As we complete another year, there is once again a reflection on the year that is ending. Tied with the same is what one expects from the next year, both about what needs to be done to ameliorate the negatives of the year that is ending and what all needs to be done to cut the negatives and increase the positives.

It is my intention in this piece, to touch on what all went wrong in 2022 and what needs to be done to rectify and restore. And finally, to plan changes that will keep the military focused on its professionalism and ethos and not succumb to the powers that be, who have been forcing the military to carry out ill-conceived tasks that emanate without taking professional advice and which are meant to achieve non-military objectives.

The intention is that the Indian Military retains its professionalism, ethos and culture that have made us such a successful military in the world.

The first among a number of issues I plan to discuss in this article relates to the policy responses and no strategy to the existential threat posed by China in many facets. The immediate ones being our complete lack of a coherent policy for dealing with actions that China has been taking along our northern land borders, especially since the major occupation of Eastern Ladakh by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China in Apr-May 2020.

I am afraid the political leadership and our diplomats continue to act as they did since the mid-Fifties. Resultantly, we are losing territory, but more importantly becoming a passive state in the eyes of not only our neighbours or regional countries, but also globally.

We boast of having the third largest Army, the fourth largest Air Force and the sixth largest Navy, but when push comes to shove, we only make inane noises and feel happy that the world applauds our so-called 'restraint', although behind the façade they view us as unable to defend ourselves. This has major repercussions on our empty political statements that keep boasting of India's rise!

Some truths need to be stated, otherwise we will continue to only talk-talk-talk, while China makes itself stronger by the day, on and beyond the Line of Control (LAC). At this rate, there eventually will be a 'fait accompli' in favour of China and only crumbs will be left for us. This is despite a number of available examples where the Indian Military has acted offensively and beat the Chinaman at his own game.

Many well-fought battles of 1962, where the Indian Army displayed its bravery and halted China's push, come to mind straightaway, despite artificially created narratives to the contrary. These include the Nathu La action of 1967; the Sumdrong Chu speedy riposte and more recently the actions at Yangtse in the Tawang Sector of Arunachal Pradesh, in December 2022.

Yet, all we do is organise yet another military level conference that has yielded nothing worthwhile, along with periodic diplomatic discussions, where China dictates and our diplomats listen. The way we deal with such important issues as sovereignty must change, otherwise we are bound to lose everything. We need to wake up and bite the bullet.

It is a shame that we are sitting in a defensive mode along the Line of Control (LC) in J&K since 1949; on the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in Siachen since 1984; along the border with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh since the 1980's and now with boosted troops since 2020; and not forgetting the huge deployment in Eastern Ladakh since the major incursion by the PLA since 2020. Why are our leaders so shaky and devoid of any thinking, or have they abrogated their responsibilities? If so, to whom?

This is in stark contrast to the 1971 war when the Indian Military went on the offensive and produced startling results. This was due to unambiguous policy decisions of the then government, led by tall leaders. The Indian Military repeated it in the 1999 Kargil Border War, but due to placing embargos by the then government, not to cross the LC (reasons still unexplained), despite the then Army Chief advising that it should be done, the Army had to resort to frontal attacks on sheer cliffs.

The result was highly excessive casualties incurred on account of frontal attacks in the most difficult terrain imaginable. One analyst had rightly called the Kargil War as 'the last battle of World War I'!

The Indian Military thereafter has been awaiting a similar grand strategy, but alas our leaders are so immersed in electoral and internal battles; spreading hatred among communities and collecting funds by all means,that our political leadership and their ill-chosen advisers have forgotten about the nefarious activities of our adversaries, who continue to delay if not stop India's rise.

In Ladakh, despite the poor performance of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in 2020, it has again been deployed on the LAC as the lead force and the dual control, which is the worst policy one can adopt in securing borders, continues. Not permitting patrols to carry weapons has resulted in the Army and ITBP personnel resorting to pushing and shoving, like the police.

This is a sure way of turning the Army to a constabulary and affecting the pride of Army personnel. That it goes against the grain of training of Army personnel need not be stated, as it is well-known.

Let me remind our policy makers that among the four operations of war; Advance; Defence; Offence; and Retrograde Operations (the last one was taken away from our military manuals after 1962). Defence is always a temporary phase for securing firm bases, dumping warlike stores and supplies; training for the offensive tasks, rehearsals and getting ready for the offensives. Wars are won by joint offensive actions and not by pussyfooting (being cautious or non-committal).

The bottom line is that unless we get our act together and formulate a workable National Security Strategy, we will continue to stagnate in the defensive mode in bunkers in hostile terrain and weather, because the policy makers are pre-occupied by their personal agendas. Let us not be dubbed by future generations that our policy makers and their advisors acted like the well-known proverb: "Nero fiddled while Rome burned!"

A country like China understands the use of power and when an adversary shies away from it, the aggression increases.

This brings me to the next important issue, which is that the starvation of the Indian Armed Forces continues, with the defence budget at such a historically low level that we should stop calling it a budget and rename it as 'subsidy' or 'dole'!

The few statements in the media recently, stating that new procurements of fighting platforms and weapons are coming in the future are purely Public Relations exercises, which may satisfy the naïve but as far as the professional armed forces are concerned, we are rapidly becoming obsolescent, if not obsolete.

I now move to my third point, which is the so-called 'deep selection' that has been imposed by the political leadership on the armed forces at the behest of the 'darbaris', who have no or little knowledge of 'matters military'. They may technically be able to pass muster, but it is patently wrong to impose it on the senior hierarchy of the armed forces.

It needs to be appreciated that seniority in the Services is of great importance, both for smooth command and control and maintenance of morale. Deep selection was discussed many times in the past by the Army hierarchy, and every time it was found that the weeding out process can be carried out at middle or higher middle levels, provided detailed rules are formulated and the environment is informed about them at least three to five years in advance.

However, doing so at the levels of C's-in-C and above is patently incorrect. It is highly unfortunate that the present government has again done so and this time at the level of the three service chiefs, by appointing a retired GOC-in-C as the CDS and making a mockery of the highest ranks and appointments of the Indian Military.

The naive and the 'bhagats' may well say so what? So let me explain briefly.

When a C-in-C is elevated to the level of a Chief, there is immediately a major change in his span of command and control and he commences dealing and interacting with new political and administrative personalities, as well as very senior counterparts from abroad.

Taking the example of the Army, a GOC-in-C usually commands three corps, perhaps an Area Headquarters or an Independent Sub Area Headquarters and maybe the odd reserve division or independent brigade group/task force, allotted for a specific purpose from Army Headquarters reserves, and some static units/formations.

On elevation to Chief, the span of command of the incumbent not only increases manifold, but to such increases one has to add entities like manpower policies, provisioning of operational logistical requirements including procuring/production of modern weapon platforms, training policies and training institutions, all aspects of budgeting, interactions with those who deal with foreign policy, internal security, formulating short and long-term military strategic policies, contributing to joint endeavours and numerous other tasks and policies that fall under the rubric of military plans and strategies.

Unlike a C-in-C, the Chief plays a major role in formulation of national strategic plans and policies too, provided he is in the loop for such formulations. Unfortunately, our present structures of Higher Control of Defence have been allowed to languish and in brief, we continue to deal with such vital subjects of sovereignty and border security in a cavalier manner, to put it mildly.

I would like to urge the political leadership to consign the so-called deep selection for the very senior hierarchy of the armed forces to the dustbin. If it still enamours them, then let them try out such experiments with others.

The above somewhat long explanation is to remind our 'hukmaran' that it was a blunder to appoint an already retired GOC-in-C to be the nations CDS on grounds that can be called highly non-professional, but the real reasons come under the labels of personal loyalty, ethnicity, favouritism and nepotism, not to also imply politicisation of the Armed Forces!

This epistle will be incomplete if mention is not made again and of the major blunder called the Agnipath Scheme, whereby to meet political ends/goals, the guillotine has fallen on the humblest, but the most important peg of the warriors of the Indian Army known as the Jawan. TheJawan has been diminished by giving a fancy name to temporary inductees, three-fourth of which will be demobilised after four years.

Despite reiterating that suitable jobs will be found for them outside the Armed Forces, in a country that has reached epidemic levels of unemployment and underemployment, this is pure fiction. What is most likely is that these semi-trained individuals, but nonetheless trained in handling firearms will add to the existing worsening law and order situation and become a sheer major liability.

I have nothing more to say on this particular blunder foisted on the Armed Forces, but specifically the Army, which will henceforth always have less than authorised number of Jawans. This will be yet another challenge for the Army as if at all it goes into battle, it will fight with diminished manpower at the business end.

On account of the Army's ethos of training its command and keeping it at fully trained levels, the so-called Agniveers will get all chances for becoming robust soldiers, but even then when a person knows that his job may well end soon, his output is unlikely to be as good or sustained as the regular Jawans.

I would like to suggest to our 'hukmarans' to dissolve this scheme as soon as possible after the initial induction and revert to the status quo. Let our commanding officers function as they should and not be burdened by training temporary inductees.

Lt General VIJAY OBEROI is a former Vice Chief of the Indian Army. Views expressed are the writer's own.

Cover Photograph: Two Field Marshals - Generals Sam Manekshaw and K.M.Carappa– raise a toast in a rare photograph posted onTwitter at the time.