Use the armed forces to face the crisis | Analysis – analysis
Last Monday, the 4.0 lock was enacted with some relaxation. But this did not end, as the Supreme Court pointed out, the deluge of migrants heading home. The question many, including serving and retired military personnel, ask is why the armed forces, the most trusted instrument of the state, have not been more actively involved in containing the greatest internal security crisis facing the country. A serving lieutenant colonel, a retired commodore, and two former chiefs of the Navy, the first two on this page, and others on social media have urged the military to be requisitioned to assist the civil administration in assisting the citizens in distress.
On the 48th day of the shutdown, the government instructed states not to allow migrants to walk home. The chief of the Defense General Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, in an interview with this newspaper last month, said that the coronavirus chain had to be broken before April 14 through closure and social distancing, adding that “the army is fully prepared to meet for the demands made by the government and the people.”
The question was sparked by two sad events: endless columns of hungry and tired migrant workers with families walking home and their inhuman treatment by the police; and a media briefing by the CDS and three chiefs of service where he was expected to announce some significant humanitarian intervention by the military. Instead, he narrated events that the three services would hold to commemorate the coronavirus warriors. After his appearance, the veterans expressed dismay and reprimand. Given the unprecedented cuts in the defense budget underway, transport flights across the country and fighter jets and helicopters and the lighting of warships was a better expense spent on providing aid to migrants. The Army’s visibility would have been a balm for distressed migrants.
Following the annulment of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the surgical ground attacks and air strikes, and the warning by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan about Indian false flag operations, the government of the Democratic National Alliance (NDA) has opted to keep the powder dry. Maharashtra Prime Minister Uddhav Thackeray recently said he would not summon the Army as it is guarding the borders. But in addition to those deployed, there are enough forces available to mitigate the humanitarian crisis. The Army has a strategic surplus of 8,000-10,000 United Nations peacekeeping personnel and deployable peacetime formations.
Should the armed forces have been deployed? The answer is a resounding yes. The country faces an unprecedented human security challenge. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made saving lives and livelihoods, in that order, the national goal. In 2003, at an international security conference in Berlin, the then deputy national security adviser, Satish Chandra, presented an elaborate document on pandemics. Some contingency plans were made in the National Security Council and in the operational directorates of the armed forces. According to defense archives statistics, after Partition, India has faced 529 national disasters as of 2017 with 200,000 deaths. The army played a key role in rescue and relief operations.
The focus of attention, until now, has been on the general director of the Medical Services of the Armed Forces who dedicated a large part of his medical resources and services to the civil administration throughout the country, including the establishment of quarantine camps and the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease, hospitals only Artifact factories received late orders to produce medical equipment, including ventilation equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) and other materials. Naval warships have evacuated the neighborhood diaspora and for the first time charged $ 40, certainly a poor optics for civil-military relations. The Indian Air Force has moved medical equipment and stores to many foreign countries.
The armed forces in the neighborhood are involved in helping state authorities deal with the pandemic. In Sri Lanka, the Covid National Outbreak Management Center is under the CDS. In South and Southeast Asia, the military is helping the State manage the pandemic.
Has the army become a holy cow in India? Especially when, for the first time, the military response mechanism has been catalyzed by the appointment of a CDS and a powerful department of military affairs. The armed forces have the capacity, staying power, and discipline to help the state weather this storm in various ways. By mobilizing national and state capabilities, the military will act as a force multiplier. People, including CDS, expected the first block to contain the virus, but uncertainty prevails. The pandemic is expected to increase in June-July with the probability of a second and third peak. The Army must receive immediate instructions to establish a working group for the Organization and Management of the Safe Movement of Migrants and to remain on standby for emergency missions.
Each state is networked with Army formations at a location with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to aid civil authority. As long as they remain disinfected, the military must be used more optimally in this national humanitarian crisis. That will be reason enough to ring the bells and petals in the shower.
Ashok K Mehta is a retired major general and founding member, Defense Planning Staff
The opinions expressed are personal.