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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 21 August 2019
  • We must also realise that the geo-political situation in our region at this juncture is not entirely in our favour. The power play in Afghanistan, together with the fact that India has been excluded from the talks to deal with Afghanistan’s problems, and that Pakistan and China are playing key roles, has put India on notice. Pakistan is already using its leverage in Afghanistan to regain greater acceptance internationally, specially with the U.S. The nexus between China and Pakistan has, if anything, become stronger.
  • We can, hence, anticipate a joint effort by Pakistan and China to muddy the waters as far as Kashmir is concerned. Pakistan will almost certainly intensify terror attacks and whip-up local sentiments inside Kashmir. China, which is already concerned about a “rising nationalist India”, is likely to adopt more insidious tactics, aimed at weakening India’s influence across the region. Buoyed by the fact that it possesses one of the most powerful militaries in the world and with growing acceptance of the Belt and Road Initiative, China can be expected to raise the ante on both the border and in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Given the complex nature of the international situation, India also needs to be on its guard on how the situation in Kashmir might encourage radicalist Islam to exploit the situation. Across both Europe and Asia, widespread concerns exist that radicalized Islamist ideas and concepts thrive in conflict situations. Experts warn of the inherent dangers in such situations, and their recipe is that apart from utmost vigilance devising more inclusive and diversified policies is important to achieve positive results. Policy makers in India would do well to heed these concerns.
  • One final word. The removal of Article 35A should not result in demographic “aggression” in Kashmir, with outsiders seeking to “çolonise” Kashmir. This could be highly counter-productive. It could also induce fears across the entire Northeast, even though Article 371 still holds sway there. In short, authorities must avoid any kind of ‘colourable exercise of power’ in many other areas as well, including on the language issue.
  • On Independence Day, in his inimitable style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Officially, this post was first proposed by the Group of Ministers Report in 2001 but the idea for a CDS can be traced back to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the architect of India’s higher defence organisation. In many ways then, this is a culmination of a long cherished dream, and Mr. Modi deserves full credit for it. However, implementation is key, something that perhaps he knows all too well, having dealt with the aftermath of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout and demonetization.
  • The Prime Minister therefore needs to be bold with this initiative and should understand that his military and civilian advisers, institutionally, have an interest in undermining it. So the manner in which this office is set up portends either the greatest, necessary transformation of the Indian military or a naam-ke-vaastey appointment with a middling mandate and a middling job.
  • Currently there are no further details on the proposed powers of the CDS. According to one report, an “implementation committee” has been established comprising the Defence Secretary, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and other unnamed officers. This itself is a mistake. The committee should ideally be headed by a political leader and/or a rank outsider, who should have no skin in the game. Indeed, the experience of defence reforms in other countries suggests that it is best to have qualified ‘outsiders’ involved in the process. Serving officials can of course assist such an individual or a team but expecting them to, if necessary, curtail their own powers is quixotic.

Overcoming resistance

  • After his first term in office, Mr. Modi must have realized the aversion within the service headquarters to reform. In more than one Combined Commanders Conference, the annual gathering of senior most officers from all three services, Mr. Modi challenged them to come up with a common plan for greater integration. It is still unclear what the modalities of this proposed plan were, submitted sometime in 2018, but according to Admiral Sunil Lanba, till recently the Chief of Naval Staff and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, they recommended creating a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Fortunately, Mr. Modi did not settle upon this term, which perceptually is a step below a CDS. These interactions, however, must have revealed an obvious detail — the service chiefs and their headquarters will bitterly oppose creating an empowered CDS. India’s is perhaps the only large military wherein the service chiefs retain both operational and staff functions. This anomaly cannot continue merely because that is the tradition. If this government wants a “new India” it will have to break decisively from the past and draw up a time-bound road map to divest the chiefs of their operational command.
  • Perhaps one of the best approaches is to focus squarely on the powers and capacity of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), which will serve (or served) as the secretariat to the CDS.
  • The IDS is the joint staff, created in 2001, and comprises around 270 officers. The services have viewed it with a mix of irritation bordering on contempt. It is usually treated as a career backwaters and perhaps the Prime Minister should examine how many recent chiefs have served in this institution. Going forward, civilians should emphasise joint staff experience as an important consideration for senior officer promotions. On another count, one of the aspects worth looking into is the physical location of the IDS and the office of the CDS. According to some reports, an IDS headquarters is proposed to be built somewhere in Delhi Cantonment. Instead of being shunted, officers in the IDS should occupy prime offices in South Block and the office of the CDS should be located right next to that of the Defence Minister.

Zeroing in

  • One of the most closely watched decisions will be on appointing the first CDS. The government need not go with the seniority rule and should instead consider a “deep selection” from current pool of flag officers. To begin with, and to assuage the fears of the smaller services, it may be wise to not let an Army officer to first tenet this post. Moreover, it is not necessary, or perhaps even desirable, for a former service chief to be appointed as the CDS. As a fulcrum for future defence transformation and armed with a possible mandate to examine inter-services prioritization, long-term planning, officer education (including the perennially-imminent Indian National Defence University) and jointness, the CDS can emerge as the biggest “game changer”. But if the services have their way then this will be just another gloried post, without much effective powers.
  • Finally, an important aspect of any reorganisation should look at the inter-se relations between the military and the Ministry of Defence. This needs to focus on capacity, expertise, decision-making powers and aligning responsibility and accountability. The relations between the civilian bureaucracy and the military are among the biggest fault-lines in the defence apparatus and remedial actions are required, on both sides, to create a professional, well-developed and qualified bureaucracy which integrates both civilian-military expertise.
  • With this announcement, Mr. Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have an opportunity to finish a project which Lord Mountbatten was so passionate about. But this is not just about dead Englishmen. Arun Singh, one of the most forward looking quasi-defence ministers, was, according to those who worked closely with him (Mr. Singh), was keen to establish theatre commands back in 2001. However, he was unsure if political leaders at that time would fully support such a transformation. Eventually they did not and the Indian strategic community has been complaining about reforms which “failed to deliver”. Over the next few months, this government has an opportunity to usher in a revolution in defence management — whether they realise this dream or not is up to question.
  • The anger against the British medical journal, The Lancet, for publishing on August 17 a strongly worded editorial on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was initially restricted to social media.
  •  However, two days later, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) waded into the controversy with a letter admonishing Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the journal.
  • “The reputed medical journal The Lancet has committed breach of propriety in commenting on this political issue” and the editorial amounts to “interference into an internal matter of Union of India,” the letter says.
  •  It adds that “The Lancet has no locus standi on the issue of Kashmir” and questioned the “credibility and the mala fide intention behind the uncalled for editorial.”

The Lancet editorial

  • The editorial is broadly divided into three parts. The first lists facts. The second focusses on the findings of two reports: one by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights violations in J&K and the second by Médecins Sans Frontières on the state of mental health in J&K. The third part carries the opinion of the journal. The ground reality and the findings of the two reports are given equal treatment and weightage. The controversial part is found in the beginning and end of the editorial. The editorial begins by calling the revocation of Article 370 a “controversial move” that gives the government “greater authority over the State’s affairs”. It then adds that “militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people”. It concludes that the “people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation.” While those outside the medical fraternity may not know about The Lancet’s stand on issues such as J&K, it is unfortunate that the IMA reacted in the manner that it did. How can a body of over 500,000 doctors, which is supposed to be reading the journal regularly, be unaware of what the journal has always stood for?

The role of a medical journal

  • The editorial is not an “act of commission” by The Lancet, as the IMA calls it, but what the journal considers as its beholden duty to speak up for people in health distress. This may be the first time that The Lancet has written critically about the J&K issue, but it is naïve to assume that it has never written on such matters before. In fact, it regularly denounces any action or policy of any nation or group that harms people’s health. It has commented on Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the refugee crises in the U.S. and Canada, Sudan, the Arab Spring, and several times on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Rohingya.
  • In a July 2014 editorial on Gaza, The Lancet wrote: “The Lancet is a general medical journal that publishes research, news, and opinion about all aspects of human health and wellbeing. In situations of war and conflict — such as in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — our perspective has always been to put the interests of civilian lives ahead of the politics of military engagement... The role of the doctor is to protect, serve, and speak up for life. That, too, is the role of a medical journal.”
  • The same day that the editorial on J&K was published, The Lancet also carried another on mass shootings in the U.S. After putting the editorial in context and referring to a report on mass violence, the journal criticized the government saying: “The far right and the Trump administration have fomented and normalized white nationalist sentiment and entitlement with anti-immigrant rhetoric, which is amplified by conservative media and then consumed by the disenfranchised.”
  • Unlike in the case of the editorial on J&K, the journal has been scathing at times while commenting on other countries. But the central focus has always been on health, and the editorial on J&K is no different.
  • The Lancetis a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is among the world's oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals.
  • The journal was founded in 1823 by Thomas Wakley, an English surgeon who named it after the surgical instrument called a lancet, as well as after the architectural term "lancet arch", a window with a sharp pointed arch, to indicate the "light of wisdom" or "to let in light".
  • The journal publishes original research articles, review articles ("seminars" and "reviews"), editorials, book reviews, correspondence, as well as news features and case reports. The Lancet has been owned by Elsevier since 1991. Since 1995, the editor-in-chief is Richard Horton. The journal has editorial offices in London, New York, and Beijing.