Monday February 18, 2019
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Politicising the military: A strategic blunder

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India’s armed forces, apart from their role of safeguarding the nation, provide a bright strand in the national fabric, which represents the ideals of integrity, discipline, secularism and professional excellence. Indian_Army_soldier_at_Camp_Babina

Since independence, they have embodied a proud pan-Indian martial tradition that promotes a sense of national unity and cohesion. In a region full of praetorian militaries, the Indian armed forces have remained scrupulously apolitical and a staunch pillar of democracy. Above all, they have come to the rescue when all other agencies have failed the Indian state.

Like those who take up government service or political office, the serviceman, too, swears an oath to the constitution of India. But, unlike them, the soldier bears an ‘unlimited liability’ for defense of the nation. His oath of allegiance includes this commitment: “I will obey all commands of the president of India …..even to the peril of my life.” It is for this reason that the soldier is given a special place in society.

However, this year’s Kargil Vijay Diwas, meant to celebrate the victory of Indian armed forces over Pakistani intruders and to honor those who fell in battle, left a bitter taste in every soldier’s mouth. While politicians paid saccharine tributes to our fallen Kargil heroes, veterans – many in their 80s – were into the fifth week of a public agitation, asking the NDA government to redeem its promise of granting ‘one rank one pension’ or OROP. 130507-A-DK678-010

It was government inaction on the 6th Pay Commission anomalies that first drove the veterans on the streets in 2008. Political indifference was compounded by the hostile approach of MoD (ministry of defense) bureaucracy in handling problems related to pensions and allowances of aging veterans, war widows and battle casualties. Forced to go to the courts, they were stunned to find a litigious MoD fighting them at every step through appeals. In a bizarre development, the MoD perversely refused to implement even Supreme Court judgments favorable to the veterans. This was what eventually forced a disciplined and politically-neutral segment of society into the maw of party-politics.

In the run-up to the 2014 elections, dismayed by the traditionally disdainful attitude of the Congress, the veterans allowed themselves to be lured by the BJP’s putative nationalist stance. Jumping on the party’s bandwagon seemed like a sure way of getting their demands met. The post-election allocation of cabinet portfolios to freshly retired military officers – a move of questionable wisdom – seemed to bear out the veterans’ optimism. A year later, however, the disillusioned veterans are seeking alternative political options.

Once he doffs his uniform, a veteran is, technically, liberated from the restraints of military discipline and is free to adopt the demeanor of an ordinary civilian. But deep inside, his soul cringes at the very thought of conducting himself in a manner which would have brought disrepute to his uniform, unit or Service. Public agitations and undertaking fasts and dharnas are activities he instinctively associates with trade unionism. They are the antithesis of military discipline and fortitude; a creed he has followed for a lifetime. Similarly, he harbors distaste for political horse-trading. Unfortunately, misrepresentations and prevarication, by successive governments, on the issue of OROP have driven our Veterans to adopt this approach.

It seems incredible that none of the wise-heads amongst India’s political leadership has taken cognizance of two stark realities. Firstly: that veterans retain a strong umbilical connection with serving personnel because the two constitute an extended family. Whatever happens at Jantar Mantar is flashed across to the men in uniform, almost instantly, through print, electronic and social media. Secondly: anything that humiliates the veteran also hurts the self-esteem of the soldier – because he is tomorrow’s veteran.

And yet, in an inexplicable and self-destructive continuum, governments have deliberately proceeded to downgrade and demoralize their own armed forces and veterans. This insidious process, orchestrated by the bureaucracy, has employed the instrumentality of successive pay commissions to whittle down the financial and protocol status of the military while bolstering their own. Politicians have allowed themselves to be persuaded that the key to ‘civilian control’ of the military lies in equating it with the police and paramilitary forces and making it subservient to the bureaucracy.

A savvy political leadership should have seen through this ploy and realized that: (a) soldiers and veterans are emblematic of a nation’s pride and honor and need to be protected from such internal assaults, (b) demoralization of the military erodes national security and benefits the nation’s enemies, and (c) allowing politicization of the military is a strategic blunder that will have long-term consequences.

It is appalling to think that, from 2008 onwards, no political leader has had the good sense to visualize the damage that would be caused to India’s security edifice by veterans taking to the streets and seeking political support. All this could have been nipped in the bud, very simply, by reaching out to the veterans, creating grievance redressal mechanisms and establishing direct communication with them. By egregious neglect and inaction, politicians themselves have helped destroy the apolitical ethos of our military, which the nation has been so proud of.

Irresponsible and intemperate voices of the veterans are already being heard on the social media; some demanding that the three service chiefs should offer their resignations over the OROP issue. Worse suggestions may follow.

Even at this late hour, a spark of statesmanship, sagacity and empathy for the Indian soldier can pull us back from the precipice. Recognition of the sacrifices made in fulfilling the extraordinary demands of military service, articulated at the apex political level, and earliest accord of OROP would justify a quid-pro-quo demand for cessation of the veterans’ agitation and their participation in politics.

(IANS)

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S.Korea Removes N.Korea As Its ‘Enemy’ In Its Military Policy Document

The Defense Ministry says North Korea maintains an active duty force of 1.28 million troops, compared with the South’s 599,000 active duty troops.

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Korea, Enemy
South and North Korean officials unveil the sign of Seoul to Pyeongyang during a groundbreaking ceremony for the reconnection of railways and roads at the Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea, Dec. 26, 2018. VOA

South Korea has dropped a reference to North Korea as its “enemy” in the military’s updated policy document, reflecting President Moon Jae-in’s initiative in achieving détente with Pyongyang.

The Defense Ministry has labeled the North as enemy in its biennial policy document since 2010, when 50 South Koreans were killed in separate attacks on an island and a naval vessel blamed on Pyongyang.

The absence of the “enemy” label in the 2018 document, published Tuesday, is likely to anger conservatives in South Korea, who say that President Moon’s efforts to build better relations with the regime of Kim Jong Un is undermining the South’s defense posture.

Korea, Enemy
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018. VOA

Kim’s New Year’s Day speech in 2017 offering to send a contingent of North Korean athletes to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea set off a series of diplomatic breakthroughs, including three summits with President Moon.

The newly established diplomatic ties have also led to a set of confidence-building measures, including dismantling dozens of all armed guard posts and landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area located within the 250-kilometer demilitarized zone (DMZ), where troops from both Koreas are face to face.

The South Korean Defense Ministry paper warns that North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, a reference to its nuclear and missile program, continues to pose a “threat to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

Also Read: Permission to Cover N-Site Closure is Denied by South Korea

The Defense Ministry says North Korea maintains an active duty force of 1.28 million troops, compared with the South’s 599,000 active duty troops. The regime either possesses or is developing 14 different types of ballistic missiles, including five intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers. The North also owns “a considerable amount” of highly enriched uranium, along with 50 kilograms of weaponized plutonium. (VOA)