Interview with General Asthana about the Indian military, its history, development and selfunderstanding

Interview with General Asthana about the Indian military, its history, development and selfunderstanding

Global Review again had the honour to have an interview with General (ret.) Asthana, this time about the Indian military, its history, its development and its selfunderstanding. Major General Asthana is a veteran and gives his own opinion which is not that of any organization. However he is member of the United Services Institute (USI). USI, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) are the three most premier defense and security think tanks in India. IDSA is funded by Ministry of Defense and CLAWS is under the administrative control of the Indian Army.

About the author: Indian Major General Asthana (veteran)

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  • Veteran Infantry General with 40 years of varied experience in national, international fields and UN. Former Additional Director General of Infantry of Indian Army and Head of Training at Defence Services Staff College Wellington. Awarded twice by President of India, twice by UN, and CEE excellence award for Nation building by Governor of Haryana.
  • Presently Chief Instructor of all Courses for military officers in United Service Institute of India.
  • Prolific strategic & military writer/analyst on international affairs. Authored over 100 publications/articles and over 100 blogs, on international & National issues. Has been interviewed by various National and International media channels in various appointments in India and abroad, including frequent discussions/opinions on WION, Rajyasabha TV, NewsX, Doordarshan, Samay TV, APN TV. Interviewed by Sputnik, SCMP (Six Times), Global Review (Germany) five times, Safety & Security International (Germany), Financial Express, The Sentinel and ANI (Several Times). Editorials in Financial Chronicle. Writing for  Washington Post, The Guardian, Modern Diplomacy (EU and Africa), Global Review (Germany), FDI(Australia), Korea Times, Economic Times, South China Morning Post, Global Times (China), Asia Times (Australia), WION News, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Journal, Tuck Magazine(Australia), Eurasian Review, Business Standard, Diplomacy and Beyond, Indian Defence Review, GIAP Journal, USI Journal, Indian Military Review, Synergy Journal, ANI, Kootneeti, Borderless Newsonline, National Defence, Salute, Scroll, Print, Newsmobile, and Newsroom 24X7, Indian Observer Post in different forms, besides own publications.


  • Currently on Board of Advisors in International Organisation of Educational     Development (IOED), Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE), and Security Council of United Nations Association of India (UNAI), United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA), International Council on Global Conflict Resolution (ICGCR) and International Police Commission (IPC). Life member of various Think Tanks like IDSA, USI of India, Center for Land Warfare Studies & FDI (Australia).


  • Delivering talks regularly on strategic, military & motivational subjects in various universities/organisations, UN subjects in Centers of UN peacekeeping (globally), CUNPK, New Delhi, & conducting UN exercises. External examiner for M Phil, with Panjab University, in Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi.


  • Doctoral researcher with JNU, holds two M Phil degrees with outstanding grade, PGDHRM and various management degrees, UN Courses, prestigious Defence Courses, Advanced Professional Program in Public Administration at IIPA, and National Development Course in Taiwan.

Reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, and writing on own site     email   LinkedIn Profile

Global Review: General Asthana, when was the Indian military founded and where did it get their generals, officers and recruits? From the Indian military in the British Army and/or the Free Legion/ Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra Bose or was it built independently as a totally new force?  Where did the Indian military get its weapons and when had it its own academy and think tanks?

Major General S B Asthana:      Like any other country, historically as the community living started, armies were created to protect the community/state/kingdom. The earliest known reference about Indian Army can be traced in the Vedas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha, wherein some records of intense battle exists. During the ancient period till 19th century, a succession of powerful dynasties and empires with limited geographical limits had their own armies, however most noteworthy Army was during Mauryan Empire, when India had large territory including Afghanistan and Pakistan of today.Thereafter a large number of Indian regional kingdoms were under Mughals, who had centralized control and Army, but those regional kingdoms continued with their Armies, most of them subordinating to Mughal Empire. In the 19th century during the British rule most of these regional Armies (Not all), were integrated and organized retaining regional identities, which took part in both the world wars under British rule and did exceptionally well in all theatres of war.

The contemporary Army of India had mainly Infantry, Horsed Cavalry, and Indian sapper and minor companies raised by the three British presidencies. The officers were mainly from British Army and some from royal families under ‘Kings Commission’. A Junior Commissioned officer’s cadre was created from Indian Forces for junior leadership and better communication with British Officers. The troops were mainly Indians from regional forces integrated into units. After India’s independence in 1947, the Indian armed forces under British India succeeded British Army, with armed forces divided between India and Pakistan, along with the equipment held. The equipment and arsenal was thereafter built incrementally and this process continues till date. The military institutions were divided and some were recreated, like my organization United Service Institution was in Pakistan, which moved to India and was renamed as USI of India and its component which went to UK is called Royal USI (RUSI). Mine is the oldest think tank of United India with a history of over 165 years.

Global Review: Mahatma Gandhi was a pacifist with his ideology of nonviolence and civil disobedience and wanted an Indian democracy. He also refused to fight an armed struggle for Indian independence and supported a non-militant way. Subhash Chandra Bose, was an Indian nationalist who fought an armed struggle, saw the necessity of an Indian Army and founded his Free Legion and Indian National Army in cooperation with Nazi-Germany and Tojo-Japan. The Indian Legion was also under the command of the German Waffen-SS and then under the control of the Japanese military.Bose also wanted an autocratic political system similar to Kemal Attaturk in Turkey, where the military had an important role in society. He also called himself Netaji (leader/Führer) .In which tradition does the Indian military stand? Wanted Gandhi an Indian military or did he believe that an independent state could exist without a military? Who were the main forces for the establishment of an Indian military?

Major General S B Asthana: Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were great Indian leaders having the same aim in mind, which was independence of India from British Rule. Their goal was the same but their methodology to achieve it were different.Subhas Chandra Bose had announced the formation of ‘Provisional Government of Free India’ on October 21, 1943, however the date of Independence Day duly recognized by all including British is 15 August 1947. The contribution of both towards independence of India was great and cannot be measured in comparative terms. On achieving independence, India opted for democratic model. India needed Indian Military and I do not think that any national leader was thinking of an India without military, which existed during Non-Violence movement also. The negotiations of division of military forces immediately before partition were being discussed by all national leaders including Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Shri Sardar Patel also had great contribution in raising/developing Indian Military and working out future strategy for integrating remaining princely states with India.

Global Review: In which tradition sees the Indian military itself? Is there an influence of Ghandi´s or Boses`s heritage, Indian generals in the old history of India? Had or has the Indian military strategic thinkers as the Germans Clausewitz or the Chinese Sun Tzu?

Major General S B Asthana: The ethos of Indian military had matured in both world wars, and it carried British traditions in the initial stages. Later Indian Military adopted itself to Indian conditions and now it carries Indian traditions. Indian Military being one of the most professional and operationally experienced forces has studied Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and has adopted strategic lessons from Kautilya/Chanakya.

Global Review: What are the most important phases for the built up of the Indian military from independence till today as a nuclear power?

Major General S B Asthana:     Indian Military had a very weak component of Air Force and Navy during independence. The development of Indian Air Force, induction of new aircrafts from Russia and development of Indian Navy including the first aircraft carrier was first significant phase, which got speeded up after a setback in 1962 war. Thereafter the nuclear test was next big step in strategic capability. Development of indigenous missile capability which continues to grow is other significant phase. Indian Army after 1962, never lost a war till date, and 1971 was a most significant high point, where it divided the adversary country into two and captured 90,000 prisoners in a 16 days war. This remains a subject of study globally, and the biggest reason of insecurity for Pakistan, which is used as an excuse for its nefarious terrorist activities.

Global Review: What organizational structure has the Indian military? Has it as the US military army, navy, air force, cyber command, strategic command and maybe a space force? How big is the Indian military compared to China, Pakistan and the USA? How big is the military budget in total, as percentage of the state budget and India´s gross national product?  And in comparison to China, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, the USA and NATO?

Major General S B Asthana:The latest ‘World Fact Book’ (Available on internet) gives out most of the details about all the militaries which you mentioned in your question. Broadly Indian Military has all the components you mentioned for US Military, except that the Cyber Command and Space Force are in various stages of development/study, and India is trying to develop capabilities as per its own strategic needs. The important point to be highlighted here is that Indian Military is not an expeditionary force, whereas US Military is an expeditionary force, and China is also developing its Military for expeditionary role, which is evident from their white papers. Indian Military is second largest in the world in terms of number of persons, but in terms of technological capabilities and military hardware, I would rank it fourth. As per IDSA, Indian Defense Budget is around $62.8 billion with various inclusions, and has generally been hovering around less than 2 percent of GDP in recent times.

Global Review:   Who are the main weapon suppliers for the Indian military and with which states has India military treaties? Has India an own national arms industry or has it to import most of its military equipment? Does India have overseas bases?

Major General S B Asthana:    In my opinion, India being the largest purchaser of military hardware has diversified its hardware and technological purchases from a number of countries mainly Russia, US, Israel, France to name a few. India follows an independent foreign policy which suits its national interest and is not part of any military alliance like NATO. It does have issue based strategic partnership with US, Russia and is part of many regional and international groupings like SAARC, SCO, and BRICS to name a few, but these are not military treaties. India does have some border management treaties with its neighbors like China for efficient management of borders. India does have its own arms industry, but it’s not sufficient to meet its hardware and high technological requirements, hence it is resorting to imports, for the time being till it becomes self reliant through ‘Make in India’ projects. India has no expeditionary ambitions, hence does not believe in having overseas military bases, however for trade, disaster management and such other needs it has reciprocal logistics arrangements with some countries to utilize their bases/facilities.

Global Review: Is the Indian army a voluntary army or a draft army? What sociological structure has the Indian military due to religious, ethnic, class, and caste criteria? Are there bigger shares of Muslims in the Indian military or are they perceived as potential disloyal factors?

Major General S B Asthana:     Indian Army is a voluntary Army, and merit is the only criteria for selection. It’s a completely secular force and makes no distinction in religious, ethnic class, or caste criteria. Muslims are part of Indian Army and some of them have been promoted up to the level of Army Commanders. The patriotism of all soldiers of all religion is unquestionable.

Global Review: In its history the Indian military fought 4 wars. It won three wars with Pakistan and lost the 1962 war with China and had some border conflicts with both. How likely are future wars with these two foes after they became nuclear powers? Will Pakistan and China remain the two potential adversaries for India or could other states or actors become a challenge for the Indian military?

Major General S B Asthana:   India tries to maintain peaceful and healthy relations with all neighbors. Pakistan is an aberration, with sham democracy and total control of power with their military. Pakistan Army in the backdrop of humiliating defeat in 1971 War and hunger to retain power sells the narrative of India as a threat, and continues to wage proxy war by nurturing, training and supporting terrorists and their bases in its territory. It continues to infiltrate militants to India, supported by firing on Line of Control. Pakistan therefore will continue to remain a potential adversary. India and China have unresolved border dispute along with other divergences like its support to Pakistan and CPEC, but both being large, matured nations seem to be working towards their convergences of interests, with some interruptions of  awkward incidences. India therefore has to be ready to defend itself from all contingencies arising out of divergences of interests with China. I do not visualize any other country as India’s potential adversaries, but India has to be ready for militancy intruding from neighborhood, with/without state support.

Global Review:    India has nuclear weapons since 1974. Vajpajee started a second nuclear test in 1998 during the G8 meeting in Cologne in Germany to show the world that India was a nuclear power and great power as China. However its nuclear arsenal couldn´t reach China till the 2000s and now has developed long range and intercontinental nuclear missiles to counter China. Is the Indian nuclear power projection and deterrence only for China and Pakistan or are the Agni missiles with a range to 10 000 kms also to project Indian military power in other parts of the world as the USA, Europe, Russia, the Greater Middle East and Asia, especially North Korea? Has India any biological and chemical weapons?

Major General S B Asthana:      In my opinion India has no ambition to threaten anyone, but it has to develop its power to protect its own sovereignty, security and strategic choices. India is not looking at projection of power globally. A reasonable deterrence for self protection from its potential adversaries in neighborhood is maximum, which India might be looking at.  India condemns use of biological and chemical weapons, and has never shown any intention of possessing/manufacturing them.

Global Review:   India sticks as China to the no-first-use principle. However some experts in India already demanded to review this principle and even think about the possibility of preemptive strikes. Do you think the Indian military doctrine could change in this way?

Major General S B Asthana:   India’s ‘No First Use’ policy shows the peaceful intent of the country, backed by nuclear triad to retain the option of second strike with escalatory dimension. This policy is working well and I do not visualize any need for change. The Indian deliberations are more in response to use of tactical nukes/dirty bombs by terrorists or some irresponsible country.

Global Review: In which UN operations and out-of-area operations is the Indian military engaged and do overseas engagements cause resistance by the Indian opposition?

Major General S B Asthana:   As per UN records, India has contributed maximum troops for UN Peacekeeping operations on invitation from UN. India is still the third largest contributor of troops. Indian contribution can be judged by the fact that maximum martyr soldiers under blue beret have been from India. Presently India is contributing troops in four UN Missions                (Lebanan, Golan Heights, Congo and South Sudan) besides over 160 Staff Officers and military observers in various missions globally. India has participated in certain overseas engagements for crisis management, disaster management and rescue operations on the request of the host countries. I do not recall any resistance by the Indian opposition in such engagements.

Global Review:     Does an antiwar movement or a pacifist opposition movement exist in the Indian society and how do the different parties on the left and on the right perceive the Indian military?

Major General S B Asthana:   War is not a preferred option in resolution of any problem for a developing country, but the country has to be ready to protect its sovereignty and strategic choices. I am not too aware of any contrary view in Indian society. Regarding Pakistan everyone has a hard stand. All citizens including political parties in India have healthy respect for Indian Army. India being a democratic country, with right of speech well exercised, some awkward statements during election campaigning by some politicians are aberrations.

Global Review:      Is the Indian army a parliament’s army or is the Prime Minister is commander in chief in peace time and in war? The civil control in India seems to be more developed than in Pakistan, Egypt or Turkey where the military is a state in the state and where military coups occurred often? Why has Ali Jinnah’s secular democracy in Pakistan not lead to civil control of the military as in India?

Major General S B Asthana:    Like any matured, stable democracy Indian Army has allegiance to Indian Constitution and responsible to elected Government and the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces is the President of India. Indian Army as a professional military force has followed this system. There has been instability in some countries like the ones you mentioned. Pakistan is a peculiar case with 34 years of military rule in 71 years of its existence. In the remaining period also, it was a sham democracy wherein total control of power has been with their military. Pakistan Army in the backdrop of humiliating defeats in 1971 War and hunger to retain power could sell the narrative of India as a threat, and justify such arrangement to people. This perception became stronger due to corruption of some political leaders; hence assumption of power by military is seen as routine. To keep the ‘Indian Threat Theory’ alive, Pakistan military and ISI continues to wage proxy war by nurturing, training and supporting terrorists and their bases in its territory. It continues to induct militants to India, supported by firing on Line of Control to keep Kashmir boiling, so that likely response from India can be posed as a threat to justify military holding on to power.

Global Review: Will the geostrategic competition between China´s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and India´s Asia-Africa Development Corridor lead to more military overseas engagements of both countries? Will India also set up foreign military bases as China in Djibouti or may be Sri Lanka or Gwadar? May be in its port in Iran? After the USA initiated its Indo-Pacific strategy and started the Quad, will the Indian Navy become a much more important in the Indian military? What ships and submarines the Indian Navy has? Has it as China air craft carriers?

Major General S B Asthana:    As I mentioned earlier, India does not have expeditionary intention or role but it is committed to protect its strategic interests in Indian Ocean and stands for UNCLOS and Freedom of Navigation and flights in international waters. I do not think that India is looking for any military base anywhere as explained earlier. The port of Chahbahar in Iran is important to India for connectivity to Afghanistan and CAR for the reasons of development and trade respectively. Indian and Pacific oceans are interconnected water bodies with few choke points, and I think the world would like to have a seamless flow of trade in these oceans. US Indo-Pacific strategy and QUAD are some measures to ensure the same. Indian Military is a synergized force; hence all segments of military are being modernized. Indian Navy as part of it has an important role to play in Indo-Pacific region. The details of ships and submarines is well covered in World Fact Book of CIA on internet, hence I will not go into details of the same, however it has two aircraft carriers.

Global Review: In which most important domains will India modernize its military in the future? Will there also be a cyber command and space force? Will the Indian military replace its big military equipment by masses of land, undersea, sea and air drones and military robots as US military TX Hammes is proposing for the US military?

Major General S B Asthana:     To my mind Indian Military should be modernizing in all domains to include cyber and space. India would be looking at all forms of drones and robotics indigenously, as well as in international market to sharpen its teeth with modern equipment.

Global Review: Last question: What do you personally as a military analyst, think about pacifism and militarism?  German pacifist Berta Suttner called in their publication „Down with the arms!“ (Nieder mit den Waffen) for the abolishment of the military while her friend Alfred Nobel thought that the development of weapon of mass destruction and superweapons would bring world peace by mutual deterrence. What do you think is the more realistic approach?

Major General S B Asthana:      I personally feel that the two writers, which you quoted above, have taken extreme positions. My take is that being without a military will create a total insecurity in any country, because if its neighbor starts denting its core interest and sovereignty, it will have nothing to respond. Peace through nuclear weapons stands disproved as a concept in case of India – Pakistan, wherein both countries went through limited Kargil Conflict, despite being a nuclear states. This Concept is valid for US and Russia wherein a nuclear war is certainly a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The reality is that dimension of warfare has changed, and the world will see more of trade wars, economic sanctions, cyber and information, space warfare, terrorism, strategy of alliances and groupings, military posturing and strategic domination will be much more important tools to execute war than counting nuclear weapons, which may never be used. I am of the view that a space exists for conventional war in between peace and nuclear war.


(The views expressed are personal views of the author, and do not represent views of any organisation. Major General S B Asthana can be reached as Shashi Asthana on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, asthana_shashi on Twitter and S B Asthana on Youtube. website


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