Ajai Shukla: Muzzling the military


Phat Cat
Super Mod
Feb 23, 2009
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Ajai Shukla: Muzzling the military​

Newsprint and public energy have been expended this fortnight, both in India and Pakistan, in debating whether India’s Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor was belligerent and impolitic in telling his officers that China and Pakistan might band together for the next war against India.

The controversy still simmers as low-intensity media sniping. But it is important to note that this was about neither warmongering nor diplomacy. At a fundamental level, the dust-up stems from long-standing tensions within the Indian state over muzzling the military.

For those not in the picture, the controversy began with a Times of India news report, which had General Kapoor warning his officers in an “internal seminar” of the danger of a “two-front war”. The report failed to mention that a two-front threat had been the basis of India’s defence planning for decades. Security establishments in India, China and Pakistan know this well; but not the Pakistani press, which went wall-to-wall the next day with reports about Indian bellicosity.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office shot off a nasty comment about General Kapoor’s “hegemonic and jingoistic mindset”; and his opposite number, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — clearly susceptible to Pakistani media pressure — began the New Year by threatening India with nuclear retaliation.

Next, The Indian Express entered the fray, reporting in a front-page story that the army chief’s verbal indiscretions were repeatedly embarrassing the government. Then, in the same newspaper, came an opinion editorial by K Subrahmanyam, the doyen of India’s strategists, castigating General Kapoor for lack of sensitivity, suggesting that all senior military officers be put through diplomacy school, and recommending that pronouncements by military chiefs on strategic matters be accompanied by the caveat that those were only personal views. The cherry on this cake was the insulting reminder that this was not Pakistan, where the army chief formulated strategy.

Such articles could be dismissed as nonsensical were they not accurate portrayals of the government’s approach towards the military. The genesis of this vitiated relationship lies in the political and bureaucratic insecurity of the post-Independence period, when democracies across Asia, Africa and South America were falling like skittles before interventionist militaries. Today, even with India’s military, acknowledged worldwide as laudably apolitical, that destructive relationship continues.

In contrast to India, other mature democracies impose far looser censorship over their militaries, without unleashing a monster. Samuel Huntington’s widely acclaimed theory of “objective control” of the military — a model of civil-military relations that is implemented almost universally — grants the services autonomy in their professional realm. A military that has ownership of its professional bailiwick, the “objective control” thesis postulates, has little incentive for involvement in the political sphere. Civilian control is not abandoned, but asserted mainly on broader political issues.

In contrast, “subjective control” rests on neutralising the military through restrictive civilian controls, extending civilian oversight into spheres within the military domain. Subjective control is predicated on “civilianising the military”, while objective control aims at “militarising the military”, encouraging professionalism and responsibility within its realm. That includes negotiating within the public domain.

When the British Army Chief, General Sir Richard Dannatt, felt that his forces were strained from sustained deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said so publicly, forcing his government into remedial measures. US generals talk publicly about their need for certain kinds of equipment or resources; America views that as democratic bargaining for budgetary resources.

But the Indian generals of today, intimidated and silenced by Ministry of Defence (MoD) diktats, would never dream of publicly standing up for their organisation. A succession of generals has silently acquiesced in sending lakhs of soldiers to face bullets in J&K without quality bulletproof jackets and helmets. No general has spoken out against the MoD’s repeated failure to buy modern defence equipment, while returning thousands of crores of unspent rupees from the defence budget. Clearly, silencing the military by invoking propriety keeps many skeletons confined to the cupboard.

But, even within such a dispirited community, a rubicon is crossed when the MoD looks away while an army chief is humiliated, including within Pakistan. No government statement has clarified that General Kapoor was discussing a possible two-front war to an army audience, in a closed-door planning session, in a high-security building next to his headquarters in Delhi. Nor was there support from Defence Minister Antony, who assured reporters that India was not a war-mongering nation. By not mentioning the army chief, Antony effectively indicted him.

Close to the end of his tenure, General Kapoor is under a cloud after failing to act decisively in a succession of scandals: from dubious procurements during his command in Udhampur, to the recent land scam allegedly involving his close affiliate. While investigating those unsparingly, the MoD owes support to a respected institution — the Chief of Army Staff — when it is under gratuitous media attack.

Tailpiece: A legitimate accusation against the army chief could be that his threat assessment is outdated. Today’s threat, for which the military must plan, is of a three-front war. Besides the two unnamed countries, an internal front could be required against Pakistan-sponsored militants in Kashmir and a coordinated Naxal offensive.

Ajai Shukla: Muzzling the military


Respected Member
Senior Member
May 30, 2009
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The way you solve this divide is to have more ex-military officers run for political office.

India is sorely lacking in this department in that it has virtually no politicans with military experience. In the US, a very large number of Senators and Congressman have served in the US Military. These people then have a real understanding as well as concern for the welfare of the troops and all matters related to the military.

It is not an accident that the US political system considers having ex-military personnel running for political office as an advantage in a political race.

India because of its history and the horrible example of military intervention in politics next door in Pakistan, i believe has deliberately discouraged this practice.

When you have senior politicians and MPs who have served in the armed forces, then you will have a strong voice in matters of military interest in policy-making, but more importantly you will have people who really understand complex military strategic issues.

The second thing that India does not seem to be doing is in sending its officer corps recruits for overseas training. Why cant India send its young military officers to places like Sandhurst in the UK and West-point in the US.

Indian military officers graduate from Dehradun but it does not seem like they get a lot of exposure from the best military academies in the West. This should happen so that young military officers can distill the best practices from the best military universities in the world. They would also be more polished in their PR skills.

Many commonwealth countries still send the officers to Sandhurst, etc.


DFI Technocrat
Oct 10, 2009
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India is probably the only nation in the world where the military is rarely if ever consulted on any matter realted to national strategy and Regional Foreign policy. This leads to situations where the foreign office has little to no contact with the military leadership and no inkling of the military's view on any matter of geostrategic significance(which it should), hence statements made by either side are rarely balanced and both sides do not seem to be on common ground.while the military seems to be pushing for a hawkish approach on issues the Foreign ministry seems to be pushing for a more dovish line. While i have no doubt that both Gen kapoor and his counterpart in the diplomatic corps both have India's interest foremost on their minds i also have no doubt that they have probably never had a chat together , and that dear sirs is the root of the problem a simple lack of communication.For the resolution of this problem one thing is necessary The sad state of mistrust between the beuracracy and the military needs to be done away with the Military needs to be given a larger say in all matters related to foreign affairs and national security it will take time for the generals to understand the subtle nuances of foreign policy but the process should be initiated now lest it be too late in the future.

Mattster has brought up a good point regarding the lack of ex-military officers whithin the political leadership, i scompletey support that and would go so far as to say that the post of defence minister should be reserved for a candidate with a background in the general staff.

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