Chandīgarh: Senior defense and security officials have warned of the future likelihood that large numbers of young members of the armed forces will be unemployed following their release from the Indian Army’s impending four-year Tour of Duty program ( ToD).
They warned that as a result, thousands of these military trained in weapons, combat and techniques, who are now around 21 years old and who would be reintegrated into society in six or seven years, may be able to exploiting their military skills in a negative way, spawning or strengthening armed gangs. Worse, they could establish “caste armies” to challenge the state.
However, some of the most enterprising may even end up joining foreign mercenary groups and private military contractors (PMCs) in a booming business estimated to be worth more than $200 billion annually. Mercenaries, or soldiers of fortune, and PMCs are steadily proliferating around the world – as seen in Ukraine – and both entities are continually looking for trained soldiers, a requirement that India’s demobilized ToD personnel would adequately fulfill.
“For decades, the track record of successive Indian governments in re-employing ex-servicemen, whether in the public, private or government sectors, has been dismal and is likely to become even more uncertain as economic turmoil mounts and the unemployment is increasing,” said a retired senior police officer.
Such a bleak financial environment, he said, would offer these demobilized soldiers little alternative but to consider lucrative criminal opportunities. Moreover, their large numbers were almost certain to eventually precipitate the militarization of civil society, he warned, declining to be identified.
Under the proposed ToD or Agnipath plan, likely to be announced imminently by the Union Government, the three services would aim to recruit 30,000 to 40,000 Agniveers or personnel below the grade of officers (PBOR) aged 17.5 to 19 for 48 months. This is in order to reduce the skyrocketing service pension bill, which currently averages some 23% of annual defense spending.
The Agnipath program, mooted by former Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat but fiercely opposed internally by senior and retired officers, particularly in the Indian Army, is expected to boost jawan recruitment which has been stalled for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once recruited, shortlisted Agniveers would undergo six months of training, before being deployed to active field units and other locations around the country for their remaining three and a half years of service. Thereafter, all Agniveers would be fired, and after a brief hiatus – which has yet to be finalized – 25% of them, based on their previous performance, would be re-inducted, to complete another 15-17 years of service. This, in turn, would entitle them to full retirement benefits, but their previous four years in the military would not contribute to that determination.
However, as foreseen in the Agnipath proposal, 75% of Agniveers – eventually numbering over 25,000, if not more, each year from 2026-27 – would, upon release, receive a tax-free stipend of Rs 10- 12 lakhs via Seva Nidhi. scheme, of which they would have had to contribute a third while they were in service. Their monthly starting salary, according to recent media reports, is said to be set at Rs 30,000, eventually rising to Rs 40,000 in their fourth year. Of that, 30% would go back each month to their discharge fund, to which the government would also contribute an equal amount, to make up the final severance package.
From then on, federal and state authorities would help facilitate the resettlement and rehabilitation of demobilized Agniveers, which should include integration into the paramilitaries, state police forces, and associated auxiliary security organizations. Providing alternative employment in the public, public and private sectors, depending on the qualifications and aptitudes of each Agniveer, would also be advanced, based on the underlying assumption that four years of disciplined military service will have made these young people ” highly employable”.
But senior military and security officials are not quick to agree.
They argue that decades of reality have belied all these platitudes, reinforced by the existence of tens of thousands of ex-servicemen who toil daily in deplorable conditions, either as security guards or in other low-paying jobs, all obtained after frantic solicitations and alleged corruption. The Indian Army officers further claimed that the sustained efforts of their service headquarters to “incentivize” the central paramilitary forces to laterally enthrone the army jawans, who retired at the age of about 38 years old, were found to be stillborn.
Over the years, successive Parliamentary Defense Committees had also recommended these hires, but to no avail and military officers anticipated little, if any, change in Agniveers’ employment prospects. Moreover, as senior military officers pointed out, the government and public sectors had collectively cut back drastically on any new recruitment, while the private sector, despite government decrees and veiled threats, remained unresponsive to the programs. administration jobs.
“Faced with bleak employment prospects and an uncertain economic future, Agniveers could become potential recruits for criminal gangs,” said Gurbachan Jagat, former Chief Police Officer of Jammu and Kashmir and later of the Border Security Force. Their tactical military training would make them ideal for such a role, he warned.
Military analysts agreed.
“Such a skilled workforce is open to exploitation by hostile forces in a country like India with many factions, discords and insurgencies,” said Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle (retired) of the Security consultancy group Risks based in New Delhi. The demobilized Agniveers, he added, could prove a potential ticking time bomb with the potential to exacerbate the law and order situation in the country.
Defense commentator Major General Amrit Pal Singh (Retired) went further regarding the possibility of former army fighters using their newly acquired military skills to operate in a criminal underworld. ‘Given their four-year terms, the Agniveers, unlike regular soldiers, would have no allegiance to the military’naam, namak, nishan‘ (honor, loyalty and identity), which constitutes the fundamental principles of the platan soldier and preserves his izzat (respect),” he said. In theory, these young people could contribute significantly to lawlessness, he warned.
Additionally, in the highly specialized PMC industry, daily earnings, centered on experience, expertise, and danger potential, could average between $500 and $1,500, which is more than enough incentive. for an Agniveer to seek employment there.
According to Dr. Sean McFate, one of the world’s foremost experts in the United States on soldiers of fortune and PMCs, mercenaries are here to stay. New consumers, he said in a comprehensive article written in late 2019 for the US National Defense University, will seek security in an increasingly uncertain world, as a result of which new mercenaries would emerge to meet their needs. this application. Moreover, outsourcing had become a new way of waging war in the United States, he said, and trends indicate that the United States could outsource 80 to 90 percent of its future wars to the United States. PMC. This, McFate added, was one of the few issues in Washington that had “true bipartisan” political support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Also, there were no mercenary training camps anywhere, so all of these personnel, celebrated in Hollywood films, were largely drawn from the national military forces. In such a blatant situation, Indian military officers said the Agniveers were “perfectly suited” for such a job, as their training and deployment – especially in the military – would be in terrain that offers diversity. like nowhere else. This includes the upper parts of the Himalayas, the desert of Rajasthan, the flat plains of Punjab and the swampy jungles of the northeast.
Agniveer’s youth and accompanying vigor would also be usable assets. Ironically, India might once again – like decades earlier, when it supplied the West with skilled technicians for the development of computer hardware and software – end up exporting battle-worthy soldiers to also lead its wars.