Why not a separate Armed Forces Pay Board?

Ever since the recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission have not met the requirements of the Defence Chiefs, they are rallying around the ministry of Defence to get their grievances noticed. There are many reasons for the same of which mainly is the shortage of the officers in all the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces. The combined shortage is around 43,000 in army, air force and navy.
Defence was not happy with the recommendations and now the government has fuelled the resentment in the forces even more. Now it is the turn of an unfeeling government to drive the military and its veterans into despondency. Defence minister A K Antony informed the parliament in a written reply that the government has not found acceptable the demand for ’one rank one pension’ (OROP) by the ex-servicemen. OROP is an emotive issue for the men in uniform, and there is deep hurt and resentment at being taken for another ride.
The concept of ’one rank one pension’ says that if two military pensioners who retired in the same rank after rendering equal service should get equal pension irrespective of their dates of retirement. Since the date of retirement also determines the quantum of pension, with each pay commission (with periodicity of 10 years), the military veterans who retired early receive lesser pension compared to those who retired later with the same rank and same service. As military pensioners are subjected to two or three more pay commissions in their lifetime, they have to suffer the disparities bred by it every 10 years. None has ever found it irrational.
One needs to understand the importance of the forces in a country. If the forces are demoralised by the stupid babus then we are heading for some serious trouble in the time ahead. Armed forces have always been discriminated. That is how our bureaucracy plays the stepmother, spoiler and the game of attrition.
Successive pay commissions have succeeded only in elevating the status of civil, police and paramilitary forces. In the 1960s, the Raghuramiah Committee had recommended the army be equated with the IPS. But over the years, the police have been upgrading their senior ranks, so the senior ranks in the army are automatically downgraded. There is wide disparity in pay bands as well. The forces also claim that Committee of Secretaries (CoS) moved the director rank into pay band 4 but retained Lt. Col and its equivalent in other services in pay band 3.
Earlier, they claim, a Lt Col got the same pay as an IAS director and Rs 800 more than a non-IAS director. Now he gets Rs 14000 less than an IAS director and Rs 11000 less than a non-IAS director.
Earlier, persons below officer rank (PBOR) drew 75 per cent of their pay as pension. The Sixth Pay Commission has reduced this to 50 per cent, on the ground that the soldier will be entitled to serve in the paramilitary forces after they leave the army.
It is high time that as a citizen of this nation we support our armed forces. Even the most formidable army needs to be cared for and nurtured by the mother country. The soldiers fight for us and if we show callousness then we as a society have betrayed them. We should force the government to ponder over the legitimate demands of the forces. A much better option will be to have a separate commission for the forces. Currently, there is not even a single representative of the forces in the commission. Many countries have implemented the same and thus we should also think over it.

“Do you have it in you?” – A shortage of officers in our Defense Forces

There’s no shortage of patriotism in our country but why is it that there’s such a shortage of officers in the armed forces.

The Indian army has launched a massive awareness drive to get young people in the force. They were recently in my college to throw some light on avenues for engineers in Army. The army is currently facing a crisis – it is short of over 11,000 officers ranging from the rank of captain to major. Despite glossy advertisement campaigns like “Be an Army man: Be a winner for life”, the armed forces continue to face a serious shortage of officers. Several steps have been undertaken by the three Services to fill up the vacant posts. They include seminars, presentations, campus interactions, recruitment drives and sustained publicity efforts. In addition, the commitment and bravery of the armed forces is consistently projected through the electronic and print media.
Blame it on low remuneration, tough working conditions and, above all, high risk to life, the armed forces today are not an enviable career choice. The forces are not only short of thousands of men but also troubled by a high attrition rate. Officers’ shortage is acute now and seriously affecting the Army, in quantity as well as quality. The reasons, well known, have been discussed ad nauseam in public.
There can be no long-term solution to the problem until the government and society are able to mitigate the following as one of the top official in forces says—-
Remove stagnation at the middle level and thus improve promotion opportunities of the officers, close to that of civil and police services; improve opportunities for officers and men to be able to spend more time with their families; re-establish social status and warrant of precedence of the armed forces officers at the Centre and State levels; compensate adequately the increased level of personal risk and hardships in the field areas; bridge salary and compensation gap between the private sector and government services, to the extent possible.

An other officer Lt-Gen KAMALJIT SINGH (retd), has also mentioned that the shortage of officers in the Army can only be improved the day the government enhances the basic pay of the armed forces and delinks the Central government employees’ pay from the armed forces’ pay, as in most countries. This one step will eradicate the shortage of officers from the Army and others services of the armed forces as well, for the good of the nation. The defence community has been clamouring for a separate pay commission for the armed forces for a long time. Its stance is that no member of the armed forces is included in the pay commissions and civilians are unable to comprehend the tough service conditions, ground realities and military ethos which should be taken into account while working out the pay and allowances.

A strong, professionally led military controlled by capable leaders having impeccable credentials, strength of character and integrity is vital to the national interest. A strong military would serve as an instrument of deterrence and support for the other arms of the government. Hence it is very important that India does not loose its edge on security of Nation. Indian Armed Forces are the pride of our Nation. They have held our heads high. Its time to give them what they deserve. The government should address the problem very seriously otherwise the situation will get out of control in coming years. Let’s hope that sixth pay commission will give the armed forces its due.

The Kashmir Conundrum

Kashmir – An area of conflict in South Asia that hasn’t seen peace, freedom and security for a very long while. After several hundred years of imperial rule, part of Kashmir became a part of the Secular, Democratic, Republic of India while the other part became a part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. A minute section of Kashmir is also occupied by China.

The History of the state is the key to understanding the basis of the Indo-Pak conflict and also offers the means for a peaceful resolution of the issue. The last ruler of Kashmir was Maharaja Hari Singh, a man who was despised predominantly by the Muslim population of Kashmir for his autocratic and anti-Islamic regime. It is Hari Singh who handed Kashmir over to the Government of India through a document of Accession which many claim he had no right to write in the first place by virtue of his lack of control over the Islamic rebel groups in his own kingdom.

This is where the feud between India and Pakistan began; over who had a claim over the territory of Kashmir. Pakistan chose to separate itself from India as a nation built for the Muslims because they felt marginalized in India. They claim Kashmir due to its Muslim majorities and India claimed Kashmir by virtue of the accession document signed by the Maharaja.

The real reasons are the strategic importance of the region in terms of Defense and Trade along with its abundant natural resources like water supply and the potential for agriculture. These reasons, along with a strong tendency towards power-play, are apparently sufficient for both countries to wage large scale conventional wars (1947, 1965 and 1971).

There are blatant human rights violations in the area coupled with a severe lack of development and employment opportunities that lead inevitably to large sections of the Kashmiri population living in conditions of fear, anger and squalor. They have not yet been given the right to exercise their will in this matter. This has led to the growth of various militant organizations in the region that oppose the oppression of the Indian Government. These “freedom fighters” are labeled terrorists by the Indian government justifying their military pressure over the entire civilian population in the area.

In 1947, when the Kashmir issue was first referred to the United Nations, India did not want to be at an equal footing with Pakistan while Pakistan was openly hostile towards the Indian Government. On 31st December 1947, Nehru wrote to the UN Secretary-General:

“To remove the misconception that the Indian Government is using the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir to reap political profits, the Government of Indian wants to make it very clear that as soon as the raiders are driven out and normalcy is restored, the people of the state will freely decide their fate and that decision will be taken according to the universally accepted democratic means of Plebiscite or Referendum.”[1]

More than 50 years have gone by and the Kashmiris are still not acquainted with “normalcy”. They still have not had the (long overdue) plebiscite.

India’s stand was that, Kashmir was formally a part of India according to a legal agreement with the Maharaja to this effect and that any claim to any part of Kashmir by Pakistan is illegitimate.

Pakistan was of the opposite view where it felt that the Maharaja was driven out of his country by the people of Kashmir and that he had no authority to hand over the state which wasn’t under his control anyway. This nullifies any agreement made between the Government of India and the Maharaja.

The road ahead

The most pragmatic solution to this dispute comes from an unlikely source… Pakistan’s Military Dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. He proposed a four-point formula that addresses the key problems to this feud:

1. Demilitarization of the disputed area.

This would be done by both sides; India and Pakistan in tandem with a UN sponsored cease fire leaving room for organizing a plebiscite in the area.

2. Self Government.

Self-Government by the Kashmiris implies that both India and Pakistan will need to bring the Kashmiri interests to the table and add them to what has become a bilateral argument involving only Indian and Pakistani interests. Let the Kashmiris decide what they want.

3. Softening of existing borders.

The primary reason for the existence of hostilities amongst India and Pakistan is Kashmir. Once the region is divided according to the plebiscite, there will be no reason to have gargantuan armed forces regiments posted in the area leaving room for more productive interactions like trade and development. This can be achieved through creating, in phases, a permeable border amongst India and Pakistan.

4. International supervision and guarantee from the UN and major regional powers.

International supervision is necessary to ensure that both sides are operating in the interests of the people caught in the crossfire. The border drawn after the plebiscite and division of Kashmir will need to be recognized by the international community.

The plan is quite straight forward. However, implementing this plan is another challenge altogether with the primary obstacle being India’s unwillingness to give up territory. The Government of India will have to be convinced about its priorities. Territory comes after people. The people of Kashmir are suffering and are being driven into desperation. This could pose a serious law and order situation in India through the coming years with an increase in the already high levels of “terrorist” infiltrations across the country. The Indian public also needs to be made aware of the situation that prevails in Kashmir today. The Government has skillfully kept this away from them through manipulation of the mainstream media. Demanding accountability and productive action from the Government of India should be the first step preceding international pressure through sanctions and power play.

This is an urgent situation that requires immediate remedial action before it exacerbates into uncontrollable dimensions.

[1] Jawaharlal Nehru, as quoted in Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, p. 98.

POWs: Let’s bring our heroes back

A File Picture of Indian POWsDID YOU KNOW that there are still 54 Indian soldiers incarcerated in Pakistani prisons post the Indo-Pak war of 1971? It is an irony that even after the comprehensive victory, India could not negotiate freedom for her soldiers who were trapped by the enemy in the heat of war.

These prisoners are no ordinary mortals. They fought for the honour and glory of the country and have to be treated as such. They do not deserve to remain in the dark and dingy cells of an enemy nation. They are our heroes. Their tale should have formed part of India’s martial folklore and their names taken with respect and pride. Today they remain forgotten, mere names in the files lost in the labyrinth of the South Block. It is a collective failure of the entire nation. Not one government since 1971 has made a sincere attempt to get them released. Not one politician chose to take up their cause. As a nation, we have displayed only callous indifference towards these soldiers who fought to preserve the country’s freedom and in the process, lost their own.

Government of India should make it a point to place the release of the Indian soldiers high on the agenda of talks with President Musharraf. If pressed hard enough, Pakistan will have to accept India’s request. What is required is a display of serious resolve by Indian negotiators. As citizens of India it is our responsibility to impress upon the government to deal with this case very seriously. The release of our soldiers can very well mark a small but significant turning point in the long road to peace.

A collective effort can surely help secure freedom for our heroes. It’s time we fight for those who fought for us. If we fail to raise our voice now it will be too late and will be a blot on the entire nation.

The families of the POWs are fighting a lonely battle for the last 36 years. There are few others who have done their bit to bring this issue forward. YFE (Youth For Equality) has also started an awareness campaign through a play in Mumbai on this issue. But what is required is a collective effort of all concerned citizens.

Vijay Divas: Paying tribute to Kargil Heroes

Indian Soldiers after victory in KargilTODAY IS JULY 26TH; it was on this day two years ago when floods gripped Mumbai city and many people lost their lives. Let’s pay our homage to the people who became victims of nature on that day.

Now let me take you few years back when the whole nation stood behind great Indian Armed Forces but seems to have forgotten the young men who gave their life for us in the conditions considered to be unsuitable for human survival. Their families that got enormous support when the heat was on, are now fighting each battle of life alone.

India was busy celebrating the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s successful Lahore visit. Pakistan was busy putting its pawns in place for war with India. The battleground was high, the terrain was inhospitable, and the task was tough. The Indian soldier’s resolve was stronger, and the enemy got a fitting battering.

And it has been eight years today, eight years since our pride was restored.

Because July 26 is Vijay Divas, the day we celebrate our victory in the Kargil War, it is the day the Indian soldiers helped us hold our heads high. It was on this day in the year 1999 that the Indian victory over Pakistan was complete. True to its character despite having to pay a heavy price for fighting a war within its territory, the Indian forces allowed the Pakistanis to return from the Line of Control. It was a gesture which depicted the great Indian tradition of forgiving even the enemy, when it pleads for it. For Pakistan, it was another lesson which it would probably not forget for a long time. It would also put Pakistan to shame, for it chose to torture and kill the Indian prisoners of War, rather than handing them over safely as was done by India through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The war took place between May 8, when Pakistani forces and Kashmiri militants were detected atop the Kargil ridges and July 14 when both sides had essentially ceased their military operations. It is believed that the planning for the operation, by Pakistan, may have occurred about as early as the autumn of 1998. Though Indian forces initially suffered some losses, they were able to gain control of various heights very quickly. The Indian soldiers were victorious everywhere. The Pakistanis were surrounded from all sides. Despite fighting uphill, the brave Indian officers and jawans cut through the Pakistani barricades. And for once the nation stood united like never before.

Unable to face the humiliation inflicted by the Indian forces, Pakistan finally did acknowledge that some of the dead were their men. But then it asked India to hand over the bodies to the ICRC rather than accepting them directly.

Kargil has lessons for both, India and Pakistan.

The lesson for Pakistan is, it must understand that dialogue is the best course for sorting out mutual problems between the two countries. Pakistan should make honest efforts to ensure that a General doesn’t takes steps that sabotage the peace process “I learnt about Kargil war misadventure of Musharraf against India from Indian Prime Minister,” then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said recently.

India ’s policy of peace has earned her recognition from world over, yet it must not take defence preparedness for granted. Kargil is also termed as intelligence failure and negligence. India must make sure that such lapses don’t happen in future and every measure should be taken to make intelligence system more powerful.

It seems that we have now forgotten the unsung heroes of our motherland as it was directed to keep celebrations of Kargil victory, a low profile event in subsequent years. Also you will very rarely find the mention of this day in the news.