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The Army Chief's challengeBy
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
An out-of-turn promotion always creates ripples in the organisation with extreme loyalties coming to the fore. It has happened in this case too. However, there is a serious side to what will just blow over as emotional rhetoric. The intensity of inter- Arm and Service rivalry has never been so intense.
THE unseemly controversy concerning the appointment of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the next Army Chief is hopefully past. Time is now upon us to examine what his main challenges are going to be. In all probability, he will have a three-year tenure which is a good duration to produce results. However, before that a final word on his selection. It is still hoped that Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi the very fine General Officer who was bypassed will be finally appointed the equivalent of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) or whatever the final head of the joint system is going to be. General Rawat's elevation was done on the basis of seniority-cum-merit with the five senior-most eligible Generals being considered and the third in seniority among them being picked by the civilian authority. Most knowledgeable people have always believed that the seniority system alone is insufficient but in the same breath have also projected the need for a credible system of selection by merit so that there is broad consensus and not the kind of divide which has occurred this time. It is hoped the government will examine this and consider the feasibility of a collegiate or some such system in which there can be representation of civil society, veteran community, the opposition and the government. Future generations will sing paeans to the wisdom of today's political leaders if this is instituted.
The Chief's challenges are in so many domains that to cover them all in an essay with any detail is a task well-nigh impossible. It will be done in parts but there has to be a start point and that should necessarily be from the very reason why Gen Rawat is being elevated over the head of others; the domain of asymmetric and hybrid threats to India's security, especially pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir. It is his hands-on experience of dealing with counter-terrorism/militancy, LoC and LAC that has got the General the apex post.
What exactly are these threats? The year 2016 has indeed been worrisome, with three major terrorist strikes at Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota. While terrorist strength is still sub-optimal as far the terror groups’ intent is concerned, this has been a successful year for them in terms of infiltration, the best in the past few years. The counter-infiltration grid, successfully based on the LoC fence as its focus, is now leaking and needs innovations and perhaps induction of new surveillance equipment on a fast track. The LoC ceasefire is just about holding. There have been large scale violations and unlike in the past we seem to be suffering casualties due to questionable quality of operational works assets and even the absence of snipers. Response to ceasefire violations have been intense so far and caused much damage to the other side but the casualties on own side are also unacceptable.
The domain which is begging to be addressed is the security of garrisons in depth areas. It is not the Valley which is being subjected to this but the Jammu region and the same can go further into Punjab. The terrorists and their masters are aware that targeting soft elements of the Indian armed forces or police draws more mileage. It is well understood that armed forces and police cannot be strong everywhere but need to have credible response mechanisms to limit damage. The quantum of casualties we have suffered is not acceptable to the public. In the period between 1999 and 2006 we suffered a similar phase and overcame it through a series of very strong measures, training and awareness. The Army having conducted successful credible surgical strikes once is now under increasing pressure to respond similarly for every Pak-sponsored terror strike. The surgical strikes were misread by many as a deterrent action; they were not and were just conveyors of message of intent. The credibility will have to be maintained.
All the above will need Gen Rawat to act quickly through a set of proficient advisors who are well versed with Jammu and Kashmir affairs. It will have to be done even as he wrestles with issues such as OROP, Seventh Pay Commission and earlier anomalies, jawan and veteran welfare, the North-East and the Line of Actual Control and various equipment-related issues all of which place demands on the time of a Chief. He cannot root himself to Jammu and Kashmir affairs or be considered just as a Chief oriented to General Staff. There will be much on his plate from the Adjutant General (AG) and the Military Secretary (MS). Till March 2017, he will have the services of a hands on AG, who is his senior and is his ex-Commanding officer, Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma. Fortunately General Rawat is no stranger to the MS Branch having handled the policy desk himself.
An out-of-turn promotion always creates ripples in the organisation with extreme loyalties coming to the fore. It has happened in this case too. However, there is a serious side to what will just blow over as emotional rhetoric. The intensity of inter-Arm and Service rivalry has never been so intense. It is all based on a set of promotion policies which are highly skewed in favor of the Infantry. While everyone recognises the need to compensate the Infantry for the hardship it endures perhaps the personnel managers of the past may just have gone overboard bringing light-hearted banter to a state of bad blood. This can only take the Army in one direction, downhill. There will be protests from different lobbies of the veterans who are strong on social media which too cannot be ignored but the new Chief would be well advised to review the entire gamut of promotion policy and not fall to pray to pressure from lobbies. This will need intense courage and impartiality, two qualities any Chief would be proud to wear on his sleeve.
Perhaps General Rawat can start with what has been under severe criticism, the undue concentration of too many senior officers of the Gurkha Rifles in positions of importance at the Army Headquarters and select a deputy (Vice Chief) from a different Arm than his. It will send a tremendous message to the rank and file and drown out some of the negativity which has taken place on his appointment.
General Rawat has proven himself in various challenging appointments in his 38-year-long career and it is not for nothing that he has built for himself the reputation of being a doer. The nation and the Army should wish him the best and stand by him in his earnest mission ahead.
The writer is a former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and Military Secretary. He is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.