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Sunday, July 19, 2009

2847, 17 April 2009
Rethinking Civilian Control Firdaus AhmedFreelancer e-mail:
Pavan Nair writing a commemorative article in the reputed Economic and Political Weekly on the silver jubilee of India’s militarization of Sachem, deplores the manner in which the Army was permitted to go ahead with its plans in the first place and secondly to insist on remaining on the high battle ground despite civilian led attempts to negotiate a disengagement with Pakistan. The Army has given itself a Cold Start doctrine of uncertain governmental imprimatur. The military’s engagement with the US is a driver in the deepening of the ‘strategic partnership’. Karnad’s latest book India’s Nuclear Policy tells of the military’s institutional position favouring ‘credible’ as against ‘minimum’ in India’s ‘credible minimum deterrence’. This could over time prove Basrur’s thesis, in his Minimum Deterrence and India’s Nuclear Security, that the strategic-military-scientific lobby’s interest on intricate weaponization could lead up through ‘creeping growth’ to Limited Deterrence. On the internal security front, the weight of the Army’s opinion for continuation of both deployment and the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for the same is not contested despite public opinion in the effected areas ranging from J&K to Manipur. Its reluctance to deploy in Central India has forced a questionable policy on the Ministry of Home Affairs of relying on new raisings of central police organisations.
With regard to its self-conception of institutional good health too the government has accepted its position. Phased implementation of recommendations of the Army’s Bagga Committee on upgradation in the officer rank structure, that were in turn taken on board by the AV Singh Committee, testify to the organisational weight available with the forces. Sensitivity of response to the manner the high powered ministerial committee of the government revisited the issue of pay scales is indication not only of the valued position of the military but also of the relative power it has begun to command, backed by the ex servicemen lobby.
A circumstance of increased military salience appears inevitable in light of the increasing militarization of polity, best evidenced by the post 26/11 perceived necessity of the ruling party to increase the defence budget by 36 per cent against a post Kargil hike of only 23 per cent. Manifestos of political parties echo security concerns with strengthening the military being central to each prescription. The trend in the military’s institutional weight is also reflective of the militarization of the neighbourhood with the Global War On Terror. That this would continue into the future is certain with India’s ascent of the great power trajectory and the military’s indispensability to preferably deterring, and, if necessary, meeting China’s eventual challenge.
What are the implications for India’s much vaunted civil-military relations? So far India’s politicians have countered this by inter-positioning the bureaucracy against the military. The bureaucracy in turn uses inter-service cleavages effectively with the Defence Secretary being a virtual Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The media, where required, is an effective tool, as demonstrated in the pay commission related episode involving the office and person of the current Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee (COSC). However, it is apparent that the military, now a political player, would require more sophisticated management in the future.
Firstly, the Arun Singh Committee recommendations would require to be taken to their logical conclusion with a Goldwater-Nichols equivalent Act in India. Secondly, the power of a generalist bureaucracy requires curbing through a merging of the service headquarters with the ministry. Thirdly, to bring about parliamentary control over this powerful Indian avatar of the Pentagon, greater attention and involvement of the politicians through bipartisan parliamentary committees would be necessary. Procedures bringing in greater scrutiny into defence processes need to be in place.
Keeping the military at bay in the belief that its professional position would queer an integrated approach to over-arching security questions is no longer warranted. India has a developing strategic culture in a variegated strategic community; organisational experience in the National Security Council (NSC); and competing power centres in the security field, such as the ‘strategic enclave’, to lend balance. It is poised at a generational change in political leadership. Its democracy and federal structure are healthy enough for cooptation of the military. Thus, it would be appropriate to accord the military ‘insider’ status on Raisina Hill.
The advantage that would accrue is that the military would be party to collegiate decisions. Currently, its position, if at odds with that of the government, appears jarring. This either leads to the impression of over reaching by the military or weakness in the government; neither of which is entirely accurate nor paradoxically without substance. Such a move would effectively iron out the military’s edges averred to earlier in the article. For an emerging power to persist with control structures of a developing state would be anachronistic. Where public money, and more importantly questions of freedom and security are involved, the index of civilian control is domestication of the military.
The incoming dispensation could rethink civil military relations along these lines; even if the aspect has not found mention in any manifesto under the mistaken belief that all is traditionally well.

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