The Observer Reliance Foundation( ORF ) Institute for Strategic Studies website carries the transcript of the 30th Bhimsen Sachar Memorial Lecture delivered in New Delhi by its President General (retired) Ved Prakash Malik a former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army. This document is astonishing because Indian generals are not known for open criticism of the political leadership and senior bureaucracy. Perhaps General Malik is following a trend started by the retiring Chief of the Indian Army—Deepak Kumar—who advocated preparation for a two front war against China and Pakistan and spoke about ‘limited war under a nuclear overhang’—thoughts that were not endorsed by the political leadership and if anything, were seen as a foray into policy making domains by the military. General Malik takes the argument further by a display of military (retired military!) machismo against timid leaders (political) incapable of strategic thought!
He calls India a country that is about ‘forgetting and forgiving, ever ready to bleed and wail”. He uses words like passive, reactive in the context of security policy formulations. While the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) are highlighted for dark deeds there is no mention of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Indian Army and the atrocities being committed by them on the people of Kashmir and India’s troubled north eastern areas. He forgets the role by these institutions in former East Pakistan and ignores the fact that India as the bigger country has started the events that have cascaded into the present intractable issues and conflicts. It is admitted by Indian scholars that the uprising in Kashmir was indigenous and its cause was the brutal and inhuman suffering inflicted on the hapless Muslims of that region. General Malik also does not mention the pogroms in Gujerat where thousands of Muslims were butchered nor does he talk domestic Hindu terrorism that led to the demolition of the Babri Mosque and the train disaster in which Muslim passengers were burnt alive. He obviously does not see the wailing and screaming multitudes that are at the mercy of brutalized security forces.
General Malik traces India’s heritage of power through the Mauryan, Gupta and Mughal Empires and comes to the conclusion that ‘Indian society lost the ability to generate power and the will and ability to make use of that power’. In an amazing display of simplicity and naivety the General seems to be projecting the idea that if you have power then you must use that power—regardless of the consequences. He is critical of India’s no first use nuclear policy and very critical of the political and bureaucratic leadership that is not giving the military enough freedom and funds to develop military power through defence purchases. There are areas that the General did not consider—the inter-relationships in a globalized world, the critical importance of the economy and the increasing importance of global regimes and norms. In fact he makes no mention of the economic success achieved by India’s political and financial managers—success that can be lost if those advocating the use of raw power have their way.
General Malik sees China as a threat and foresees conflict with China in the future. He makes short shrift of the many diplomatic and political steps that have been taken by India’s leaders to improve the relationship with China and the magnitude of the trade between India and China. He also sees China and Pakistan working together to weaken India—if saying anything good about Pakistan is taboo (as the Shahrukh Khan episode indicates) then surely China should be given credit for strategic vision and restraint in international relations.
Pakistan, of course, comes in for the usual diatribe against its army and ISI and its role in sponsoring terrorism in India. The military is even blamed for not allowing the political government to bring the ISI under civilian control. The General knows that the ISI is meant for strategic intelligence and for developing threat hypotheses so the question of civilian control over an institution manned by military experts is something that would suit India and no one else. Perhaps he does not know that the ISI is under the Prime Minister and no one else. It would have been too much to expect that the current trends in Pakistan and the positive threat reduction policies emerging could have been recognized. There are changes taking place that auger well for the region if India can be responsive and reciprocative—and not obsessed by not just having military power but actually using it if General Malik is to be believed. General Malik does not give any credit to the political leadership in Pakistan and India for their maturity and patience in dealing with the Mumbai attack and for restarting dialogue after more than a year. The Mumbai attack created as much horror in Pakistan as it did in India and there are vast multitudes in both countries that want peace and not the use of military power. There are issues that can only be resolved through dialogue.
The best part of General Malik’s talk is his accurate assessment of the turmoil within India—the disparities and the grievances that fuel domestic violence. He rightly considers 45% of India’s3.1 million square miles to be in the grip of insurgent violence— 17 states and 223 districts—with eight in a critical state and a RED Corridor emerging from Nepal to Tirupati. He correctly talks of the Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army transforming into a Liberation Army and mentions the possibility of a balkanized India because of rabid people like Thackeray and the Telangana decision in Andhra Pradesh. He sees ad hocism instead of policy and the lack of awareness among the nations’ leaders as well as the bureaucratic short sightedness in North and South Blocks. He sees politicians practicing ‘vote bank politics’ and creating ‘political polarization’. He is possibly the best judge of this disastrous situation but surely he should see the connection between this serious internal situation, the economy and inclusive growth before he advocates the use of military power. Assertiveness comes from an orchestration of the all the elements on national power and not just military power. General Malik’s final suggestions are more balanced than the arguments he uses in his talk.