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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1595, 22 December 2004
Menu for the New Chief Firdaus AhmedDefence Analyst, Delhi
Lt Gen J J Singh, who has been designated to succeed Gen Vij as the new army chief from 1 February 2005, will have a tenure of about three years. Three years is a long enough time for a chief to make a lasting impact on the force. In their introductory and inaugural press conferences most chiefs spell out their priorities. These are generally about keeping the army well honed and in high morale. Since these yardsticks are difficult to measure, the success or otherwise of a chief in office is an exercise in subjective judgment on the outcome of some or other major initiative of his tenure.
Gen Vij for instance will be known to history as one who got the LoC fence through. Gen 'Paddy' has already expressed his preference for the proactive option in his post retirement book (India Checkmates America), an option he was denied while he kept the army ready on its starting blocks during Operation Parakram. Gen V P Malik barely retrieved his reputation by beating back the Kargil intrusion. Shankar Roychowdhury would not be known for much, since the Arjun tank does not amount to much, even though the army in his tenure was only 'Officially at Peace'.
Gen Joshi paid the price for a hard driving life in saddle for getting major initiatives as the Rashtriya Rifles through, though the jury is still out if that was a wise decision. Gen Rodrigues tenure saw Indian Army grappling with over-stretch, to ease which he was constrained to highlight that 'good governance' was also the army's business. Gen V N Sharma did well to pull the IPKF out, even if he would prefer to be remembered for his role as Eastern Army Commander in challenging the Chinese in 1987 at Sumdorong Chu. Of his predecessor, Gen K Sundarji, there is no denying that his main contribution to national security was in propounding a nuclear doctrine and preparing the army for the nuclear era. Against such line up of illustrious predecessors at 5, Rajaji Marg, there is little doubt that J J Singh would want to be known to history for more than being the first Sikh to head India's army.
Sam Bahadur in his inimitable style let it be known at the recent conclave of former chiefs that a chief has his own mind and could do without gratuitous advice. However, there is no escaping that J J Singh will have to contend with Kashmir. In the cases with earlier chiefs the situation was never as bright. Therefore, with due apologies to Sam Bahadur, Gen J J Singh would be well advised to set as target a draw-down in India's military engagement in Kashmir during his tenure, albeit one predicated on an improvement in the Indo-Pak relationship and the internal political environment in J&K.
That J J Singh has it in him to bring this about is evident from the unintended revelatory encounter with the press on being appointed chief designate. The General was caught on camera in an unguarded emotional moment on his stint in Kashmir when he had let off a newly wed militant on the promise of reform. This is the human face that could turn round the situation in Kashmir since the army is the ubiquitous presence of the Indian state in Kashmir.
An army press release on the adoption of a new counter terrorism doctrine has it that it would prioritize 'winning hearts and minds' in such situations. Institutionalization of such an approach, rather than leaving it to the level of liberality and enlightenment of officers, is the answer, rather than the army's efforts at media management to brush up its image. If Gen J J Singh manages to sell the doctrine to the hardliners within the force, it could, with an admixture of a Mizoram style political opening, bring about the end game in Kashmir. In doing so it could provide a telling counter to the K P S Gill doctrine of 'exhaustion', seen as India's only 'successful' military answer to insurgency so far.
Gen J J Singh, with a background in mechanized warfare having commanded a strike corps and the western army, would like to propel the army into being one of the RMA generation. This can only be brought about by Kashmir being off its agenda and the finances so released being directed into a down sized tech savvy force subsequently.
The first ever Indo-Pak talks at official level on conventional forces and CBMs recently concluded in Islamabad provide an interesting opening. With Pakistan having access to arms as a major non-NATO ally of the US and with it arriving at a modus vivendi on the conventional imbalance with India, its need to keep India tied down in Kashmir will recede.
With infiltration levels down, talks on with both Pakistan and with dissidents in Kashmir, no chief ever had it so good. Thus Gen Singh will have a lot to answer for in case, as he hangs up his spurs, the situation is back to square one in keeping with the unfortunate pattern in Kashmir.

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