Arresting decline in professionalism in profession of arms

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INDIA PAKISTAN BORDERIndian armed forces are one of the finest fighting machines in the world with great tradition and a glorious past. They have set very high standards of gallantry and supreme sacrifices and a grateful and proud nation draws inspiration and moral fibre from the stories of its gallant men. However, today our armed forces are passing through a difficult phase. They must remain in state of operational readiness to fight two -front wars, as publicly announced by the Army and Air Chiefs, with acute shortage of officers, combat aircrafts and other weapon systems. It calls for fine-tuning of the entire defence apparatus and train officers and men to achieve the highest levels of professionalism.

In recent times the world order is being shaped in a strange manner; national borders are vanishing as far as trade and business are concerned but physical borders are being strengthened against perceived external threats. Every nation wants to meet the goal of being economically sound and militarily strong. Most countries appreciate the importance of inter-dependence and co-existence in today’s world as no nation is blessed with all the resources it needs, yet each one of them wants to compete with others militarily. This has pushed even the poor and developing countries to spend substantial parts of their GDP on their defence.

Perhaps an important ingredient of functioning of the armed forces is that they must report to a civilian authority. It was Carl von Clausewitz (1989:87) who famously said, “War and military operations are the continuation of politics but with other means.” It is the civilian authority which makes decisions about where and whom to fight with what resources. Unfortunately with neighbours like Pakistan and China, India must maintain a strong army, air force and navy. It is to the credit of Indian armed forces they have always worked for the political principals- the politicians, and have always remained apolitical.

There is no doubt that military organisations all over the world are unique in many ways and cannot be compared with civilian organisations. However, some people who observe only their peace time functioning or at the best see them providing aid to civil authorities, because they have no opportunity to see their functioning either in anti-insurgency operations or in outright war, tend to confuse them with conventional civilian organisations. Obviously, each nation has the armed forces to suit its specific needs and deal with them as per the system of governance they have and as such they have different organisational structure, hierarchy, discipline, ethics and so on.

A question is often asked, “What makes a professional soldier?” How professional and effective are the armed forces of any nation, depends on the system of governance, quality of political decision-making and implementation of such decisions. Who is a professional? This term is loosely used and is generally understood to mean someone who is good at some skill and is paid for exercising that specific talent. Somerset Maugham writes, “One of the great differences between the amateur and the professional is that the later has the capacity to progress.” We have the third largest professional armed forces in the world and going by what Somerset Maugham said we should be amply blessed with capacity to grow and become better and better. Any decrease in professionalism of a good fighting machine can trigger decline which may take years to revive, that is why it is important to keep the armed forces in best shape through realistic exercises during peace time.

The question whether our armed forces are becoming less professional may be answered by some critics in the affirmative, some others may be of the view that they are no less professionals when compared with the armed forces of our adversaries. However, a dispassionate analysis will reveal that there has been a gradual decline in their professional standards. Perhaps, they have become more ceremonial too. The policy planners must appreciate that it is not only the problem of low remunerations which has been addressed to some extent, and difficulty of non-family stations which keeps the youth away from opting from the armed forces, it may have as much to do with their perceived lack of professionalism.

And in a democracy it is natural for citizens to question even one of the best fighting machines of the world. Though our army has been involved in handling counter insurgency and anti-terrorist operations since its birth, the armed forces fought an unconventional war 46 years back in which it did well because of several favourable factors. The debate whether they should be involved in internal security duties has been going on ever since they were first asked to perform such tasks. Recent statement of some politicians suggesting that the army should help clear garbage in high altitude areas has started another debate.

Several studies of operations in different parts of the world indicate that the troops respect officers and leaders who are competent, loyal, honest (good integrity), lead by personal example, have good self-control (stress management ability), are confident and courageous (physically and morally), share information, have personal connection with subordinates and possess strong sense of duty. Similarly, a soldier must be competent and loyal to his unit and superiors. Junior commanders at the Section and Platoon levels must be able to demonstrate certain basic leadership qualities and take rational decisions in the absence of seniors. Competence is in fact a reflection of the basic intelligence acquired by a person through realistic training and experience in different situations. Competence commands respect from subordinates – even more than courage. Commitment is another parameter which decides how professional a person is. It is an attitude, an approach to one’s work and a feeling for one’s organisation.

It is felt that since army is so involved in anti-terrorist operations and is unfortunately so stressed out, it can hardly carry out any holistic training of troops in the use of the latest weapons and other equipment and development of their personality traits. Another important factor which affects the morale of a combat soldier is using him for duties which he is not trained to perform. Some examples are units running grocery and vegetable shops, and selling utensils, shoes, clothes and bakery knick-knack in the name of welfare of the soldiers and ex-servicemen. Any unit made responsible to undertake such tasks must fetch groceries, vegetables, etc. from the market using government transport, weighing them to the tolerance of one-tenth of a gram, count rupees and paise and get involved in negotiations and haggling for weight and money with their friends and officers and their wives and children.

Millions of members of our regular armed forces as also of the para-military forces have been serving during the past seven decades in military operations and counter terrorism operation. Thousands have lost their lives and many were injured, some disabled for the rest of their lives. While carrying out their duty to the nation they expect that the law of the land will support them. No doubt every nation has a system of regulating the means and methods to conduct of such operations, but these must be framed keeping in mind the difficulties being faced by those conducting the operations. There have been cases where the governments have criticised and even acted against the officers and soldiers who in the first place fought with their hands tied behind their back. Such actions can demotivate the soldier and must be avoided.

Leadership is one important factor which is applied to assess how professional an organisation is. It is an attitude and it manifests itself in every task one undertakes. The quality of leadership is equally applicable to officers who lead the troops as well as to the junior most soldier. For officers, mental and moral toughness are the indispensable qualities. In fact, leadership in the face uncertainty, chaos and danger decides the quality of a good officer. A leader is neither impulsive nor wavering, he enhances the pride of his followers and develops his subordinates. He accepts responsibility and acts per the maxim made famous by American President Henry Truman, namely. “the buck stops here.” Another facet was enumerated by Lord Trenchard, the first Marshal of the Royal Air Force, “At all times apply your thoughts and brains to the expansion of the power of material and personnel without increasing either.” Our armed forces can learn a lot from the philosophy of military leadership of great soldiers like Field Marshal K M Cariappa, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and the Marshal of Indian Air Force Arjan Singh.

Professional organisations manage the well-being of serving and retired military personnel and their families. Well-being must be assessed on individual, organisational factors as well as the stressors a soldier faces in different situations. Also, it is the responsibility of the governments to ensure that the dignity and self-respect of the combat soldier and the veterans is protected. Such actions by the governments motivate a soldier to perform his duty with total dedication without worrying about his family.

It is well known that the present appraisal system is not balanced to meet the requirement of realistic assessment as it relies almost entirely on subjective judgement resulting in large number of cases in Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) and in the courts and throwing up many unsuitable officers. Military judicial system must be as objective as possible.

The contagious disease of golf is another issue which is making the armed forces less professional. Almost hundred percent officers of the rank of Maj-Gen (and their equivalents) and above are avid golfers. Any system in which officers get promoted because they are good golfers and have a good networking ability cannot do any good to it. Most of the cantonments have excellent golf courses in which the local commanders take pride but such courses deploy hundreds of men for their upkeep and maintenance. No one can deny the armed forces the quality of life they deserve, however, display of any ‘five-star culture’ must be curbed.

In the ultimate analysis, a professional in armed forces should be committed to the defence of the nation and should be prepared for the supreme sacrifice. A professional is responsible for the performance of soldiers and units under his command. He must remember that his performance affects the performance of the Defence Forces. It is for the government and the Chiefs to check as to how many of those serving under them come up to an acceptable standard of professionalism.