Enhancing military capability requires immediate attention of the Government if India is to prepare itself for a probable two-front war. Simultaneously, the country’s defence procurement process, which remains flawed, needs immediate attention, said Lt Gen (Retd) Deependra Singh Hooda, who, as the then Northern Army Commander, led the September 2016 surgical strikes on terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) In an interview to BusinessLine , Hooda said there had not been enough debate on a definitive strategy by the armed forces. Excerpts:

The Prime Minister recently said that “laziness, incompetence and hidden motives” of past governments have hampered defence preparedness. Is it any better now?

I think there is much greater interest displayed by this government in defence reforms. However, the fact that these intentions have not fully translated into results is, in my view, due to three reasons. First, our procurement process seems completely flawed. Last year, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre pointed out, in his report, that only 8-10 per cent of the 144 proposed deals in the last three financial years fructified within the stipulated time periods.

Second, the government has not moved in the most crucial area that requires reform: The integration of the Ministry of Defence and the three Services. And, finally, since adequate funds are not available in the defence budget, it is impacting on both current capability and future development.

The Government has again formed a committee, this time under NSA Ajit Doval. Was this needed?

The areas that the committee will address are all crucial. In particular, the preparation of a national security strategy is essential.

In its absence, there are no guidelines for various ministries, particularly defence and foreign, to plan and strategise a way forward.

For the military, a national security strategy is particularly important because this lays the foundation for the development of its doctrine and strategy. It also provides the basis for a capability development plan and, hence, the requirement of funds will have a firm justification rather than the current ad hoc allocations. If there is a concern, it is that it should not create another layer.

Is India truly prepared for a two-front war?

It is a fact that we are faced with two adversaries and that they are in a strategic co-operation with each other. Therefore, it would be remiss of the military if it did not prepare for the eventuality. However, I am not certain that we have debated enough on the contours of how this conflict could play out. Hopefully, the crafting of a national security strategy would bring greater clarity.

Regarding our preparation, there are serious shortfalls, and well documented too, that point to the fact that our military capability is in need of substantial improvement. Our infrastructure, particularly the road network to our northern borders is also a limiting factor in the application of military power.

Did India achieve any positive results post the surgical strikes?

When we launched the surgical strikes in September 2016, we were under no illusion that it would completely stop terror attacks from Pakistan. The main purpose was to signal our intent and determination that terrorists should not feel safe just because they are in Pakistani territory. Despite Pakistani Army protection, they could and would be hit.

We had lost 18 soldiers in the Uri attack and we needed to reassure our own officers and men that their sacrifices would not remain unavenged. And, finally, it was also a message to our own countrymen. After Uri, many questions were being raised about the Army's preparation level and the ability to counter terror attacks. We needed to demonstrate that we would not let down the faith and confidence of the common man in the Army.

Has there been any reduction in infiltration in Kashmir...

The Army has a very strong counter-infiltration posture along the LoC and it is continuously being upgraded with better surveillance devices. In fact, limiting infiltration is one of the key components of the Army's strategy in J&K. However, in this difficult, mountainous terrain it is impractical to hope for a ‘zero-infiltration’ posture.

At the same time, there are repeated attempts by Pakistan to push in more and more terrorists into J&K, and, therefore, we regularly hear of encounters.

But J&K seems to be in a state of bipolar behaviour…

It is an unfortunate reality that the divide between the Jammu and Kashmir regions has sharpened in the last few years. It only complicates the search for a lasting solution to the conflict in the State. I think this has a largely political dimension.

The Army has little role to play in this except to maintain a neutral stance, which has always been its position. While Kashmir sees itself under siege, Jammu feels that its problems are being ignored and there is a real sense of discrimination.

Is there a full-proof solution for Kashmir?

To be honest, there are no easy or quick solutions. The problem has both an external and internal dimension. A strong, proactive response at the Line of Control, combined with diplomatic pressure, is essential to deter the Pakistani army from exporting terror groups into Kashmir.

Insurgency has been there for nearly 30 years now, where is the State’s youth and future headed?

Internally, a clear narrative that the government cares for all sections of the people of the State could be the starting point for a people-centric approach.

The youth, more than anyone else, are at the forefront of the agitations. They have to be suitably engaged. For those local youth who have joined terrorist ranks, there should be a well thought out surrender and rehabilitation programme to encourage them to return to the mainstream.

Do you think it is time the AFSPA was lifted from J&K?

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force in both the Kashmir and Jammu regions. In my view, with the current levels of violence and disturbance in the State, it would not be appropriate to lift AFSPA.