|Psychological Operations are the key|
|Psychological Operations are the key|
The experience of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan has made it fairly obvious to practitioners watching its predicament with professional interest that stabilization operations are bound to be fraught. This can safely be predicted to be the case in the context of an India-Pakistan conflict. In fact, given the attention that India’s ‘proactive strategy’ has received since it’s unveiling in 2004, India would be able to follow through with its intent, given out first in the army doctrine of 1998, of fighting the war on enemy territory. The point is that getting into enemy territory could well prove the easy part.
Stabilisation operations would therefore be the more consequential phase of operations, unlike hitherto fore in which the early phases of penetration and projection have usually commanded attention. Given this change, there is a case for equal preparation for the phase after occupation. It can clearly be anticipated that any such thinking will find psychological operations (psy ops) to be key aspect of stabilization operations.
Psy ops units and psy ops staff are now subsumed under information warfare formations at corps level. This innovation of the last decade helps preserve formations and units involved in the actual business of fighting from diverting their attention and resources. Nevertheless, their collective contribution would be critical in preventing an Iraq style quagmire developing in occupied areas.
The psychological operations (psy ops) strategy that integrates the three levels – strategic, operational and tactical – and the resources available must, like any other plan, be simple, practicable with finite resources, flexible and cognizant of the difficulties of a conflict environment. There would need to be continuity between the stabilisation operations and with coextensive subconventional operations in the hinterland, no doubt heightened by a spike in proxy war.
The psy campaign need not wait for crisis and conflict but can commence in peacetime itself. The peacetime themes such as its democratic system and economic trajectory, would require carrying over into conflict. A psy strategy could have three phases: a pre-war or crisis period, the hostilities duration and the post war phase. The over arching theme in conflict will be largely centered on India’s benign and limited war aim intended towards a better peace for both states.
In the hinterland, the theme would be on consolidation of peace and its benefits. It would involve reminding people of the benefits foregone, the opportunity costs of conflict and the self-serving agenda of Pakistan and its proxies. The manner Pakistan has ruined Afghanistan and its actions in Kashmir earlier can help people arrive at a rational response.
In the conflict phase, India’s just and limited war aims must be projected, even as Pakistan’s case is undercut. The psy ops theme to condition people must be on India’s just cause and reluctant resort to force, under pressure from Pakistani provocations. In the pre war phase, the theme should be India’s attempts at peace being forestalled by Pakistan and the resulting onus of consequence being on Pakistan.
In occupied territory, a rift between the people and the state on hand and the Army and its jihadi ‘strategic assets’ must be created, fostered and deepened. The key terrain will be demographic. The population has to be brought onboard with innovative WHAM measures rigourously applied. The depredations of the jihadists must be high-lighted, particularly inevitable actions in which they will attempt to provoke Indian troops in populated areas.
At the strategic level, the nexus between the Pakistani Army and its jihadist allies would require to be broken. This can be by bringing home to the Army that is relatively rational, that it would be displaced in the post conflict dispensation extremists in polity allied to extremists in its ranks. In other words, by showing how jihadis are a threat to both the Pakistani state and its Army, the argument would be that both India and Pakistan are indeed on the same side against extremists. A subsidiary theme could be to convey to jihadists that their allies are using them as a dispensable force multiplier and cannon fodder.
Information operations would require dissemination of the rights and obligations of the populace in occupied territory. This would help under cut propaganda that the people need to rise against foreign forces. The legal position under Geneva Convention IV is that once the area is occupied the people are to cease resistance and the military has the power to act offensively against those resorting to violence.
Measures for return of administration and assistance to those displaced need being conveyed so that instability is not exploited by irregular forces. They are likely to set up parallel administrations and their performance in the calamities that have befallen Pakistan, such as the earth quake and floods, indicate their capacity. They are also said to number up to five lakh and have the support of conservative political formations. This will magnify their challenge, with any military dents made on Indian forces further accentuating their image. Therefore, psy ops to undercut them need to be thought through prior.
However, the best possible psy ops is proper conduct of operations as per the laws of war. This was the major lesson from US firepower centric operations of the last decade. This will ensure that although the problem of stabilisation will remain, it will be made manageable with psy ops. If combat ops itself are brutal, then there is nothing that can be done with psy ops to repair the damage. Since the occupied territory in LC sector may not be given back, it would have long term benefits for India to present itself as a protector and liberator.
The psy dimension to war is increasingly important since the human terrain is more significant these days than terrain that armies are more familiar with and at home in. Consequently, it must gain the attention it deserves. The ideas here are merely suggestive of the direction of such thinking and action.
Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)