Thursday, 28 June 2012
MAINSTREAM, VOL L NO 27, JUNE 23, 2012
by ALI AHMED
This article begins with a set of statistics and thereafter proceeds to discuss these. The Platinum Jubilee issue of the magazine of the Indian Military Academy, published in 2007, has some revealing tidbits of information. From the lists of various officer alumni who have done the Academy proud, it is obvious that Muslims are few and far between. Only six Muslim officers, who have passed out of the IMA, have made the supreme sacrifice for the country since the 1971 War. Only one, late Captain Haneefuddin of Kargil fame, has been awarded a higher gallan-try medal, a Vir Chakra, ever since then. Only one Muslim Gentleman Cadet has won the Academy’s Sword of Honour post-independence, with the award being won way back in 1973.
These achievements appear somewhat meagre in the light of the Indian Muslims forming the country’s largest minority numbering over 175 million. It naturally raises the question: Why?
An answer can seen in a further set of statistics gleaned from the biannual magazines of the Indian Military Academy, published at the end of the Spring and the Autumn terms respectively. In the magazines a one-line pen-portrait is given of each Gentleman Cadet (GC) passing out, below the course photo of each company (equivalent of a House in schools). From the two magazine issues in 2005, it is evident that only eight Muslims passed out of the portals of the institution to become commissioned officers. In the Spring Term 2006, there were eight Muslims commissioned. In the Spring Term 2007, nine Muslims took the ‘Antim Pag’ or ‘Last Step’ as GCs but their first step as commissioned officers out of the 555 taking commission that term. The following Spring Term, 11 Muslim GCs passed out of 611. In the Autumn Term 2011, the latest one for which the magazine is available, 14 Muslims passed out. However, this last figure includes those from friendly foreign countries such as Afghanistan, the numbers for which have gone up since the strategic agreement with that country.
In other words, of the six magazines perused for ascertaining the numbers of Muslims gaining the officer commission from the IMA, 45 have made the grade. Assuming some were from foreign countries, less than 40 Indian Muslims have made it over two-and-a-half years into the Army from the IMA, that commissions more than 1200 officers a year. This compares somewhat poorly with the civil services yearly list on which 30 Muslims figured this year amongst about 900 who ‘made it’. Admittedly, there are other routes for officer commission these days into the Army, such as through the Officers Training Academy and through the Technical Officer 12th class entry stream. This means that the numbers making it into the Army are marginally higher and must be viewed against the total getting commissioned in a year, which a back-of-the-envelope calculation puts at 1800 plus a year.
Clearly, the overall number can only be as abysmal as the statistics accessed here reveal. While reckonings elsewhere place the percentage of Muslims at three per cent of the overall total of Muslims in the Army, the statistics in regard to officer numbers have been uninformed guesses at best. It is perhaps for the first time here that a figure of about 1.1 per cent of officer commissions being of Indian Muslims has been arrived at. The numbers of Muslim women officers can easily be imagined, with the OTA magazine being the right place to look for exact numbers in the absence of the government owing up to a problem.
The absence of information suggests that the statistics that are no doubt known to the government are somewhat embarrassing to reveal from the point of view of India’s and its Army’s secular credentials. It is no wonder then that a former Chief, General J.J. Singh, had put his foot down in revealing the details of Muslim representation in the Army when approached by the Sachar Committee for its report. The laconic answer given then was that the Army, being a secular institution, does not maintain such records. This explanation begged the question of how the mortal remains of dead soldiers were to be disposed-off in a war if the community to which a dead soldier belonged was not known?!
The intake being so limited into the commi-ssioned ranks, it is no wonder then that the martial achievements of Muslim officers can be covered in less than a paragraph as in the first paragraph here. The Autumn Term 2011 issue can be mined for more telling statistics. For instance, not a single Muslim name occurs in the list of names below the group photos of the Academy faculty, the administrative staff, the training team and, worse, even the academic department. This is the same case in the Spring Term 2008. Among the non-officer instructor staff in the drill, physical training, weapons training and equitation sections, there are nine Muslim instructors. Incidentally, even at this non-officer level there are no Muslims in the consequential Training section. The relative absence of Muslims is of a piece with the fact given in the Platinum Number that the IMA has had only one Muslim Commandant and one Muslim Subedar Major post-independence. (For the record the National Defence Academy, a feeder institution to the IMA, has had two Muslim Commandants.)
WHILE the numbers are few, the performance of Muslims at the Academy is also revealing. All six magazines carry photos and write-ups of the 34 top GC appointments, no doubt as incentive. Of the 136 appointments scanned only one was Muslim. Beginning with this leadership deficit, it is easy to reckon as to why there were no officer instructors in the two terms examined, 2008 and 2011. Not tenanting such prestigious appointments early on, the problem persists with very few making it to the higher ranks. This is accentuated by the steep pyramidal structure that the Army has. In other words, there is a cascading effect of the deficit of Muslim youth making it to the Indian Military Academy and beyond. The Army’s stock answer to this can be anticipated. The Army merely selects from those self-selecting to it as a profession. The onus is on India’s various communities to offer up their best youth for the noble profession of arms. This could easily have been accepted but for two facts. One is that General V.K. Singh’s exertions over the past year suggest that ‘community’ is a consequential factor, at least in the higher ranks. The second is that, given this under-representation, it is clear that this is compensated by over-representation of some other communities. What are the effects of such under/over-representation?
In case the answer to this question is found to be negative and consequential, then there is a case for correction. This is a controversial point to make since it is suggestive of affirmative action. This is not how this article recommends corrective action. But, first, it is necessary to ascertain whether a diverse country such as India is better off with its Army reflecting its diversity. The reflexive answer of a traditionalist would be, ‘Why fix what ain’t broke?’ In other words, if the Army is working as an apolitical and secular organisation, there is no need to tinker with it. The answer offered here is an impressionistic one to the contrary. It is that the internal health of the Army does not give ground for comp-lacence. The Army officer corps is from the lower middle class and confined geographically to North India and more narrowly to a certain set of communities traditionally advantaged by the recruitment patterns over at least a century-and-a-half. The officer corps will therefore reflect the opinions and attitudes of the social class to which it belongs. It is no secret that there has been a churning in Indian society over the past two decades, brought about by liberalisation and the ascendance of cultural nationalism. This influence has been in the face of the Army’s involvement in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism in J&K. While, as is the wont of armies universally, the Indian Army can be expected to exhibit a conservative-realist bias, this is accentuated by the social origin of the officer class. The discourse in this social space has the Muslim ‘Other’ taking on greater dimensions, the proportions of which have been enhanced by the global security discourse centred on Muslim extremism. A terror-based ‘inside-outside’ linkage between the Muslim Indian and Pakistani intelligence, sought to be established by the media and some political formations, has greater play than otherwise would be the case. A content analysis of in-service publications can prove this to an extent. (That is not gone in here for want of space.) The absence of Muslims from an officer’s social space as colleagues and peers does little to dispel misinterpretations. The problem that occurs is in the perception of the social class in which the officer corps is anchored being elevated to the institutional threat perception and at one remove that of the state.
The disadvantage for under-represented communities is that they are unable to take advantage of the expansion in the security sector, incidentally the only sector growing in neoliberal climes. The Sixth Ppay Commission bonanza thus gets channelled narrowly to those advantaged, reinforcing the inequity. Given that Muslims have been shown up as under-represented here and knowing that most are from the equivalent of backward classes, it can be surmised that the problem afflicts the backward classes in general as well as SC/STs, given that the military does not have reservations (and rightly so). This means that the only government sector that is expanding caters for a certain section of society. (The Army has expanded by two divisions over the past three years and is set to add 86,000 men as part of a mountain strike corps over the next five year plan.) Continuing with the present intake pattern can deepen divides.
It is therefore with a view to correcting this perceptual and attitudinal bias that it is recommended here that the telling statistic of a mere one-to-two per cent of officers being Muslim be taken seriously by both the state and Muslim community. As a first step, the pattern of intake must be ascertained in-house to find out if what is surmised here carries water. Its implications, as discussed, can also be thought through. The Army, if the reasoning given in the previous paragraph is persuasive, must for its own reasons carry out a campaign to make itself attractive to a whole host of communities that are under-represented. These include those from the North-East and South India, leave alone Muslims. Civil-military liaison conferences in these States must be geared to energising the State administration to take corrective measures. This could include establishing Sainik Schools, increasing the representativeness of Sainik and Military school intake etc.
Additionally, commu-nities, such as India’s various Muslim commu-nities across the country, can rig up swotting classes to help its youth qualify and clear the induction hurdles. This is how States over-represented in the officer cadre prepare the youth. The Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia and the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim Universities, coincidentally being military men, can guide the community’s reaction. Affirmative action is not being suggested here, only targeted advertisement campaigns being followed up suitably by state and civil society action.
Ali Ahmad, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Why are Muslims missing from Army?
By Ali Ahmed
Financial Times, 16 June 2012
platinum jubilee issue of the
Indian Military Academy magazine
tells us that only six Muslim
officers who have passed out of ima
have made the supreme sacrifice for the
country since the 1971 war. Only one, late
Captain Haneefuddin of Kargil fame, has
been awarded a higher gallantry medal, a
Vir Chakra, since then. Only one Muslim
gentleman cadet has won the academy’s
sword of honour post-independence. Such
meagre statistics for a minority community
comprising 13 percent of India naturally
raises the question: Why?
Gen JJ Singh declined to permit access
to the statistics on the numbers of
Muslims in the army to the Sachar Committee.
The reason was that the army, as
a secular institution, does not maintain
religion-based statistics. However, that
it has such records is self-evident since it
needs to know how to dispose off the mortal
remains of deceased soldiers in war.
Presumably, it has never got round to toting
these up. This could well turn out to be
a wise decision, since the numbers would
have proved embarrassing to the secular
credentials of India and its army.
One educated guesstimate puts the figure
of Muslims in the army at 29,000 or 2.5
percent. To arrive at the number of officers,
the consequential ranks, the biannual
magazines of the Indian Military Academy
provide an opening. The magazines carry
a one-line pen portrait of each gentleman
cadet (gc). From a study of six issues over
the recent past (2005-11), it is evident only
45 have made it to the ‘antim pag’ or final
step to the cadences of Auld Lang Syne.
The figure includes those from friendly
foreign countries such as Afghanistan.
Since the ima commissions over 1,300
gcs a year, this implies that just about
one per cent Muslims gain the officers’
commission from the Academy.
Admittedly, there are other routes for
officers’ commission. This means that the
numbers making it are marginally higher
and must be viewed against the 1,800 getting
commissioned a year. The number
of Muslim women officers can be easily
imagined. These compare somewhat
poorly with the civil services list on which
30 Muslims figured this year amongst
about 900 that ‘made it’.
Not only are Muslims few, but are also
wanting in leadership potential. Of the 136
gc appointments scanned in the six biannual
issues, only one was Muslim. Beginning
with this leadership deficit, it is easy
to reckon as to why there were no officer
instructors in two terms (2008 and 2011)
examined by studying faculty photos.
There is not a single Muslim name in the
training faculty, the administrative staff
and worse, even the academic department.
Among the non-officer instructors
there are nine Muslims. Not tenanting
such prestigious appointments early on,
the problem persists with very few making
it to higher ranks. The academy has
had only one Muslim Commandant and
one Subedar Major since Independence.
In other words, there is a cascading effect
of the deficit of Muslim youth making it to
Assimilating these facts, first one has to
ascertain whether a diverse country such
as is India is better off with its army reflecting
its diversity. The reflexive answer
of a traditionalist can easily be anticipated:
If the army is working as an apolitical and
secular organisation, there is no need to
‘tinker’ with it.
A VIEW TO the contrary would be
that there is a double disadvantage
to under-representation: one is that
fewer numbers represent a handicap at the
standing start, and second is not gaining
access to consequences of representation
such as the Sixth Pay Commission bonanza.
The former makes the equity gap only
widen, adding to the deficit at the start.
This makes the representativeness of
the army, or otherwise, a political question.
While affirmative action is not the
answer, an internal review by the ministry
can throw up any attitudinal and structural
biases these statistics suggest. As a first
step, the army must carry out a campaign
to attract a whole host of under-represented
communities, such as those from
the Northeast. This has been done by the
central armed police forces over the past
decade of expansion that has brought up
Muslim numbers to 6 percent. Additionally,
Muslims can set up swatting classes to
help its youth.
The courts cannot be oblivious to the
fact that India’s Muslims are well-represented
only in prison statistics, comprising
19 percent of inmates. The government
must gear up political courage to put the
courts, and wider society, wise to facts that
otherwise stare India in the face.
Ali Ahmed is Assistant Professor,
Jamia Millia Islamia
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Civil-Military Relations: Questioning the
VK Singh Thesis
Monday, 4 June 2012
Elevate Human Rights as the
Core Organising Principle in
Issue Brief IDSA
‘You must remember that all the people of the area in which you are operating are fellow
Indians. They may have different religions, pursue a different way of life, but they are
Indians and the very fact, that they are different and yet part of India is a reflection of
India’s greatness. Some of these people are misguided and have taken up arms against
their own people and are disrupting peace of this area. You are to protect the mass of the
people in the area from these disruptive elements. You are not to fight the people in the
area but to protect them.’ - COAS Special Order of the Day 1955
The Indian Army’s Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations (DSCO)
comes up for review
next month, five years after its publication. When it was written, it had the section on
Low Intensity Conflict in the Indian Army Doctrine as guide and half a century of counter
insurgency experience to inform it.
The iteration this time has the Joint Doctrine for Sub
(JDSCO) to inform the reappraisal along with the past half decade
in putting the doctrine, dubbed ‘iron fist in velvet glove’, into practice.
will no doubt benefit from the introspective input provided by the internal environment,
as mandated by the procedure for doctrine revision. The forthcoming publication may
also find useful the sometimes critical commentary from outside the military.
is to constructively help inform the doctrinal revision underway.
The Brief advocates centring of the doctrine around the human rights imperative. This is
largely the case since ‘Upholding Human Rights’ is acknowledged in the JDSCO as one
of the ‘Principles of SCO (Sub Conventional operations)’.
Arriving at a ‘reasonable and
pragmatic balance between the demands of military necessity and humanity’
1 Rajesh Rajagopalan, Fighting Like a Guerrilla: The Indian Army and Counter Insurgency, New Delhi:
Routledge, 2007, p. 147. The Order was in wake of the army being called upon for counter insurgency
operations in Nagaland.
2 HQ ARTRAC, Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations, Shimla: ARTRAC, 2007.
Section 14 of Chapter 5 in HQ ARTRAC, Indian Army Doctrine, Shimla: ATRAC, 2004.
4 HQ Integrated Defence Staff, Joint Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations, New Delhi: HQ IDS, 2010.
Foreword by General JJ Singh, Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations (DSCO), p. i. He states: ‘I have
emphasised the concept of ‘Iron Fist with Velvet Glove’, which implies a humane approach towards
the populace at large in the combat zone.’
6 Gautam Naulakha, ‘Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations: A Critique’, Economic and Political
Weekly, 7 April 2007; and Ali Ahmed, ‘Revision of the DSCO: Human Rights to the Fore’, IDSA Policy
Brief, March 2011.
7 Also see Vivek Chadha, ‘Heart as a Weapon - A Fresh Approach to the Concept of Hearts and Minds’,
IDSA Policy Brief, November 2011 [forthcoming].
Joint Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations (JDSCO), p. 22.
‘Statement by the ICRC on the Status of the Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions Relating to the
Protection of Victims of Armed Conflicts, 2008’, October 24, 2008.IDSA Policy Brief 3
admittedly a difficult proposition. This is borne out in the tension reflected in the doctrine
between the necessity of kinetic force and the equally compelling need for its restriction.
The Brief highlights doctrinal tenets that could potentially cause dissonance. Ironing
these out in the process of doctrinal revision will lead to an internally consistent output.
The proposal here is to elevate human rights from one among several principles to being
the core principle.
This Brief first discusses the competing perspectives on human rights to substantiate the
point that protection of human rights is more than just a strategic necessity or a force
multiplier. Thereafter it brings out the dissonance in the doctrine that arises from viewing
human rights protection instrumentally, or as a means to an end. The recommendation
is to take human rights protection as an end in itself, or as the ‘categorical imperative’.
Additionally, since the application of military force inevitably has consequences for
human rights, the political prong of strategy must be equally in evidence.
Placing Human Rights at the Core
In counter insurgency campaigns, it is critical to understand the nature of violence and
the nature of the military instrument. Its inescapable limitations are such that Clausewitz
once observed, ‘War in general…is entitled to require that the trend and designs of
policy shall not be inconsistent with these means.’
Extension of politics by the means of
violence must respect the nature of the means. The nature of violence is such that the
impossible cannot be demanded of it. Equally, militaries qua organizations are blunt
instruments. Given this, there is no escaping the tension between the application of
violence and human rights. This obviously means that the tension needs to be reconciled.
Clearly, this cannot be done at the expense of human rights. Therefore restriction can
only be, firstly, in the resort to force, and, secondly, in the manner of the use of force. The
former places an onus on the political prong of strategy and the latter lies more narrowly
in the domain of the military.
The existence of laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) suggests
that force application entails imposing on the rights of citizens. The doctrinal understanding
is that, within the ambit of these rights, the endeavour must be to have as light a footprint
as possible. Alongside, a strict human rights protection regime must be in place, termed
The strategic fallout is in gaining support of the people, deemed the
The JDSCO has it as one among 11 principles. Even though these are not ranked by priority, it bears
noting that it figures seventh in the list.
1 1 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Translated by Michael Howard, Peter Paret and edited by Beatrice
Heuser, OUP, 2007, pp. 28-29.
1 2 DSCO, p. 55.Elevate Human Rights as the Core Organising Principle in Counter Insurgency 4
‘center of gravity’.
Valuing the human rights of citizens is thus consequential, though it
is a means to an end.
This perspective, reflected in the Indian Army’s doctrine, is that respecting the human
rights factor is a strategic necessity. The problem with such a perspective is that the
converse is equally implicit, that is, if required by strategy, human rights can be neglected.
The JDSCO says that, ‘It is our constitutional obligation to honour the HR of our people
and any disregard to this obligation will only enable the terrorist/insurgents to discredit
the state’s legitimacy and influence. (emphasis added).
Further, it states, ‘Upholding of
HR is a constitutional obligation and is also necessary to establish the credibility of the
government in the eyes of the people’ (emphasis added).
The qualifications, emphasised
here, make it apparent that the constitutional obligation is not enough on its own merits.
Instead, the strategic fallout makes it necessary to honour human rights.
This understanding is compounded by a perspective that takes human rights protection
as a ‘force multiplier’. A force multiplier is defined as, ‘a capability that, when added to
and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that
force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.’
jargon that does not find mention in the DSCO in respect of human rights. However, the
JDSCO alludes to it, stating, ‘Popular support is the Force Multiplier in SCW for either
side and hence the centrality of the population’ (emphasis added). The understanding is
that popular support is the ‘force multiplier’ that makes for the centrality of the
demographic terrain. Such support is gained by respecting human rights. It thus makes
instrumental use of human rights as a means to an end. The population is not central for
its own sake but is only incidentally so; instead gaining popular support is the core
This understanding owes to other significant imperatives that the state and the military
are required to consider. These are territorial integrity and the state’s monopoly over
the use of force. The warrior ethos of the service that privileges prevailing in a military
contest, both externally and internally, also impels taking human rights as a means to
an end. Lastly, it is not always that grievance impels insurgency; greed does so too.
For righteousness to prevail there has to be a reluctant resort to force that leads to a
regrettable impact on human rights.
Ibid., p. 15.
JDSCO, p. 25.
Ibid., p. 44.
‘Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms’, Joint Publication 1-02, US Department of Defense,
Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, ‘Greed and Grievance’, Oxford Economic Papers 56(4): 563–595, 2004.IDSA Policy Brief 5
These interpretations – human rights as a strategic necessity and a force multiplier -
bring to the fore a need to privilege human rights unambiguously. This can best be done
by moving to an understanding that human rights are instead a categorical imperative. A
categorical imperative denotes an ‘absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its
authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself’.
itself is Kantian, the philosophy behind which is not covered here. Elevating human
rights protection conceptually to a categorical imperative ensures that it becomes the
organizing principle for both doctrine and strategy.
This intuitively appeals to soldierly sensibilities because it is in keeping with India’s
warrior and civilisational ethic. This is acknowledged as such when the DSCO views
human rights as, ‘the very essence of human behaviour and interaction.’
the military places the ‘country’ first ‘always and every time’.
By definition, the term
country is beyond mere territory; it is essentially about people. Lastly, loyalty of the
soldiers is first to the Indian Constitution, rightly brought out in the DSCO as: ‘Indian
Constitution, Indian Army, regiment, unit and colleagues.’
acknowledgement of human rights as a ‘categorical imperative’ will negate the
instrumental interpretation of the HR factor.
Significantly, that it is a constitutional obligation makes it an over-riding imperative.
There need be no other reason, period.
The DSCO acknowledges as much noting that
the ‘Indian Army…holds these Fundamental Rights as one of its most cherished values’
and wishes to ‘keep the environment sensitised about this constitutional obligation.’
The Way Forward
It bears reiteration that the application of force against those resorting to violence is
legitimate and often inescapable. The level of force application is a professional military
decision. However, organisational theory and social psychology point out that such
decisions are influenced, sometimes negatively, by institutional and personal level factors.
Better known are corrupting factors at the personal level such as the overweening desire
for awards, ‘Rambo’ sub-culture, etc. But institutional interests, such as the need to of the
military to project a certain image and the self-image it maintains also sometimes influence
1 9 DSCO, p. 53.
This is the Chetwodian motto adopted for the officer corps by the Indian Military Academy.
2 1 DSCO, p. 55.
This is reminiscent of the proposition in Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, specifically, ‘Theirs’
not to reason why’.
2 3 DSCO, p. 54.Elevate Human Rights as the Core Organising Principle in Counter Insurgency 6
military action. For instance, the application of force can sometimes be influenced by the
demonstration effect intended, over and above the due demands of the operation
underway. Therefore, the military decision must have limiting parameters in keeping
with one of the oldest questions in political science: ‘Who guards the guardians?’
well regarded parameters are discrimination, proportionality, military necessity and
This is fairly well appreciated. The Indian Army Doctrine demands that the COAS
Commandments be respected ‘notwithstanding the tense, stressful and turbulent
situations at the grass roots level.’
Incidentally, it advocates, ‘low profile and peoplefriendly operations rather than high intensity operations related only to body and weapon
Consequently, it maintains that, ‘Violation of Human Rights, therefore, must
be avoided under all circumstances, even at the cost of operational success’ (emphasis added).
A tendency towards permissiveness is brought about by the competing, instrumental,
perspective on human rights. The 2006 DSCO talks of a need for kinetic operations
dominant attrition warfare leading to the ‘elimination’ of terrorists in the early phase of
A shift to non-kinetic manoeuvre warfare in which terrorists are
neutralized is to take place in the later stage.
The understanding seems to be that the
Army will be called out only when the situation is bad enough to warrant it. Upgrading
of the central armed police forces for tackling lower order insurgency, as witnessed in
Central India, is being done. Once the situation escapes their control, military deployment
could take place. The military would require appropriate force application to wrest the
initiative and stabilize the situation. Thereafter, the shift is to be made to a manoeurvrist
The problem is that kinetic force application makes the army seem an alien imposition,
since in the early stages the likelihood of peoples’ support for the insurgent is higher.
The phrase ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ is attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal, Satires (Satire
VI, lines 347–8), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quis_custodiet_ipsos_custodes%3F
There is a separate set of considerations that could be dwelt on in doctrine too on the very deployment
of the military. These would include legitimacy, constitutional provisions etc. In effect, a distinction
can be made domestically on the parameters attending military deployment and employment, in
the tradition of jus ad bellum and jus in bello in international law of armed conflict.
Indian Army Doctrine, pp. 23, 30.
Ibid., p. 23.
Ibid., p. 26.
The heuristic (DSCO, p. 22) uses the term ‘elimination’. The Foreword uses the term ‘neutralization’,
p. ii. The reconciliation is in favour of ‘neutralization’ (p. 33).
Ibid., p. 21.
3 1 DSCO, p. 22.
JDSCO, p. 39.IDSA Policy Brief 7
This is further complicated by external support and proxy war. The compulsion to gain
military ascendance increases, making it difficult to identify when to shift from one
approach to the other.
Instead, the intensity of the insurgency should dictate the levels of military force applied
with professional innovation in tactics preventing the compromise of effectiveness. There
is therefore no need for the timeline positing the kinetic-non-kinetic distinction. The wait
to reach a position of strength for enabling political initiatives can be undercut by proactive
peacemaking and peace-building subsumed in the political prong of strategy. This often
awaits the non-kinetic, later phase, resulting in the prolongation of the insurgency, with
avoidable consequences for the human rights of citizens.
Next, consistency can be built in to eliminate expansive interpretations. For instance, the
DSCO highlights ‘minimum force’.
But an element of dissonance is brought in by the
JDSCO, which rules in favour of ‘optimal rather than minimal or maximal’.
calls for explanation especially since the Supreme Court has used the term ‘minimal’ in
its 1997 judgment in the Nagaland case.
The Supreme Court judgment does not say
‘minimum’, leaving the military to judge what is considered minimal in the context of
The principal criterion of the level of force to be used is effectiveness.
There is no cause for the military to endanger either its own soldiers or innocent people
in preserving the life of terrorists unwilling to lay down their arms. Therefore, doctrinal
rhetoric such as ‘punitive’, ‘overwhelming’, etc. provides avoidable loopholes leading to
expansive interpretations of the tenet of minimal force.
Another example of dissonance in the JDSCO is in its simultaneous enumeration of human
rights as a ‘principle’ along with the principle of ‘balance between people friendliness
and punitive actions.’
The term ‘punitive action’ of the JDSCO suggests that people
friendly operations may indicate ‘lack of strength or resolve for dealing with culprits’. It
seeks to compensate for this by calling for ‘punitive action’ using ‘optimal as against
minimal’ force. This is untenable since punishment is beyond the scope of military
authority and can be seen as evidence of institutional interest.
3 3 Ali Ahmed, ‘Revision of the DSCO: Human Rights to the Fore’, IDSA Policy Brief, March 2011.
3 4 DSCO, p. 33.
JDSCO, p. 27.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice, M.M. Punchhi and Justices, S.C. Agarwal, A.S.
Anand and S.P. Bharucha considered the Naga People’s Movement Of Human Rights Vs. Union Of
India case on 27 November 1997.
The judgment stated: ‘The laying down of these conditions gives an indication that while exercising
the powers the officer shall use minimal force required for effective action against the person/persons
acting in contravention of the prohibitory order’ (emphasis added).
JDSCO, p. 27.Elevate Human Rights as the Core Organising Principle in Counter Insurgency 8
Silence is as much a give away of thinking as words. A conspicuous area of silence is the
absence of reference to international obligations. This ignores the National Human Rights
Commission’s (NHRC) definition of human rights as the rights relating to life, liberty,
equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the
International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India’ (emphasis added).
international obligations are specifically the four Geneva Conventions, the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
While the first has been enacted into
the latter are incorporated in the Constitution. At a minimum, a discussion on
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is mandatory. Since torture is ruled out
by this provision, the slovenly passage of the right against torture through the parliament
is not of consequence. The DSCO has merely one paragraph on legal matters.
JDSCO does not have any mention of human rights related law in its coverage of
international law in its Chapter 3.
In effect, the meagre discussion of the legal dimension
amounts to a doctrinal blind-spot.
The much-in-the-news AFSPA finds mention in a reference to respecting Do’s and Don’ts.
At a minimum, a guide on how to ascertain the ripeness of an area for disturbed areas
status and when to revoke such status needs to be discussed. This would be useful in the
arriving at the military’s input into the decision.
This would be in keeping with the
Supreme Court’s requirement that the disturbed areas status needs to be under constant
review, along with every extension of the Act. The Supreme Court had mandated:
It is, therefore, necessary that the authority exercising thepower under Section 3 to
make a declaration so exercises the said power that the extent of the disturbed area is
confined to the area in which the situation is such that it cannot be handled without
The Protection Of Human Rights Act, 1993, No. 10 of 1994, (8th January, 1994), p. 1, http://
F o r t h e t e x t , s e e U N T r e a t y C o l l e c t i o n , h t t p : / / t r e a t i e s . u n . o r g / p a g e s /
For the full text, see http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/1954823/
4 2 DSCO, p. 15.
The focus is on terrorism related agreements at the international and regional level (JDSCO, pp. 17-
4 4 DSCO, p. 68. The DSCO incorporates the Supreme Court judgment in this regard: ‘The instructions
in the form of “Do’s and Don’ts” to which reference has been made by the learned Attorney
General have to be treated as binding instructions which are required to be followed by the members
of the armed forces exercising powers under the Central Act and a serious note should be taken of
violation of the instructions and the persons found responsible for such violation should be
suitably punished under the Army Act, 1950.’
This is the case currently in Jammu & Kashmir.IDSA Policy Brief 9
seeking the aid of the armed forces and by making a periodic assessment of the situation
after the deployment of the armed forces the said authority should decide whether the
declaration should be continued and, in case the declaration is required to be continues,
whether the extent of the disturbed area should be reduced.
India’s counter insurgency policy is people-friendly in keeping with its credentials as a
liberal democracy. The tone and tenor of doctrine reflects this. Doctrine bravely deals
with the tension between application of force and the impact on human terrain. Evidence
from the ground lately suggests that this is a largely successful exercise. Yet, some policy
recommendations to help improve doctrine are as under:
• The Ministry of Home, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence, the National
Security Council Secretariat and the NHRC, needs to spell out an overarching
national approach. This would help in formulating strategy at the next lower level
in each of the areas where the AFSPA is applicable.
This will bring in accountability
and a ‘whole of government’ approach. It would ensure that the counter insurgency
strategy orchestrates the twin prongs, political and military, at the two levels,
centre and province, in sync. This could be part of the national security doctrine or
done independently. These foundational documents must make clear that human
rights are sacrosanct.
• Institutionally, at the level of the military, the nation-institution distinction must
be maintained. There is potential for the ‘fair name’ of the institution being mistaken
for the ‘good’ of the nation. This leads to departures from the straight and narrow
on human rights. Even as the military leadership is sensitive to this, political level
oversight of the military in such situations needs to be intimate. Currently, the
problem lies in the fact that the military answers to the Ministry of Defence whereas
the problem in the areas in question comes under the domain of the Ministry of
Home. There is an additional political authority by way of elected democratic
provincial governments in place. But the horizontal relationship of the military
with the provincial government is to be one of ‘cooperation’, as per the Supreme
Court judgment. The Unified Headquarters is useful, but is subject to structural
limitations. In effect, the military is answerable not so much to the provincial
government, but to the Union government through the Ministry of Defence. This
Supreme Court ruling in the Nagaland case, 1997.
For instance it would help the Central Armed Police Forces, on the frontline ever since the earlier
default resort to military deployment, has been considerably curtailed after the Group of Ministers
report of the early 2000s, to arrive at respective doctrinal documents.Elevate Human Rights as the Core Organising Principle in Counter Insurgency 10
increases the onus of coordination and oversight on the two central ministries,
home and defence, and, in particular, the political appointments within these.
• Internalisation of human rights through revision of the Army doctrine by placing
human rights at its core is recommended. Areas of dissonance pointed out need
reconsideration. A strict adherence to the guidelines of the Supreme Court,
specifically its order on ‘minimal’ force, is a must. The current human rights record
has been arrived at in a situation of relative military ascendancy in Jammu &
Kashmir and the culmination of political processes in Nagaland and Assam. The
test of the Army’s sensitivity could arise in more challenging circumstances in
futur e . Thi s ne c e s sar i ly means going beyond t raining and pedagogy
internalization through socialisation into reinforced norms.
• In matching strategy with the legal domain, the next iteration of doctrine must
extend to dwelling on conditions that entail declaration of an area as ‘disturbed’
under section 3; the exit indicators for such status as well as repeal of the Act;
parameters for governmental permission under section 6/7 of the relevant AFSPA
for prosecutions; and clear endorsement that Do’s and Don’ts amount to law. The
government could consider amending the Army Act 1950 for making violations
punishable under law as was desired by the Supreme Court.
The nature of violence and of military force is such that the acceptance of impositions on
human rights in counter insurgency is only realistic. Limiting its affects on the hapless
citizenry therefore acquires urgency. The first step is to ensure against doctrinal
justification or rationale for imposition beyond that warranted by the very nature of
force. Building in internal consistency in the doctrine is necessary. Towards this end,
elevating human rights as the central pillar of doctrine to the status of ‘categorical
imperative’ must be considered. Since insurgency and its counter is less about the visible
military contest and more about the competition of ideas, this will ensure that the ‘idea
of India’ prevails over insurgent alternatives on offer.
A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict
October 24, 2011
There is considerable interest in a possible conflict with China. However, little discussion exists in the open domain on conflict possibilities. This Brief attempts to fill this gap by dilating upon conflict scenarios along the spectrum of conflict. It brings out the need for limitation to conflict and the necessity for a grand strategic approach towards China as against a military driven one.
The Indian position on the power balance is Asia is that there exists enough space in
Asia for both states and civilisations.1 Consequently India’s policy towards China is one
of multifaceted engagement.2 Yet, there is considerable concern among strategic analysts
in India about the possibilities of conflict.3 Despite the focus on the ‘China threat’, there is
surprisingly little in the open domain on the possible military manifestation of the threat.
The popular narrative restricts itself to pointing out the head start China has had in
infrastructure building in Tibet and the military uses to which this can be put. Its capability
for sustaining forces is taken in one account as 34 divisions and half a million men in
another.4 The factors leading to war that find mention are the boundary dispute, pressure
tactics by China in ‘balance of power’ games, outward projection of internal political
unrest in China and stand-off over markets and resources elsewhere.
This Brief sets out hypothetical conflict scenarios against the spectrum of conflict.5 It first
outlines the contours of conflict,6 including that of the ‘collusive’ threat, and then discusses
limitation. It ends by looking at the two buffer states Nepal and Bhutan in context. The
conclusion is that coping with China will be a test equally of military jointness as of
‘jointedness’ of the Indian national security establishment.7
The spectrum of conflict is a conceptual aid to discuss conflict and subsumes along its
continuum subconventional conflict; conventional war in its limited and total dimensions;
and nuclear war in its limited and strategic dimensions. Placement along the spectrum
would depend on the aims and intensity of conflict, troops and resources committed, etc.
In the subconventional level are proxy wars. The Chinese support for rebels in the North
East up until the late sixties can be subsumed under this. It has been suggested that
IDSA Issue Brief 3
India must prosecute an asymmetric contest vis-à-vis China by: ‘(a) …reach[ing] out to
the restive, discontented and oppressed Tibetan population, particularly the youth, in
Tibet; [and] (b) support[ing] the cause of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang Autonomous Region
(XUAR) and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR).’8 Such playing of the proxy
war ‘card’ can be done in peacetime and it can be enhanced in war to keep the
communication zone of the adversary unsettled for operational gains. However, the
factor of India’s own multiple vulnerabilities in this sphere cannot be overlooked.9
While the foregoing are intelligence operations, military actions can also occur at the
subconventional level. These include patrol clashes and border skirmishes.10 Reports of
border ‘transgressions’11 suggest that patrol clashes can occur inadvertently or by design.12
This was the pattern in the run up to the 1962 conflict as part of the ‘forward policy’
adopted of both states resulting in clashes at the grassroots level.13 Such occurrences
could build up to a border skirmish or this could be engineered as a separate incident.
The 1967 stand off at Nathu la and the Walong-Sumdorong Chu incidents of the late
eighties are examples.
This is the key area of focus of the Indian military. The military takes its primary task of
safeguarding territorial integrity seriously. The border and Line of Actual Control (LAC)
is over 4000 km long. Much of this is disputed and China claims Tawang and even the
whole of Arunachal Pradesh. The Army’s ‘Transformation’ study reportedly proposes
urgent and long term action necessary for preserving the status quo till a resolution is
arrived at.14 Infrastructure improvement in the form of road building is underway.15
The Army’s proposal for a mountain strike corps for the eastern sector, in addition to the
two mountain divisions under raising there currently, stands approved. To supplement
firepower resources that have been revealed as critical in mountains, a regiment of
8 Mandip Singh, ‘Asymmetric Wars in the Indian Context’, IDSA Comment, http://www.idsa.in/
9 The North East insurgencies are currently at a low ebb while the Maoist challenge is acute. China
can exploit these in retaliation in case India plays the ‘Tibet’ card. Such cards are avoidable since
they would impact both Indian friends (Tibetans) and Indian citizens.
10 Doctrine of Sub Conventional Operations, Shimla: HQ ARTRAC, p. 2.
11 ‘No increase in deployment of forces on China-India border: Army’, Economic Times, 14 January
12 ‘India-China Territorial Dispute: Way Ahead’, CLAWS Article 1933, 25 August 2011, http://
13 Srinath Raghavan, War and Peace in Modern India, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2010, pp. 270-87.
14 This is a confidential study reportedly conducted under the current army chief during his former
assignment as Eastern Army Commander.
15 The BRO has a budgetary allocation of Rs. 5,425 crore. See ‘Progress of 61 roads to be built on
Indo-China border reviewed’, Economic Times, 13 September 2011.
A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict
Brahmos missiles is to be deployed in Arunachal.16 Strategic commentary variously has
it that it needs two or three such corps.17 The Air Force has placed its latest strike assets,
the Su 30s, in the North East and is expanding its infrastructure and capability in Ladakh.18
The lower end of the conflict at this level could be a Kargil-like situation. China’s aim
could be to ‘teach India a lesson’ so as to influence India’s rise before its capacity building
underway acquires traction. This could be a limited war confined to a specific section of
the border or LAC, limited in duration and amenable to a negotiated termination. At a
higher level could be a territorial grab by China, for example a bid to take Tawang. At
the next rung could be a more ambitious bid southwards up to its claim line. Lateral or
horizontal expansion of conflict from one theatre to another is the next step, with the
conflict engulfing one or more of the four possible theatres: Ladakh, Central Sector,
Sikkim and Arunachal. Alongside, it may impact the buffer states, Nepal and Bhutan
(discussed later). A higher end war may spread outwards from the mountains to include
air and missile action against the hinterland and the ‘mainland’ or strategic heartland.
There is a possibility of the involvement of allies, in the least in a supportive role. The
most extensive dimension of this could be the ‘collusive’ threat.19
16 P. Samanta, ‘China flexing muscles, govt clears Brahmos for Arunachal’, Indian Express, 17 October
17 Gurmeet Kanwal, ‘Wars in the mountains: Capacity building needed for future conflict’, CLAWS
Article 1927, 14 August 2011, http://www.claws.in/index.php?action=master&task=928&u_id=7;
GD Bakshi, ‘The Age Of Differences...Wasn’t It Born Before 1962?’, Outlook, 3 October 2011.
18 ‘IAF raises new squadron of SU-30 warplanes in NE’, Hindustan Times, 1 March 2011.
19 VK Kapoor, ‘Fighting a Two Front War’, http://www.spslandforces.net/story.asp?id=124
IDSA Issue Brief 5
The Collusive Threat20
Such a threat has not transpired historically and has not developed so far. However, the
‘threat’ has been envisaged now due to juxtaposing of infrastructure developments in
Tibet with taking over of transport corridor projects and infrastructure such as dams by
the Chinese in Pakistan’s Northern Areas.21 The manifestation of the threat in terms of
scenarios could be either Pakistan- or China- led. Alternatively, it could be with either
state taking advantage of an adverse situation for India brought on by the other state.
Lastly is a grand strategic design between the two.
From this emerge five possibilities: China instigated, Pakistan instigated, Chinese hyena
act, Pakistan’s hyena act and lastly a planned twin strike. Since China can act on its own,
it does not need Pakistani collusion. In fact it may find such collusion escalatory since it
would place India in a worse position, from which India would only want to come out
fighting. On the other hand, Pakistan can do with Chinese support. Yet, China would not
want to be physically drawn in though it could use the transport corridors being developed
in the Gilgit-Baltistan region to send in logistic support.
In a China-led case, a twin threat could be in case of Chinese designs to the east. These
could be grandiose in terms of seizing limited territory such as Tawang or the whole of
Arunachal, or to ‘teach India a lesson’. This may entail tying India down in the western
sector by having Pakistan make diversionary moves in Siachen or Kargil. This could
result in 14 Corps based in Ladakh being forced to look both ways. The possibility of
Chinese participation with movement through the Gilgit axis is possible, but the logistics
and possibility of Indian air interdiction makes this unviable.
A Pakistan-led case is difficult to visualize since China would not like the ‘tail to wag the
dog’. China could nevertheless participate in such an adventure if it were to set India
back and restrict India’s strategic space to South Asia. Dual use formations that could tilt
the balance in India’s favour would then not be available, making for greater symmetry
A ‘hyena act’ by Pakistan is easier to visualize than by China since China is more likely
to be able to place India at a military disadvantage than Pakistan. In such a case, with
India militarily distracted in an engagement with China, Pakistan could try and gain
psychological ascendance, remove vulnerabilities through military action or recreate
proxy war conditions.
20 Ali Ahmed, ‘The Sino-Pak ‘collusive’ threat’, CLAWS Article 1794, 31 March 2011, http://
21 Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 653: ‘Chinese presence in POK’, http://www.idsa.in/
A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict
The last possibility of a concerted twin strike is the ‘most threatening-least likely’ one. In
such a case, India may turn its attention and weight first towards Pakistan while it holds
in the North. This serves as deterrent to Pakistani participation in such an enterprise.
Since India would be greatly imposed upon, the possibility of going beyond the ‘limited
war’ profile exists. India could legitimately rescind its NFU in such circumstance as a
clear signal. This brings up the nuclear level.
Both India and China subscribe to a ‘No First Use’ (NFU) doctrine. Since this is a unilateral
undertaking, it may be rescinded at any time. Therefore this level cannot be ruled out ab
initio. Retracting from NFU itself would be a significant move to indicate that thresholds
are being crossed in a conventional war. Nuclear exchanges can be either graduated or
spasmic. The former indicates that within this level there is also space for Limited Nuclear
War.22 Theoretically, despite its implausibility, limitation in the nuclear domain can be
restricted to specific targets or theatres; for instance, strikes on strategic lines of
communications such as mountain passes or strategic bridges in the hinterland. The
variegated capability available with both states in terms of types of weapons and delivery
platforms and the nuclear weapon numbers make this possible. Counter value targeting
would be a step up from such exchanges. In effect, a wider war may have all three levels
of the spectrum in play: proxy war, conventional war and nuclear war. This brings to
fore the imperative of limitation.
The pattern of Indian procurements, infrastructure building and force restructuring
suggests preparedness for conflict scenarios across the board. In future, India could be
subject to China’s hegemonic attention. Since India would be better prepared by then,
China may instead wish to set India back now by a preventive war. This means current
day preparedness is as essential as preparation for the future. A reverse now will have
as severe political costs, internally and externally, as it had back in 1962; for, as then,
India is yet again contemplating a global role.
While India’s is taken as a ‘benign’ rise, China’s projection of ‘peaceful rise’ meets with
scepticism.23 China is better positioned for gaining super power status and may attempt
to gain a position of dominance. This may place it at odds with India which wishes to
preserve its autonomy and image. Short of this ‘worst case’ developing, perhaps a decade
22 Indian Army Doctrine, p. 12.
23 Baladas Ghoshal, ‘India and China: Towards a Competitive-Cooperative Relationship?’, IPCS
Issue Brief No. 153, August 2010.
IDSA Issue Brief 7
or so from now, there are conflict scenarios that may spool out in the interim. The issue of
‘saving face’ and reputation for both sides will have an escalatory affect.
Against such a background, India’s national aim, in light of its economic trajectory and
national interest of strategic autonomy, is war avoidance. In case of conflict breaks out,
limitation is desirable. At the upper ends of conflict, early conflict termination recommends
itself, lest escalation result. Applying the Limited War concept makes sense in that it
would not deflect India from its economic trajectory overly. Limitation would help ensure
that the No First Use (NFU) doctrine, subscribed to by both states, holds. Localised
conflicts are easier to terminate since ‘saving face’ is easier as resources committed are
less and prestige is not staked inordinately. Limited War is a concept that has been aired
in India since 2000, though this has found greater reflection in the India-Pakistan context.24
Likewise, the Chinese concept of ‘limited war in informationalised conditions’ seemingly
Limited War by definition is one limited along one of several dimensions. In the case in
question, compartmentalising a conflict zone, easier brought about in the Himalayas,
helps keep the conflict limited. There are potentially four conflict theatres: the Ladakh
theatre, the central theatre, the Sikkim theatre and the last along the erstwhile McMahon
Line. Restricting the conflict to one or more of these theatres would help localise it. For
limitation in weapons used, saliencies exist in the employment of air power, as was done
in 1962. Additional thresholds are the limit of employment of air power in terms of
spread and type of targets; employment of weapons systems such as missiles; levels of
employment of proxies in irregular war in the communication zones and hinterland and
the opening up of the maritime front.
Lastly, is the use of the nuclear plane for posturing and for ‘tacit bargaining’. Rescinding
the NFU when warranted can help send an unambiguous message of thresholds being
reached. Lower order nuclear first use, such as against a geographic target such as a
critical pass for operational gains and the strategic purpose of signalling would bring
about a nuclear war. Consideration of keeping nuclear outbreak limited is in order,
since neither state would prefer its ‘mainland’ being attacked. This means limitation to
Limited Nuclear War also needs to be factored in for contingency planning purposes,
howsoever far-fetched the enterprise otherwise appears.
Limitation can thus be both horizontal and vertical. Horizontally, it may mean opening
of other fronts, including the maritime front. Vertically, it means stepping up the ladder,
not necessarily in a graduated manner. It could mean introduction of air power, missile
24 Swaran Singh, ‘Indian Debate on Limited War’, Strategic Analysis, XXIII (12), 2000:
A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict
strikes with conventional warheads, use of tactical nuclear weapons, etc. In the upper
end of the scale, both vertical and horizontal expansion are virtually assured, since both
sides may want to capitalise on their advantages in other fronts or compensate for any
advantage the other has on a particular front. This means that saliencies and thresholds
need to be identified.
An example could be when would India prefer to employ its maritime advantage in the
Indian Ocean to pressurise China in case of outbreak of war in the Himalayas? This
would perhaps be less useful for a short duration encounter such as a border skirmish,
but would be consequential as an escalatory manoeuvre designed as war termination
pressure in case of a wider war.
Likewise, at the nuclear level, for instance, a consideration could be at which hypothetical
stage of an adverse situation would India rescind NFU and introduce nuclear weapons
into the conflict? A scenario could be if and when a Chinese breakthrough is threatened
onto the Siliguri corridor, in conjunction with an adverse situation developing on the
Arunachal front. The aspect of in-conflict nuclear deterrence of strategic nuclear exchanges
is catered for by India’s second strike capability, likely to be increasingly sea-based by
the turn of the decade.
Since it takes two to keep war limited by cooperating to prevent escalation, firstly, their
communication through direct and indirect channels and tacitly by action manifest on
the ground would help condition the other to follow suit. This means that diplomatic
channels need to be kept open and governmental communication uncluttered by political
rhetoric. Secondly, choice in fighting at a particular level may be with the initiator of a
conflict, though escalation cannot be ruled out in all cases. To deny the enemy the
advantage he seeks at his level of choice, there may be a need to respond in a more
vigorous fashion. But getting the conflict to stabilise at that higher level of seeming
advantage would require communication of sorts. In effect, game theory kicks in with
defection and cooperation in evidence. Limited War in a sense is cooperation to mutually
avoid the worse penalties of war, such as to prevent a conflict from going nuclear.
Impact on Nepal and Bhutan
What would be the implication of a conflict between the two Asian giants for the two
buffer states, Nepal and Bhutan? Nepal will unlikely see military operations progressed
through its territory in violation of its sovereignty due to it being geographically distant
from the consequential theatres, Ladakh and Arunachal. Conversely, being close to Indian
base areas India has a defensive advantage in case China were to open up a front through
Nepal in an extensive war. For these reasons, China is unlikely to involve Nepali territory.
The lack of infrastructure on the far side of Nepal for the progress of an Indian offensive
would also make Nepal a less likely theatre of operations.
IDSA Issue Brief 9
Myanmar has figured in conflicts earlier during World War II with the airlift ‘over the
hump’ forming part of legend. Given its improving infrastructure links with Yunnan, a
threat developing in this direction can figure either in the context of a localised war
restricted to the tri-junction or a much wider Total War. The other link to conflict is in
case of external support for insurgents in the North East. This last factor influences India’s
deepening relations with Myanmar.
In the case of Bhutan there is greater likelihood that it could emerge as a future site of
contest, given its border dispute with China along the Chumbi valley. India has inherited
military-strategic ties with Bhutan. These ties include the permanent presence of an Indian
military training team in Bhutan and strategic stewardship of that state. Bhutan’s strategic
location may make it critical to war at the upper level of the spectrum. As can be seen in
the map, its eastern and western flanks abut Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim respectively.
In the hypothetical case of conflict in the eastern Himalayas, it is not implausible that
Bhutan may get embroiled. China could offensively exploit its territory for outflanking
Indian forces so as to pressurise India’s vulnerability in the 21 km wide Siliguri corridor,
aptly dubbed as ‘Chicken’s Neck’. Fearing such movement, Indian forces may stage
forward defensively. Given the military advantages that would accrue to the force acting
first in the mountains, pressures to pre-empt the other side will arise.
In so far as Bhutan would incline towards India in any such conflict, an Indian position
could have it that this is in India’s interest. The 2007 treaty states that the two ‘shall
cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests’. It goes on
to state that ‘neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful
to the national security and interest of the other.’25 Thus, even as Bhutan contests any
Chinese ingress, it would be free to call upon India for assistance. This could enable
India to respond militarily on request. Such military movement would help India defend
its own territory better.
However, two problems arise. One is that a potential Indian-Bhutanese linkage may
tempt China to be both offensive and pre-emptive. This could lead to a race between
those ‘rolling down’ and those ‘rushing up’, reminiscent of the military action in Belgium
at the start of the First World War and at the end of the ‘phoney war’ in the Second
World War. Second, an inadvertent expansion of the conflict could take place from what
is originally intended as a localised theatre.
Therefore, in case Bhutanese territory does not figure in the military calculus of either
state, it may be better for both. While there may be military compulsions, predicated on
gaining a position of operational advantage or denying the same to the adversary, these
25 ‘Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty’, text available at http://www.carnegieendowment.org/
A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict
need to be weighed against the strategic imperative of limitation to conflict between
nuclear states. A measure to this end would be to respect Bhutan’s neutrality. This would
require Bhutan to emerge as the ‘Switzerland of the Himalayas’.
Bhutan has been released from its 1949 treaty obligation of being ‘guided by the advice
of the Government of India in regard to its external relations’ by the exclusion of this
clause from the new 2007 friendship treaty.26 This reflects India’s respect for the sovereign
right of Bhutan to act by its own lights. Since an extension of war into Bhutan by
inadvertence or design is not in India’s or Bhutan’s interest, respect for neutrality of
Bhutan could be considered. This can be done by arriving at a tacit strategic
understanding with China as part of the strategic dialogue.
From among a menu ranging from compellence, deterrence and defence, India’s strategic
doctrinal choice is evident. Compellence is ruled out, as is defence. The former cannot be
tried against a strong nuclear power and the latter has not worked adequately earlier in
the fifties. The choice is restricted to deterrence, with its two variants: offensive deterrence
and defensive deterrence. The former involves more expensive offensive capabilities
and is predicated on deterrence by punishment. The latter is based on deterrence by
Defensive deterrence makes grand strategic sense as articulated by the National Security
Our goal must be defence, not offense, unless offense is necessary for deterrence or to protect...
We must recognise that other countries too could have similar imperatives as ours and
their own reasons for what they do. And why create self-fulfilling prophesies of conflict
with powerful neighbours like China?27
The military is also on board with this formulation. The former Chairman Chiefs of Staff
Committee, Admiral S. Mehta had stated, ‘On the military front, our strategy to deal
with China must include reducing the military gap...The traditional or ‘attritionist’
approach of matching ‘Division for Division’ must give way…’28 These must be
supplemented by ‘harnessing modern technology for developing high situational
awareness and creating a reliable stand-off deterrent.’29 This will enable the fine
26 ‘Treaty Between India and Bhutan 1949’, text available at http://www.indianembassythimphu.bt/
27 Shivshankar Menon, ‘Our ability to change India in a globalised world’, Tribune, 14 August 2011.
28 Admiral Sureesh Mehta, ‘India’s National Security Challenges – An Armed Forces Overview’, Address
At India Habitat Centre – 10 Aug 09, p. 3, http://maritimeindia.org/sites/all/files/pdf/
IDSA Issue Brief 11
distinction between offensive and defensive deterrence. The strategic doctrine would
require being ensconced in grand strategy involving diplomacy, trade ties, etc.
accordingly, as, is indeed, already the case, albeit one under-appreciated.
The bad news is that conflict scenarios are not impossible to visualise, but the good news
is that the higher one moves up in the spectrum the less likely the scenario. The sobering
aspect is that the likelihood depends on the level of preparedness; but one not necessarily
confined to military preparedness. The ‘China threat’ thesis requires being placed in
perspective. The stridency attending it has the advantage of focusing attention on the
challenge. Conflict potential cannot be ignored; but, coping cannot be solely a military,