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When veterans ask questions…

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.

Harsha Kakar | New Delhi |

In a recent letter addressed to the President and Prime Minister, 144 veterans have raised multiple issues concerning the current tensions in Ladakh. They have claimed that the incident at Galwan occurred “because of failure at one or more levels in the political, civil and military establishments,” and have demanded an inquiry into the same.

They want the Henderson Brooks report of 1962 to be released while demanding that the “government expeditiously conclude boundary agreements with all neighbours, especially China and Pakistan.”

Other aspects covered include employing Central Armed Police Forces for counter-insurgency, relieving armed forces for border security, reducing dependency on imports and seeking non-political solutions to internal security threats. There could have been errors in some spheres of judgement in the ongoing standoff.

It is easy to criticise, but taking decisions in a fog of information, within a limited time, is different. China hid its intentions as it had meticulously planned this operation, seeking to apply military pressure on India for multiple reasons.

Intelligence inputs indicated enhanced presence of Chinese forces, as is annually prevalent in the region in the summer.

However, deriving intentions from available intelligence is a subjective matter and remains dependent on past experiences. Every individual in a democracy has the right to question the government and seek answers, as do veterans.

However, analysis to determine what led to the current predicament, failures in assessment, causes of casualties and possible remedial measures is always resorted to once the situation stabilizes. This was the norm post 1962 and the Kargil war. In neither case was a commission appointed during the conduct of operations.

Veterans would be aware of this. Demands for resolving border issues are not new. Borders can be resolved if adversaries are conducive to talks. In case of India’s main antagonists, China and Pakistan, there is no resolution unless India surrenders precious territory to win peace, which is unacceptable.

Another solution is to accept talks under the tutelage of an international agency, which would be equally degrading. This is well known nationally, including to senior veterans. There were multiple standoffs across the entire LAC, none of which proved advantageous to the Chinese.

After the initial surprise, subsequent reaction to Chinese incursion was speedy, denying them any advantage. If the Chinese have desired talks at the Special Representative levels, then they have possibly realised that India will firmly hold ground and refuse to back down.

To deter such attempts in the future, India needs to invest in developing military capability or enhance its international groupings, rather than seek border solutions from a position of weakness. Developing in-house R and D and production capabilities, while reducing global dependency, is always desirable.

No nation can become a power if it continues to depend on imports.

When service chiefs announced support to inhouse development and acceptance of equipment, even if it met 70 per cent of qualitative requirements, the first to raise their voice against this decision were the same veterans.

The army statement announcing Galwan casualties was delayed as collation of data was underway, talks were on to ease tensions and multiple units had taken part in the clash. The army issuing a rushed statement, retracting and posting fresh comments is equally undesirable. Silence is occasionally essential to enable diplomatic discussions to proceed in the right direction.

The fact that Galwan broke the myth of invincibility of the PLA and displayed the determination of the Indian soldier and gave the government increased confidence in its ongoing China policy, was missed by the veterans. India and its armed forces are not the same as in 1962. Even in 1962, despite shortfalls, the Indian soldier fought with determination and doggedness, causing immense casualties to the Chinese, denying them a free run.

The Indian soldier even then was a formidable foe, an aspect which we as veterans must respect. With better equipment, weapons and defences, the Chinese know that operations against India would be no cakewalk. None of those involved in planning and conduct of 1962 are currently alive.

In this vastly different scenario, would there be any benefit in releasing the Henderson Brooks report, apart from increased political mudslinging? The demand for reconsidering switching the army from internal security in J and K to border management is ideal, provided the CAPFs can handle the situation and the army feels secure that during emergencies its lines of communication would not be impeded.

There have been occasions when political pressure from governments in the valley resulted in the army being replaced by the CAPFs in some districts, only for the decision to be reversed when terrorists regained ground. The CAPFs should first be made capable before such decisions are taken.

Resolving internal insurgencies through talks is always a government mantra, irrespective of its political affiliations. Relative peace in the North East is evidence. The Naxal insurgency in the hinterland continues solely because of the Naxals’ unwillingness to talk, as also the external support they receive. With security forces holding the Chinese at bay, the least the veteran community can do is to back the armed forces and the government, which draws strength for its China policy from the doggedness and determination of those deployed at the frontline at 16000 ft, unwilling to cede an inch.

They need to be supported rather than questioned for their actions.

The famous quote that the soldier on the ground is the best judge should remain foremost in minds. Veterans, who signed the letter, are my gurus and possess far greater experience in handling matters of national security.

They would never have accepted similar accusations and questioning, in open media, when they occupied high positions and handled adverse situations. They should, therefore, provide similar respect to those currently at the helm, forget their days in uniform, accept that the current heads are equally capable, care for soldiers under their command and have as much concern for national security as veterans who initiated the letter.

This letter would have had greater value had it been timed with the termination of the standoff.