Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Army's land warfare doctrine

The army released its land warfare doctrine (LWD) in mid December 2018. Leaving out the nuclear level, it covers the other two levels of war - sub-conventional and conventional. Since the two levels are relevant to the army in Kashmir and to readers in Jammu and Kashmir of this column, the implications of the LWD are covered here.

As regards the sub-conventional level, the LWD characterizes the problem in Kashmir as a case of Pakistan sponsored trans-border terrorism. It consigns this to what it calls the 'Gray Zone', in which hybrid war is ongoing. The manner how the army perceives the problem it is faced with is key to understanding its response. This is now well known, three years into the current spell of unrest - intifada if you will. The army chief has been around for two of those years and has effusively given out his mind, both during visits to Kashmir and in talks to the media and audiences elsewhere. He had dwelt on the hybrid war theme in his address at the United Services Institution of India - the oldest security think tank - early on in his tenure. So how there is little to surprise in the LWD on this score.

It is also unsurprising that the view is now official in terms of a written self-administered doctrine. It is not known as to the level of approval and sanction the document has in relation to the civilian masters of the army. It is also not known if the home ministry - which presumably ought to have a say on internal security matters - was in the loop. It can be surmised that the national security establishment, headed by Ajit Doval, is on board since the view finds resonance with Doval's pre-appointment discourses on national security that are littered across youtube.

However, it is of little consequence if the defence ministry and madam defence minister approved the document since the division of labour between the political class and the military is by now rather well known. Though in democratic politics doctrine-making ought to be a collegiate exercise involving both civilians and the military, and approval must rest with the civilian masters, in practice the doctrinal sphere is left to the military. The civilians are too shy to reveal their ignorance by venturing into unknown doctrinal territory. The last time a civilian ventured bold was K. Subrahmanyam. An unofficial word went round the army that his think tank was to be boycotted by the army then. Civilians appear to have over-learnt the less and the lack of oversight is an abdication of sorts, and on that count must attract voter concern.

Voters have delegated the political class the supervisory authority over the military. If it is not carried out then voters must exercise their veto of choice between political parties. In the current case, the ruling party came to power with a claim to security mindedness. There appears to be like-mindedness between the government and the military on the score of hybrid war, reflected in the prime minister's boast in his recent visit to Jammu region that soon the back of terrorism would be broken by the might of the state. It can thus be inferred that the LWD has the blessings of the civilian masters, who are unable to see the distinction between militancy and terrorism.

This could be because LWD has proved persuasive, in which case it fails to provide the right perspective to the civilian masters. The army must know that terrorism is usually a tactic in insurgency. Therefore, even while the LWD refers to counter terrorism/counter insurgency operations, its fixation on hybrid war elevates the Pakistan angle, thereby downplaying the other strands of policy such as peace initiatives. Alternatively, the convergence could be if the LWD is mouthing what it believes its civilian masters wish to hear. It could be misrepresenting the problem in Kashmir to be consonance with its civilian masters, adopting their perspective.

There is an even worse possibility. If the individual level of analysis is kosher in light of the 'levels of analysis paradigm' in theory, the mind of the doctrinal entrepreneur is also a site to look for answers. Given the questionable relevance for the hybrid war template for Kashmir, particularly in light of the havoc it can potentially wrought for response options, it bears inquiry as to where it is coming from.
The hybrid war import is a contribution of the Army Chief to the discourse. (It resulted in a book by the other illustrious think tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses). Is the Chief riding his favourite hobby horse? Perhaps he wishes to use the year he retires to try for the only military honour that he has not yet received, the the Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal. (He received the Param Vishist Seva Medal this republic day in an innovative display of largesse in election year by the government. (Factoid: General Manekshaw received the Padma Vibhushan as chief in 1972.)) Tragically, some 250 Kashmiri youth were killed last year owing to this misinterpretation of the problem in Kashmir. (The number of Pakistanis dead in the figure was not released at year end; no doubt, to conceal the figure lest it reveal that the Pakistani angle is trifle exaggerated, at least for now.)

Allowing the hybrid war characterization as accurate for a moment, it appears from the LWD's take on operations at the conventional level that Pakistan is winning. The LWD has it that integrated battle groups (IBGs) are to be formed, pre-programmed to take out respective objectives. The Chief has let on that the current method of forming of combat command level task forces on the downward percolation of orders is inadequate guarantee that it would work in war. What this suggests is either that the Chief's exposure to an operational command on the western front did not give him the confidence that his subordinates of the mechanized forces know their beans or that their adeptness at mechanized warfare has indeed ossified. In both cases, it is concerning.

The Chief's inability to appreciate that mechanized forces do not need detailed orders is fallout of his insurgency bias. This insurgency bias has long afflicted India's conventional doctrine, confirming a doctoral finding of a don in Jawarharlal Nehru University (JNU) in his book, Fighting Like a Guerrilla. As to the mechanized forces missing their mojo, that it has taken a beating over the duration of India's Kashmir commitment is no secret. Two top members of their brass were overlooked at the government's last pick of army chief. The infantry and artillery lobby's foisting of caste system-like reservations in higher ranks has marginalized them. Mechanised troops serve tenures in Kashmir, making for a debilitating personnel and officer turbulence - not unlike in other arms. In short, India's Kashmir commitment has diluted its conventional war-fighting ability. In other words, Pakistan has won the hybrid war without firing a shot, if at the cost of ridding itself of a few thousand jihadis.

Here the nuclear level - not mentioned in the LWD - kicks in. The IBGs that are configured for the initial phase of a war are hardly likely to have the elan to form and reform as part of combat teams, groups and commands for mechanized battles in depth. The visualization of mechanized operations as an expanding torrent is therefore passé. The good news is that this means the nuclear threshold of Pakistan will not be pushed.

This makes the characterization of hybrid war so much more necessary. India can persist with the fiction, the good part being avoidance of
conventional war. Steam can be vented on the Line of Control through 'surgical strikes' - called fictional by the recipients - and, elsewhere, films like Uri - mostly fictional - can defuse passions. The possibility of escalation inherent in hybrid war - pointed out by another JNU don in his book, Line on Fire - may end up as scaremongering. Recall, orders by the prime minister were that the troops were to return without casualties by first light irrespective of whether the surgical strikes succeed or otherwise. While this no doubt imposes inordinately on Kashmiris, it preserves India and Pakistan from grievous - potentially nuclear - hurt. For these reasons, the surprisingly well written 13 pages of the LWD should find an audience in these parts.

Reference: Land Warfare Doctrine - 2018 (Interestingly, the link has been found removed from the army website on 7 February, though was available when accessed on 4 February.)