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Why Agniveer scheme is important: Lessons from Afghanistan, how it can protect India’s assets, growing strategic role and challenges ahead for India

The Indian Armed Forces do not constitute a job-guaranteeing organisation. They are meant to protect the sovereignty and sanctity of the borders so that citizens of the country stay safe and secure. Every individual serving in the Indian Armed Forces volunteers to lay down his life with no questions asked.

The current global security trend is making every country increasingly vulnerable to some kind of threat or the other emanating primarily from the hegemonistic designs of certain Western powers who are focussed on ensuring their trade and energy security interests prevail. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the Western region of China getting restive, Taiwan becoming the next hotspot and Pakistan slipping into a self-destructive mode post withdrawal of the armed forces of the United States from Afghanistan are a few recent examples.

Amidst all the ongoing turmoil especially since 2014 when the Russian economy had entered a recession due to plummeting oil prices, China then stepped in to bail Russia out with a $400 billion energy deal, Iran refusing to toe the US line, and India somehow has successfully managed to maintain strategic autonomy walking a tight rope in a prevailing environment of contradictions, conflicts and vulnerabilities while safeguarding own core strategic interests above all these. 

India’s strategic role

India presents itself as a strong pivot in the Asia-Pacific geographical segment and an attractive springboard to dominate the entire Indian Ocean region through which passes over 70 per cent of world trade besides a large percentage of communication cables. Thus, India is strategically placed in a position to play a dominant role in the region ensuring a counterbalance to the expansionist power play. Over the last few years, it has been evident that India has continued to maintain strategic autonomy choosing to align only on issues that ensure equality and mutual benefit. 

While India has adopted a clear stance to maintain strategic autonomy a noticeable change that has begun to grip the Nation is the spread of negative narratives through the Western media. The nation’s fake news industry has somehow intensified since 2018 with the aim of generating hate through perception management against any major initiative taken by the Government of India. These elements, duly supported by inimical forces from behind the curtain, mislead the perception of the Indian masses taking full advantage of the fractured society that lacks a sense of togetherness as one identity.

Today, many TV channels are keen to break news even if they are fake. We have been noticing how protests are being generated and then slowly turning them violent, be it the protests related to CAA/NRC or Agriculture Reform Bills. The latest was the engineered violent protest against the Agniveer recruitment scheme where big protests in nearly Seven states were seen erupting with mobs running riot, burning trains and blocking roads. However, that notwithstanding, today nearly over 12 lakhs youths are seen to have applied for recruitment in the Navy and Air Force through Agniveer. It is, therefore, obvious that the riot was unleashed by the hidden enemy through hired goons.

Role of the Indian Armed Forces

The Indian Armed Forces do not constitute a job-guaranteeing organisation. They are meant to protect the sovereignty and sanctity of the borders so that citizens of the country stay safe and secure. Every individual serving in the Indian Armed Forces volunteers to lay down his life with no questions asked. No one, therefore, can demand a “job” in the armed forces. With changing times, the Indian Armed Forces will always endeavour to organise and reorganise itself as per the developing contours of emerging threats. Today, with the kind of technological advancement, war will not remain confined to the two land borders; instead, it will spread to a wide spectrum opening up multiple fronts for the Nation to tackle. Thus, it goes without saying that the time has now come to give more emphasis on technology instead of increasing manpower.

Agniveer, therefore, is considered the right step in that direction. However, unfortunately, the hidden enemy once again has managed to successfully instigate the mind of the youths showing this recruitment scheme in a bad light. The few agitating gullible and naïve youth, perhaps, failed to see the added benefits of the Agniveer scheme which will be extended to those who will leave the Indian Armed Forces after four years of service in the form of educational qualification, four years of grooming through tough training and service background which will put them way ahead of their counterparts of the same age group, good financial package and a substantive bank balance to take care of the transit window of time and above all more than an adequate number of job reservation in many civil domains offered not only by the Govt but also Corporates. 

“The Agniveer project is being rolled out in very a controlled manner and that’s the reason it can be deemed as a pilot project,” said Lt Gen B S Raju, Vice Chief of Indian Army in an interview given to News18. This clarification clearly indicates that Govt is not at all fixated with the idea but always open to bringing in changes to the system with experience gained through rolling out this project. The youth shouldn’t have anything to worry about it at this stage. 

Private military companies

In the prevailing global security scenario, no country has enough military resources to meet their security parameters generally beyond their borders. Historically, the US has always been using Private Military Companies (PMC) to meet their demand for security of their trade and energy dominance. PMCs are being widely employed in conflict since the early 1990s. Their employment rose dramatically during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the number of soldiers of the State and PMC employees was almost equal.

It only demonstrates that numerous international actors have already chosen PMCs as the most efficient solution to their security needs. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military relied heavily on contractors to support counter-insurgency operations. While American people generally want to avoid deploying troops to conflict zones, they still demand protection from terrorism. The Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other defence agencies receive assistance in these areas from Private Companies with expertise in drone warfare, special operations, analysis of electronic surveillance and cyber security.

The US Government is the largest recruiter of PMC employees who are highly skilled individuals and mostly ex-members of the best-trained armies in the world. Increasingly, nations are employing and deploying PMCs to troubled and remote parts of the world. Beyond the scope of democratic accountability, opaque and operating beyond and around International Law, they are proving to be useful agents of diplomacy and proxy wars. There are also umpteen examples of PMCs being hired by many countries and multinational organisations to not only supplement boots on the ground in many ongoing conflict zones; but also protect the business and trade infrastructures all over the world. China has adopted the same path as Pakistan to protect their ongoing business projects.

After the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, ISIS is seen to be gaining ground to control the production and trading of opium. ISIS has also been talking about creating a separate province in India. Sometime ago Sawt ul Hind, an ISIS digital publication, carried stories on the Delhi riots with a clear intention of provoking Muslim sentiments not only in India but across the Islamic world. Earlier on, plenty of fake news and videos had come up provoking Kashmiris and drumming up international support against India. 

In view of this, India must now consider that participation through offering PMCs would also meet in a way, a long-standing demand of the US for the presence of the Indian military in Afghanistan. This would also serve as an opportunity to exploit the opening up of the Indian defence market for supplying weapons and military equipment to this large private army enterprise, likely to be effectively employed by Nations across the globe. This market will give a substantial push to the Indian military-industrial complexes, thereby boosting the Nation’s economic growth. India also has no dearth of well-trained retired personnel from the armed forces, armed police, special forces and other civil agencies to pick from and be gainfully utilised. Well-trained youngsters of Agniveer too will have a great opportunity to join PMCs and serve for a long time utilising their skill and zeal.

India’s PMCs will not only protect the increasing assets of India across the world; but also work as an alternative to project strength in areas or regions such as East Africa and Afghanistan where the optics of having the Indian Army as boots on the ground may not be taken well. This kind of involvement will be similar to the way the US had deployed Blackwater in Iraq or as Russia had used Wagner Group in Syria or the Chinese using Academia n Xinjiang. So, with Agniveer coming in soon, India will have a pool of well-trained and disciplined manpower to meet an assertive Nation’s rising aspirations whether it be for securing gas and mineral resources that India has recently gained rights to mine in East Africa or protecting the trade corridor under INSTC and Arab-Mediterranean corridor.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has also shown how a similar model has worked for Ukraine. Since 2014, on a basis of rotation, Ukraine had employed over six hundred thousand personnel for a short duration to fight in the restive Donbas region. This helped Ukraine create a huge combat experienced reserve which came in handy when Russia invaded. Well, India does not need to stock up such a lot of combatants to beef up troops on the ground in case of a war with China and Pakistan, but definitely we need to place our foot on the ground in other parts of the world as an emerging power as also guard our growing assets. Today, PMC is a big security business of over $300 billion dollar industry.

Challenges ahead for India

No matter what the Government of India does for the good of the country, the internationally backed NGO nexus behind the CAA/NRC protests or the recent farmer protests supported and nurtured reportedly by some foreign intelligence agencies will keep seizing every opportunity to attack our government. India is blessed with a diverse society which unfortunately more often than not, presents itself as a fractured society with nearly 3000 major castes and 25,000 sub-castes in the Hindu religion besides nine major religions, 22 constitutionally recognised languages covering 29 States leading to a perceived lack of cultural integration and sense of belonging as one entity.

This is further vindicated by the existence of certain political parties totally organised not only on a specific religious identity; but also, on caste and regional identity and strangely at the same time, also claiming to represent the Nation at the global level. There is also no dearth of Pseudo Arm Chair Intellectuals, foreign-funded NGOs as also both print and electronic media who are successfully creating and deepening the divide by misleading perception. Other hanging threats which are not so visible at present, but have very dangerous lethal potential are cyber terrorism, data colonisation and demographic invasion from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Tibet in addition to the growth of Islam fascism in Jammu region.

The Government of India must, therefore, continue with their hard push towards building a robust economy by graduating from agrarian to manufacturing and exporting economy with a distinct focus on defence manufacturing. A strong economy will not only enhance the nation’s warfighting capability: but will also help in developing strong economic linkages, especially with neighbouring countries. With a strong economy as the foundational pillar, India will be able to ensure leverage during negotiations with major business entities and multinational corporations.

This leverage, in turn, will help in coercing these corporations to build, develop and operate data centres within Indian boundaries to protect the digital autonomy and privacy of citizens of India. The Government must, therefore, address social reforms and contain caste politics also. The prevailing internal issues such as Insurgency, Maoism, cross-border terrorism, terror modules, the likes of ‘tukde tukde’ gangs etc, all will get effectively tackled by the people of India themselves once a sense of Nationalism begin to get instilled in every Indian promoting “One India Dream”.

The final word

To sum up, it would sound apt to quote at this stage what the Indian Foreign Minister Shri S Jaishankar, while addressing a conference by the Centre for Policy Research on 02 March 2020 said, “In a world which is fractured with polarised debates, India is willing to step up to the plate and play a larger role.” Therefore, the time has now come for India to step out and make her presence felt in the global power play, leveraging every instrument of power at her disposal ranging from natural geographical dominance, the global presence of the Indian diaspora, the soft power of Bollywood, a growing strong economy, military might and nuanced diplomacy.” 

Over centuries, Indians are known to have fought successfully not only the several waves of invaders; but also, gained victories on the battleground on behalf of the Allied Forces in both World Wars all over the world. A decent number of former combatants/ex-servicemen can thus potentially be utilised to extend our footprint globally. Undoubtedly, Agniveer will be a major source of our strength. 

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Lt Gen Abhay Krishna
Lt Gen Abhay Krishna
Lt Gen Abhay Krishna, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, (Retd). Former Army Commander South Western Command, Eastern Command and Central Command.

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