Lt General H S Panag
Recently, a newspaper headline with respect to our diplomacy in Africa caught my eye, “Slow delivery of aid, low credit disbursement can undo India’s strategy.” I could not agree more. Our diplomacy in Africa, had a headstart over China, particularly in former British colonies. Our support for the freedom struggle, the large Indian diaspora and NAM placed us in a pivotal position to cultivate goodwill and support in our quest for our rightful place in the comity of nations. Our problem then and to a great extent today, is money. We cannot match other powers in direct aid and infrastructure creation.
However, in fields of Military diplomacy and human resource development, few can, even today, match us. Common colonial military heritage allowed us to open our military training establishments to train their personnel, establish training teams and infrastructure in host countries and export basic military equipment. Alas, even in this field we did not adequately exploit opportunities. On the contrary, we allowed well-established programmes to wither away. A case in point is our experience in Zambia (formerly North Rhodesia) which got independence in 1964.
Kenneth Kaunda, the first president, was inspired by the Indian freedom struggle and developed excellent relations with India. We opened our military training establishments to the Zambian army and the air force. Every officer of the Zambian armed forces has done one or two courses in India. The Zambian military hierarchy has always been personally known to our senior officers. In 1970, President Kaunda approached India for military aid as the Zambian military had similar doctrine and organisations as our armed forces, apart from English being the common language.
Based on the prevailing foreign policy, we did not want to be seen as exporting military hardware. However, we agreed to allow Zambia to directly hire our retired military personnel. Some officers and other ranks also took premature retirement to join this project. These personnel were inducted into the Zambian army and the air force, filling the void left by the British and gave the Zambian armed forces a solid foundation, replicating our model. The personnel were extremely popular in Zambia and one officer even reached the rank of a Brigadier. A fair number of them settled permanently in Zambia.
This project was closed in 1976 due to the economic crisis in Zambia and our reluctance to finance it. Zambian military personnel continued to do courses in India. In 1993, the Zambian government requested India for assistance to establish a Defence Services Command and Staff College ( DSCSC) for 50 students.
Due to fall in Copper prices, the Zambian economy was in doldrums and they sought a complete package in terms of instructors and infrastructure.
The cost of the project was approximately Rs 25 to Rs 30 crores. The MEA decided that we could only provide a team of 4 officers under the Indian Technical and Economic Programme. This is how, as a Colonel leading a team of two Lieutenant Colonels and one Wing Commander, I arrived in Zambia in April 1994. My short brief was to establish the DSCSC in Zambia. In addition, I gave myself the charter to further the ends of our foreign policy using military diplomacy.
Ours was a unique success story. We enmeshed ourselves with the Zambian military. A fair number of senior officers knew me, including the air chief and deputy army chief.
Due to the economic crisis, there was only a limited budget available. Following the model of our own Staff College which began from temporary hutments in 1948, along with the Zambian team, we worked night and day to establish the fully functional DSCSC in 1.5 years. My team became the toast of not only the Zambian armed forces but the entire nation.
One day, the Army Chief made a rather modest request to me. He requested 1,000 military picks and shovels from India. He said these items are not manufactured in Zambia and import costs approximately 15 times more than the prevailing price in India. The equipment was urgently required to equip units going for UNO peacekeeping missions. Eager to promote military diplomacy, I jumped at the idea. I met our High Commissioner, a former Army officer and we quickly sent in a request for donation of the equipment to the Zambian army. The cost was trivial, approximately Rs 3 lakh, including shipping.
Despite our repeated reminders to the MEA and the MoD we got the standard reply that the matter was under consideration. And it remained under consideration for six months, until it ceased to matter and the equipment was post-haste imported from Belgium.
Our Deputy Chief of Army Staff came to attend the opening of the DSCSC. He had limited time, but was very keen to visit the Victoria Falls. It was only feasible through a charter flight. I reluctantly approached the Army and the Air Chief. Zambia had only one VIP aircraft meant for the President. Necessary permission was obtained in a few hours and the Deputy Chief used the Presidential aircraft for his visit.
Moral of the story is that for successful diplomacy, you need a large heart and execution must be on time.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
via TOI Blog
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