Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What the "surgical strikes" mean for the Special Forces in India

I am going to speak on these issues without direct references to a specific published text but if you are looking for where I am coming from - the core information can be found in Saikat's book. The rest of what I am saying - can be dismissed as the spin of an old fool. I don't actually know why I am bothering to do this - it doesn't fit into 160 characters and everyone is much happier listening to Rajit.

In the days of old a warlord in a distant land approached a very capable police officer in India and spoke about his fears that India's neighbor was building and testing nuclear weapons. To find out if this was actually the case a special group of people was set up. The selection process for this special group was quite tough. People with a certain flair for independent thinking and coherent action were selected. The emphasis was on people who were very fit but did not have to be given very detailed orders for every little thing and were willing and able to do whatever was needed to make it all hold together.

This special group climbed mountains and looked over the horizon at what was happening. They also trekked deep within the neighbor's yard and repeatedly picked up the neighbor's family members and asked them if they knew anything about his nuclear intentions. As long as they could determine that neighbor did not intend to deploy nuclear weapons in his back yard there was a chance that the peace of a thousand years could remain.

The people of this special group sat in a set of old huts behind the President's house. They had unfettered access to parts of Hindon and Palam - which all they really seemed to need. It was a small low/no profile affair.

And as time wore on, the warlord lost interest in this part of the world but his friend the police officer grew in national stature. It was after all a small country back then and everyone knew everyone. The police officer was asked by his commander to help solve a vexing problem along the eastern border. Again he fell back on the men of the special group. Again they delivered. This became a pattern whatever was asked - they delivered with no questions. They did grumble occasionally but it was nothing compared to what they delivered.

What started as a small group of misfits - gradually morphed into a real but nameless establishment with a real sense of national thought. As they were usually the last steps of the national thought process - they became the real stakeholders in all policy making. Never has a small group of people had so much influence on the nation since the companions of Gandhiji.

What emerged from this establishment was a very lean and mean version of India's national security policy. A minimalist national thinking - long on substance and short on bullshit. Long after the policeman retired, the group continued to affect the way India thought about critical issues. As the national sphere expanded and threats morphed, the group grew in size to meet the various needs. Eventually a place was set up in Himachal Pradesh to gradually fill the ranks. The place was managed by the Army and the volunteers from the Army staffed the ranks. The standards were extremely high - about 1% of those that applied actually made it through. Those that got through were capable of picking up new languages, dialects, adapting to new cultures while still retaining the capacity for extreme physical exertion. This establishment became the mothership from which all other conflict resolution capabilities emerged. Whether it was hostage rescue, or riot control a variety of policing functions grew naturally from their roots planted by the establishment.

There was a catch though. Per the policeman's world view - if you were to become part of this special group - you could not be part of the uniformed services. The rationale was that a member of the uniformed services being caught in a foreign land could be interpreted as an act of war. So you could only join this group by renouncing the connection to your parent cadre or service. From that point on - you were a civilian.

Now over the last decade, things have been changing. The Armed forces came in and expanded the setup in Himachal. They came to have a bigger and bigger role in the day to day affairs of the establishment. It became harder and harder to claim that the establishment and the Armed forces were not tied at the hip. The policeman's principle of separating the two elements became increasingly unworkable.

The old members of the establishment looked upon this with disdain. They felt the standard were being diluted and pretty soon the special group would spend its time painting anything that didn't move. They reconciled to all this with the understanding that whatever new capabilities were raised outside the needs of the special group would remain confined to national borders. This was all effectively a glorified internal security operation.

But that was not to be. By crossing the borders and then crowing about it in public - the enfant terrible of the establishment made it clear that it was not going to remain subservient to the older ways and do what it felt was right.

So where does that leave things?

I feel we are at a parting of ways here. The old establishment's ideas do not sit well with what has formed in Himachal over the last decade.

Will things split as they have in other lands? Will the establishment separate into an "Activity" and a "Command" like they have in the US? Perhaps. Or will they remain unified but separate the S, A and B groups?

Will the old establishment simply disappear into thin air? will the Piyush and Hector Corporation suddenly see its payroll swell?

I don't know - but the change is coming.


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