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Lt Gen Satish Nambiar Padma Bhushan, PVSM, AVSM, VrC (Retd) Writes :

Notwithstanding the internal challenges India faces and the imperative need to focus on economic growth, it would be prudent for the governing establishment and the strategic community in the country to dwell on the fact that within the international setting in the first half of the 21st Century and probably beyond, India will have a role to play both regionally and globally. A role imposed on us by a number of factors: the size of the country; its geo-strategic location straddling the Indian Ocean; the population of over a billion people (and growing) with a demographic dividend in its favour; its established democratic credentials; a significant capability in information technology; a large reservoir of scientific talent including in space technology; acknowledged management expertise; proven military capability; and the large market for consumer goods and services. We cannot and must not shy away from this serious responsibility.

Internationally, the situation is that most countries, including major players like the USA, European Union, Russia, Japan, as also possibly some of the regional organisations, would, without much doubt, like to see India play a more active role in promoting democratic values and contributing to stability in the region. Primarily because of the perception that India has the ability to do so, as also because of their desire not to be directly involved in many cases. The only element that could inhibit the Indian establishment in developing the appropriate military capability to support such a role is perhaps some reservation about the ability to build a national consensus in this regard.

If India is to play its destined role in regional affairs and be taken seriously at the global level, Indian diplomacy will need to move into high gear, taking into account the fact that in the conduct of foreign policy, there is no place for righteousness and moral posturing; it is to be guided solely by sovereign national interests. In the immediate region, it may be useful to get off the high pedestal we have placed ourselves on, shed the patronising approach we seem to have mastered over the years, and evolve mutually acceptable working relationships with our neighbours. There is no gainsaying the fact that India has a vital stake in the developments in the immediate turbulent neighbourhood. Instability and social upheaval will have inevitable adverse “spill-over” effects that will cause us security problems and generate greater stress within our society. A society already somewhat traumatised by the terrorist attacks that are repeatedly taking place; orchestrated as they seem to be, by groups and individuals located in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even so, while there is little doubt that we need to factor the sensitivities of our neighbours into whatever capabilities we endeavour to develop, it should be made clear that India would be willing to use its economic and military pre-eminence in pursuance of its supreme national interests, and for the maintenance of peace and security in the region. Conveying such a message will take some effort because India needs to first undo the current lack of credibility regarding our determination to act decisively in pursuit of national security interests. Not too many countries take us seriously since in the recent past we have invariably indulged more in rhetoric than in action. To that extent it may be useful to draw attention to, and take appropriate lessons from: the Hyderabad Police action immediately after Independence; liberation of Portuguese held territories of Goa, Daman and Diu in 1960; taking the war across the international border in Punjab and Rajasthan during the 1965 operations; and the liberation of Bangla Desh in 1971.

In so far as India’s military forces and operational posture are concerned, it would be presumptuous to try and analyse capacities that need to be put in place to deal with the possible threats within the complete spectrum of warfare in the 21st Century. This has already been the subject of discussion in official domain at various forums. India needs to get its political, economic and diplomatic acts together in the years to come, to be able to avoid being drawn into a military conflict against any of its adversaries. Even so, there can be little argument that the military capability should be demonstrably built up to the extent of being able to deal with external aggression through the application of conventional forces, limited or otherwise, and strategic nuclear capability should that be required. The internal situation being what it is, the Armed Forces will continue to be engaged in managing insurgencies and terrorism in the North East and in Jammu & Kashmir. There may well be demands for deploying the military to deal with the Naxalite problem; it is hoped that the military leadership will have the courage and wisdom to resist such involvement as the problem basically relates to governance and policing.

In the immediate neighbourhood, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are all affected by conflict or latent conflict situations that pose a threat to regional peace and security. In the extended region we have the dangers posed to international shipping in trade and energy supplies by piracy off the Gulf of Aden and the scope for similar activities around the Straits of Malacca. The volatile situation in West Asia including Gaza, Iraq, and Lebanon, and the tensions over possible moves for acquisition of nuclear capability by Iran, are factors that contribute to regional instability. Notwithstanding the efforts of the African Union, the continent is plagued by religious, ethnic and tribal conflict that continue to destabilise many of the countries in the region. Looking even further beyond, one can perceive the scope for conflict in some of the constituents of the former Soviet Union and in the Balkans. There has been much soul searching and discussion at various forums that the international community needs to be more proactive to prevent genocide, contain conflict and encourage the emergence and establishment of democratic societies. To that end, it seems that attempts are being made for the international community represented by the United Nations or recognised regional organizations, to intervene either with the use of force or for peacekeeping with the consent of parties to a conflict.

Given India’s established expertise and military capability, there can be little doubt that it may well be called upon by the international community (represented by the UN or by regional organizations or by its neighbours on a bilateral or multilateral basis) to deploy its military, together with others in a multi-national force, and possibly take a lead role, for dealing with what are perceived as threats to regional or international peace and security. This is an aspect on which India needs to start deliberating and focusing on. To study in detail and evolve a concept: for command & control; coordination; operational compatibility, etc together with other like-minded countries in the region and beyond.

There is a compelling case for India to develop and maintain a sizeable dedicated rapid reaction force for intervention, stabilisation or peacekeeping operations within the region or beyond; organized, trained, equipped and located accordingly and under strategic direction. Needless to say, such a force would also be available for use as operational reserves if and when India is at war. Given the type of regional or global commitments the force may be required to undertake, such a force needs to be multi-dimensional, tri-service and operating under a joint operational command, and include components from the Army, Navy and Air Force, elements from the Coast Guard, civil affairs officers, civilian police components, personnel trained in human rights aspects, legal affairs personnel and representatives from the diplomatic corps.

To that end the rapid reaction task force should broadly comprise the following:

  1. A tri-service Corps headquarters;
  2. A land forces component to include an airborne brigade, and a light armoured or mechanised division comprising an air transportable armoured brigade equipped with light tanks and infantry combat vehicles, an amphibious brigade and an air transportable infantry brigade;
  3. Army aviation elements, assault engineers, communication and logistics elements;
  4. A naval component that desirably includes an aircraft carrier, appropriate surface and sub-surface craft and aerial maritime capability;
  5. An Air Force component that includes strike aircraft, helicopters and strategic airlift capability;
  6. A special forces component; and,
  7. A civilian component to include diplomatic representatives, civil affairs personnel, civilian police, human rights personnel, etc.


It is therefore imperative that the CDS immediately raise the issue with the Government in context of the demands being placed on India for provision of troops for peacekeeping, and requests that have been made from time to time to consider the scope for participation in multi-national operations.

While formalisation of the concept and authorisation of the organisation, personnel and equipment, may take its course, though hopefully at some speed, it may be useful to set up the nucleus of such a task force by drawing on existing assets that can be made available. This can be more than justified from the operational capability in view of the given situation in the neighbourhood, and the possibility that the Armed Forces may be called upon to act unilaterally in pursuance of India’s national interests, or to assist in a bilateral context on the request of one of its neighbours. That India should be prepared to do so needs no further emphasis. But that can only be facilitated if it creates the capacity, analyse concepts of employment, evolve an appropriate doctrine, carry out joint training, put in place a logistics infra-structure, and so on. The sooner India commences work on this the better.

Together with such initial moves it is important to work on a number of other measures in cooperation with regional and global players. It would be useful for joint working groups comprising diplomats and selected military personnel to inter-act at the international level at multilateral forums like the United Nations and with organisations like NATO, to share perceptions about coordination and training, exchange of data on trouble spots on a regular basis, mechanisms for consultation, etc. At the regional level similar moves should be initiated to secure understanding and cooperation from organisations like the ASEAN Regional Forum, Gulf Cooperation Council, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, etc. Needless to say, it would be good if similar moves could be initiated within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, but that may pose some difficulty at present due to the stand-off with Pakistan. It would be most useful to organize events like the symposium conducted by the Indian Navy in November 2018 for Chiefs of the Indian Ocean littoral states. Similar meetings, seminars, symposiums and conferences could be held to discuss the scope and extent of cooperation with like minded countries including the USA, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Gulf countries like Qatar and Oman, Russia and the Central Asian republics.

While the training of personnel from the three Services and other components of such a task force should receive focused attention to achieve jointness, it is also essential that commanders and staff officers are gradually exposed to operating with their counterparts from other countries either bilaterally or at multilateral forums in order to foster better cooperation and coordination. Equally, if not more importantly, training of senior military leadership must focus on the nuances of multi-national operations, particularly in context of the possibility of India being asked to assume a leadership role. The need to adjust to a “consultative” style of leadership, and paying increased attention to aspects of coordination and liaison at headquarters will need to be understood, as also the methodology to be adopted for assimilating staff officers and sub-ordinate commanders within the system. In this context it would be useful to draw on the experiences of other individual countries like the USA and Russia, and groupings like the EU, NATO, ARF, AU, SCO, etc

Finally, it may be useful to examine and discuss the desirability or otherwise, and the extent and scope to which, China should be drawn into such moves. This could be discreetly discussed with strategic partners like the USA, Japan, EU and Russia.

In doing all this, not only would India be preparing for assuming a greater role in regional and global affairs but also convey its seriousness of purpose.


Lt Gen Satish Nambiar, Padma Bhushan, PVSM, AVSM, VrC (Retd), is a globally known UN expert and has been the Director of USI of India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.

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