While the nation is battling the spread of COVID 19 (Coronavirus) the Defence Ministry announced a collection of defence deals. These include procurement of Negev Light Machine Guns at a cost of 116 Million USD from Israel, 2.1billion USD agreement with TAIS, a consortium of five Turkish shipbuilders, to design and build fleet support vessels for the Indian Navy in collaboration with the state-owned Hindustan Shipbuilders Limited, 83 Tejas aircraft from HAL at a cost of USD 5.25 Billionand with the Ordnance Factory Board for the supply of 118 Arjun Battle tanks for the army at a cost of 890 Million USD.
There are other deals also in the pipeline. These include a USD 550 Million with Abu Dhabi’s Caracal International for the procurement of 94,000 carbines for close quarter battle for the army and 10 additional Russian airborne early warning and control helicopters for the Navy’s indigenously designed aircraft carrier at an estimated cost of USD 480 Million.
This expenditure on defence preparedness has come under flak with critics stating that while doctors continue to face problems of shortfall of protective equipment and lack of testing facilities amongst the population, the government is spending on enhancing its military capabilities. They have recommended that the government halt defence procurements till the virus is controlled and the economy kickstarts.
National security never comes to a standstill, despite the armed forces being involved at every stage in the government’s fight to control the spread of the Coronavirus. Infiltration attempts by Pakistan continue unabated. Last week the army lost five of its soldiers eliminating a similar number of terrorists.Ceasefire violations occuralmost daily and artillery firing along the Line of Control is on the rise.
With summers setting in, Pak’s terror camps have become active. In a proactive action to prevent infiltration, the army launched artillery barrages on known terrorist camps, enemy gun positions and troop concentrations, causing casualties.
Pakistan is aware that the valley is currently in a critical state. Its attempts at enticing youth into violence and joining militant ranks has met with little success, even though India abrogated Article 370 and passed the new domicile act. This year only 6 youth have joined militant ranks. Its fake propaganda has had few takers. Its local backers, the Hurriyat maintains silence and is even contemplating joining mainstream politics. Globally, its calls on Kashmir are ignored.
Infiltrated militants are under pressure and being discovered almost daily. Overground workers are being arrested, hideouts raided, and arms caches recovered. All this is happening amidst the valley battling the Coronavirus.
The Kashmiri public is aware than Indian treatmentfacilities for handling the virus are far better than POK and Gilgit Baltistan, where medical staff are strikingdue to lack of protective equipment and medical facilities. They have also seen their brethren being evacuated from all parts of the globe, while Pak continues to ignore its own nationals. Pakistan is aware that if it does not ramp up militancy in the state shortly, it may lose the advantage. Hence, it has made regular attempts at infiltration and enhanced ceasefire violations. These would only increase with passage of time.
Having controlled the Coronavirus, China would soon be back to its games in the Indian Ocean as also along the border. With US aircraft carriers facing rising Coronavirus cases Chinese activities have increased in the South China Sea. It recently sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat and has begun exercises close to Taiwan. It would recommence its forays into the Indian Ocean.
Those criticizing the arms deal fail to realise that the armed forces, alongside the Armed Forces Medical Services have been working at a fast pace to set up isolation and quarantine facilities for all evacuees from abroad. The army chief has launched Operation Namaste join the battle against the Virus.
Manvendra Singh, a Congress leader and editor in chief of the Defence and Security Alert stated in an article, ‘the Manesar facility alone costs around Rs 3.5 Lakh every day. There may be a reimbursement, but there might not be either. In which case, the armed forces will have to shed some requirement somewhere. There will not be, however any whining, and the secret to this is a unique combination of the (individual service) act and the medical oath.’ Historically, whenever the armed forces have utilized their own stores for national good, there has never been a reimbursement, nor has it been requested.
Every time the nation has desired the armed forces to step forward, they always have. In cases involving natural calamities or disaster, the armed forces have reached out to the affected population, accommodated and shared their rations and shelter with them, never looking to the State or Government assistance. In cases where such incidents occur in border regions, Sikkim earthquake or Kashmir floods being examples, they have been the first responders, establishing the base for other central agencies including the NDRF.
Equipment for which contracts are currently being initiated will begin arriving in the country in the future. The signing of the contract implies limited payments being made for the moment.Balance payments for them would be spread over a period.
There could also be a counter argument that Pakistan would also be economically weakened to attempt any military operations. Pakistan army lacking capability is well known; however, itsfinancing and supporting non-state actors to launch terrorist strikes both within Kashmir and possibly even in the hinterland is feasible and must be expected. Simultaneously, as has been happening always, its attempts at instigating the Kashmiri population and select groups within the hinterland would continue.
India developing conventional capabilities adds to pressure within Pak. It has faced Balakote, a cross border strike and multiple artillery barrages. It is aware of the growing gap in capabilities and hence fears another strike, in case it attempts a major terrorist action within India. This impacts their planning and future strategy.
Further, while the national leadership is internally concentrated on winning the battle on Coronavirus and recovery of the economy, the armed forces must continue to focus on ensuring national security. At some stage the nation will contain the virus and normalcy would be restored. The Government would then shift attention on economic recovery. Economic recovery is only possible in an externally secure environment. Those who have criticized the Government’s decision need to reconsider their views based on reality.
The author is Major General (Retd)