What has sustained India through the decades in a troubled region? Its western neighbour is often caught in a state of military-civil society imbalance till the former inevitably triumphs. Soldiers cut from the same cloth of the British Indian Army at the time of independence predictably did not always think differently. An Indian army chief, a one-time colleague of Field Marshall Ayub Khan, who set the ball rolling with the coup d’état of 1958, told a famous American political scientist couple that the Pakistani Supremo had done the right thing. The mutual regard for each other’s integrity informed by colonial values was an anachronism for Indian politicians though demonstrably not widely construed as such in Pakistan.
The army as the paramount unit among the three forces presides over an integrated centralized command structure and is backed by its intelligence wing, much in the manner of the Raj. One particular regional ethnic group dominates the military in numbers and clout followed by several others in not-so-close succession, another tradition overturned by the Indian political class as it diluted the “martial race” element of its regiments and diffused its centralized command. The compositional imbalance of the British Indian army was “corrected” in India, while its neighbour, for its own reasons, which included dealing with the problem of the erstwhile North-West Frontier Province and Afghanistan, and a relatively monolithic political structure, did not.
At the time of independence in 1947, some distinguished people were reconciled to a truncated State if it meant relief from the financial and physical drain created by the trouble brewing in the north-west, among other reasons, because it gave them the required space to organize wider developmental objectives. Pakistan, as the smaller neighbour, was perhaps naturally preoccupied with its security vis-a-vis India, forcing it into military alliances. The territory to its north-west was always in ferment, and the location of ordnance factories in India made it imperative for it to seek foreign aid and build up necessary capabilities. Most of these aspects were pegs of an event organized by the Bengaluru Indian Institute of Management’s Public Policy centre on July 10, courtesy Yale University Professor Steven Wilkinson’s presentation on India’s “civil-military success”. Interestingly, a copy of his published work was circulated among Pakistani military officers by its Chief of Staff.
Objectivity, knowledge and intellect are of the essence in the formulation of public policy, in which the Institute appeared to have collaborative arrangements with counterparts in Korea and Australia, conceivably practical in several ways and in the appreciation of distant perspectives, not necessarily in terms of physical or geographical space. Ambitious Generals and politicians might universally want “more efficient”, centralized and integrated command structures, after pristine strategic bargains have given way to drastic inversions, and political attitudes turn transient. But if the unstated principles of social law are among the resources with which to influence the course of events, the exercise can be an instructive and rewarding one.
By Uttam Sen
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