The military strategy of unrestrained and consistent attrition has the terrorists on the run, with its morale being on the rise and the general public being quite satisfied with its progressive achievements. However, this should not mean that the decision to hold the March 23 military parade is justified.
Were we holding military parades when we were at war in 1971 or in 1965? Are we not at war now? We have one-third of our military force deployed on the western front fighting daily battles against the enemies of the state and two-thirds of it guarding the troubled borders of Kashmir and the eastern front. How can the military be expected to spare time, manpower and resources to showcase an event, which will only be about pomp and show? In this irregular war, the enemy strikes from behind at unexpected places and at unexpected times. What if the terrorists pull off a Peshawar-like attack on any soft target right on the morning of the parade day? Will the media remain focused on covering this grand event or will it refocus its attention to a place where innocent people are being killed and a possible hostage situation is developing? The possibility of a planned attack by terrorists on a soft target on the day of the parade is something that the military must consider seriously before deciding to go ahead with the idea of holding the March 23 parade.
Our military is already overstretched and overcommitted. Should we then be willing to indulge in holding a ceremonious activity that necessitates participation of combat units in a parade rather than providing them the opportunity to re-group so that they can be employed in combat-intense military zones? This parade, if it goes ahead, is not likely to showcase the measure of our progress in the war on terror. It is only likely to take our attention away from it.
As a young captain, I was part of a unit that participated in the March 23 parade in 1987. The coordinated and organised marching and mechanised formations and the movement of machines both in the air and on the ground are not things that can be prepared for in a day. This involves many rehearsals for a period of over a month. Do we have the time and luxury to spare that much force for such a long duration, knowing well that as a nation we are at war? Ideally, a military that is fighting an existential war with a goal to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists should not be viewed marching in parade grounds but rather seen fighting on battlefronts. We should not be showcasing the military in a ceremonial event just to balance out the growing warmth between the US and India and counter the presence of the American president on India’s Republic Day by inviting the Chinese president to be present on ours.
The decision to hold the March 23 parade is a political one and not a military one, but a lame duck government that seems to have ceded completely to the establishment’s judgments will find it difficult to suggest to it that there is an increased likelihood of the parade putting us more at odds with our security situation rather than fixing it. The only reason to hold the parade (given that the Chinese president attends it) seems to be to send a message to India and the world that China stands by us and backs our military and political interests.
Last week, China announced its plan of holding a grand military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The Chinese media is reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to attend the event. If attending military parades is now being attributed to sending geopolitical messages, why can’t our prime minister travel to China to send such a message rather than the Chinese president travelling to Pakistan and attending a ceremonial parade that as a nation at war we should not be holding.
The parade will neither contribute to the military’s winning strategy in the war against terrorism nor address the more important question of reversing the continued decay of our internal security. We are at war and we need to win our battles on the battlefields and not on parade grounds. Not now — not at this stage.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2015.