The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, June 22, 2003

A blueprint for the country’s security needs
Himmat Singh Gill

Vision 2100: A Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
by General K Sundarji. Konark.
Pages 268. Rs 500.

Vision 2100: A Strategy for the Twenty-First CenturyTHE late General Sundarji, a former Chief of the Army Staff, was never a man to be lost in a crowd of the mediocre. Strikingly impressive in look and manners, smart and dashing, and every inch one who looked a General, Sundar, as he was affectionately known among his peers and friends, was well ahead of his times in his plans for the Indian Army, over whose destiny he presided in the 1980s. This magnum opus completed just before he died, covers a vast array of subjects like nuclear strategy, force structures, conventional strategy and national strategy management in various contingencies of war, and the handling of the no-war-no-peace scenario that India has been long saddled with on its western front, and which has harboured insurgency and terrorism in its folds. Actually Sundarji would have been read even if there had been no Foreword by Raja Ramanna or an Introduction by K Subrahmanyam, for his clear and concise thinking on security matters will continue to have considerable importance.


Sundarji has dealt with a wide range of security-related problems facing India: internal security threats, religious intolerance, ethnic chauvinism and regional imbalances in economic growth, standards of living and "quality of life". One wishes that he had also covered here the irrational priority given in India to internal security, often at the cost of external security, or for that matter his own role and views on Operation Bluestar, which took place when he was the Army Commander of the Western Command (two subjects on which his comments would have been enlightening). He is bang on target when he opines that what we need is "a secular, democratic polity that is seen as generally clean with parties that are not blatantly self-serving." Commenting on China, he writes, "China no longer sees Russia as its greatest threat", and "as a large, populous country with an ancient civilisation, China wants to be in the major league of world powers by right and not accepted grudgingly as an 'also ran'." His opining that India having accepted China's sovereignty over Tibet makes the former a 'potential friend' of China, may, however, be slightly off the mark considering that an interest clash would always be there, with our border issue still unresolved and our own desire (whether expressed openly or not) to also join the super-club one day, as China also hopes to. On Pakistan and its strategic aims until 2025, Sundarji feels that it would like to see "the emergence of many independent states out of the Indian Union", and that the "permanent solution for the bullfrog (Pakistan) which cannot possibly become a bull (India), is to convert the bull into a bullfrog!". A slightly unlikely observation as far as the first part of his assessment is concerned, for in these times no nation, and definitely not a small one, is permitted to dismember countries into smaller principalities. Pakistan could not be all that immature, if it is at all thinking along those lines.

Sundarji is in his elements when he discusses the nuclear and the NBC (nuclear, chemical and biological) environment and strategy. A restless thinker, never rigid, and blessed with a deep insight and visionary frame of mind, he often found it difficult to stick to the beaten path of conventional warfare. He foresaw the possibility of the Indian Army having to face a battlefield nuclear strike in the future and ordered the teaching of suitable military doctrines to help the Army prepare for such an eventuality. Those who today take credit for the positioning of the National Command Authority, "the surviving command authority" when the first rung of command has been decapitated in a ‘first strike' by the enemy, need to know that such matters were being debated upon by the likes of Sundarji and others in those times.

But it would not be right to imply that Sundarji always had all the aces up his sleeve. The disastrous foray into Sri Lanka, the unnecessary wounding of the Army's senior officer cadre by thrusting in the Command and Staff stream concept (which died a natural death within two years of its inception in any case), and his exuberance at times when peace-time war games nearly led to a war with Pakistan moving its Strike Corps to the border, are some of the minuses that will be counted against his name. But his grip and understanding of the National Security Management was unparalleled and beyond question. He draws attention to the earlier practice of the Ministries of Home, Foreign Affairs and Defence operating in isolation except for "occasional coordination in the past", and hammers home the point that today one cannot get away with such an approach. "Today even so called peace, is complicated by the instant gymnastics involved in dealing with activities such as Coercive diplomacy, Nuclear deterrence, Adversary states using inspired insurgencies and terrorism as tools..., and Undeclared and prolonged and low intensity wars", he writes perceptively.

In this book, Sundarji has a telling message for India's ruling political classes and the all-powerful bureaucracy (which often buries its head in the sand), that the military and its thinkers also have the right to make decisions at the highest level that deals with the security and strategic concerns of the country. This is a powerful book that makes one sit up and think. Possibly this is its greatest value.