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‘Our stance at Doklam will make positive impression on friends like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives’
Posted:Jul 20, 2017
 
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By Jiby J Kattakayam 
 
With China stepping up its rhetoric on Doklam standoff, Lt Gen (retd) DB Shekatkar, who served as the Indian army’s Director General of Perspective Planning and Additional Director General of Military Operations, spoke to Jiby J Kattakayam on the military implications of increasing tensions on the China border as well as the need for enhancing combat capabilities and rationalising defence expenditures, as recommended recently by a ministry of defence committee which he headed:
 
How do you see the Doklam plateau standoff playing out?
 
Beyond the present standoff, India must look after Bhutan’s interests. If our neighbours begin to harbour concerns about India’s ability to protect a smaller neighbour, they will lose faith. India must approach Bhutan’s concerns militarily and diplomatically. Our stance at Doklam will make a positive impression on our friends like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives. This is where economic preparedness matters.
 
The Chinese have built up their capacity on the Sikkim sector over a period of time. Earlier they may have come and gone but now their intentions have changed. What the Chinese are saying about 1962 or about Kashmir are all writings on the wall. We need to read in between these lines and act on the implications.
 
There are reports of greater forward deployment by PLA which India has rubbished. What are our strengths and their weaknesses on the LAC?
 
Altitude determines advantage in mountain warfare. We have this advantage in Sikkim and Bhutan. In Arunachal Pradesh, both sides are at a similar height at most places. In Ladakh, the topography suits them better. The important point is that unlike 1962 we are prepared to counter a misadventure. This was proven in 1967 in Nathu La and 1987 in Arunachal Pradesh.
 
We do not need to be unduly worried about the reports of forward deployment. They are using the media to wield psychological pressure. Chinese technology has its limitations in mountain warfare unlike in the plains because of high altitudes and limited maneuverability.
 
How important is the recent decision to give the army’s vice-chief emergency financial powers for defence procurements?
 
Our committee recommended this because empowering the vice-chief will expedite purchases. Even one month’s delay in addressing weapon or ammunition shortages can be dangerous. For example, if I need 200 battle tanks by 2019, the order must be placed today. India’s operation requirements are completely different from others. Nobody is producing tanks for high altitude mountain warfare. So, the purchased tanks require customisation. In this situation, only a surety of orders and fund allocations can avoid delays.
 
What is the fate of your committee’s recommendations?
 
I heard the defence ministry has asked services HQs to respond on implementing 98 recommendations. Our desire was that all 188 recommendations are implemented and not in a piecemeal fashion. There is a temptation to protect non-performing turfs like DRDO, Ordnance Factory Board, Defence Estates. We suggested the amalgamation of ordnance factories, labs, training establishments and intelligence collection, and creating joint services war colleges in view of integrated war theatres.
 
Ordnance factories and depots supply shaving kits, mosquito nets, socks, shoes, etc. Depots buy much of these from open markets. Money spent on non-combat operations and personnel can be used instead for modernisation.
 
How do their inefficiencies affect combat capabilities?
 
Eleven ordnance factories can close down tomorrow and nothing will happen. Till today ordnance factories cannot produce a simple weapon like a rifle. Last month, army rejected a Made in India rifle. Those saying products will improve after induction forget the soldier may not live to see the improvement. Successive indigenous tanks have failed to make the grade.
 
Does the absence of a full-time defence minister hurt reforms considering that the dominance of the bureaucracy is a sore point with the forces?
 
I won’t comment on the former because it is a political decision. On the latter part, I will give an example. When I was a major-general, a joint secretary had the ‘wisdom’ to say in a meeting: “Chiefs will come and chiefs will go but we will remain here.” So I asked him: “When the chips are down, and a war is on, you will not be here. Who will be accountable?” Can you name one bureaucrat held accountable? But a chief can be disgraced if something goes wrong.
 
Before 2019, can you suggest three big structural reforms for this government?
 
The decision to appoint the first Chief of Defence Staff on January 26, 2018, can be taken. Second, make a beginning on an integrated theatre command in the Andaman. Developments in the South China Sea presage a bigger role for Andaman. A start on a western theatre command focussed on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir is needed.
 
 
 
 
 
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