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"I First Intend To Restore The Soldier's Izzat"

"I First Intend To Restore The Soldier's Izzat"
The 20th Chief of Army Staff (coas),General Sundarajan Padmanabhan, has come in at a time when refurbishing defence management—and modernising the military—have become key imperatives. By experience and inclination, the new chief gels well with the new line of thinking in government and is keen to leave his mark. In his first exhaustive interview, the general talks at length with Outlook on the problems and the challenges the army faces. Excerpts:

What is your immediate task?

My thrust areas would be to restore the izzat (prestige) of the soldier and improve the quality of life of our officers and jawans.

In the aftermath of Kargil, do you feel a need to bring about a change in Military Intelligence (MI)? Is the present set-up adequate?

The present set-up has been there for some time. But it's by no means perfect...that is nobody's case at all. There are many things we'd like to do—and better—with the same manpower resource and equipment base. We've made wide-ranging recommendations to the Kargil committee. Its implementation can have many effects—division in the charter of the MI, its reconstitution, as well as a remodifying of its relationship with other agencies.

How long will it take?

We are not waiting for the committee's report to come through. An in-house group has been analysing every aspect of MI to see whether our training methods are relevant in today's proxy war conditions. Technical intelligence is also being examined and steps are being taken in areas where we were found lacking.

Shouldn't there be better coordination with other agencies?

It is actually there. Take external intelligence. We have our own people there along with them (raw) but not in the kind of numbers we would like, or the way we would like to utilise them.

Do you detect a sense of fatigue among our troops in Kashmir and the Northeast?

No. I did not find any signs of tiredness or of being run down. On the contrary, I feel I should be going up more often to get my batteries charged.

Is morale low after the Kargil experience?

We are looking into all this. Sacrifices will not be in vain.

Considering that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, do you feel a need to practise restraint?

Nuclear weapons aren't really for warfare. At best, they're tools for deterrence or for blackmail. They are not war-fighting weapons. We've shown our commitment straightaway by abjuring the first-use principle. Pakistan has enunciated its own policy...we can't legislate for them. But in order to ensure there's no accidental war or possible use of this weapon, we have to go in for Confidence-Building Measures (cbms) and mutually agreed upon safeguards. These will have to be put in place and the earlier we do it, the better it's for the subcontinent.

Take the government's Ramzan ceasefire and its extension. Isn't this a cbm?

That's a different kettle of fish. When I talk of cbms, I refer to what the Russians and the Americans had at one stage. For instance, we have to inform the other side sufficiently in advance in case of movement of troops or when an exercise is carried out close to the border. This sort of thing helps.

What are your strategic plans for revamping and restructuring the army?

The structure of the army is essentially very sound and time-tested. A systematic review of its organisational structure is already in place, where operational needs and technologies available are looked at periodically. But there will be changes taking place as a result of the four task forces set up after the Kargil operations.

What would these changes be?

One of them involves the question of a Chief of Defence Staff—that will entail both organisational and structural changes. There might also be something in the form of an intelligence organisation with a slightly modified structure. Weapons like the T-90 tanks, medium guns and weapon-locating radars are all in the offing. Getting the army on to the information age—so that we produce more IT-literate chaps in this modern age—is also a priority. Essentially, what we are interested in doing is to ensure that our operational capability is properly enhanced.

Will there be a tactical shift in anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir? Especially in the wake of increasing attacks on army posts and camps?

These fidayeen (suicide) attacks are in the nature of small-scale sting attacks. They hurt at that time. Most of them manage to get away if lucky, otherwise they get shot.

But it does have shock value...

It has shock value for that temporary instant. What it has in terms of value is that it beefs up the morale of the other side. In actual terms, these militants are tools in the hands of a group, which is teetering on the edge. Persuading others through monetary inducements to give up their lives gives them a false sense of bravado. What is required is greater vigilance on our side. The officer at the post has to ensure adequate supervision.

Has the challenge of militancy changed in logistic terms?Has there been a corresponding change in the army's tactics?

They are a very different variety from what we faced in 1993-94. Now, they are a battle-hardened lot and I will say that 50 to 60 per cent of the assessed militant strength is of foreign mercenaries. Hence, people's loyalties have changed. There are not many takers among the locals for a job as a militant. We have been able to plug some of the local supply lines and conduct successful anti-cache operations.

How long will the holding operations in Kargil continue? Will there be a thinning of troops in some of the front posts?

We are holding certain stretches which were earlier considered militarily not necessary to hold. We will hold them till our assessment shifts. Personally, I would like to thin down all this as in Siachen because it costs a lot of money. But there will be no abandoning of posts.

There has been criticism of the army for not communicating fully with the media. Don't you think its functioning has to be more transparent?

There was only a single access route during the Kargil operations and shelling was on at large stretches of the highway. It was therefore thought wiser to restrict entry. Yes, there might have been problems on the ground level on some occasions but it would not have been deliberate or out of a desire to shut out facts.

Are there lessons from Kargil?

There is a whole book on it. But personally I feel, for your own security, don't depend on the goodwill or the military judgement of the other. He may do the gun whistling, so be prepared.
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