What would Steven I Wilkinson say today?
Civil-military relations in Pakistan have remained a prickly issue because for half of its existence, it was under military rule. Even when civilian rule has prevailed, the Army has been accused of meddling in domains beyond its constitutional role. The fact is that subsequent civilian governments have been weak and the Army, being a powerful institution, has tried to fill the vacuum. Apparently this is about to change, because the current incumbent, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was handed the baton of command by predecessor General Raheel Sharif in November 2016, has other ideas. Reportedly, while addressing a gathering of senior army officers at the General Headquarters in December 2016, General Bajwa passed on some pearls of wisdom, stating: “The army has no business trying to run the government. The army must remain within its constitutionally defined role.” He also asked his officers to read a book titled ‘Army and Nation’ written by Steven I Wilkinson, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Yale University, about Indian Army’s relationship with the civilian government after independence. Wilkinson’s book provides details of changes made in the structure and recruitment pattern of India army to suit the fledgling democracy in the new country. The almost 300-page book makes for an interesting reading as it details why the democratic process in India has been a success.
General Bajwa has had a fair amount of exposure to the Indian Army, having served under former Indian Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, as a brigade commander in the UN peace-keeping operations in Congo in 2007. After General Bajwa assumed the command of Pakistan Army, General Bikram Singh, in an article published in “Times of India”, commented: “In the UN operations, General Bajwa’s performance was totally professional and outstanding.”
While General Bajwa’s comments may be milk and honey for the current ruling dispensation at Islamabad (because they had an uneasy relationship with General Raheel Sharif) Bajwa’s counterpart in India appears to be acting contrary to Wilkinson’s observations regarding the Indian army.
About a month after General Bajwa’s appointment, General Bipin Rawat was appointed as India’s 27th Chief of Army Staff after superseding two senior most Lieutenant Generals; Praveen Bakshi and P M Hariz. In the tradition-bound Indian military, the side-stepping of two senior generals has been unthinkable but the decision was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval. According to Saikat Datta, in his December 19, 2016 Op-ed titled, ‘Rawat’s appointment as Army chief is in line with Modi’s aggressive foreign policy’ the criteria which swayed the decision in favour of Rawat was that Ajit Doval and Rawat, who both hail from India’s province of Uttarkhand, district Garhwal, were hand in glove in planning and executing the so called “surgical strike” in June 2015 against Naga insurgents inside Myanmar. General Rawat was commanding the Dimapur-based 3 Corps, whose Special Forces from 21 (Para) Special Forces carried out the alleged attack. In the same article, the informed columnist divulges that in November 2016, at an official lunch held at the National Defence College in Delhi, Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat, then Vice Chief of Indian Army staff, spoke informally to the course participants. Expressing his views on the so called “surgical strikes” conducted by Indian Special Forces across the Line of Control on September 29, 2016, following the Uri attack, he appreciated that the strikes had achieved their limited objectives, but he said that he was not happy with the limited range that the Indian Special Forces had. In his view, he told the attending officers, Indian Special Forces had a long way to go before they could achieve deep penetration surgical strikes, like the one carried out by US Special Forces when they took out Al Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Apparently the conversation was leaked to the Prime Minister’s office and it was the deciding factor in the appointment of General Rawat.
Ever since his appointment, a marked change is visible in the conduct of the Indian Army Chief. Contrary to his predecessors’ practice – and what has been pointed out by Professor Steven I Wilkinson in his book – the Indian COAS is being regularly seen interacting with media.
General Rawat has been expressing his opinion on a regular basis on various Indian TV Channels as well as sharing his thoughts with the print media. While in the past, Indian Defence, External Affairs and Home Ministers would come out with threatening statements lashing out at Pakistan after every false flag operation, now General Rawat has taken it upon himself to deliver fire and brimstone speeches directly in line with the belligerent thought process of Modi and Ajit Doval.
Pretending that the September 29, 2016 “Surgical Strikes” actually took place, General Rawat declares it to be a well thought out operation and that India has sent across a message with the strikes that attack won’t be tolerated. Playing to the gallery, he reiterates that Indian Army will not shy away from a second surgical strike if peace in the region is disrupted. He asserts that India is not a war mongering nation but there are certain thresholds that shouldn’t be crossed. He warns that the response will vary because his 1.3 million-strong force has the requisite will, intelligence and capability to destroy terror wherever it emanates.
Regarding terrorism, Rawat insists that the dynamics of terrorism are constantly changing and the Indian Army must think ahead in that direction. Claiming that terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan’s side, he urges his troops to think ahead, and ball has already started rolling in that direction.
The aggressive general insists that apart from the different options available to take the battle to the terrorists and their handlers, Indian Army is prepared for two-front war involving Pakistan and China simultaneously but he emphasizes on the need to look at cooperation and not confrontation with Beijing.
Bipin could not resist commenting on the recent missile tests by India and stated that apart from the development of the Agni-IV nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, the forces have taken a series of steps to slowly but surely transform the “discussion” posture against China into “deterrence”, which in turn is now being upgraded to “credible deterrence”.
Responding to the media’s queries regarding the “Cold Start Doctrine”, the General stated that Cold Start Doctrine exists for conventional military operations. Whether India has to conduct conventional operations for such strikes is a decision well-thought through, involving the Government and the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Although these frequent media interaction of Gen Rawat being aberrations are not being viewed favourably by the Naval and Air Chiefs, yet it is obvious that Modi and Doval have found a loud mouthed spokesperson in the new army chief whom they could manipulate to lead adventurism against Pakistan and China.