An ongoing dispute between the armed forces and defence ministry over the composition of a selection panel to choose defence attaches for Indian missions abroad has led to a delay in sending of military attaches abroad. Sources said the matter has reached a stage where the three service chiefs have sought a meeting with the ministry to resolve it at the earliest.
The stalemate has meant that an Indian naval attache has not been selected for Washington and Bahrain, which are now lying vacant. At least three more posts of military attaches in Maldives, Kenya and Oman will soon be vacant, with little chance of them being occupied unless the dispute is resolved.
The post of naval attache in Washington has been vacant since September last year and a new post for defence advisor in Bahrain which was sanctioned three months back has not been filled so far. The defence attache posted to Bahrain is an important strategic move by India, as he will be the key point for engagement with the Headquarters of United States Naval Forces Central Command.
Although India falls under the Hawai-based US Indo-Pacific Command, US Central Command is in charge of naval operations in areas which include Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. It is also the lead player in anti-piracy and counter-terrorist operations conducted by Combined Task Force 150 and 158.
The problem started a few months ago when the ministry informed the three services that it was changing the panel for selection of defence attaches, by including the Additional Secretary in the panel. Ministry sources said this was based on recommendations made three years ago by a report on defence diplomacy, which was submitted by a committee chaired by then Deputy NSA Arvind Gupta.
After representations from the armed forces, the ministry reiterated its stand on the change in selection panel in a letter to the three service headquarters last month.
Till now, the selection was fully within the purview of defence services which would select, train and dispatch the military officer to a foreign mission abroad. But the latest order has been seen by defence services, sources said, as more evidence of “steady encroachment by ministry within the domain of the services” which are already unhappy over unresolved issues of status equivalence with civilian services.
There are currently 44 defence attaches, military attaches or defence advisors posted across the globe, 31 of them from the Army, 19 from the Indian Air Force and 17 from the Navy. In return, 65 countries have posted defence attaches to India. Defence attaches are important posts, as only envoys and military attaches have to formally present their credentials to host countries which then accept their nomination.