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Defence Policy An Imperative Need

Updated: October 30, 2010 4:30 pm

“There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth,” said Chanakya and nothing could be further from the reality existing in India’s neighbourhood.

                In a scenario where our neighbourhood is bristling with hostility and with land border of about 14,880 kms with seven countries of which most seem to be none too friendly or are used by forces inimical to the country’s security, it is time that there was a defence policy which provided the much needed national security.

                As part of the exercise to pursue a defence policy there is an urgent need to develop infrastructure along the borders taking the cue from the Chinese, who have brought railway lines almost touching the Sino-Indian borders in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

                Apart from this, there is indeed need for giving top priority to formulate a comprehensive view of political, social, economic, technological and strategic aspects and ensuring that there is a cohesive policy which would deter anyone from taking on an aggressive posture.

                Sounding hawkish but there is indeed a very urgent need to adopt a tough posture just as the recent one against China on reports of it, sending its troops to the Sino-Pakistan border along the Karakoram Highway should be the line that should be more frequently taken if India is to be a force in South Asia or the world.

                Since Defence means protection of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is a need to speed up the modernisation of the armed forces and ensure there is no unwanted and unnecessary delay in procurement of weapons for the three services though it appears to be otherwise.

                As has been observed over the years, almost every defence deal has been caught up in some scam resulting in delay in modernisation of the armed forces and though the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) does open up the opportunities for getting better arms for the forces but on the ground, this does not seem so.

                Though the government has now chalked out an ambitious plan for modernising the defence forces ranging from the purchase of 126 Multirole Medium Range Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force to construction of nuclear submarine Arihant and an aircraft carrier, what is of immediate urgency is how well are we prepared to face any eventuality considering the type of noises emanating in the neighbourhood.

                The initial moves to make weapons indigenously was made in the late 1950s, but it was only after the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962 that the government woke up to the need for meeting defence requirements through indigenous industry taking two years after the debacle whose background is yet to be known with the Henderson Brookes Report pertaining to the 1962 War being locked up in a cupboard in the office of the Defence Secretary.

                Two years after the Sino-Indian War which aroused the slumbering Defence Ministry, it began a systematic planning on a five-year basis and the First Five Year Defence Plan (1964-69) was drawn up. This plan took into account the resources available and assistance which could be expected from friendly countries. The plan was primarily based on an expansion and modernisation programme considered necessary by each service in the light of the respective threat perception assessed. It also proposed a defence production base that would gradually reduce the country’s external dependence, provide for improvements in border roads and communications, and a modest expansion of DRDO.

                The Government recognised the imperative need to synergise ‘defence’ with the Defence Ministry stressing on the “inevitable need to harness all resources of the country for the country’s defence and for the defence effort to derive full sustenance from the country’s economic development plans”.

                A Planning Cell was established in 1965 in the Ministry of Defence ‘to deal with the wider aspects of defence planning’ for medium and long-term defence planning and to maintain constant liaison with the Planning Commission and other ministries.

                However, the first five year Defence plan revealed that the manufacture of weapons was not an overnight business and the government realised that to attain self-sufficiency in weapons needed a long period and so there was need to look for purchase abroad. Yet another problem arose when the government decided to explore the foreign market as there was shortage of foreign exchange for this purpose.

                Apart from modernisation of the armed forces, another major drawback was lack of infrastructure in the border areas with the government for long deciding against constructing roads in the border areas.

                This is amply borne out by the observations of an official to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence as to why the pace of construction of border roads was slow and is definitely an eye-opener for anyone concerned with security.

                “It would not be incorrect to say that two years back the philosophy of our nation was that we should not make roads as near the border as possible. That philosophy is telling today very clearly as to why we do not have roads. It is only two or three years back that we suddenly decided a change of philosophy and said no, we must go as far forward as possible. It is going to take time. Unfortunately, the time cannot be compressed. Whatever we can do, it will take time. Probably the time that we are taking may be one of the least that could be taken by any other agency like PWD,” the official said.

                What becomes all the more important in today’s prevailing security scenario is aptly said by former defence minister Jaswant Singh that it would indeed be “in public interest” to discuss the formulation of our Defence Policy in depth. It is vital for us to have an educated public opinion on the subject. The complex problems of India’s security need to be considered rationally and scientifically, Regrettably, as many have observed, there has hardly ever been a “serious and an in-depth debate” on this subject since Independence.

                So when discussing Defence Policy, it does become very pertinent to see how the Chinese have progressed in this regard with their emphasis on rapid development of infrastructure such as the high-altitude railway line (Golmund-Lhasa) in adjacent Tibet in the remarkably short period of five years. It commenced work on the 1142 km Golmud-Lhasa rail route in 2001, just as India ordered faster work on the Kashmir railway, and inaugurated the track on July 1, 2006.

                Now, Beijing is planning to extend the Golmund -Lhasa rail link up to Xigaze, south of Lhasa and from there to Yatung, a traditional trading centre situated at the mouth of the Chumbi valley just a few kilometres away from strategic Nathu La pass. Anticipating the China’s strategic gain across the Sikkim, India approved a long-pending proposal of rail link for this landlocked Himalayan State. The project, expected to be completed by 2015-16, will provide much-needed rail connectivity to Sikkim with the rest of the nation. The rail links at Gangtok and the respective Chinese link across the border will not only boost bilateral trade, but also counter each other on military movement.

                The Chinese also intend to extend the Golmund-Lhasa line to Nyingchi, an important trading town north of Arunachal Pradesh, at the tri-junction with Myanmar. From Nyingchi this rail link is further scheduled to link up to Dali in Yunnan province, extension of this rail link up to Dali will complete the circuit of the Chinese national rail network.

                “It will enable the 14 groups of the Chinese Army located at Kunming, with its divisions at Dali, Kaiyuan and Kunming to rapidly move westwards from Yunnan to Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) by railway. Similarly, the 13-Group Army (Unit 56005) from its locations in the Sichuan province shall be able to utilise this linked railway network to move to TAR,” observed China watchers.

                While China is reaching its railway almost near Arunachal Pradesh, Indian response is only limited to planning and feasibility studies. The Indian Railways’ network is yet to make a way into Arunachal Pradesh. In January 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took an initiative and announced the package to construct rail link between Harmuti 18 and Itanagar. The project, vital for national security, will also boost the local economy.

                These rail lines being laid by China assumes significance since as is well known that it is part of the Chinese strategy to have the “string of pearls” around India. Besides these railway links, the northern neighbour is also helping countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan-construct ports, which though maybe called by it as aid and assistance but definitely in the long run provide a strategic base for that country’s Navy.

                Surely, these developments in the region and a Maoist party continuing to call the shots in Nepal having overthrown the monarchy, it indeed seems as though the sands of time are running out though not to be sounding pessimistic but definitely India has to speed up the development of both infrastructure and focus on research and development in the defence sector.

By Sri Krishna

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