Saturday, 22 April 2017

To the army: Any gentlemen left please?

The company commander implicated in the human shield case has come up with an innovative defence. He claims to have used the human shield tactics to make his way out of a tight spot, along with a group of paramilitary men and voting officials. This has been taken as an instance of innovative quick thinking on his part that has saved lives, in that had he shot his way out of trouble instead, some stone pelters might have died. That would have put the army in a bigger spot than its current one of embarrassment at best. So instead of censure for violating the letter of the humanitarian law, he should be commended if not awarded for his bold, if unorthodox, action.
Media reported some in the brass as willing to overlook his crime, even as the army quickly went into crisis management mode by ordering a court of inquiry. That would tide over the interim till the noise subsides or till the primetime minders of India’s national body clock find another - inevitably Muslim related - diversion. While mid May has been bandied about as the time given for the inquiry to come up with its verdict, the case would likely be shrouded in legal confidentiality – ‘since its subjudice we cannot speak of it’ – till it is buried in the files and dust. The major in question would be a minor celebrity for his quick thinking and more importantly ability to get away from liberal hounds baying for his blood.
Would such an outcome be good for the army?
The army clearly needs officers and men who think on their feet. They must not only be able to think but bold enough to act on their instincts. Thinking out-of-the-box is not enough. Tactical results require boldness and effort. The army prefers to select and nurture such leaders. Therefore, if one such junior leader has gone beyond the pail momentarily and with demonstrated effect in saving lives not only of his men but also of the groups nailing them down, he cannot outrightly be pilloried.
As for the brass that has reportedly backed the major, they have a duty to protect junior leaders who have acted in good faith in line with their exhortation. The senior level leadership requires the juniors to exert in way of an aim set for the hierarchy. They require this be done with gusto, with the least spilling of own blood and in the acceptable mode of counter insurgency, with as little imposition on the people as possible. Given this leadership culture, it is not impossible to envisage that the leaders so inspired could condone – if at a stretch - what happened in Budgam.    
Now, if this was all there was to it, there would be little to worry over.  The junior leader would be publicly knocked on the knuckles but privately feted and the army and Kashmir would brace for the next bout of public anger.
The story has since been complicated by the narrative of the human shield in question. Apparently, he was a weaver set to vote; picked up and tied to the vehicle, after a dose of beating for good measure. He claims to have been paraded around the neighbouring villages for a few hours thereafter, as an exhibit to deter emulators. It is in this journey that the video was made that brought his plight to public knowledge. There after there have been photos from various angles of him and his chariot, the army jeep. These appear to have been done in a more staged manner by army men themselves, partaking of the event, perhaps in a bit of fun.  
The court of inquiry would require covering the murky side of the story too. Assume it does, it could come up with the conclusion that the idea was a good one but in enacting it, it went too far. Had the poor sod not been beaten; had threatening placards not been put on him; had been let off once the danger zone had been traversed; it would have been difficult to be too harsh on the major. Had the major let off the weaver and would-be-voter with a hot cup of tea, a handshake and an explanation if not an apology, it could yet have been argued that the major was perhaps over-zealous but not quite a villain. His nimble extrication from a tricky situation could have figured as a case study at the counter insurgency school in Khrew, even if it violated the sensibilities of the purist.
Why was the ending of this story different? Why did the major lack chivalry? Why did he blow his part? Why did he seize ignominy for himself and the army, where he could well have ended up an example of junior leadership?
This owes to the difference between the army and its image. The hypothetical ending just provided to the story stems from an image of the army, one that takes it at its word: as an army mindful of human rights; of the soldier’s dharma; of the kshatriya code; of the examples of the Gurus; inspired by Rana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj; in the footsteps of Shaitan Singh, Albert Ekka and Abdul Hamid; imbued with the spirit of the Bhagwad Gita; its officer code reverberant with the Chetwode dictum; and its officers, the last of India’s gentlemen. The more treacly this sounds, the more the gap. 
It is easy to see that the major did not just get carried away with his brainwave – excusable in the heat of things. The long drawn out agony of his victim suggests his act was vindictive and vicious. It was he and his outfit enacting what they wished to do to the wider public collectively but have not been able to in full.
This has both a positive and an underside. The positive is that there appears to be some restraint against which they seem to be pushing, one that does not allow them to go after the people in the manner they could after this individual. This left the hapless individual to bear the brunt. The negative is that they were able to push past the restraint, and have managed some accolades in doing so.
The army must see how it can retrieve the restraint, embellish it and put it back in its rightful, controlling place. Simultaneously, it needs to exorcise what corrodes this restraint. The restraint referred to is self-control, self-regulation, self-discipline and an inner light that enables orders to be correctly given, correctly interpreted and rightly obeyed. This is the meaning of thinking on ones feet, doing the right thing and doing it right. The higher expectation of the army man is that he is supposed to get it right, the odds be damned.
That the major messed up is a warning that the army is in difficult straits. One way to be sure of the way the wind blows is to see how the court of inquiry turns out. Getting it right is one way to begin to fix things. The major difficulty is in the context being framed by what is happening not only in Kashmir itself, but in the rest of India. The army can at best be unambitious: try to stay afloat and not allow its image to float away. 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Saturday, 11 March 2017

On India’s military: Writings from within

Down load ebook from Drop box, link - 

On India’s military: Writings from within
The book comprises the published writings in service journals of Ali Ahmed while serving in the
army. They cover the two decades on either side of the turn of the century, thereby providing a
window into the army in the period. The author was an infantry officer and the articles reflect
the concerns of the infantry and the wider army as the author grew in service from a subaltern
to colonelcy. The articles reflect the intellectual growth of the author and engage with the
issues that were salient in his time in uniform. The book is a record of the times as also serves
to provide insight into India’s army. The book is complemented by his other work, From within:
Reflections on India’s army (CinnamonTeal 2017), which comprises his unpublished work on the
same themes. The two books would interest military buffs and the attentive public; veterans
and practitioners; and students and academics in strategic and peace studies.

For the soldiers who served with me

The book is a compilation of my in-military-service writings. I served in the Indian army for
twenty one years. I wrote avidly for its in-service publications and editors were kind enough
to publish some of my work. Most of the articles comprised my impressions and observations
on matters military. They were informed by a wide reading of professional subjects including
military history and by my graduate studies. I was fortunate to have undertaken sabbatical in
the UK early in my military career. The articles, book reviews and letters to the editor carry the
imprint of my studies and experience. In all, I managed to have about 95 pieces of varying length
published in service journals, which was reasonably good going since at least a decade of my
writing career was in the pre-internet age.
The published pieces reflect the concerns of the military in the period I served circa a decade
on either side of the turn of the century. They comprise in effect a written record of the times as
regards security concerns and issues as seen through a serving infantry officer. In my letters to
editor I engaged with the issues reflected in the publications, mostly presenting a point of view
that was not always the popular one. The collection expresses the liberal perspective in security
studies. This I believe made my articles somewhat different since my fellow officers largely
subscribed to the realist perspective and service journals usually reflected this bias. However,
that I was patronized by editors – all of whom were serving officers - did not owe so much to my
persistence or originality as much to their breath of vision and commitment to quality of their
I have divided the book into themes: regular war, irregular war, military matters and sundry book
reviews and letters to the editor. The commentaries in the regular war section deal with my main
area of interest which is limiting war. These were early articulations of my thinking that into my
doctoral dissertation. I converted the dissertation into a book, India’s doctrinal puzzle: Limiting war
in South Asia (Routledge 2014). In the irregular war section, I have compiled the articles dealing
with the army’s preoccupation through the nineties and early 2000s with counter insurgency.
My military service enabled me a vantage from which I could glean some insights on this and
have used the forum of writing for journals to record my observations. The liberal – soft-line
- perspective makes my take on insurgency and its counter different from the general run of
articles that featured in the journals. The military matters section comprises my impressions on
various issues that the military was engaged with intellectually during my time in uniform. There
were many viewpoints and mine was one of them. The topics range from military leadership to
educating army officers. My interest in military and society finds expression in this section. The
book review section has some book reviews I authored, but most have been left out since they
were short in length. The letters to the editor section is the one I am most proud of since I would
step up to the intellectual fight, forcefully presenting my argument or pointing out the fallacy in
some or other article. My excuse is that I was young then.
I believe the book will repay a reading and even a selective reading. It can over time prove to
be a significant contribution to military studies, strategic studies and peace studies in South
Asia since it is an insider’s view of the military in his time. On that count it might have historical
significance in serving as a national security record of the late twentieth century and early
twenty first century. It needs being read along with my other book, From within: Reflections on
India’s army, which is a collection of my military writings that did not get published when in
service. The two taken together will interest lay readers, veterans, military officers and scholars
interested in the military.

There are two groups in particular who I must thank for this book. The first comprises the
editors of the service journals who were serving officers on tenures with the institution that
published the journal. Their work is generally unsung and their contribution unrecorded but they
have held the intellectual torch high. They have provided me a forum and I must repay them by
acknowledging their support all through my years in service.
The second group are my senior officers in my battalion, in particular my commanding officers.
They allowed me to moonlight and I hope the output of my time does not disappoint them. The
support of my fellow officers in the various units I served in always buoyed me. Some did not
make it home from their field tenures, but our time together has surely gone into these pages in
some manner and measure.
Also, my father’s military postings during my early years in service enabled me a wider window
into the service that I have liberally relied on to inform my writings. A military background
equipped me well to serve as an observer on the military in my time. My earliest memory is
accompanying my father to the firing ranges sometime in the period before the 1971 War. As a
cadet home on vacations and as a gentleman cadet and young officer I was constantly taken
along for some or other military exercise. Some of these in Kashmir turned out to be adventures,
within sight and sound of gun fire. I suspect the early grounding in the military makes for any
acuity of my insights.
Finally, of course, the book owes to my family’s patience with me. I was allowed to goof off to
the computer at the expense of what could have been quality family time in some or other peace
tenure or when I was home for a limited time on leave. I trust the book compensates for the time

Other books by Ali Ahmed
From within: Reflections on India’s army (2017) (Ebook) - Download
India’s National Security in the Liberal Lens (2016) (Paperback) - Buy
On War In South Asia (2015) (Paperback) - Buy
On Peace in South Asia (2015) (Paperback) - Buy

First eBook edition published in India in 2017 CinnamonTeal Publishing.
ISBN: 978–93–86301–25–3
Copyright © 2017 Ali Ahmed
Ali Ahmed asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of the work.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this book are the author’s own and the facts are as
reported by the author, and the publisher is not in any way liable for the same. Although the author and
publisher have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at the time of
going to press, the author and publisher do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for
any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result
from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
Page Development and Cover Design: CinnamonTeal Publishing
Cover Photo Courtesy: Author
CinnamonTeal Publishing,
Plot No 16, Housing Board Colony
Gogol, Margao
Goa 403601 India

From within: Reflections on India’s army

Down load ebook from Drop Box link

From within: Reflections on India’s army
The book comprises unpublished writings of Ali Ahmed from his time in uniform. The author served in the Indian army for two decades. His reflections in the period that did not make it into print have been compiled into this volume. The commentaries here supplement his other book that contains his published writings of the period, On India’s military: Writings from within (CinnamonTeal 2017). The essays are carried unedited to retain the flavor of the times and conditions in which they were written. It has historical value in providing a snapshot of the concerns that animated the army intellectually in the period at the turn of the century. The observations and insights would be useful for both practitioners and scholars in military studies.

For comrades who did not make it back

The book comprises my article and commentaries while I was in the military for just over two decades. While my book On India’s military: Writings from within is a collection of my articles that were published in military journals, there were several pieces I wrote that did not get carried in the service publications. I have collected these into this book. I think their publication complements my in-service published writings and taken together the two book present a fair record of the
security concerns and professional and intellectual engagement of the military in the years I served in uniform. While about 95 pieces of mine were published in the many service publications, many more
articles and rejoinders sent in as letters to editors did not see light of day. And, I am sure with good reason. However, to my mind mostly this owed to the service bias towards realism, which is perfectly understandable and not unreasonable. But it did lead to the writings presented here
not making it to print, largely because they were anchored in a liberal perspective. In effect, my views were a counter point, running into a brick wall at times. Nevertheless, as the book testifies, I persisted and some of my views did manage to get to print, even as those that did not
then make it, have this book to finally have an audience.
I think this book is therefore the more significant of the two. It is blunt, straight-forward in a typically soldierly way. It is forthright in criticism of some service mores and practices that do not dignify the service any. By including such pieces in this book without any subsequent editing I think a truer picture might emerge of the military in my time. But of course it is only one view point and perhaps not the most comprehensive or accurate one. However, taken with other vantage points on the military, I am certain my labour at the keyboard will pay off a reader in
search for an understanding of India’s military as also help the military along in its never ending trajectory towards professional perfection.
As with my other book On India’s military: Writings from within, I have followed the same sections to compile my writings: regular war, irregular war, military matters, selective book reviews and letters to the editor. The regular war section deals with conventional and nuclear doctrinal
issues. I have discussed these more fully after I left service in my writings for think tanks and on the web. The irregular war section has articles that draw on my personal experience in counter insurgency settings. My liberal perspective shines through in these articles, arguing relentlessly
that the military has to exercise strict self-regulation lest it impose on people in a counterproductive manner. In military matters, I mostly dwell on the soft-core issues such as military sociology. These articles are the more important ones since they are straight from the heart.
Some appear critical but the intent all along has been to be constructive, to engage, to debate and where possible influence change. The book reviews also bring out a few ideas triggered no doubt by the books reviewed. Some sensitive issues are dealt with in the letters to the editor
section. In some letters I spoke up about what I felt was penetration of majoritarian extremist thinking into military journals. I think this remains an area that warrants close attention, lest the politics in wider society seep into the military sapping its professionalism. The letters testify
that there is sufficient ground for concern on this score.
The book is not quite dated, even though I left the service a decade back. In fact most of the current day developments are riding on the back of issues originating in the period I was in service. The book serves as an outspoken, warts and all, no holds barred record of the military
in my time. It must be read alongside my other book with my published work of the period, On India’s military: Writings from within, to gain a fuller insight into India’s military at the turn of the century. It is for this reason, as an aid to scholarship in national security, security studies,
strategic studies and peace studies, I have undertaken to publish these piece a decade and more since they were penned. I trust the book shall serve to better the Indian army’s professionalism and help it serve the nation with pride.
I have had the benefit of a military background and quite like other fauji kids developed early an abiding interest in matters military. The book is a consequence of this interest. It is largely a labour of love since I spent considerable time on the keyboard. Though some of the output
appeared to be critical – perhaps accounting for why the pieces were not published – my writings were with a constructive intent. Where possible I pitched to bolster military good practice and where necessary I was constrained to point out we could have done better. The publication of
this book owes to the same sentiment. It is tribute to my former comrades in arms who made the military the fine institution it was and remains to this day.
I would like to thank my family foremost for permitting me the time and space. The inclusions here testify that it was an uphill journey, clearly one that could not have been undertaken without my family’s support, in particular my wife. Having an absentee husband even while he is at
home is a feeling she perhaps shares with spouses of authors in general. It is to ensure that her time was not spent in vain, I have put this book together, in the hope that some good emerge for India’s army and at one remove for the Indian nation.

First eBook edition published in India in 2017 CinnamonTeal Publishing.
ISBN: 978–93–86301–26–0
Copyright © 2017 Ali Ahmed
Ali Ahmed asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of the work.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this book are the author’s own and the facts are as
reported by the author, and the publisher is not in any way liable for the same. Although the author and
publisher have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at the time of
going to press, the author and publisher do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for
any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result
from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
Page Development and Cover Design: CinnamonTeal Publishing
Cover Artwork: Painting by Farah Ahmed,
CinnamonTeal Publishing,
Plot No 16, Housing Board Colony
Gogol, Margao
Goa 403601 India

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Intractable Scenarios
 By Sumit Ganguly 
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2016, 188, 395


Sumit Ganguly is no stranger to scholars in international and strategic studies. His book The Origins of Wars
 in South Asia is a popular text with undergraduates. He takes his earlier work that finishes with the 1971 War
 further in the volume under review by beginning with the Kargil War. His is a slim volume covering the first
 decade of the century, the beginning of which he dates to this war. In his view, Pakistan’s India policy cannot
 be explained through the ‘spiral model’. The spiral model relies on the concept of security dilemma. The
 security dilemma has it that states, perceiving even defensive actions of neighbours as threatening, resort to
 counter measures that in turn generate a negative threat perception in their neighbour. This leads to a
spiral—hence ‘spiral model’—expressed through worsening relations, the arms race and recurrent crisis.
 Since Pakistan covets Kashmir, to Ganguly, Pakistan is a revisionist and ‘greedy’ state—‘with nonsecurity
 motivations for expansion’ (Charles Glaser) (p. 20). Wanting territorial revisionism, its actions in the security
sphere are not a result of a perceived threat from India that can be attributed to a security dilemma. Nothing
 India can do in terms of reassuring Pakistan by reining in its actions in the defence and security spheres
can assuage Pakistan. Therefore, the recurring crisis and potential for conflict in the subcontinent cannot
 be explained by the spiral model. The deterrence model on the other hand has it that a state’s security
 preparedness deters a neighbour from threatening it, but even such preparedness can be found wanting
when confronted with a revisionist state out to change some or other facet of the status quo or relationship.
 He uses the deterrence model in appraising India. To Ganguly, evidence in favour of this model is in the
quiescent period in the seventies and eighties when Pakistan was fended off by India’s defence preparedness.
 However, Pakistan’s Kashmir obsession got an outlet with the outbreak of troubles in Kashmir in the nineties.
Since Pakistan is attempting to overturn the territorial status quo, India cannot but restrict itself to warding
 off Pakistan through defence related measures. This brings Ganguly to his prescription that, since the deterrence
 model provides a better vantage for India’s Pakistan strategy, a strategy informed by deterrence by denial
is the preferred one for India. Ganguly makes his theoretical case in his opening chapter. He then ...

Thursday, 2 March 2017 

Dark side of Army’s social media groups

ONE of General Bipin Rawat's early concerns into his tenure is social media. He had barely taken charge of the Army when the BSF trooper at a post under Army jurisdiction, along the Line of Control, sent out a social-media salvo on poor food being served. It set off posts by uniformed personnel, including Army soldiers, similarly exercised by myriad perceived impositions on them, such as “Sahayak” (batman or soldier-helper) duties. 
The Army has since revisited its social media policy. Essentially, its call for restraint is intended to keep personnel from washing dirty linen in public. Tightening internal grievance redress, the Chief has opened a direct line of access to his staff in case lower levels fail to prove responsive. On the batman system, there are innovative proposals in the pipeline, at least for peace stations, substituting for soldiers undertaking domestic work in officer accommodation. 
It is apparent that the Army has constructively seized  opportunity to make the necessary, if overdue, changes. However, there is one aspect that is likely to have missed its eye.  It is the extent of right-wing trope being exchanged on social media in military networks. It is now so commonplace as to be unremarkable. It is unexceptionable therefore in case the Army is oblivious to this. Precisely for this reason, the matter needs airing. 
The trend of social media penetration of right-wing jargon, thinking, positions and propaganda line began at the same time as in other middle class social media groups, sometime prior to the last General Election in 2014. It is now in the open that the “Modi wave” was partially manufactured in troll factories by paid agents and committed volunteers. 
The Army was no exception to this trend since its officer class is middle class. The earlier insulation of the Army in its cantonments and being tied down to its professional till has been eroded in the internet and mobile age. Consequently, the political winds that swept the dysfunctional UPA II government away found their way into the minds of the officer corps. 
Anecdotal evidence suggests that liberal voices on social media networks were feeble and easily overwhelmed. Protest was silenced through cyber bullying, with the majority being silent spectators. Political posts were widely shared, most with a degree of endorsement. It is easy in retrospect to identify that the Army had its share of what  have since come to be called bhakts. These self-anointed monitors outshouted any group managers who dared intervene on groups ranging from old-boy networks of military schools, course-mate groups to battalion groups. 
While earlier, politics was a taboo subject in officers' messes, and perhaps continues to be so, reservation on espousing a political line failed to extend to regulating the social media behaviour of members of the armed forces. The enthusiasm for the conservative party's victory is explicable as it is in keeping with the universal political inclination of an officer corps; the attractions of the allusion to development; its anti-corruption packaging; and the BJP’s largely pro-security agenda. 
The problem is that the ideological baggage that attends the politics of the BJP — Hindutva — was part of the package. One popular propaganda line that was seemingly heartily consumed — judging from its traffic on the social media group — was the conflation of the two “others” in the Hindutva worldview, the Indian Muslim with Pakistan. 
This was easy to sell since a majority of the military has been through Kashmir and has seen the Pakistani hand at play. Exposed to the media attention to the terror attacks in the hinterland, that seldom went beyond the reporting on the blasts to the investigations that have attended these blasts, the theme of a strong government was easily sold. Lately, the letting off by courts of Muslims incarcerated for alleged complicity in the blasts suggests that India was well into the post-truth age before the term was coined. 
Any collateral damage in terms of marginalisation of the minority and social relationships was found acceptable. The distasteful experience of this writer on social media chatter on Army groups led to his withdrawing from the three social media groups comprising his military cohort and former comrades. It was not so much on account of religious affiliation but constraints on expression of a liberal worldview encountered. 
The military leadership needs alerting to this unseemly underside of social media. The military's social media policy is a work-in-progress. It needs updating with stipulations on the content that is exchanged. While self-regulation is best, it has proven insufficient. This has implications for the freedom of expression intrinsic to social media. A case can be made that those who do not wish to receive such posts can opt to leave. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it divides the officer corps, leaving the turf to the cultural nationalists in uniform, for whom patriotism is just not enough. The Army’s social media policy has further steps to take. It needs to be possessive of its social turf. Its cohesion and apolitical nature is at stake.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Corrosive Impact of Army’s Commitment in Kashmir

The army has had an extended deployment in Kashmir. While it has enabled operational experience for its members, there is a danger that the advantages of this can make the army acquire a stake in the disturbed conditions. This makes the army part of the problem in Kashmir. Its deployment is not without a price in regard to the internal good health of the army.
- See more at:

Media reports have it that the Lucknow-based Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) reinstated Shatru-ghan Singh Chauhan, who had been dismissed from service for an offence a quarter century ago in Kashmir (Majumdar 2017a). In a search operation in Kashmir in 1991, a recovery of gold biscuits had been made. Chauhan alleges that these were appropriated by his seniors, while he was scapegoated for revealing the truth. On his part, the then corps commander, Lt General Mohammad Ahmed Zaki, recalling the episode clarified in an interview (Majumdar 2017b) that he acted in response to a complaint from the Advisor (Home) to the Governor that money had been stolen by someone during a search operation. An inquiry was initiated, based on the findings of which the proceedings against Chauhan were initiated. Zaki goes on to add that, on leaving Kashmir at the end of his tenure, he read news reports of allegations that he had appropriated the gold biscuits. The case testifies to how murky the army’s deployment can get in Kashmir.
More serious and better known instances of transgression have periodically surfaced in Kashmir, with some taking on proportions of causes célèbres, such as Kunan Poshpora. It is debated whether these are—as critics have it—endemic and widespread or—as the army usually depicts them—instances of “aberrations.” While, to military votaries, the military ethic holds sturdy with a majority sticking to the straight and narrow, the military’s critics point to the inability of peer pressure to fully restrict some members from breaking bounds. In the light of over 2,000 unmarked graves having been found in villages across Kashmir early this decade and the estimate by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons that some 10,000 persons are missing, it is clear that, at least for a period of the deployment in Kashmir since 1990, ethically questionable practices were more prevalent than the army would care to admit. Critics attribute the current day angst in Kashmir to such practices. What this suggests is that the army could do with some soul-searching on the impact of its Kashmir commitment on its internal good health.
There are other ways too in which its Kashmir odyssey has had an ambiguous impact on the army. Take the recent unprecedented elevation of General Bipin Rawat to the post of army chief, superseding two of his seniors. Among the reasons the government trotted out attempting to tide over the controversy was his operational record and extensive experience in counter-insurgency areas and along the line of control (LoC), contrasting this with the background in mechanised warfare of his two seniors. Controversy attended two aspects. First was the questionable elevation of operational experience at the tactical level as a necessary and sufficient condition to pip his two well-regarded rivals at the post. The inflation of this parameter amounts to incentivising ticket-punching in India’s disturbed areas by ambitious officers and, at one remove, making the army acquire a vested interest in disturbed conditions.
The second was the controversy over the commandeering of senior appointments in the army by the infantry and artillery by so arranging the promotion system as to benefit members of these two arms. The expansion of the two arms has been occasioned in part by the deployment in the Valley (such as of the infantry-centric Rashtriya Rifles) as also along the LoC (such as for the artillery in wake of its showing in the Kargil War). The promotion system has been so engineered that, being larger, they constitute a larger percentage of the brass. Thus, the Kashmir commitment has led to the removal of professional merit as the singular criterion for promotion.
The effects are now well beyond the army itself. The “surgical strikes” along the LoC late last year, avenging the terror attack on the army base in Uri in September 2016, have found their way into electioneering. In a record of sorts, 19 members of the teams that took part in the operations have been decorated for valour, seemingly being decorated for participation rather than—as is usually the case with awards for gallantry—for courageous action in face of the enemy. The last time such a slew of awards were given out was yet again by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, when it decorated each of the deceased sentries at Parliament who died in the dastardly terror attack on 13 December 2001 with the highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashoka Chakra. This reveals the political calculation behind the awards by the government, with the ruling party, fearing the effects of demonetisation on the provincial elections underway, considering that such politicisation of the military is a small price to pay for victory in elections.
So, has the Kashmir deployment taken a greater toll on the army than reckoned so far? To the extent it is implicated in Kashmir, has Pakistan succeeded more than it ever imagined and in ways it could never conceive of? While there are good reasons for urging a rethink on India’s continuing hard line in Kashmir—last year’s toll of civilian dead in the unrest in Kashmir hovered round the three-figure mark—one reason worth examining is whether Kashmir is exacting an institutional price of the army, one of India’s better regarded institutions.
‘Cold Start’
Rethinking the nature of India’s Kashmir commitment is certainly not one of the recommendations in the 550-page report submitted in December 2016 of the 11-member D B Shekatkar Committee on combat capability enhancement. However, Kashmir has been central to the very need for the report in first place. The perceived decline in combat capabilities, which the report’s recommendations serve to address, is long-standing. Since India is loath to admit to any role of nuclear weapons, the venturesomeness of Pakistan in Kashmir is attributed instead to the decline of conventional deterrence. Incessant force accretions beginning in the early 1990s with the creation of the Rashtriya Rifles have led to further attenuating conventional deterrence. Since the mid-1990s, a large proportion of the army has been deployed in Kashmir, perhaps over a third. Even though the army in the period acquired a third strike corps, Pakistan succeeded in bogging down in Kashmir any surplus conventional advantage India might have gained, thereby neutralising India’s conventional edge. The conventional edge that remained was not of the order as to give India any confidence to cross the LoC during the Kargil War, and made the country settle for coercive diplomacy in the wake of the Parliament attack. The then foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon’s (2016: 60–81) memoirs of the episode let on—though he does not admit as much —that as late as in November 2008, India was self-deterred from conventional reprisal to the terror outrage in Mumbai, even though India was by then half-a-decade into adopting a new offensive army doctrine, Cold Start.
With Kashmir tying down significant numbers, the army continued down the path of expansion, this time in response to the growing Chinese threat. Though two mountain divisions were raised for a defensive role in the North East in the last decade, the Chinese threat, on which India’s Kashmir-mediated Pakistan obsession had an impact, was projected as a “two-front,” collusive war possibility. A new mountain strike corps was taken as the answer. The two-front formulation intended to recreate conventional deterrence on the western front by enabling dual tasking of the mountain strike corps, which was otherwise advertised and legitimated as a counter measure to the China threat. This inexorable expansion made the revenue portion of the defence budget outpace the capital part. As a result, though India had a new army doctrine of proactive offensive operations—the nuclear factor notwithstanding—it did not have the wherewithal to see it implemented.
Despite a half-decade long hiatus in Kashmir through the first term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the continued deployment of the army could not generate the confidence necessary to think of progressively removing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The three successive years of summer turmoil in Kashmir, 2008–10, and a reminder last year are now taken as the reason why the army, and AFSPA, need to continue in place. This sets up the circular logic: the need for AFSPA is because of the need for the army, and the need for the army owes to the AFSPA. In other words, the army becomes part of the problem in Jammu and Kashmir.
Incentivising it to be part of the solution can be through pointing out that the army’s commitment in Kashmir is proving corrosive to itself. The counter narrative to this is that Kashmir serves with blooding in the army, keeping it combat ready. This is only true in a limited sense. From the honours and awards tally every year, it is clear that the cake is taken by the Special Forces. In an encounter in Kupwara forests in 2015, a Special Forces officer commanding a Rashtriya Rifles outfit was killed. While being a testimony to his leadership and bravery, it begs the question: where was the junior leadership and the soldiery? In 2016, there was a tussle over wrongly crediting the citation of a Special Forces Ashoka Chakra brave-heart to a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in whose area his Special Forces subunit was operating (Sawant 2016). The implication is that the foot soldier is the anvil and the gladiatorial Special Forces or their infantry counterpart, the Ghataks, are the hammer. In effect, the mainstream army is more or less in static guard duties, manning the LoC fortifications with Standard Operating Procedures as guide or carrying out routine population control measures. The spate of suicide attacks over the past two years has no doubt further tied down the soldier to his sentry post. The demands of the quick-off-the-blocks Cold Start doctrine, based on a “short, sharp war” concept, might prove rather heavy for an army if inertia-laden. The question to clinch the argument is: Else, why would Pakistan—to the extent it does—keep the pot boiling?
A Skewed Representation
The expansion of the army has seen a rise in levels of representation in the officer corps from the cow-dust belt and hills opening onto the Indo–Gangetic plain. A constant feature this century of reporting from passing-out parades at the academies is the state of origin of those gaining the commission. Invariably, the list is headed by Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana. This narrowing of the social base of intake of the officer—the mainstay of a professional army—has long-term implications since this complexion of the officer cadre will last a couple of decades. The social and political mores of their areas of origin will gain currency within the army. Already, the succession battles of successive army chiefs this century suggest influence of casteist and, indeed, communal thinking. Unfortunately, the coincidence of the origin in the same region—Garhwal—of the new army chief, General Bipin Rawat, as the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, has prompted comment. They reportedly hit it off when the “surgical strikes” into Myanmar were being planned and executed in June 2015 (Dutta 2016). How the social biases in the catchment areas find expression in the army’s corporate attitude towards, for instance, gender inclusivity in terms of female officers going the distance, to pensions, and the recently-in-the-news “soldier-helper” system, is worth study.
A narrowing demographic base that is not representative of the nation lends itself to having repercussions beyond the army. It is not without a sense of the possibilities that cultural nationalists have the army in their sights as the next institution to subvert and run aground. The BJP’s billboards claiming the army’s surgical strikes are only the visible part. Less visible are the possible numbers graduating from educational institutions subscribing to the cultural nationalist idiom and self-selecting to officership as a career.
The threat now is of the political formation ascendant in the politics of the moment bidding for the army. There appears to be in place an assembly-line system of right-wing literature finding its way through social media into the mind of the officer over this decade. Revelations regarding the troll army affiliated to the ruling party (Sanghvi 2016) suggest that efforts to capture the military mind cannot be ruled out. There are military veterans studiously at work purveying the message that cultural nationalism and nationalism, and indeed patriotism, are one. The increased mobility of the military veteran with heightened pensions, longer lives and access to social media, and, in turn, an opening up of the army to the veteran—through, for instance, offering hospitality for a veteran jamboree for some or the other jubilee—have set up a transmission belt.
Such transmission would be easier when the brass is divided. Ambitious generals would be on the lookout for political patronage. The alternative can spell oblivion. Take the case of the surprise supersession of Lt General Praveen Bakshi. It could well be owing to his lukewarm reference to “surgical strikes” operations in June 2016, similar to the one in the previous year. By not going to town over these, he perhaps consciously deprived the government of yet another opportunity to grandstand on the military’s achievement (PTI 2016). He has since paid a price.
Apparently, taking his cue, General Bipin Rawat, in his very first interview (Unnithan 2017), brought the Cold Start doctrine out of the closet. This is to flaunt the conventional deterrent refurbished by the induction of what can be the mainstay of Cold Start, the T-90 MS tank. With Pakistan warned off, he has put Kashmiri stone-pelters on notice, that they would be taken as accomplices of terrorists in case they join the action in areas of military operations (DNA 2017). This licence to wilfully narrow the distinction between civilian and terrorist by no less than their chief amounts to a step down the ethical ladder for the army in Kashmir. Clearly, its Kashmir engagement is exacting a price of it in ways the army does not comprehend fully.
DNA (2017): “Army Chief Warns Stone-pelters of Tough Action,” 16 February, viewed on 17 February 2017,
Dutta, S (2016): “Rawat’s Appointment as Army Chief Is in Line with Modi’s Aggressive Foreign Policy,” Scroll, 19 December, viewed on 7 January 2017,
Majumdar, U (2017a): “Shooting the Brother,” Outlook, 20 February, viewed on 17 February 2017,
— (2017b): “I Didn’t Know Other Soldiers Testified That Gold Was Seized,” Outlook, 20 February, viewed on 17 February 2017,
Menon, Shivshankar (2016): Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Washington DC: The Brookings Institution Press.
PTI (2016): “No Strike Carried Out in Myanmar against NE Insurgents: Army,” Deccan Herald, 6 June, viewed on 7 February 2017,
Sawant, G (2016): “Army Demands a Re-write After Martyr Goswami’s Ashok Chakra Award Gets His Battalion Wrong,” Mail Today, 23 February, viewed on 15 February 2017,
Sanghvi, V (2016): “I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of BJP’s Digital Army,” Business Standard, 29 December, viewed on 12 February 2017,
Unnithan, S (2017): “We Will Cross Again,” India Today, 4 January, viewed on 11 February 2017,
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Stolen gold: A ghost from the past that scares none

Media reports of a former officer dismissed from service for stealing money let off a quarter century later by the Armed Forces Tribunal. The Tribunal as reportedly asked the government to pay him Rs 4 crores as damages caused. The media report on the case says that the petitioner claimed that his search party in a military operation had recovered some 25 kgs of gold biscuits. These he says were appropriated by his seniors, among whom he reportedly includes the then corps commander. When he remonstrated he was accosted, brutalized, declared mentally unsound, shot at and finally dismissed from service. 

The corps commander for his part in an interview carried alongside the article in a leading weekly clarifies that on hearing from the Adviser Home to the Governor that a theft had occurred in the locality where a military search operation had taken place, he had ordered an inquiry that yielded up the officer, then a second lieutenant, as culprit. Thereafter military law had taken its own course and after the corps commander had demitted his appointment, the military court had punished the offender. Later, rumours had reached his ears that he as corps commander had allegedly misappropriated the recovered gold. Apparently, he had given no cognizance to the rumours and these had died down. In his interview, the corps commander stood up for his administrative staff that handled the case and the chain of command including the commanding officer of the alleged offender in question. 

The Tribunal in its verdict - that is currently not on its website - is reported in the media as stating that the procedural lapses and the failure of the corps commander to investigate allegations of the young officer that his seniors had stolen gold owed to 'extraneous considerations'. The implication appears to be that the corps commander had conspired with the seniors of the officer - presumably his commanding officer and others - to pocket the gold. Since this is from media reports - likely to have been released by the petitioner who has liberally given his version to the media - it requires to be treated with a pinch of salt. 

In case taken at face value, it is clearly the Tribunal going overboard in not only swallowing the petitioner's story but going beyond it to implicate others. The judge and air marshal on the panel have asked for the army to conduct an inquiry into the gold stealing episode and revert within four months. Perhaps the Tribunal could have kept its comments to itself for four months longer rather than attribute ill intent to the corps commander.

It is one thing to say procedural shortfalls undermined the case of the army against the officer and another to say that these were deliberate in order to hide the tracks of the stolen gold. It is difficult to believe that the court had the evidence not only on a messed up court martial but from that could deduce that gold was stolen. A court cannot hide behind the logic that it is now the post truth age. 

What the court has in one fell swoop done is to attempt destroy the credibility of the first corps commander in the trouble times in the Valley. This is tragic in that his tenure has turned out to be the touchstone of leadership in the Valley. His successors have had the disadvantage of their endevours being reviewed against the bar he had set as a professional and leader. Unfortunately, not all of them have measured up, while some have failed spectacularly, including those who went on to hold high office. 

Take the case of the phone call from the Adviser Home to the corps commander that set off this episode. The Adviser Home surely would have reckoned that the corps commander would have been exercised by the information based on his reading of the man. Such a reputation can only be that of an upright officer, unable to bear with equanimity that his soldiers have exhibited moral turpitude in stealing money from a house that has been searched. His response was predictable. Instead of defending the indefensible, he did the right thing - ordered an investigation and finding that wrong doing had occurred, had followed through with the military judiciary. 

Not a few commanders have looked the other way wrong doing has occurred in their command, worrying how it will look on their leadership and wondering what it would mean for their record and careers. Some have believed that since it would show up the army in poor light, it is best swept under the carpet. Others worry that it would give ammunition to the army's critics both within the people and outside the Valley amongst liberals. A few would rationalize inaction thinking acknowledging wrong doing would provide grist to the opposition's propaganda mill. To some, since others have not taken action in such cases, it would not do to set a precedent or rock the boat. A few might take non-judicial action, using cultural punitive practices to dispel the need for military judicial action, which is known to be most cumbersome and tiresome for those engaged in operations. 

Ignoring responsibility in such ways leads to a culture of impunity, which has manifested in the Valley in worse ways - evidence of which is in the two thousand or so unmarked graves all over the Valley and the some 10000 missing persons, some of whom are surely in those graves. It is clear that the rot did not set in with this corps commander. He instead set the standard against which we can now measure the military's record and find it wanting, not wholly, but only episodically and along segments of its mandate. 

That the corps commander's tenure was a standard setting one is clear from Jagmohan's memoirs of the period in Kashmir. Apparently, Jagmohan was apprised of allegations that the corps commander was being 'soft' on people, by ensuring food distribution to the people inconvenienced by military operations. This was taken as evidence of his communal bias, since he was a believer, a practicing Muslim. Jagmohan was dismissive of the allegations, but the fact that these were swirling and brought to his ears by interested parties indicates the ugly and conspiratorial climate that prevailed at the outset of the troubles in Kashmir. If a military leader in such circumstance hewed a lonely furrow, it is to his credit as a person and professional and that of the army that put him in a position of leadership. 

If the Tribunal has been unmindful in its judgment of the collateral damage it is causing by its ill considered statements, then it is a disservice to the reason why Tribunals were set up in first place. They are to redress wrongs inflicted on individuals by a strict military judicial system, which being overseen by non-judicial professionals can lead to injustice to individuals. By no means does redressing such injustice permit the Tribunal to trespass on logic and judicial standards by tarring others with a broad brush under cover of judicial impunity. 

Even if procedural shortcomings are pointed to, the air marshal on the panel should have harked back quarter century to when he was a squadron leader and imagined how the situation was in the Valley back then. Even if he merely sat through his tenure on the Budgam airfield, surely he would have known there was a situation outside that precluded churning out of doctoral length judicial proceedings. It is for this reason former professionals sit on these Tribunals, those expected to understand the system and its circumstance. 

Clearly, there is an equal case to be made of 'extraneous circumstances' driving this particular judgment. Is it that standard setting done a quarter century back needs dismantling? Is there a purpose to such tearing down of hard earned military reputations? Is it of a piece with the recent revision by the army chief no less of the distinction between combatant and civilian? Does the petitioner's association with the BJP tell us something?