In 1978, when I was a captain posted at Sela in Arunachal
Pradesh, I had my first encounter with the media. A team of
journalists was in Sela to see what the army was doing in that
region. I was asked to show them round and explain to them our
defences and the tough routine we followed at an average height
of 10,000 feet. Surprisingly, they had little time for all that. They
seemed more interested in the following day's headlines. They
didn't want information, they wanted a sensational quote which
would make it to page one.
Over the years I realised that the defence services and the
media shared a very peculiar relationship. There was suspicion
on one side, and condescension on the other. Then there was the
unsaid maxim-the defence services were beyond questioning.
As a result, the Indian media depended on the regular handouts
of the government and never tried to understand the issues
concerning defence and security in the Indian context.
Occasionally the services extended their hospitality to the media
personnel and got some favourable reportage in return.
For the Indian media, defence reporting was one of the easi-
est beats to cover; it required no expertise as stories came largely
from press releases. Any cub reporter could do them. The trouble
with this approach, however, was that the foreign media relied
on their Indian counterpart for stories, which were not only
misplaced, but often incorrect, and only helped create a number
of myths. The regurgitated myths came back to us and we ac-
cepted them as truth.
A glaring example of this was Time magazine's cover story in
the mid-1980s by its Asia Bureau Chief, Ross H. Munro, calling
India an emerging military superpower. When a magazine like
Time reports this, people are bound to take notice. I wondered
how anyone could say that, given that we imported everything
from the Soviet Union and did not produce any worthwhile
defence equipment in the country. How does one become a global
power or aspire to become one without any manufacturing
capability? How can the media be so ignorant of the ground
realities? These questions troubled me.
When I entered journalism in 1989, I understood the compul-
sions under which the Indian media functions. I realised that
having grown up on government handouts it had no motivation
to go beyond the obvious. And whenever there was an issue
which required an in-depth analysis, newspapers sought the easy
way out. They commissioned an analyst from one of the think-
tanks to comment on the development. No attempts were ever
made to develop in-house expertise. As most of these analysts
were fed on western literature, they tried to apply the western
template to the Indian situation. They raised the bogey of nuclear
warfare without understanding the ground realities in our re-
gion. As a result, more myths were created.
This lacuna was most pronounced in the late 1980s and the
early 1990s when the army became involved in militancy and
counter-insurgency operations, first in Punjab and later in
Jammu and Kashmir. Since there was no symbiotic relationship
between the army and the media, the terrorists started winning
the psychological war. The defence forces withdrew into a
cocoon, or indulged in fire-fighting against allegations of viola-
tion of human rights by requesting noted journalists to bail them
out by arguing their case. The government on such occasions
usually went on the defensive. Respected human rights
organisations were banned from Kashmir once insurgency started
in 1989. Diplomats from friendly countries were regularly taken
on doctored tours of the troubled state. Instead of explaining the
combat environment in which the army was operating in Kash-
mir, the Defence Services Public Relations Department (DSPRD)
was content with issuing lists of militants killed and arms recov-
ered from them.
This was sad, because the journalists covering the beat knew
little about psychological war or how the army was conducting
its business. The P. V. Narasimha Rao government between 1992
and 1996 called the insurgency in Kashmir a 'law and order'
problem. And, the DSPRD was then and still is clueless and in-
competent. India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, caused an
upheaval when he accused the DSPRD of this in July 2001.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in power in
1998, it was hoped that national security would finally get the
importance it needed. In a way, this did happen. India thought-
lessly conducted the nuclear tests, released a draft nuclear
doctrine only to rubbish it soon thereafter under international
(read, the United States) pressure, wrote the Strategic Defence
Review which was not made public, fought a limited war with
Pakistan in Kargil and claimed a decisive victory, issued more
warnings to Pakistan than were done by previous governments,
played blow hot, blow cold with China, and said that relations
with the United States were warmer than at any time since
In institutional terms, the government recreated the National
Security Council only to sideline it soon after, appointed the
Chief of Integrated Defence Staff instead of a Chief of Defence
Staff, and declared that the three services would be integrated
with the Defence Ministry. The government announced the for-
mation of a Defence Procurement Board, a Defence Intelligence
Agency, a new army 14 corps was raised in Jammu and Kash-
mir, and the Andaman and Nicobar Command came into being.
Leading analysts praised the government for transparency in
defence matters, and said that shortcomings and half-way mea-
sures would be slowly removed. So far so good.
The problem was that few questioned the basic premise: has
India identified its strategic and defence challenges and threats
correctly? Simply put, is India viewing its defence issues as they
are, or as they should be? After all, any analysis, however bril-
liant, will be skewed if it is based on perceptions rather than
ground realities. This is the underlying theme of this book, which
I realised was living within me all along. It is the result of 24
years of watching, learning, imbibing and understanding. For
this reason, I want to make it clear that the book comprises
search and not research. This is not an effort at synthesising
and representing what has been said before. On the contrary,
this is what should have been said but has not been said for a
number of reasons.
The book is divided into five capsules, each of which has two
chapters dealing with a particular subject. The first capsule is
about India-China relations. Contrary to common perception,
China is a real and immediate military threat to India. By sign-
ing the 1993 Peace and Tranquillity Treaty, India has walked
into China's trap. India has accepted that the MacMohan Line
does not exist, implying that instead of an earlier 'border', the two
countries have a 'frontier' with a military held Line of Actual
Control which both sides have thus far refused to define. This
has created enormous scope for China to incrementally nibble
away at Indian territory with its better and aggressive border
management. This is what China is doing. And, this is precisely
what makes it a real and immediate military threat. Worse,
China's global and regional stature and its military strength are
increasing far more rapidly as compared with India. China claims
90,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in Arunachal
Pradesh alone. Because China is not known to give up its terri-
torial claims, and also because no self-respecting nation can
barter away so much land for peace, the seeds of a future India-
China war have been sown in the contentious Eastern Sector.
The book's second capsule deals with the Kashmir issue. It
debunks India's mantra that the Simla Agreement can resolve
the problem between India and Pakistan. In essence, the Simla
Agreement is about two things, one said and the other unsaid.
What is said is about bilateralism, and the unsaid deals with a
need to convert the Line of Control (LoC) into an International
Border. The unsaid commitment got a burial within hours of
President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's leaving Simla after signing the
historic document. The said commitment never fructified as
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took too long to buy internal peace
with Sheikh Abdullah before India could do the same with Paki-
stan. Things came to a head when the insurgency erupted in
Jammu and Kashmir in 1989. It was an indigenous outburst of
frustration which should not have surprised India.
From the Jacket:
These re only four of the ten popular 'myths' surrounding India's national security that the author systematically shatters in this unusual, topical and forcefully argued book.
The author maintains that there is a vast separation between how things are and what they are thought to be, between the military and defence policy making, between defence analysts and the ground realities. This book constitutes the author's "search" for the ground realities.
The book is divided into five parts. Each of them has two chapters dealing with a particular subject. The first part covers the whole gamut of India - china relations. China is, the author warns, a real and immediate military threat. He argues that, by singing the 1993 Peace and Tranquility Treaty, India has walked into China's trap, and how, by accepting that the MacMohan line does not exist, it has opened the way for China to gradually nibble away at Indian territory.
Part two deals with Kashmir. The author debunks India's long-held belief that the Simla Agreement can resolve the problems between India and Pakistan. Pravin Sawhney also looks at the current situation in Kashmir, especially the role of the Taliban cadres.
The third part considers the likehood of an all-out conventional war between India and Pakistan, while the next part covers the two limited wars between them - the ongoing Siachen war and the Kargil war. The last section addresses two questions pertaining to the role of nuclear weapons: are they facilitators of confidence-building measures with Pakistan; and do they enhance India's security?.
The book ends with a chapter entitled 'The Bottomline'. This is not crystalgazing, nor is it pontification. Rather, it speaks holistically about what the individual chapters imply for India's defence makeover.
About the Author:
Pravin Sawhney is South Asia Correspondent for Jane's International Defense Review. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, London, and a Visiting Scholar at the Co-operative Monitoring Centre, Sandia National Laboratories, Alburquerque, USA.
Formerly with the Indian army, Pravin sawhney took premature retirement to pursue a career in journalism. Since then he has worked for mainline dailies such as the The Times of India, The Indian Express, and The Asian Age. He has written strategic and defence issues. Mr Sawhney is a regular contributor to many publications of the Jane's Information Group and has written two monographs under the aegis of Sandia Laboratories.
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