The speech made by the Army Chief of Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, at a recent Training Command seminar about India getting prepared for a two-front war both on the northern and western fronts has received a lot of publicity and attention both in Pakistan and China. The criticism is very strident as is to be expected, particularly in Pakistan. It is also understandable since General Kapoor's speech marks a point of departure in terms of style and content from the views that used to be voiced by all previous army chiefs. We could have done without it at a time when the Indian defence secretary is meeting his Chinese counterpart.
It is necessary to start with a clarification for both Indian and foreign audiences. Unlike in Pakistan, the Indian army chief is not the final authority to decide on the strategy to be adopted in case of any hostilities. As General Malik has explained in his book, at the time of the Kargil war, Prime Minister Vajpayee directed that the Indian military operations should be restricted to the Indian side of the Line of Control. That was strictly implemented irrespective of the views that might have been held by other military and civilian leaders. Unlike in China, the Indian army does not function under party control with a military commission which excludes the prime minister and has a majority of the military leadership and is dominated by it. In other words, strategic policy-making in India is exclusively a political function and not a military one. No doubt, ultimately at the time of the decision, if at all such need arises, it will be to a great degree influenced by the inputs of the chiefs of staff of the time but the final decision-maker will be the prime minister.
The present criticism of the views of General Kapoor highlights the need for early establishment of a National Defence University and imbuing our senior service officers with adequate diplomatic skills besides their military ones. In the present day globalised world professional soldiers also need to be diplomats when they deal with international situations. General Kapoor is due to retire in the next few months. In a democracy like ours he is entitled to have his views and also express them at professional seminars, provided he makes it clear they are his personal views. Surely the Indian audience at the seminar would have interpreted them in that way. Perhaps his personal caveats were not reported in the media. It would be a pity if because of embarrassment caused there are attempts by politicians and the civil bureaucracy to stifle such frank expression of opinions in professional debates and seminars.