Our Harmed Forces?

News: Recent tragic incidents have once again brought the public focus on the long-standing issue of the relationship between the defence services and domestic politics. The time has come to pay attention to the issue of the politicisation of defence services.

What events have attracted attention towards the relationship b/w services and politics?

Recent events

– The demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and

the political gains sought to be derived by politicians from nationwide sympathy for the families of soldiers ‘killed’ in a tragic accident, most recently involving the CDS.

Misc event

The election of a former chief of army staff on a party-political platform and his subsequent induction into the Union council of ministers shows politicisation of the services.

What are the issues that needs to be considered w.r.t the demand for the withdrawal of the AFSPA?

Firstly, it’s not just a demand for the withdrawal of AFSPA but in fact for the withdrawal of the armed forces from internal security.

Internal security, be it in Jammu & Kashmir or in Manipur or Nagaland or anywhere else for that matter, should be left to the police and paramilitary forces.

Secondly, even the army members feel that it should not be drawn into internal security, including counterinsurgency operations targeting disaffected citizens, often just civilians. For instance, after the recent tragic incident in Nagaland several ex-servicemen, including senior leaders of the defence services, have publicly articulated this view.

Long-term deployment of army as in the case of J&K and some North-eastern states has risked the reputational loss to army that is not in the national interest.

What are the other issues that needs consideration?

The issue of politicisation of defence services and their operations for party political benefit.

For instance, the ‘surgical strikes’ issue was politicised in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Further, undertaking a professional assessment of that operation has been hampered due to the fear of political leadership.

The same issues have repeated with regard to a professional assessment of the India-China stand-off along the LAC.

In a democracy, informed public discussion even on what are often regarded as purely ‘military’ decisions is a legitimate activity.

The country deserves an analysis of the handling of ‘surgical strikes and border clashes similar to the professional assessment made by Kargil Review Committee.

Source: This post is based on the article “Our Harmed Forces?” published in TOI on 22nd  Dec 2021.

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