I suppose we are at the SECOND 'enough' of "Enough is Enough". Do you feel strongly about something? If so, SAY so. Speak Up man. We dont want repetition of 1962. It is high time the Government and all those who matter wake up from the deep slumber and false sense of security they seem to be in or else we may be in for a Natinal humiliation of the highest order.
Sadly , such issues often get side tracked into a political debate , whereas they ought to be addressed objectively as matters of operational importance that concern the nation’s security . And its not the first time that its happened either.
In June 1999 ,as the Kargil conflict threatened to spiral out of control , and we found ourselves with our backs to the wall , the Army Chief , General Ved Malik , responded to a perceptive query from the media with a statement that has been often quoted 'We shall fight with whatever we have'
Kargil is now just another footnote in history but in military terms it has been the only war-like situation faced by the country since 1971. What is little known is that Kargil showed up for the first time in recent years that our combat capability had been severely degraded through years of neglect and misplaced priorities .
‘Vijay Diwas’ may have its own relevance but the Armed Forces cannot forget how we scraped through Kargil with the grit and sacrifice of our brave Jawans . Mercifully, Kargil remained a border conflict, for what would have happened if full scale hostilities had erupted , is anyone’s guess .
If such was our plight at Kargil against a seemingly inferior adversary , the dismal situation against China can only be compared to the biblical narrative of David and Golliath. Like the feeble David we will certainly need God on our side if ever we are to face the Chinese Golliath ( again ! ).
Kargil may have happened a decade ago but all indications are that our military credibility remains suspect even today. A security environment that is disconcerting may be ringing alarm bells for our main line security forces who have to cope with a double jeopardy situation, with the Naxal menace inside and the belligerent Chinese knocking on the door. If that was perhaps a ‘ wake up call ‘ from the Air Vice Chief its time to call a spade a spade and honestly ask ourselves - how did we reach this sordid impasse ,when all was hunky – dory until the 1971 victory over Pakistan.
Historical introspection provides a plausible explanation. Somewhere in the mid seventies we got mesmerized by the Pokhran initiative and lost our bearings . The prospect of a nuclear deterrent created a strange delusion and we literally sacrificed our conventional warfare capability at the alter of nuclear deterrence. Ever since then our policy makers have misplaced our strategic priorities, falsely believing that nuclear deterrence reduces the need for conventional forces. This has been our undoing.
Obsessed with nuclear deterrence we have squandered our scarce national resources on building a massive nuclear arsenal whereas the more compelling need was to equip and modernize our Armed Forces . No one denies the need for a nuclear deterrent provided we can afford it without denuding our conventional warfare capability . A nuclear deterrent serves no purpose unless it is matched alongside by a conventional capability that is highly credible.
What is worse is that our nuclear mindset has imbued us with a false sense of security and lowered our guard by degrading our 'true' capability to fight a war which has to be done with conventional forces. Of what use are Prithvi, Agni and Arihant if our conventional capability has been emasculated? Do we really believe that nuclear wars can be fought and and won?
Our foremost strategic concern should have been to build – up our basic war machine , whereas we have done the opposite . Having placed the cart before the horse we are being led astray in this lop sided manner with the DRDO as the Pied Piper , hell-bent on hoarding –up Prithvies and Agnies ,awaiting Armageddon.
Deterrence has a ground reality . Unlike nuclear deterrence which is subjective it is conventional deterrence that really matters , as it not only prevents a war but if the need arises – it ensures a credible response in our favour .Unfortunately, our nuclear warfare gurus live in a world of luminous fantasy and have dragged us back in time to the Cold War era . We are making the same strategic blunder made by Great Britain in the sixties and seventies with its Polaris – Trident nuclear warfare programme. This national folly was realised by the atrophied British Royal Navy when it could barely muster a motley group of ships to sail for the Falklands operation in 1982. From a post war navy of unprecedented size and firepower that boasted of 900 warships including 52 operational aircraft carriers, it was stripped within a span of just twenty years and left with only two mothballed aircraft carriers in its inventory.
Sadly we don’t even learn from the mistakes of others,that we will never need to fight a nuclear war , but a conventional war can never be ruled out . Kargil nearly went that way . Its time to shed our nuclear mindset and stop deluding ourselves .
[The writer was the Navy Chief during the Kargil conflict]
This article was published in the ‘STATESMAN' Dated 29 Nov 2009