An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 21 October 2006  

The need for India to appoint a CDS, which we had been advocating since Kargil, was once again brought to the fore by the unnecessary washing of dirty linen in public by one of our former Chiefs of Staff, in this case former Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis. No doubt the motivation was to gain publicity for his recently published book of memoirs. Perhaps it was in retaliation for what the former Army Chief Gen. Ved Malik had written in his book. We have often wondered why it is necessary for people in power, who are now retired, to write books to justify their actions when they were in office –– maybe because their actions were questionable in the first place and now need to be justified for posterity. Recent cases in point are Vishnu Bhagwat, Jaswant Singh, Ved Malik, A Y Tipnis and Pervez Musharraf. Hopefully we will soon get the low down from Natwar Singh and George Fernandes too!

Tipnis was known to be an upright officer. He was the Chief of Air Staff in early May 1999 when the Kargil intrusions by the Pakistan Army took place . Gen Pervez Musharraf was the architect of that secretly planned controversial foray to snatch the commanding strategic heights along the LOC from under the Indian army’s nose, and cut India’s road link to and from Ladakh. His book In the Line of Fire, is doing the rounds and has been widely reviewed in India and Musharraf claims Pakistan nearly succeeded in winning the war.

Interestingly, in a nine page article in the October issue of FORCE magazine, brought out on the eve of the Platinum Jubilee of the Indian Air Force on 8th October, Tipnis went public on the reasons for delay in actions taken to meet the Kargil intrusion with air support. He bared names and conversations peppered with details of all the secret parleys that took place between the Chiefs and Vice Chiefs of the Armed Forces for many days and with others including their interaction with the NSA Brajesh Misra and the former EAM Jaswant Singh till 24th May.

The matter appears to have finally been discussed with PM Vajpayee for the first time in a CCS meeting that was held only on 25th May, and he decisively gave his approval on that day to employ air power along the Line of Control in Kashmir to remove the Pakistani aggression in the words, “Theek hai, kal subah se shuroo karo “ (All right, start tomorrow morning). Before that date there were ad hoc meetings. The MOD seems to have been sidelined. In India only the PM who is the de facto Commander in Chief can give higher military decisions under the powers vested in him under Article 52 of the Constitution. The President is a ceremonial Commander in Chief, and the three Chiefs are equal and autonomous, which in the past too had led to many anomalous situations in the wars that India has fought. The Government is reluctant to release the official papers of these wars so no lessons can be learnt.

The baring of hitherto secret machinations of the pre Kargil war happenings made by one of the prime actors responsible for India’s security, the then Chief of Air Staff, needs heeding. Tipnis’s outburst as it appears in print, reveals the inherent weaknesses in the current decision making process in India’s higher military command. It also brings to sharp focus the diffused way in which the nation’s security responsibilities are divided between the three Chiefs with no single head to coalesce the collective Services viewpoint, and project it to the Government. There are 19 separately situated commands so no theatre command responsibility exists, except perhaps in the Andaman and Nicobar Command. Gen SF Manekshaw realized these weaknesses when preparing for the 1971 war and he assumed the mantle of a CDS as a one off case, as he had Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tacit support. Today with coalition Governments in place such a tactic may not work, and needs institutionalization. Strangely, kept out of the decision-making loop for days was the powerful Defence Secretary, as he was junior to the Chiefs. The newly instituted National Security Adviser, whose role has changed from merely being an adviser to that of a decision maker at a level of the Defence Minister, comes out in the revelations.

The start point of the action to unleash India’s aerial might, according to Tipnis, actually began on 9th May when his Vice Chief, Brar came to his office for a cup of coffee and informed him that the ACAS (Intelligence) had inputs that the Army was in some sort of difficulty in the Kargil area, but the Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen Pal, was away on leave in Pune and the IAF’s AOC, J and K, in Srinagar had not been informed of anything untoward or been approached for any help. In New Delhi, the Army Chief, who also the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Gen V P Malik was abroad and Lt Gen Chandrashekar was officiating as the Army Chief and Admiral Sushil Kumar was officiating as the COSC. The COSC is a post held in rotation by the senior most Chief by appointment in office. It appears that only telephonic talks took place between the Vice Chiefs. On 14th May Chandrashekar met the Air Chief and told him the Army could throw out the intruders if the Air Force provided Mi-17 attack helicopters in support of the Army to hasten the matter.

The Air Chief was reluctant to accede to this request without a Government approval as he wanted air power to bear and the CBM (confidence building measures) agreement with Pakistan did not permit flying within 8km of the borders. In a COSC meeting on 16th May, called at the behest of the Air Chief and which irritated the Navy Chief, it was decided not to approach the Government but maintain status quo. In another meeting with the Defence Minsiter and NSA in the Army Ops room on 17 May, the NSA said status quo to be maintained on the use of air power. In the CCS meeting on 18 May , where it seems the PM was not in attendance, the EAM Jaswant Singh suggested status quo be maintained on the use of the Air Force as he was also to travel abroad, and this would internationalize the issue. Finally, it was only on 25 May that the PM gave the okay to use air power, after a delay of more than three weeks. The Army has always contended that had air power been provided earlier there may have been less loss of lives on our side and the whole skirmish could have been wrapped up quickly.

The Government can now do two things: first it can rap the knuckles of ACM Tipnis under the antiquated Official Secrets Act 1923 for divulging sensitive information to the media. The Government is yet to amend the Act, which in its present form, has become totally irrelevant in the face of the information revolution. Hence, any action under the Act is highly unlikely, as by doing so the damage already done may only be highlighted to the public. The Hezbollah action against Israel recently had shown how the rocket and missile retaliation by Hezbollah was instantaneous.

The other course of action by the Government is to seriously study at the highest level the need to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff as recommended by the Kargil Committee. It is clear that the higher decision making process in the security setup of the armed forces and indeed the country is inadequate. The Kargil Committee set up to debrief the conflict had strongly recommended the creation of a CDS to ensure jointness and coordination in the armed forces. However, successive RMs had soft pedalled the issue. The present RM has stated that the issue needs to be discussed by all the political parties before taking a decision but so far as we know it has been referred to no one. The three Chiefs themselves see the appointment of a CDS as cutting into their own power and the bureaucrats are happy with their policy of divide and rule to keep the upper hand over the Chiefs! So all we have is a huge infrastructure created to support a CDS but no CDS. (All indians, no Chief!)

The CDS like in 34 other countries which follow such a system must have authority, responsibility and accountability for India’s military security. The Government has never released the official papers of the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars or the Henderson Brooke’s report or the details of the Sri Lanka Op Pawan. Hence no lessons ever get learnt. The Government must act on Tipnis’ revelations.

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