Col. Jaibans Singh
India celebrates Army Day on January 15, every year with great fervour. January, 15, has been chosen as a date for this event due to its historical significance. It was on this day in 1949 that the Indian Army divested itself of British control with General (later Field Marshal) K. M. Cariappa taking over as the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Army from Sir Francis Butcher.
A number of parades, memorial lectures, equipment displays, investiture ceremonies organised by the Army on this day elicit tremendous response from the general public. The Army Day is also a time to revisit the achievements of the army in the year gone by. The pace for this exercise is set, in no small measure, by the traditional press conference of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). This year the press conference by General Bikram Singh, COAS, was held at Manekshaw Stadium, New Delhi on January 13. Many issues of relevance came up during the press conference.
The COAS made a short introductory statement where he spoke of enhancement of combat power and gave out figures of the amounts expended for the purpose through out the year. His focus was on the raising of an additional corps in the North-East that has been on the drawing board for some time now. It has got a denomination (17 Corps) and the skeleton is in place. This constitutes good news since its raising is imperative to cover strategic gaps in the nations defence. Other points covered by the COAS were the strides being made by the army in the domain of human resource management where the thrust has been on work culture and maintaining the secular profile of the force. The COAS dwelled on the importance of ‘jointness’ in the evolving strategic thought process globally and the efforts being made by the Army in this direction.
Major issues came up during the question and answer session. As to usual, it was security in Jammu and Kashmir that elicited maximum questions. With regard to continued Chinese belligerence along the line of actual control the COAS said that the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement signed by the two countries recently, would strengthen existing mechanisms and interface at the theatre level. When asked to elaborate on the crucial aspect of an imbalance in infrastructure between India and China in the border regions the COAS tacitly admitted to the need for more effort in this direction and added that a plan has been submitted to the government whereby development of infrastructure would be outsourced. Efforts are also being made to enhance the capability of the Army’s Border Roads Organisation.
In the recent meeting between the Director Generals of Military Operations, COAS held forth a view that India agreed to the meeting in view of the aspirations of the local population on both sides of the line of control who were the worst sufferers of the frequent ceasefire violations and wanted an end to this continuous harassment, loss of life and property. He emphasised that as a fall out of the meeting ceasefire violations have reduced substantially.
On the subject of the barbaric acts by Pakistan army soldiers coming across the line of control to kill Indian soldiers the COAS clarified that Indian soldiers on ground have been given the freedom to retaliate appropriately. He said that India would desist from all actions that can escalate the conflict and would also follow rules of engagement as specified in the civilised world by statutes like the Geneva Conventions. However, if rules are not followed by the adversary then Indian Army would also not follow them.
The critical aspect of continuing enabling legislations like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir were covered by the COAS in the context of the overall security situation of the region. The drawback of ISAF forces from Afghanistan and the possible resurgence of the Taliban that could give a boost to terrorist activity against India in Kashmir dictates a wait and watch policy. Hence, for the moment, dilution of the security threshold in the region is not an option.
When queried on the issue of human rights violations the COAS reiterated that the policy of zero tolerance to human rights violations is being followed by the army assiduously. This is evident from the court martial ordered in the Machil incident which would have a ‘salutary effect.’
As mentioned above, Army Day is the time to revisit all achievements of the Army in the year gone by. There are some critical aspects that were left uncovered in the press conference. On the issue of combat power, the most critical aspect of acquisition of major military hardware like Artillery guns, Air Defence equipment etc was not touched upon. The number of our brave soldiers who attained martyrdom in the line of duty was not mentioned nor was their bravery and sacrifice acknowledged. An assessment of the security situation in conflict ridden zones, especially Jammu and Kashmir was not provided; this is most important in view of the two major elections to be held in the state in 2014. The army’s role in disaster management was not highlighted; this was especially necessary in view of the sterling contribution made by the brave soldiers in the Uttarakhand calamity. Equally significant is the contribution to international peace keeping initiatives through the United Nations; a major factor this year was the sacrifice made by two brave Indian soldiers in the line of duty in South Sudan. The strides being made in the crucial arena of sports and adventure went wholly uncovered.
It becomes quite apparent from the issues discussed that the Indian Nation is going through some testing times and that the Indian Army is prepared for all eventualities. It has the capacity to effectively perform its responsibilities towards the nation. On the occasion of Army Day it is only befitting to remind the nation about its bounden duty to ensure that the blood spilled by its brave soldiers as also their contribution to the national cause does not go waste. To ensure the same all out efforts should be made to maintain this valuable national asset at the highest pedestal professionally, socially and psychologically.