IMAGINE for a moment that you are a general of the Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army sitting in the central committee of the Communist party in Beijing, and that you are in the midst of a discussion on how to deal with India's nuclear ambitions. Your reasoning might go somewhat as follows: "In the fifties many nations considered India to be the democratic counterpoint to China. It was the recognised leader of the non-aligned world, while we were virtually isolated, denied recognition by the West, and denied membership of the United Nations, not to mention our seat on the Security Council. We changed all that in 1962 by showing the world just which country mattered. India's pretensions to leadership were exposed, and all talk about comparing, let alone of equating, it with us came to an end."
"Now the Indians have raised their heads again. They have tested nuclear weapons, specifically cited a threat from us to justify doing so, and are trying to muscle their way into the nuclear club. No one has paid heed to them so far, but the Americans are showing signs of bending. Others may follow. Their economy is in a recession, but it was doing very well till recently and could easily start doing so again. We, on the other hand, are facing severe structural problems. The construction bubble has burst. Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing are full of incomplete buildings and empty apartments. Exports dropped 17 per cent in October over last year. Domestic sales have stopped growing and factories and warehouses are full of unsold goods. Employment has virtually stopped growing. We have been forced to backpedal on our reform of the public enterprises, and without those reforms we cannot bring down our fiscal deficit. Growth has slowed down and discontent is mounting within the country. It is therefore possible that in a few years the Indians will once more be in a position to challenge our supremacy in Asia. Perhaps the time has come to teach India another lesson. We could administer it at no great cost in one of several places—Ladakh, or Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh. In any case our people could do with a diversion."
What might a similarly placed general in Pakistan be thinking? "Nawaz Sharif's last attempt to get the international community to put pressure on India to vacate a part of Kashmir or hold a plebiscite has failed. The insurgency in the valley is all but over; sending in Afghans and Pakistani ex-servicemen to keep it alive is leading nowhere. Pakistan is nearly bankrupt and steep cuts in defence spending are on their way. Keeping the army in a peak state of battle-readiness will soon become impossible. Yet the alternative, of accepting the status quo in Kashmir, is inconceivable. Perhaps the time has come for one last throw of the military dice."
I am not building these scenarios because I believe that they are likely to happen, but because they can happen. The purpose of defence, as distinct from diplomacy, is to insure a country against the worst that can happen and not just against what is most likely to happen. And the unavoidable truth is that while the May 11 nuclear tests may have lessened the threat of a nuclear attack on India, and of nuclear blackmail, they have increased the possibility of a conventional, perhaps limited, conflict with China, and of a far more dangerous conflict with Pakistan.
It is against this background that one needs to view the turmoil in the armed forces today. The Indian judiciary and bureaucracy have thrown a huge bone of temptation before the super-hawks in both countries. For, following the decision of the Delhi high court to order the chief of army staff to appoint an army commander for the eastern command who was not of his choosing, and that of the ministry of defence to appoint vice-admiral Harinder Singh as deputy chief of naval staff against the stiff opposition of the naval chief, Admiral Bhagwat, both services are in utter disarray.
Nor is the air force much better off, for the conflict that erupted last year when the UF government agreed to raise the allowances of pilots over those of engineers, has left the service divided and demoralised. The plain truth is that if the army chief is not speaking to his army commander; the navy chief is not speaking to his deputy and the air force engineers are not speaking to the pilots, then the Indian armed forces are incapable of defending the country. There could therefore be no better moment to attack India.
THIS incredible state of affairs has resulted from a two-pronged attack on the integrity of the armed forces that can have few parallels in history. The first has come from a judiciary that seems to be bent upon taking over the functions of the executive branch of government. The second from a mean-spirited bureaucracy to whose members the exercise of power has for decades been an end in itself instead of a means to an end.
On the surface neither decision is easy to justify. The mere fact that Admiral Harinder Singh claimed that he was being discriminated against on communal grounds by a chief of naval staff unduly influenced by a half-Muslim wife who was a communist to boot, shows his supercession was justified. In the same vein, whatever the merits of Lt Gen. R.S. Kadyan, the high court should have remembered that if it entertained his plea it would open a Pandora's box out of which would emerge forces of anarchy that would be impossible to contain. As for the defence ministry, its preoccupation with the exercise of power is reflected by the fact that it has challenged the high court for exercising a power, namely to whittle down the status of a defence chief, that it is itself bent upon exercising. And irony of ironies, all this is happening under the nose of a government and party that sold itself to the people on the plank of nationalism!