. There are many festivals that I have spent away from family and I can tell you from my personal experience, that on such occasions you cannot escape feeling a little gloomy. But if the country’s Prime Minister pays you a visit on that day, it makes you feel valued, respected; as if you truly belong. Therefore, I feel Modiji choosing to spend every Diwali with defence personnel will be a morale-booster for the troops for a long time to come.

This year, Modiji chose to visit the army personnel at Longewala, Rajasthan, which is very symbolic in nature. When the PM and the RM (Defence Minister) visited Ladakh early this year, it was a direct message to China and, in my opinion, the Longewala visit on Diwali was a message to Pakistan, which often functions in the shadows of China.

Visiting the western border at a time when the eastern border is ‘active’ is a smart move to my understanding. China and Pakistan should know that we are ready on both the eastern and western fronts. Also, Longewala was one of the first places where a major battle was decisively won during the 1971 India-Pakistan War. I wish I could visit the war memorial there.

Paliwal says PM Modi is not afraid of bully China

His critics say that Modiji is incapable of maintaining good relations with our neighbouring countries, but I believe he is handling it fine. If our neighbours believe that they can arm twist India, then they are mistaken. Modiji is not afraid of any bullying nation and his belief in our defence capabilities will be honoured by the men in uniform. China might have started the LAC standoff but look how it has been cornered from all sides today.

I have never met the Prime Minister but saw him fleetingly once in Delhi and marvelled at his energy and confidence. I believe his lifestyle is as disciplined as a soldier and he can take quick decisions, just like the top brass at a defence unit does. He feels like one of us.

Right from the time I joined the NCC wing during my school and college years in Bhopal, I have valued discipline. I was the first one from my extended family to join Indian Army and I strongly wish that my coming generations would also serve the force. I was associated with the Medical Corps and I absolutely loved my stint. While I have taken retirement, my wife continues to serve the Army.

China Threat: Raise Defence Budget To 3% Of GDP

The robust and brave faceoff given to China at Galwan will send a strong message that India is able to stand up to China. However, as in 1962, this engagement with China is a wake-up call too and should herald deeper thinking about the current capabilities of India, its defence spending and the need to restart some projects that were suspended.

China’s incursion may have many reasons, but the fact is that the threat remains real. China’s words of peaceful coexistence cannot be taken at face value. India needs to increase its defence budget from 1.8% GDP to 3%. More importantly, the matter can no longer be left exclusively to the diplomats. This is a Defence Ministry issue now.

Despite the media columns and statements by some politicians, the powerful  challenge given by India to what amounts to almost an ambush, showed courage, determination and the ability to see off China.

The current ongoing Sino-Indian standoff since the last five weeks peaked in the bloody violent action in the Galwan Sector on night 15/16 June 20 at Patrol Point 14 resulting in death of a Commanding Officer and 19 soldiers on Indian side and around 40 soldiers on the Chinese side. The scuffle took place and continued till mid night in around three phases, when the Indian commander approached the Chinese troops around dusk time to exhort them to pull back their troops in conformation to the decisions taken at the Corps Commander level meeting on 06 June 20.

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This may be the tip of the iceberg as far as Chinese strategic goals along the Line of Control (LAC) are concerned. The escalation has also thrown the Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 between China and India to the winds. Chinese soldiers had come physically prepared to up the ante – short of opening fire by small arms.

The June 6 meeting was headed from the Indian side by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, 14 Corps Commander, an outstanding suave officer who has effectively handled sensitive situations in United Nations peacekeeping as a Brigade Commander. The Chinese delegation was headed by Maj Gen Liu Lin. A series of talks at various levels are on, after the violent incident of 15 June resulting in death of around 60 soldiers on both sides. The Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has also spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on 17 June 20. It is in the interest of both China and India to de-escalate the situation and resort to high level peace talks. These fatal casualties have taken place on the LAC after a gap of 45 years.

However, the standoff this time has been different from the previous ones including the Doklam standoff in 2017 in terms of force levels used and the areas addressed. The Chinese in a diversionary action, probably to test the waters, crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in North Sikkim at Naku La on 05 May 20 and Fingers 4 West of Pangong Tso Lake. There were violent actions between the two sides but there were no fatal casualties.

One week later they came into Eastern Ladakh at four carefully selected sectors in Galwan, Hot Springs, Demchok and Fingers Area. India built an axis from Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie via Galwan, Gobra Post and Demchok to support the Sub Sector North last year. This axis enables the Indians to cover a distance that was being covered in two days, just in six hours. The axis was very close to the Karokaram Pass and touched the sensitivities of the Chinese as it is part of the BRI and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As the road axis passes through the Shyok and Galwan Valleys, the Chinese have crossed the LAC from the North and North East and occupied higher reaches along the axis in order to be able to interdict any movement along the axis. China has also stoked trouble for India by enticing Pakistan and Nepal in their favour.

A large number of reasons can be attributed to the ongoing standoff. There are voices of dissent within China pointing at the manner in which the COVID- 19 was handled by President Xi Jinping. Some writers even stuck their neck out to suggest that he takes the responsibility of mass scale deaths and steps down. It is felt that the recent intrusions in Ladakh and Sikkim were undertaken to divert the attention and galvanise the domestic public opinion against India.

Another reason speculated is that since US has asked WHO to carry out an honest investigation on the origin of Corona virus and India has just taken up the leadership of WHO for the next two years, China wanted to pressurise India to play ball and not go too Thoroughly into the issue to blame China for the spread of COVI-19.

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Abrogation of Article 370 and converting Ladakh into a Union territory by the Indian Government has also been objected by the Chinese as they feel New Delhi will now control this contested region directly.

Where does the violent action of 15/16 June lead to the already building tension in the sub-continent? India has political, diplomatic, economic and military options which can be grouped into the long and short term options. It is accepted fact that Indian Army has stood its ground and has challenged and checked the ongoing incursions from the Chinese side.

The protocols and methods of patrolling and domination of the LAC are very unconventional and un-military like. The Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 states that neither sides will fire, cause explosions or bio-degrade the area along the LAC. The deployment of regular troops will remain in deeper territories of each but patrols can be sent from both sides to dominate their side of the LAC. There are varying perceptions of the LAC on both sides and at times the difference may be upto ten to fifteen kilometres. Whereas these protocols were sufficient to diffuse the situation in the past; use of caveman like sharp tools as weapons, to cause fatal casualties, has been resorted to for the first time.

First at the diplomatic and military levels, the rules of engagement need to be refined. Two nuclear powered professional armies cannot continue to use cave man tactics to enforce their will on each other. During peacetime, border management is the responsibility of ITBP under the Ministry of Home (MHA) and the regular troops only do periodic patrolling at the LAC. During hot war, the Army formations are tasked to move to the forward defences and the operations are controlled by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The peace talks are generally steered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This complex and multi ministry control needs to go; and operations must be controlled by MOD. The MOD needs to be in control of the situation now.

The short term Military options include staying put at the forward positions and creating habitat, infrastructure and logistic bases for the forward troops prior to setting in of winters.

Importantly the raising of the Mountain Strike Corps that was to be completed in eight years, but was put on the back burner by the present Govt, must be completed within two financial years.

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The Armed Forces need to deploy drones, long range radars and aerial reconnaissance to dominate the LAC. We cannot patrol a threat simply with binoculars

For the long term measures, Defence Budget needs to be enhance from 1.8 percent of the GDP to 3.0 percent for the next two five year plans. As in 1962, India needs to wake up to the threat. It is real and could escalate over the years as China tries to assert its power.

Procurements as per the Joint Long Term Perspective Plan for all three services needs to be stepped up for capacity building. While indigenous production should be encouraged, Transfer Of Technology (TOT) must be included in all big ticket acquisitions of aircrafts, ships, guns and anti-aircraft systems.

The infantry has been neglected for a long time as the infantry acquisitions are not considered big ticket procurements. It is high time to equip the ground soldier with a lighter and more effective weapon system and equipment.

Resource integration must be ensured in utilisation of all intelligence resources of the country as was practised during the Surgical Strikes after Uri incident and at Balakot after the Pulwama incident.

Diplomatically, we need to steer international opinion against China as the aggressor. The Quad including US,Japan, Australia and India, must carryout greater number of Joint Exercise and enhance interoperability of their armed forces. Armed forces of Taiwan and South Korea should also be included in these exercise to isolate China regionally and internationally.

India needs to revisit it’s No First Use (NFU) Nuclear Policy and make it clear like its adversaries that it retains the right of first use of tactical nuclear weapons on the lines of its adversaries and we must stabilise our Triad capability of delivering these weapons by air, sea and land.

Our successful missile technology should be further enhanced for over 95 percent accuracy at long ranges. The bottom line is that any emerging economy can only prosper when its defence forces are strong and they have adequate dissuasive and deterrent capabilities to check mate its adversaries.

India must take a leaf from China’s book to enhance its comprehensive national power in a peaceful manner without any fanfare. China kept on growing peacefully for nearly forty years before taking an aggressive posture in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and land borders with India and Bhutan two years back. Hopefully, China has learnt from the stiff resistance given at Galwan and understood that India is no push over and is a regional power to coexist with rather than mess with.

Situation 'Relatively Calm' At Border

The overall situation along the Line of Control (LoC) remains “relatively calm” after the warning issued to Pakistan Army not to target civilian areas, the Indian Army said on Wednesday.

“Post our warning to the Pakistan Army ‘NOT to target civilian areas,’ the overall situation along the Line of Control remains relatively calm. In the last 24 hours, the Pakistan Army resorted to intense and unprovoked firing with heavy caliber weapons in selected areas of Krishna Ghati and Sunderbani, targeting Indian posts and civilian areas with Mortar bombs and heavy Arty Guns. The same was effectively retaliated by the Indian Army. There have been no casualties on the Indian side,” read a statement.The Indian Army is “committed to avoid civil casualties, especially along the Line of Control,”the statement added.

“All actions taken by our defence forces are targeted towards counter-terrorism and terrorist infrastructure, away from civilian areas, to avoid civilian casualties. We are maintaining strict vigil along the Line of Control and IB. Any further provocation or misadventure by Pakistan will be responded in a befitting manner with dire consequences,” the Army further said.

“Would reiterate that as a professional Army we are committed to avoid civil casualties, especially along LoC. All actions taken by our defence forces are targeted towards counter terrorism and terrorist infrastructure,away from civilian areas,to avoid civilian casualties.”

Cross-border firing intensified after India, less than two weeks after the Pulwama terror attack, carried out air strikes in Pakistan targetting terror launch pads in Balakot. A day after the aerial strikes, Pakistani jets violated Indian airspace in Rajouri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on february 27 and dropped bombs on their way out.

The February 27 dog fight between Indian Air Force pilots and Pakistanis resulted in the shooting down of an F-16 by Indian MiG-21 pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was the only pilot who fired at Pakistani aircraft from the Indian side in the engagement, sources said.

The entire operation took place over the skies of Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir after the Pakistanis made a failed attempt to target Indian military targets in Nowshera sector. (ANI)

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