The National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, while stressing that the Agnipath scheme would not be rolled back, added, “The (idea of) war is undergoing a change. We are moving toward contactless wars, as also towards war against an invisible enemy. Technology is taking over at a rapid pace. If we have to prepare for tomorrow, then we have to change.” Doval emphasized that the government’s priority was to make India secure. He stated: “It requires equipment, it requires a change in systems and structures, it requires a change in technology, it requires changes in manpower and policies. These must be futuristic.”
Agnipath, in his opinion, is futuristic. Doval backed the armed forces in assuring the nation that there will be no change in the regimentation system, though he claimed that fixed class infantry regiments were a British tradition. His description projected poor understanding of military organizations, history, and ethos. Many aspects of governance and the judiciary are also based on British traditions. Why change only the armed forces? Instead of creating funds to manage national security, the government is insisting that armed forces reduce expenditure to meet what the government can spare. A classic case of placing a broken cart before the horse.
The reality is that this scheme is solely about cutting pensions and salaries. Period. Everything else is padding the truth, including what Doval mentioned. Agnipath is the opposite to what General Bipin Rawat, as CDS, was propagating, which was to increase retirement age of those in non-combat roles to reduce pensions. Hence, I wonder if Doval’s statement, “this has been debated and discussed over decades,” is the truth. Something is amiss. Why is the government experimenting with national security even as threats increase? Changes in aspects concerning national security should always be slow and gradual.
The first experiment was the CDS, pushed hard by Doval, which stalled with the untimely demise of General Bipin Rawat. Changing of rules to appoint his successor indicates that the government will go to any level to nominate its own preference, who could be a political choice, not based on seniority. Simultaneously, the responsibilities of the CDS are likely to be abridged and his role as Secretary DMA handled by someone else. Agnipath is the second experiment. Both ideas were not thought through. The only worthwhile and positive action decision taken by the government is Atmanirbhar Bharat.
Boosting the domestic defence industry will pay rich dividends in the years ahead. Doval, by his comments on Agnipath, attempted to assuage national anger. His insistence that technology would dominate future wars is a known fact. However, he failed to explain how an Agniveer can master complex technical equipment in a few months and operate them effectively for the balance of his service. Currently, even four years is considered too short a time to train soldiers to handle, control and maintain technically complex weapon systems. There is no doubt that forces need to change including ‘right sizing’, infusing technology and restructuring. However, this should be based on rationality, rather than on whims and fancies. All central governments have historically considered national security as their toy.
The reason: there has been no serious effort at studying and enunciating India’s current and emerging security challenges and possible responses. This has resulted in governments playing with armed forces structures and budgets despite increasing threats. For decades the armed forces were controlled by a bureaucratic MOD. Everything, including funding, equipping and policy making was the responsibility of the MOD, which had no accountability when it came to securing borders. The damning Kargil committee report displayed the rot within. While contact less war, as stated by Doval, is the future, so is salami slicing, infiltration, support to terrorism and defending unsettled borders by physically dominating the watershed.
Nuclear neighbours will keep operations below the threshold of war, while seeking to embarrass the opponent by pinprick actions, Ladakh being a prime example. It is to safeguard against this that thousands of army and air force personnel remain on active deployment. This needs to be factored into any futuristic defence planning and concepts of war. Experimentation should be based on pilot projects, rather than a shoved-down-the-throat model. Such thrust-down models convey that the government considers the armed forces incapable of determining their own structures as also unwilling to contribute to curtailing expenditures. Simultaneously it conveys that politicians and bureaucrats are extremely knowledgeable on national security.
If this was a reality, then the National Security Council (NSC), headed by bureaucrats and IPS officers should have evolved a National Security Strategy (NSS), forming the basis for any transformation within the armed forces. In its absence, governments have tampered with armed forces based on their own perceptions. Historically, defence budgets are enhanced post a security crisis, slashed a year later. Lack of an NSS eliminates responsibilities of different organs of the government in countering security challenges. The NSS should be the basis to determine capabilities, budget allocations, structures and force levels essential to meet emerging challenges.
This stumbling and experimenting with the armed forces by the political leadership will continue until a cohesive NSS is published. Till then, governments will continue bulldozing changes at will, whether these be for the betterment or against interests of the forces and the nation. Currently political leaders and their hangers-on have taken it upon themselves to restructure the forces ignoring their advice.
Pre-Kargil, the army was compelled to reduce manpower by 50,000. Kargil changed perceptions and force levels rose again. It is possible that another national security crisis may witness the demise of Agnipath. Our major shortcoming as a nation is that we avoid following a logical thought process but adopt measures based on whims and fancies of the political leadership. Can we be logical? Is anyone listening?