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Defence scams and Kashmir

Author: Gautam Mukherjee
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: February 14, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/02/defence-scams-and-kashmir.html

The Chinese lunar Year of the Black Water Snake has begun on February 10. Snake years have generally produced significant and enduring change. India has at least two festering problems that are in urgent need of resolution. And they are both an enormous strain on our limited resources.

One is the lack of spine shown in the handling of Jammu & Kashmir by successive Indian Governments. In fact, the indulgences shown to the politicians and public figures in the Kashmir Valley have made the situation increasingly complicated. The latest travesty involving Yasin Malik and Hafiz Saeed, posturing in Islamabad, is brazenly playing out before our very eyes!

The other, which tends to spawn ironic jokes in frustration, is the sorry state of defence related procurement and the indigenous defence manufacturing capacity. Arms dealers and scandals related to them are all too frequent, and the numbers involved are gargantuan. The 12 AgustaWestland helicopters ordered for VVIP duty and the 12.7 per cent bribe attached amounting to Rs 470 crore, is only the newest scandal in series. And this is for just a dozen helicopters!

On Kashmir, militarist Pakistan has held the Indian Government’s feet to the fire for over six decades. We are laughed at globally as the quintessential soft state where we take our Ahimsa very seriously. But Pakistan with its interchangeable troupe of state and non-state actors, has successfully implemented a policy of imposing “a thousand cuts” to keep us bleeding steadily.

India’s cost of maintaining the status quo in J&K is classified, but it is obviously enormous. We have also lost more soldiers and allied security personnel in J&K “peacetime”, than we have in all the wars and skirmishes fought since independence.

This even as India’s military hardware is obsolete, inadequate and in disrepair, despite the rampant corruption that attends every defence deal. We are unable to account for ourselves any better in 2013 than we could in 1962. Of course, the nuclear deterrent helps, and the nature of a vastly more interdependent world now. But it doesn’t stop China from taking advantage of our weakness ruthlessly.

China, on its part, now proudly manufactures aircraft-carriers and nuclear submarines. This is in addition to warships, guns, tanks, missiles, bombs, ordnance of various kinds, planes, helicopters, radars, drones, computer controlled systems etc.

India has been lagging far behind in this regard, mired in incompetence and inability. And it is forever paying through its nose for every acquisition from abroad.

But now, the privatisation of defence production is gaining momentum with a Defence Production Policy that does not necessarily give the Government- owned company the monopoly, or even a pole position. After all, they have made a complete mess of it for decades.

The Government of India has long wanted to produce 70 per cent of its armaments domestically but has failed, perhaps due to the power brokers and arms dealers whom this cannot suit. After all, the Indian Defence Market is worth over $50 billion over the next five years.

But till lately, even though the policy to licence the private sector into defence production began in 2001, there was little movement. But now, after the unveiling of the first ever Defence Production Policy in 2011, the Tata Group, Reliance Industries, L&T, Mahindra, and others are all taking a serious initiative.

The US procures most of its military machine from the private sector, and is a valuable source of inspiration, technology and collaboration. But similarly, so is an impoverished Europe, a competitive Russia, and Israel, that sees India as a natural ally. Much can therefore be expected from this in the coming years.

To solve the impasse in J&K, we need some audacity. First, to abrogate its special status before the US moves out of Afghanistan and the jihadists can give us their undivided attention; and merge the restive state with Punjab. Pakistan has pushed into POK and Gilgit. China has changed the demographics of Tibet and taken over a port on the Arabian Sea at Gwadur. This is also how the West was Won in the US. So what are we afraid of?

This one act will rapidly change the demographics of J&K as it stands, distinguished for little beyond its nuisance value.

J&K does have enormous tourist , leisure, sports and real estate development potential, leaving aside its carpet making and other craft skills, but only a fraction of this has ever been realised.

The seditionists and separatists that have long enjoyed hallowed status in the Valley should be firmly pushed into POK, along with all those others who would rather be Pakistanis.

We can put paid to this contentious security problem, wipe out the state from the map, and turn the place into the crowning glory to India that nature intended. All we need is Parliamentarians from all parties to come together to change the game once and for all. The world which regards Kashmir as a flashpoint will surely heave a sigh of relief.
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