Scholar Warrior Explaining Military Diplomacy

Sub Title : Military community is also cerebrally equipped to conduct diplomacy

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 2 May – Jun 2023

Author : Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM** (Retd)

Page No. : 64

Category : Regular Features

: May 29, 2023

The kinetic domain remains the Armed Forces primary task. However, the military community is also cerebrally equipped to conduct successful diplomacy. The article looks at avenues outside the routine aspects (UN missions and joint exercises etc) of military diplomacy which can help reap  great dividends.

I was recently invited to a high-profile strategic affairs seminar in Delhi and requested to speak on the subject – Military Diplomacy: The Pen and the Sword. The subject was quite intriguing and I did not want to go back to the sponsors on what they exactly meant by this, so I made my own presumptions on what they wished me to cover. I was quite certain that in such a high-profile event they would definitely not wish me to speak on the routine aspects of the theory of military diplomacy. I inferred that the best way to cover this was to explain how the military community is well versed with most aspects of knowledge which plays such an important role in the diplomatic environment. This realization is slowly evolving very largely due to social media where many veterans express their specialized views on the basis of experience and knowledge they have gained in service and continue to imbibe after superannuation. The proliferation of think tanks and many of these related to corporate organizations has allowed many military veterans to reveal their worth in the wider knowledge domain, not restricted just to military knowledge.

Diplomacy is not just about geopolitics but dependent on so many knowledge domains which act as vehicles for furtherance of national interest. It’s good to get a common understanding of diplomacy – “the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad”. The definition places no restrictions on exploiting multiple domains or vistas of government to build relationships. We can therefore assume that military diplomacy can be defined as – “the employment of military resources, including knowledge and military soft power, in a non-offensive manner to create/facilitate a positive working environment, promote trust, build narratives in our interests and counter those working against our interests. It is a subset of Political Diplomacy. On its back many times rides “National Strategy”.

So, I promised the audience I would not bore them to death with some drab theories and try to prove or disprove them. On the other hand, I declared I would explain all this through anecdotal references which they may find interesting. Let me relate the first of these which I did not speak about at the seminar.

Many years ago, I was on a visit to the Royal Kingdom of Jordan as part of a delegation from the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) London, where I was attending a year long program on International Security. As per practice the delegation called on His Majesty (HM) King Abdullah of Jordan. We had a wonderful conversation on Political Islam and how Jordan was doing its bit to promote Islam’s moderate street. Most questions were by me and I had the privilege of receiving from the King, a copy of his famous Amman Message (Google it to read this).  He then took me aside and inquired whether I knew about Skinner’s Horse. I replied in the affirmative and asked him if he had some linkage to this famous Armoured Regiment of the Indian Army (also known as 1 Horse). He then explained to me that no one in the Indian Embassy was able to understand that he wished to visit Jodhpur, during an upcoming official visit to India, to be with Skinner’s Horse because it was affiliated to his original regiment from the British Army, The Royal Hussars. The King received his commission from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served three years with the Royal Hussars. Needless to say, I rang the Directorate General Military Intelligence at Delhi and explained what the King had told me. The visit was facilitated thereafter, and the King was extremely happy.

On the same tour by RCDS I visited Turkey. My flight into Ankara was delayed a few hours and I reached at the unearthly hour 0f 2 AM. The British Defence Attaché (DA) was there with Turkish protocol to receive us but the team members from 18 different countries were most surprised to see one more DA at the arrival hall. This one was from India and he had come to receive me at that time, properly shaven and fully energetic. Brig Ajay Talwar, then a Colonel, made the Indian Army proud by his presence because the RCDS members could not stop admiring his dedication and discipline. The next evening was a wonderful reception at the British Ambassador’s residence. The Ambassador learnt that I was from India and started to relate how he appreciated the capabilities of Indian Army officers. He admitted that whenever he was stuck for an answer to a query regarding history or even local culture, he referred back to the Indian DA who briefed him with all details in a matter of hours. “Your officers must be really of the highest quality”, stated the Ambassador.  I was in seventh heaven because many of my colleagues from 18 different countries were only an earshot away. India was being projected, as were its Army and its people. Ajay Talwar endeared himself to the delegation for his quick answers to all queries and being readily at hand to help anyone.

Something almost on the same lines happened at the UNAMIR mission in Rwanda where I led the Indian Military Observers Team in 1994. Three months after our arrival the Head of the Mission,

Mr Shahryar Khan, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and later the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, called for a conference of all eight operational sectors with the presence of the Sector Commanders and the Operations Officers. As a Sector Commander

I was the first in the list.

I did my bit with a brief in good Indian Army style, including terrain, the threats, the resources and my plan to ensure stability in my sector. Shahryar Saheb gave me an approving look when I finished and sat down. Thereafter, not a single Sector Commander gave the brief; all seven briefs were delivered by the Operations Officers and all seven of them happened to be from India. As one finished and the other one commenced. Shahryar Saheb turned to me and said –“is there any Operations Officer from a country other than India”. I shook my head and explained to the SRSG (Head of the Mission) that all Indian officers were qualified on the Staff College course which made them suitable to be on independent operational or logistics staff at a Brigade Headquarters. In summing up the SRSG complimented the Indian Military Observers Team and told me that I should be really proud of heading a team of such professionals who were an asset to the UN Force. Then too I was in seventh heaven. The Indian Army’s knowledge and capability had won accolades internationally.

I visited Iran six years after superannuation and helped the Indian mission to project the right narratives on J&K to the Iranian media which was being fed a diet of pro Pakistani propaganda on an everyday basis. I faced the Iranian media in its multiple television channels and responded to many questions by the print media. The queries all seemed to be drafted in Islamabad by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence. They knew nothing about the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and harped on the UN Resolutions of 1948-49. I had to talk extensively about the ill treatment of the East Pakistani population leading to the breakaway and creation of Bangladesh, the acceptance of bilateralism in the efforts towards resolution of J&K and the initiation of proxy war in J&K since the late Eighties. The Indian narrative was just not known to Iran. We need to keep sending back teams of knowledgeable persons to speak on the subject. Many of them could be Armed Forces veterans.

My visit to Bangladesh a few years ago (as a veteran) has many lessons for us. It is one of the countries in our neighbourhood with whom we should have a transformational relationship while retaining our national character and culture. The underlying message I conveyed during my visit  to Bangladesh through my talks at the Bangladesh NDC, its Directorate General Forces Intelligence and the Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies (BISS), was that we in India were in total support of Bangladesh and the Indian Army was proud of our joint victory in 1971. I saw the Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner squirming in her seat on hearing this statement. I reinforced India’s support by giving the audience an analysis on the deep-rooted fanaticism and radicalism being promoted locally in Bangladesh by the rump elements of the Jamat e Islami which existed even after the Pakistan Army was jointly defeated in 1971. I praised the Bangladesh efforts to control and eradicate radicalism. I was in the media the next morning with full appreciation of India’s efforts at defeating terrorism in South Asia. Six months later the Islamic State tried to establish a foothold but was defeated by Bangladesh Intelligence.

With the excellent success of Atmanirbharta or self-reliance in defence manufacturing and the export potential being progressively ramped up India now needs the salesmanship to capture markets and showcase Indian products in exhibitions and technology shows the world over. We need not rely on serving officers to be the sales persons, they need to continue remaining as DAs while much of the work on selling needs to be done on a 24×7 basis by a set of identified professionals irrespective of seniority or age. Everyone needs to work together but not in hierarchical fashion. Military diplomacy must adopt this style as the need of the hour.

It’s in the field of defence manufacturing, sales of Indian defence products, the thorough understanding of conflicts (maritime or continental) and influencing of narratives that military diplomacy can indeed play a major role for now. As the Indian economy grows the need for better military intellectual capital will be felt for all the above domains. Military diplomacy is already such an important element of international relationships that political diplomacy actually comes in at a later stage. A good example is the Indo-US 2+2 Dialogue (now repeated with other countries). The Defence side matches the External Affairs domain in the outreach to build partnerships.

Lastly, the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme, ITEC for short, is the leading capacity building platform of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Instituted in 1964, ITEC is one of the oldest institutionalized arrangements for international capacity building having trained more than 200,000 officials from 160 countries in both the civilian and in the defence sector. This is an excellent example of using the stamp of excellence of some of our institutions and of the Armed Forces training teams abroad to spread Indian presence. The networks so established will eventually pay great dividends in the development of relationships.

Thus, it’s not always the sword but the might of the pen and of the mind that lends itself in support of military diplomacy. The kinetic domain remains the Armed Forces primary task but when it comes to the secondary the sky’s the limit.