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Analysis

Parliament needs to define status of armed forces

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Indian Army

Only a diehard optimist would expect that Indias elected representatives would find the time to reflect on national security. But, with Parliament in session, should the improbable come to pass, here are some suggestions.

Each threat and challenge to India’s national security in the past 70 years has arisen not just due to the continued indifference of its political leadership but also its inability to learn from past mistakes. While the downward spiral of the defence budget (in real terms) and galloping asymmetry vis-a-vis China are causes for alarm, far more worrisome is the absence of a vision that could trigger remedial processes. Slogans are great for national morale, but someone must convert them into actionable strategies; so patently lacking in context of India’s military-industrial complex, defence modernisation or national security reform.

A possible reason for this “holiday” from long-term planning or strategising by ministers seems to be a shift of the onus of politics from party apparatchiks to their shoulders. The demands of Parliament, constituency, party politics and election campaigning leave very little time for their portfolios. In case of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), since the military has been deliberately excluded, crucial defence matters are, by default, left to personnel of the administrative, accounts and other civilian cadres who run the show. This uniquely Indian concatenation is definitely not the best way of managing national defence.

Material and organisational shortcomings in our national security, periodically highlighted by the CAG or Parliamentary Committees, attract fleeting public and media attention, which dissipates after rhetorical government responses. However, an area with grave but hidden implications for national security is: Civil-military relations (CMR) whose crucial significance seems to have eluded India’s post-independence rulers.

A key feature of current CMR in India is the huge perceptional gap that exists between the two sides. While the political and bureaucratic establishments see nothing amiss and have remained staunch upholders of the “status quo”; the military and veterans seethe with dissatisfaction at an increasingly asymmetric and deliberately contrived civil-military equation.

The most worrisome impact of this dissonance is the MoD’s functioning. By stubbornly resisting integration of Army, Navy and Air HQs with MoD, the bureaucracy has denied itself readily-available professional advice and the ministry, some badly-needed decision-making ability. Proof of the system’s ineptitude is to be found in the languid manner it discharges its primary function of equipping the forces. Procurement of simple but urgently needed items, like rifles, helmets and bullet-proof jackets for soldiers takes 8 to 10 years; while major weapon-systems can take anything from 15 to 30 years.

Hardware acquisition programmes from abroad, as well as indigenous projects like the Tejas fighter, Arjun tank and Kaveri turbo-jet have remained in limbo for decades, for want of decision-making. The government may downplay this dysfunctionality, but voids in our military capability are obvious and have visibly eroded our credibility as a significant power.

While some aspects of CMR impinge directly on India’s national security, there are many consequences of this discord that have implications elsewhere. Among these are the military’s push-back after every Pay Commission award and the acrimonious negotiations that follow; the protracted veterans’ public agitation for “one-rank-one-pension” and frequent tussles about rank-equations with civilian cadres. Controversies related to opening of cantonments to the public and politicisation of “surgical strikes” have further muddied the waters. In the furore surrounding these debates, few have reflected on the roots of the persistent malady that afflicts CMR.

The division of the armed forces, in 1947, was accompanied by a hurried reorganisation of the imperial defence structure to suit the new republic’s needs. During this turmoil, the military leadership remained ignorant of a significant development that originated from the civil side. The armed forces HQs, instead of being merged with the MoD, or being designated “department(s)” of MoD, were reduced to “attached offices” and made subaltern to the Department of Defence (DoD). This automatically placed a layer of bureaucracy between the military and the politician and replaced “civilian (political) control” by de facto “bureaucratic control”.

This “act of commission”, a fatal flaw in our national security matrix, was followed by an equally damaging “act of omission” — the failure of the new Indian State to accord recognition to the functions and status of its armed forces. The IAS and IPS (to be joined, later, by the Indian Forest Service) were created as All India Services by Article 312 of the new Constitution. Another category known as the Central Civil Services, consisting of 89 Groups A and B services, that provide the huge government bureaucracy, was inherited from the Empire. However, the functions, responsibilities and status of the armed forces, their chiefs and senior functionaries, found no mention in the Constitution, any Act of Parliament or even the Government of India (GoI) Rules of Business, created in 1961.

This absence of recognition and lack of defined status has worked to the detriment of India’s military. Successive Pay Commissions, using whimsical equivalences, have depressed the armed forces, in terms of emoluments (and consequently status), relative to the All India Services as well as the Central Civil Services. Since eight of the latter were created to render support to the military, this has led to severe hierarchal problems. The chiefs receive perfunctory attention from politicians and bureaucrats because they have no locus standi in the edifice of the GoI. It is the Secretary DoD who, by Rules of Business, represents the three Services. This iniquity has stimulated a steady deterioration in CMR over the past decades.

It is incongruous that the standing of the armed forces of the Union should remain indeterminate and open to repeated misinterpretation, vis-a-vis civilian and police organisations. It is, similarly, inappropriate that the Service Chiefs, responsible for safeguarding national sovereignty on land, at sea and in the air, should be denied recognition by the State, and remain “invisible” in the MoD.

A part of the remedy for this acute anomaly lies in amending the Rules of Business. But the real answer lies in legislation that clearly defines the status of the armed forces, as well as role and functions of the military hierarchy. Since this issue impinges not only on our military’s morale, but also on CMR and, ultimately, on India’s national security, it should merit discussion in the ongoing session of Parliament – other pressing business notwithstanding.

By Admiral Arun Prakash

(The author is a former Indian Navy Chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. The views expressed are personal. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor)

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.