Wednesday, November 30, 2016
THE CRACKS ARE NOW BEGINNING TO WIDEN - THE CIVIL MILITARY RELATIONSHIP, IS NOW SO BRITTLE THAT IT MAY SNAP ON THE SLIGHTEST PRETEXT : BY AIR MARSHAL BRIJESH D JAYAL, (RETD)
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The surgical strikes conducted by the army to neutralize terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have set in motion a chain of events that must cause concern since, at their very heart, they are related to the crucial issue of civil-military relations in the country.
We hear tirelessly that in a democracy the armed forces come under civilian control. Fortuitously, this principle has never been doubted by the apolitical armed forces as their performance since Independence will show. What, however, irks the military is that civilian control has taken on the meaning of bureaucratic control.
Today, the ministry of defence is charged with the responsibility of national defence by the cabinet, making the defence secretary the key link.
The armed forces headquarters, however, are not part of the MoD, but mere 'attached offices'.
The recommendation of the post-Kargil K. Subrahmanyam committee to integrate armed forces headquarters with the MoD resulted in a change of nomenclature, from 'attached offices' to 'integrated service HQs'. In reality, except for the change in letterheads, nothing else changed.
Proposals from the armed forces HQ continue to be debated separately in MoD files, with no military officers posted within to provide professional inputs.
The fate of operational and administrative proposals originating from those who will fight the enemy is hence decided by faceless mandarins who will never be held accountable for the consequences of their unbridled authority.
The Subrahmanyam committee had rued that we are the only democracy following such an archaic system, but we choose to remain wedded to it.
As security challenges become multidimensional and more complex, it is not surprising that severe cracks are now beginning to show. Some of the symptoms discussed below will indicate that the status quo is now hurting national security.
The spirit of successive pay commissions is to revise for better pay and other emoluments of government servants across the board. This cannot be said for the armed forces, which, through the bitter experience of previous such commissions, know that they will inevitably come out the worse for it.
The third pay commission summarily lowered their status as compared to the civil services as a back-handed reward for their 1971 victory. Anomalies of the fifth and sixth pay commissions have not been resolved, and veterans are pleading cases in various courts, sometimes with their own MoD opposing them.
Adding insult to injury, successive governments have turned down the forces' request to be represented in the pay commissions.
Not surprisingly, the recommendations of the seventh pay commission were also received with considerable disappointment by the armed forces. That fundamental differences remain in spite of the intervention by the defence minister speaks of the complexity of the issues involved, which only gets exacerbated with no inputs from the armed forces during the commission's deliberations.
Today, when senior political leaders suggest that soldiers be granted legitimate dues as a Diwali gift, the soldier is made to feel that he is seeking alms and considers this an attack on his izzat.
The chiefs of staff committee had in August addressed a letter to the prime minister and the defence minister raising concerns on issues relating to the seventh pay commission. These related to a level playing field with civilian counterparts in terms of salary hikes, implementation of non-functional upgrades, increase in military service pay for junior commissioned officers and parity in disability pension with civilian counterparts.
It is worth recalling that this is not the first time that the COSC was compelled to take such an unusual step. A similar missive was sent out by the then COSC to the UPA I government after the sixth pay commission, but to no avail. Leaders now pretending to be saviours of the armed forces would do well to revisit this history.
What was new this time around was that when government orders for implementation were issued ignoring these concerns, the COSC decided not to implement these instructions and informed the defence minister in writing.
Being conscious of the morale of their rank and file, the service chiefs simultaneously advised their respective services that "we have been constrained to request the government to hold implementation of 7th CPC award in abeyance in view of anomalies which need to be resolved. In the interim, personnel are expected to display maturity and patience and not be swayed by hearsay or speculative reports from any quarter."
The gravity of the service chiefs being compelled to take this unparalleled cautionary step appears to have been lost not just on the political and administrative executive but on the media as well.
Perhaps this indicates that institutions of Indian democracy do not quite comprehend the challenges that modern democracies face in the complex domain of civil-military relations.
It is fair to say that no sensitive democracy would have allowed things to come to such an unfortunate pass where the service chiefs are forced to put their foot down in the wider interest of the welfare of the men and women they command. This is because democracies serious about national security are overtly sensitive to the challenges that modern militaries face today. They are conscious that threats are not always black and white, that modern-day communications and social media are making those in uniform more aware of the world outside their immediate military spheres, exposing them to diverse and, sometimes, exaggerated views, and that aspirations of soldiers and their families are rising in keeping with those of their civil counterparts, to name just a few.
Added to these is a robust and free media with their instant and 24-hour reach and ever on the alert for perceived slip-ups.
It is in this open and free democratic society that military commanders are expected to exercise moral and ethical leadership such that in times of adversity their word alone will propel their men to willingly give their all for the cause of flag and country. Just as no other civil service puts a demand on individuals to sacrifice their lives, no other leadership has to directly bear the cross of this onerous moral responsibility.
These finer challenges to military leadership in a free society are lost on our policy makers whose sole concern is to exercise civilian control over the military without a clear understanding of how such authority ought to be exercised sensitively and effectively. Lazy analysts overlook the structural infirmities in our higher defence management system that have been the subject of many committees and prefer to look at it as a mere turf battle between the MoD and the armed forces.
It is in this background that the unfortunate events following the recent surgical strikes need to be seen. That the armed forces were drawn into an unnecessary political debate is unfortunate and does not augur well for the future.
Worse was to follow when the mandarins thought it fit to come up with two back-handed rewards in quick succession in the form of two government orders. The first, formalizing the policy of disability pension in disregard of the earlier COSC request for review. And the second, on the very sensitive subject of rank equivalence between defence officers and armed forces headquarters' civil service officers.
This letter majestically announced further downgrading of the status of armed forces officers relative to their civil service counterparts which meant that a major general (or equivalent in other services) was now equated with a principal director from the earlier equivalence of joint-secretary, a brigadier with a director from earlier principal director, and so on.
For the second time in quick succession, the armed forces were neither amused nor willing to accept this sleight of hand, and made their reservations known.
That both these orders have since been held in abeyance begs a larger question, which, if not investigated and satisfactorily resolved, will continue widening the trust deficit between the MoD and the armed forces.
When MoD mandarins are known to be thorough and meticulous in their staff work, what gremlins, one wonders, were at work in the MoD that chose this particular timing to fire two sensitive salvoes at the forces? What indeed were the deeper motives?
Under normal circumstances, such examples of grave tension in civil-military relations would have caused the larger polity to take serious note, sink political differences and join hands to look at the root causes and seek common ground for solutions. Competitive chest thumping on successful operations of the armed forces or to cash in on the present disquiet and to be posing as saviours of the forces are unhealthy precedents for our democracy and will tend to pollute and politicize the apolitical military ethos.
If there is one lesson from the recent happenings, it is that civil-military relations are now so brittle that they may snap on the slightest pretext.
This year's Diwali saw an immense outpouring of affection and support for our men and women in uniform from across society, ably led by the prime minister. This, however, is no substitute for the deep fissures in civil-military relations.
As has often been argued in these columns, the entire issue of civil-military relations must now be reviewed by a blue ribbon commission, debated in Parliament and legislated upon such that national security is not compromised. This would be one Diwali gift that the armed forces would relish in perpetuity as they look up to the prime minister to man the bridge of their badly damaged battleship.
(SOURCE - THE TELEGRAPH)