Sunday, 13 June 2021




This letter addresses a point of grave import inadvertently and tangentially raised by Capt Vishvasrao in his article ‘The Pouch’ in the June’95 issue of the INFANTRY.


The substantive point in his article is laudable- that the officer for the privilege of ‘leading men’ must validate his commission into the position of command through selfless action.


The point is also not the obvious one, which the Ordnance Corps remains oblivious to,- that of the requirement to relegate the present day pouches and allied equipment to the museum.


The point at issue is also not the wisdom of employment of ‘agents’ i.e. the encouragement of sahayaks to report on the goings on in the company. Such a manner of keeping a ear to the ground may be a matter of personal leadership style. Suffice it to mention that it may have an adverse impact on mutual trust and, therefore, on cohesion.


The point is in the morale related nature of the ‘blood splattered pouches’, referred to by the author. Surely we are beyond the Wild West stage of ‘notching’ the barrels with their respective score of human lives. We must be cautious in abetting false machismo- especially with the blood of fellow citizens. Brutalisation is a phenomenon that creeps in on the unwary to corrode professionalism. Let us remind ourselves of the message of the Gita- to act in a detached and impersonal manner. ‘Personal victory over a militant’ being ‘symbolised’ in any form is a manner of involvement in internal security situations that engenders the attitude of regarding the militant as the enemy- which has historically been proven as being a prelude to disaster.


The American experience in Vietnam is instructive in that one of the symptoms of disintegration of the American military was the collection of ‘trophies’, some so inhuman as the ears of the dead Vietcong. By no means is this meant to be a comparison with the elan with which soldiers as the author are performing a distasteful if necessary task. It is merely to alert us to the potential of losing our sensitivity, the precursor to loss of professionalism, in such situations characterised by the author as ‘real operations’. Therefore the apposite nature, though unintended by the author, of the subtitle of the article - ‘Vietcong to Bravo Company’.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

An assessment of new ‘strategies’ for Pakistan and China

A report in The Print informs citing sources that the Indian army has come up with new strategies for Pakistan and China that it respectively calls ‘punitive deterrence’ and ‘credible deterrence’. The new posture is result of the rebalancing on since last year after China’s foray into Ladakh from the western front to the northern front.

Deterrence is prevailing on the adversary against taking action that it would either be punished for or find relatively costly. Punitive deterrence would imply deterrence by punishment, in that India would retaliate heavily in case of Pakistani military misadventure. Whereas for the China front, credible deterrence is based on deterrence by denial predicated on India making it prohibitive for China to bite of territory by effective defence, besides retaining the capability to make equivalent gains elsewhere to neutralize any Chinese designs on Indian territory.

The tumult involves restructure of the infantry elements of a strike corps in the plains into a second mountain strike corps (MSC), the first MSC having witnessed its raising truncated through last decade. Also, the concept of integrated battle groups (IBGs), having been tried out over last few years, is to be operationalised across both fronts. Alongside, there is a bid for more monies for defence, with the army asking for some 1700 tanks and the artillery that there is no disruption to artillery modernization.   

The ‘sources’ who put out this significant change into the open domain have taken care to preempt any possibility of a course correct that the pandemic and our tepid response provided. To them, ‘more of the same’ is necessary to emphasise in order to undercut any thought of doing things differently post pandemic. That India’s health and social security infrastructure was revealed as hollow by covid wave II necessitates a rethink on India’s priorities, which such reinsertion of militarized discourse into the national cognitive domain prevents.

There is little that has changed in the supposed military changes underway.

On the western front, it remains unclear how over the short term, punitive deterrence will be exercised with the third strike corps. The advantage of being one-up on Pakistan had enabled the conventional asymmetry (ours three to their two strike corps). With the infantry elements reassigned to the northern front as part of the MSC, the infantry would require to be recreated. Over the long term it is predictable that the army will recoup the infantry elements of the strike corps. Precedence can be seen in the army filling in the gaps that arose due to the raising of the Rashtriya Rifles by poaching their numbers from the regular army. As a result it now has 60 battalions of infantry reserve. The central police forces having been extensively deployed in Kashmir since mid 1999, occasioned by the disembowelment of Article 370, are in a position to relieve the Rashtriya Rifles, which can in turn relieve the infantry from the Line of Control, thereby creating the infantry needed by the third strike corps when warranted. The temporary short term premium on infantry is thus chimerical.

Against China, the preexisting posture of deterrence manifestly failed, though the IBG concept had been proven in an exercise in Arunachal Pradesh by the time the Chinese and covid intervened early last year. It was a force in being that could have been used at the outset of the crisis for offensive options as counter grab, but remained unused. Therefore, it is not for want of capability as much as a deficit in political will that saw a slovenly response in Ladakh by India. The intensity of perception management that has followed only proves that much needed to be hidden. Therefore, it is not accretion in force capability that is necessary. It is no one’s case that India can bridge the gap in comprehensive national power between the two sides. 

The IBGs are being projected as game changers. These are task oriented forces tailored to specific objectives, in a move away from operations of corps levels formations. This rethink had been forced by the nuclear overhang on the Pakistan front and on the China front by the difficult terrain configuration and the long frontage. On the Pakistan front, IBGs are to make gains offensively, whereas on the China front they are to be suitably poised to react to Chinese nibbling by reinforcing the sectors threatened as also slicing off elsewhere for trade off later. Does this secure India?

Against Pakistan, the last military make over was with the roll out of ‘cold start’ doctrine (CSD). CSD had it that swift retribution would be exacted in case of a terror attack breaching India’s famed tolerance threshold, but keeping in mind the nuclear awing Pakistan quickly drew down over the conventional asymmetry. However, now that the conventional asymmetry is relative less (one strike corps losing its infantry elements), Pakistan, through its new concept of war fighting doctrinal innovation, can putatively take on India’s forces exercising its punitive intent.

In the doctrinal shadow boxing over last decade, it had reconfigured its conventional forces to blunt India’s conventional advantage, even while threatening - for the sake of form – India with nuclear redlines. This had deterred India with following through with cold start, even in case of Pulwama levels of terror attack, and restricted it to ‘surgical strikes’. Therefore, it is unlikely India can do more with less; so ‘punitive’ is an unnecessary bit of macho jargon. Recreation of the asymmetry that allows for a punitive strategy is therefore necessary and certainly on the cards, once the current day pivot to the China front stabilises.

As for the China front, ‘credible deterrence’ makes little sense as a phrase, since deterrence is meant to be credible, based on three characteristics: capability, intent and communication. Through two MSCs divided up into IBGs, India has given itself the capability. Its mirror deployment in Ladakh and action on the Kailash range in late August is meant to convey implacable intent, while communication is through an overt pivot to the China front, unmistakably serving notice to China against further salami slicing.

Against China, the Line of Actual Control is strongly held, though not at Line of Control levels. Reports are of an additional division sent into Ladakh that is likely to stay put long term. IBGs are to be stationed along the LAC length, to respond with alacrity to any future incursions, not only defensively - as was the case along the Kailash range - but offensively in a shorter time frame, both to cover the gaps, vast frontages and the large forward zones in some sectors, plus partaking of counter grab where feasible. This is reminiscent of deterrence by denial, making not only biting off prohibitive, but the likelihood of losing a morsel alongside elsewhere.

Whereas earlier the Panagarh MSC was being readied for this, now there are two MSCs for the role. Against a credibility yardstick, besides covid onset, commentary last year had it that India restrained from exercising offensive options as counter grab, since the comprehensive national power imbalance weighed against this. Recall practiced MSC reserves were at hand but used only for the ‘mirror deployment’ undertaken. It is not axiomatic that doubling the IBG capacity enables political will any. In fact, contrarily, the ability to carry the conflict to the enemy shall make the CNP factor kick in more significantly, reinforcing preexisting self-deterrence against escalation. In short, ‘more of the same’ is not necessarily better.

Importantly, since deterrence by definition entails influencing the adversary’s mind, it presumes that the adversary is out to do something that needs deterring. This needs interrogation in light of China restricting itself to its 1959 claim line, when it could have done more having caught Indians off guard last year. If Chinese interests are not expansive, then the good part is that there is little to deter. The bad part is that building up China as a threat which can only be militarily deterred, reduces a focus post covid on other options that could reasonably present themselves as efficacious.

The principal aspect of the new Indian strategic posture is a bid to frame the post covid possibilities. The manner the new strategies are being put out in the public domain, through sources rather than officially and upfront through the chief of defence staff mechanism or the defence ministry, makes for a surreptitious move. While the newsworthiness of the military at the time of covid wave II may seem anachronistic and intended to distract from the mishandling of the crisis, it is worth interrogating if the moves in the military sphere are the direction to go post covid.

Covid is a juncture at which India needs reappraising its strategic direction, in terms of continuing in a dangerous neighbourhood by doing the same things differently or doing something different. A shift to human security predicated on privileging the education and health sectors is warranted, implying self-evident knock-on diplomatic initiatives with neighbours and corresponding dilution in strategic postures. The new strategic posture must therefore be debated with vigour as India’s covid hit economy does not permit it to have its cake and eat it too. More than a pivot from the west to the north, India needs a pivot from traditional national security thinking to the human security paradigm.  

Monday, 7 June 2021


A case for ceasefire in Kashmir

A political dominant approach to the twin India-Pakistan and Kashmir problems would require a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and internally in Kashmir as well. The Indo-Pak track would entail taking comprehensive bilateral dialogue forward while within Kashmir, it could mean an outreach to the dissident and mainstream political parties.

The Indo-Pak track – the ceasefire along LoC – is now past the 100 day mark, drawing appreciative comment from the Army chief as the “first step” in a process of normalization with Pakistan, the second step then logically should be a ceasefire within Kashmir.

This is perhaps on the cards, with India giving itself another summer campaign to mop up the Valley floor off militants that it calls “terrorists” and assuring itself of Pakistani good behavior during the peak infiltration season, summer. The two sides, with an eye on the Afghanistan peace talks unfolding in Dubai, have till September to see how things turn out.

If positive in and for Afghanistan, then it is likely that the remainder steps the Army chief tacitly alluded to may roll out over the coming winter. Here an advocacy is made for a ceasefire in Kashmir to build pressure on both sides to take this route not tread so far due to lack of imagination, force of habit and sheer cussedness.

In the liberal scheme, force has a place as a means to an end, bringing a violent situation under control in order that the political track of strategy is employed for conflict termination. This is in line with the sub-conventional doctrinal thinking in the Indian Army — iron fist in velvet glove — which has it that the role of the security forces is to bring the violence down to levels in which governance is unimpeded and is conducive to political initiatives.

Force is used to gain a position of advantage from which talks are initiated towards conflict resolution.

In Kashmir, by the indicators that are put out periodically by the police, the security situation is well under control. Not only are gunfights fewer but fewer youth are signing up to militancy, as admitted officially. This is outcome of relentless joint operations and innovative, if debatable means, such burials of killed militants in a faraway place using Covid-19 as an excuse against gatherings.

The current juncture is potentially the right time for transition from kinetic to non-kinetic means. A ceasefire with Pakistan, reiterated in February, suggests that the proxy war factor is at ebb. Internally, sub-conventional operations are now being handled largely with the police supported by the Rashtriya Rifles and the Central Armed Police Forces. In fact, one division worth of Rashtriya Rifles has been redeployed to Eastern Ladakh against the Chinese, indicating that the situation is considerably under control in Kashmir.

Externally, there are reports of the two sides, India and Pakistan, meeting in Dubai. While these were in relation to the Afghanistan peace process towards which there is much activity on in the Gulf, the end February ceasefire is a result of such talks. Besides, there were feelers from no less than the Pakistan army chief on wanting to change course on Kashmir. The Imran Khan government too did its own messaging. It has also appointed a National Security Adviser who can take the thread of talks forward. 

The internal political track has unfolded in district council elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The political track of strategy has not culminated in that there is a constituency delimitation exercise underway, where after there would be legislative elections. A reversion to statehood is possible to visualize, as indicated by the home minister once. This suggests that the political track has a viable end state, an elected legislature of a state in place over the coming couple of years.

The realist case for a ceasefire may perhaps be more appealing for the Indian state that has lately cultivated an image of being tough and resolute on matters of security. Realist believe in a few verities, such as that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. This thinking under-grids outreach to Pakistan, including the semi-secret talks in Dubai between the two security establishments. The realist case is that India cannot afford a two front security problematic. Therefore, with the China front heating up since last year, it has had to let up on the Pakistan front.

If a ceasefire within Kashmir is not offered alongside, then Pakistan will be incentivized to continue its infiltration to reduce the asymmetry opened up by continuing Indian operations. A ceasefire within enhances scope for ceasefire continuing on the LoC, besides creating enabling conditions for the militant groups to come over-ground.

Pakistan can tacitly influence the Kashmiris militants to lay down arms and prevail on their proxy fighters and nationals to surrender. There could be an adjunct agreement with Pak to take back the Pakistani terrorists, with a safe corridor being given over a limited timeframe through Kashmir to a few exit points for the terrorists to make their exit.

From a realist perspective, ensuring that Kashmir does not serve as a magnet for foreign fighters would be useful once the Afghan peace process kicks in. In case Afghanistan reverts to a civil war condition, then proxy wars by regional states may be witnessed. A spill over from such a proxy war into Kashmir is feared. Preventing this requires that India and Pakistan arrive at a modus vivendi prior and as tacitly being urged by friends in the Gulf and the United States. Taking forward the process begun with their LC ceasefire in a ceasefire in Kashmir is a major confidence building measure between the two.    

In terms of timing, a ceasefire this summer can see the militants concentrated by the winter. Acceptance by the major indigenous groups will ensure that the remaining groups, that are inspired by jihadism or having sponsors across, would be marginalized and amenable to surgical action.

Militant group members would require persuasion by political leaders, civil society and by their families. This needs emphasizing since the youth taking to arms are exercising a natural right to rebel against perceived oppression. A ceasefire call by the state is therefore a necessary initial step and sustaining it an essential next step establishing the bonafides of the state in their minds’ eye as a sincere actor. The state for its part does not lose its authority, primacy or aura, and can project that its initiative is part of its social contract obligation of being responsive to its citizens.

As in the north east, the groups coming over ground can be cantonmented suitably or allowed back into communities under surveillance and guarantee by the community for desisting from militancy. A ceasefire monitoring group exists in Nagaland that provides precedence and a framework for a similar set up. It could comprise eminent peace practitioners from the rest of India along with Kashmiris, including Pandits, and governmental representatives.

Perhaps over the coming winter modalities can be worked out for return of Kashmiri militants on the other side of the LoC to progressively rejoin the mainstream over the following year. The winter can see the political activity necessary in the run up to legislature elections sometime next year after the constituency delimitation exercise, or the following year.

Advertising the elections as meant for a state, rather than a Union Territory, assembly will incentivize militants coming over-ground, enthuse political participation and see public support. This has an appeal for political decision makers in Delhi, who could then go in to national elections with peace in Kashmir with its statehood restored prior to elections.

Prior to national elections and with the support of the state government in Srinagar, a dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits will certainly be an indubitable marker of return of passable normalcy to Kashmir. The elected state government can then proceed with substantial matters as negotiating with Delhi coverage of Article 371 for the state — in a return to the Article 370 status under a different route.

For Pakistan, it can claim to have contributed to restoration of statehood to Kashmir. It would also gain some political space for its ally Taliban in Afghanistan. There are reports of Pakistan contemplating rationalizing the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, critical to the security of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The advantage for India is in its engagement in Afghanistan continuing and enhancing with Taliban reciprocating its outreach. For allowing space to Pakistan in Afghanistan and easing its two front security predicament, deft foreign policy footwork by India would require extracting from it a commitment to desist from internationalizing Kashmir and reverting to the Simla treaty-ordained bilateral and peaceable framework.

A timely ceasefire now in Kashmir thus has potential as a win-win option for all sides: India, Pakistan, Kashmiris. It is mindful of geopolitics unfolding in the region, sensitive to the potential of geo-economics to further peace, alive to internal political compulsions in Delhi and empathetic to the pain of Kashmiris, including Pandits. It is plausible in both liberal and realist security paradigms, and therefore can be sold to the government in India that operates within the latter. It heralds and is in sync with a post Covid environment when human security shall assume priority. It is responsive to the United Nations secretary general’s global call for ceasefires in prevailing conflicts made at the onset of the pandemic, but better heeded late than never. 





An Archive of India’s Military History


Edited by Sqn. Ldr. Rana T.S. Chhina, MBE

Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2021, pp. 439,


The United Service Institution (USI) describes itself as the oldest think tank in Asia. Set up by the British, it opened in Simla in late nineteenth century. Soon after Independence, it moved to New Delhi. Though under considerable pressure from lack of resources in the early years, it managed to nurture successive generations of Indian military leaders into military matters and mores. Its journal, the USI Journal, claiming to be the oldest military affairs journal in Asia, has been a ubiquitous presence in military stations across the country, with this reviewer once spotting it in a tent of the company commander at a remote United Nations peacekeeping operating base in Gumruk, Pibor County, Jonglei State, South Sudan. (As an aside, the company commander received a paralysing wound in a rebel ambush the following day but recovered enough to command his infantry battalion, though propped up by two crutches.)

This is only to illustrate the USI Journalas a popular professional journal, supplementing the USI’s efforts at imparting professional military education, a military culture and a more widely, a strategic culture. A collection of articles from the Journal at its 150th anniversary is thus a thoughtful commemoration of its sesquicentennial year.

The USI sensibly chose Squadron Leader Rana TS Chhina (Retired), head of the Center of Armed Forces Historical Research, that is lodged in the USI, to undertake the mammoth task of sifting through the 150 years of the quarterly publication (monthly for a brief period some 125 years ago) to cull out the articles that best captured their respective age and its concerns. Rana as an expert on colonial military history, with an award of an Honorary Member of British Empire to boot, was best placed to pick out the articles in the pre-independence era. Having been a crack helicopter pilot with the Indian Air Force (‘crack’ because in the mid-eighties he held the world record for the highest landing for his class of helicopter, probably in Siachen),he was also well placed to spot articles that shaped the post-independence period.

Rana has put together a historical volume, a collector’s item as such, covering 150 momentous years of military history in South Asia. His was a challenging task, since there is so much that has happened in the years the journal has kept a meticulous watch on affairs military in the region. Not only did the army get institutionalised in the early part of the period but is sister services joined it soon thereafter. Not only did Indian military fight in the two world wars, but has participated in four wars, two high intensity military engagements (the Indian Peace Keeping Force and Kargil War), UN peacekeeping and several counter insurgency operations since. Rightly, Rana does not restrict his collation to the operational part, but defining military history widely, he also includes a sociological picture of the manner the services have evolved, embedded in the wider flow of national security. Capturing the grand sweep of history witnessed by the USI in 439 pages has been remarkably done. Alongside, he has taken care to reproduce in an unexpurgated form the articles as originally published to convey the essence of a particular period.

Some articles resonate through the years. For instance, the second article in the anthology, written in 1972, talks of the strategic value of Kashmir declaiming: “’Cashmere’ then may perhaps be regarded as the great N.W (North West) bastion of India; and, lying, as it does within the general frontiers of Hindustan, its defensive resources should, I hold, be absolutely subordinated to those of the state in any grand imperial scheme of defence for India (p. 20).” In the question and answer session at a talk by Captain Francis Younghusband, the legendary traveller who surveyed routes into Tibet from India, Younghusband talked of find Russian goods at all the towns he visited in China during a 7000 km long journey. His testimony that “Russian goods had even been brought into Leh, Ladak and Kashmir (99),” suggest potential for revival of the old Silk Route connections across what is currently a rather troubled Line of Actual Control.

The credibility of the journal is evident from Captain Liddell Hart sending it the paper, ‘A re-definition of strategy’, in 1929. The paper lays out his famous strategy of indirect approach and is a marvel in strategic writing. Presciently he anticipates developments over the coming decades, writing: “The civil conditions give the strategist not only an alternative channel for action but an additional lever towards his military aims. By threatening economic objectives, he may…  dislocate the enemy’s military dispositions… slip past the military shield and strike at them with decisive results. This potential development of strategy is greatly favoured by the development of the air weapon… (p. 187).”

Included is a lecture by Sardar KM Panikkar, as the chair referred to him, in which the great strategist dilates on the nature of war changing in the twentieth century to Total War, thereby making peacemaking an impossible task. The question and answer session at the end of his talk is a must read on the quality of the strategic discussion in the mid-fifties and has insights into the manner India approached security in the years leading up to the infamous debacle in 1962. The 2018 national security lecture delivered by Amb. Shivshankar Menon while bringing the reader up to date, also bespeaks of the continuity in India’s security concerns through the decades.

The military emphasizing jointness these days, the growth and concerns of all three services are evenly represented. The journal had way back in 1912 highlighted the importance of the air planeinvention. Two further articles on air power punctuate the anthology, one of which was authored by the legendary Field Marshal Arjan Singh early in his retirement. For even handedness, maritime history has an equal place, with three articles enabling a rough sketch of the navy as it developed, including one by its former chief, Tahiliani. The only war covered explicitly is 1971 War, while articles on campaigns such as in West Asia in World War II and the Naxal problem are included. 

Perhaps the most significant theme of the anthology is on the moral element. A British officer leaving for home after service in World War II, pays tribute to Indian soldiers he served with, writing: “I remember a Sikh sepoy plucking a drowning P.M. (Punjabi Musalman) out of the mud in a large pond in Bihar, Pathans carrying Sikh wounded to the Regimental Aid Post on the bullet swept slopes of Kohima, P.M.’s bringing in a wounded Pathan in the Arakan, Sikhs of the 1/11 Sikh Regiment giving their all to break a Jap block in Sittang Bend to aid the hard-pressed Battalion of the 8th Gorkhas… In a first class battalion, a man’s religion is his private affair, but he fights and dies a proud member of the Indian Army. What an example to others!” The last perhaps in reference to the Partition clouds that were then building up. The baton of legacy is passed on by Brigadier HS Yadav in his ‘Tips from a Subedar Major’, by Brigadier NB Grant on the soldier’s honour code in his ‘An Officer and Gentleman’ and Brigadier Sardeshpande, in his ‘Passing it on’, passes on ethics and the joy of soldiering. 

Finally, it can only be said that Rana has succeeded in his aim of presenting the reader with a “flavour” of the contents of the journal. The journal is indeed an archive of India’s military history and record of its security consciousness. Rana’s is a but sampler, with only illustrative examples, that should serve to lead readers to the rest of the corpus in the USI’s Pyaralal library, where this reviewer for one has spent his most absorbing time. 









Monday, 31 May 2021


An Assessment of Strategic Options post Uri Attack[1]


The Uri attack in September 2016 resulted in some 19 deaths to soldiers, most of which were in a possibly accidental fire as part of the melee rather than direct terror action. “Four suicide terrorists had blazed their way through our base at Uri, very close to the LoC, and caused heavy casualties. During the firefight, a cookhouse also caught fire, which increased the death toll (Satish Dua, India’s Bravehearts, p.1).” This point is important to bear in mind to keep the incident in perspective and not allow emotions to cloud strategic judgment. This is emphasized at the outset here since the attack is being played up in the media by interested political forces, including those supportive of the government, and diplomatically in the usual India-Pakistan joust in the UN General Assembly, making for pressure to ‘do something’ on the government, and therefore, needs cautioning against. 

Military Options

The military options are across the conflict spectrum and the armed forces are available for execution of any chosen by the government. Starting from the minimal end, the options are discussed below:

Status quo. Continue as of now with an active Line of Control (LC) and administering punishment across it by firepower. This has been tried before and has not worked as the Uri attack might show. 

Surgical strikes as hitherto. Surgical strikes have been conducted across the LC on a case by case basis and can be employed to target both Pakistan (Pak) army, sponsors, and the terror proxies as necessary. These can either be kept confidential as hitherto or in a shift publicized. The latter enables deniability and is cognizant of jus ad bellum, while the latter – being different - conveys a public message to the Pak military, government and public.

Surgical strikes upgunned. Surgical strikes can be conducted across a wider space and compressed in time. These will be unmistakable and retributive. Since they will be difficult to conceal, advantage can be taken by publicizing them. In terms of jus ad bellum, they can be argued to be in response to a series of terror attacks, including on Pathankot, at a time and place of own choosing and in line with Charter allowed self defence in response to armed attacks by proxies from the sponsor state. Any shortcomings in the operational execution or result can be papered over with information operations, internally and externally.

Cold Start (CS) lite. The CS doctrine has been firmed up since 2004. In this option, selected limited options across the front can be launched. This will keep the conflict limited – depending on Pak reaction – and liable to early termination, with the political message of Indian weariness with terror conveyed militarily. It may entail some additional preparatory mobilization, so as to deter Pak from an escalatory counter.

CS. This can be as per the CS doctrine, operational across the entire front. This has escalatory potential, but is cognizant of Pak nuclear redlines if any. Its advantage over CS lite is that we would have sufficient forces across for escalation control rather be subject to being defeated piecemeal as in CS lite. This amounts to an armed attack of the order of a war and therefore it debatable in international law whether the provocation argument of self defence can carry the day. Moral high ground is important to retain diplomatically. It has escalatory potential in that strategy is a two player game and Pak reaction cannot be determined prior. Catering for the worst case by our own preparedness and mobilization would make for a self fulfilling outcome in making Pak mistake our preparation for a larger attack and react accordingly at a higher threshold of violence, which if unleashed might jeopardize our limited aims necessitating our throwing in more than what we originally planned: thereby upping escalation and drawing closer to nuclear redlines, thus.

Mobilisation a’la Parakram II. As at Operation (Op) Parakram, the military could mobilize in a  display of coercive diplomacy and use diplomatic channels to exert pressure for Pak to deliver on a more credible Islamabad Declaration II (that it will not use its territory for terror). This has been tried and found wanting earlier. It has the advantage of assuaging public mood that ‘something should be done’. If diplomatically we carry the day, it has the potential to relegate Pak image as a power, that backed down in face of Indian aggressiveness.

Conventional war. The escalatory undertow of CS builds in outright war as an option. If and since escalation may occur, it may be prudent to be ‘firstest with mostest’ (Patton). The jus ad bellum aspect will be a difficult diplomatic sell. The mobilization, costs, damages and opportunity costs would require the political leadership to be clear as to what they wish. The nuclear factor will  be loom large and as experience of peer militaries in Iraq and Afghanistan show, there will be an irregular side to the war that will suck in India into a quagmire. Keeping such a war limited will be difficult. India may have to accept international community mediation and external interest in the resolution of the Kashmir issue at its end.

Non military options

Intelligence operations. This has its limitations in that it takes us down an interminable road with no guarantee of success. It opens us to a like counter, making us a surveillance state. It will generate a proxy war, which will internally empower intelligence agencies, without the due protocols of control in place as exist in other democracies. As is well known, intelligence agencies promise a lot, have a commendable media outreach and deliver little. Besides, their initiative is liable to overkill. Take the East Pakistan interference by India leading up to an insecure Pak committing genocide, which implicates India to an extent in that such an over reaction by Pak could have been anticipated and tempered India’s initial decision on interference. By this precedence, there is no call to follow up on ideas such as instigating and assisting the Baloch, since it would only open up a proxy war front in which the Pak can only be expected to come down hard on the Baloch. We should not wish this for friendly ethnic groups, even if it helps keeping Pak down. Recall the manner we let the Sri Lankan Tamils down by initial support followed by assisting the Sri Lankans later in a near genocidal excision of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Diplomatic offensive. This entails a diplomatic offensive. We rehyphenate ourselves to Pakistan by continually talking of their perfidy in Kashmir, which we have ourselves done little to address politically internally, to the utter boredom, if not amusement, of the international community. It is another matter if the small diplomat corps we have has the ability to deliver with a diplomatic offensive at all. If a diplomacy first option is chosen, India’s military restraint can be exploited to gain the moral high ground and use all international leverages to pressure Pak. The military aspect to this can include taking UN observers of UNMOGIP (not being done since 1971) to the LC and to Uri and showing them the support for terror and firing by the Pak army. The option has the underside of involving the international community, even if we wish them to side with us, and requires playing carefully as they may wish to take the Kashmir issue out of the bilateral forum in which we wish to keep it. The military implication is to stay alert lest Pak deploy terror to throw a spanner in the works and show up Kashmir as a flashpoint.

Political resolution. This entails taking the requisite political measures internally and if necessary externally in respect of Pak for conflict termination and conflict resolution. The conflict has gone on for some 25 years and has had ups and downs in intensity. As a flashpoint, the preceding paras suggest escalation in a nuclear backdrop cannot be ruled out. The nuclear factor must be respected. Doctrinally, once the kinetic part of militancy is under controlled, political measures must kick in and resolve internal conflict. Several such junctures have been ignored in Kashmir. A continuing internal security situation results in the army losing its primary focus on external defence and conventional operations, making its ability to carry out the military options discussed above less efficaciously. Using this juncture for addressing the Kashmir issue meaningfully has the underside of it being prompted by a jihadist attack, therefore, a gap in time is necessary to launch initiatives, which can be planned for now and implemented over the coming winter. Pakistan can be handled diplomatically with much to show on the political front keeping it in sync with the initiative. The military implication of this would be to stay alert but restrained. Diplomatically, a call can be taken on the appropriate use of UNMOGIP presence for observation and monitoring duties on the LC so as to prevent incentive for a terror attack.


The last option, a political resolution of the Kashmir conflict, is recommended.

The government has the parliamentary majority to undertake political initiatives of devolution, autonomy and self-governance. Not doing so and deferring it indefinitely as has been the case over quarter century, has exacted a price on the Kashmir people who are Indian citizens, which Indian governments are duty bound to respect, protect and assist. Not doing so keeps open the door to worse political options as reducing the state to a union territory, which amounts to a non-option at best, since it shall keep the conflict alive indefinitely. Keeping the conflict going, has political dividend for some political forces in terms of polarization within India, but this is at a cost to the national fabric. There are also military costs to an unending conflict, such as preventing a much needed and timely pivot militarily to the China front. It keeps alive the two front worst case scenario, which is prohibitive to address militarily in light of constraints on the defence budget from other national priorities and the compulsions within it from the pensions etc.

Consequently, our recommendation is that the government be doctrinally compliant and deploy its political capital by taking requisite political measures to end the insurgency/militancy/proxy war.

The Ceasefire Option

This is not so outlandish as it sounds, limited imagination makes it appear so. When the outreach to Nawaz Sharif took place in end 2015, it was a reasonable end state. Even so, we allowed the Pathankot attack by spoilers derail the initiative, that should really have been resilient enough to withstand such spoiler interference. (This assumes that Pathankot was not a black operation, which it was, intended to derail the peace initiative and drive a wedge between Sharif and the military – Sharif the target of the peace initiative and the army that, through the black op is depicted as derailing Sharif’s Nobel prize opportunity).

A political dominant approach to the twin India-Pak and Kashmir problems would require a ceasefire along the LC and internally in Kashmir. The India-Pak track would entail taking the comprehensive bilateral dialogue forward. Within Kashmir, it would mean an outreach to the Hurriyat and the mainstream political parties. The internal ceasefire would require to be followed up by confidence building measures, using the Hurriyat to get the militants over ground. There could be an adjunct agreement with Pak to take back the Pakistani terrorists, with a safe corridor being given over a limited timeframe through Kashmir to a few exit points for the terrorists to make their exit, where after they would remain open to Indian offensive operations outside of the ceasefire. Handling of the militants coming overground would follow the Nagaland model best practices.


The alternative of a military option has escalatory overtones. This can be mitigated, but may result in ‘mowing the lawn’ periodically indefinitely till a political resolution is sought as it must some time down line. Consequently, instead of postponing the inevitable, it is best to go in for the political solution now, not instigated or intimidated by the Uri attack but on our own volition in our self interest. This can be done after a suitable gap, in which we have exacted some retribution on the Pak army for the attack and can begin as early as the winter. This will settle the post Burhan Wani disturbances, as well as our Pak problem for the long term. It will remove the polarizing feature in our polity that political forces and formations are taking advantage of to unhinge Indian democracy. Saying this in a military paper is not unfounded since the military is not an island and in its input at the strategic level has to be mindful of the contextual and political factors. Therefore, this plainspeak. 




[1] Note: This is an internal memo that should have been written but was not written in wake of the Uri attack and as they say, rest is history.


Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Try UN peacekeeping in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been on this cross road before. At least four times the US has been stupefied over how it should exit Afghanistan. With the war becoming its longest in history, this time round it is determined to leave by the twentieth anniversary of the event that brought it to Afghanistan, 9/11. As earlier, the question as to what after the US-NATO intervention ends remains unanswered and as earlier has the potential to prolong the war, if in a different form without the US present.

The answer here to the question is a UN peacekeeping. Instead of leaving a vacuum behind with potential to unravel the gains of the last twenty years, the UN could insert a multidimensional peace operation. The peace operation would assist the interim Afghan government, presumably overseeing the transition, with elections and continuing of peacebuilding, while the force component of the operation provides a modicum of security to the people.

To see if the idea is feasible, lets envisage a possible post US future in Afghanistan. The two sides, the government and the Taliban, are yet to get talking in earnest. If Turkey’s intercession does not take off – the trip to Istanbul for talks between the two sides having been postponed recently – then the two would likely carve out their respective spaces and spar across these. The vacuum in governance and authority will allow the Islamic State and assorted terror groups space and they may strike deals to reenter the picture. People will be imposed on unduly, especially women, girls and children. A civil war like scenario be recur as was in the nineties. The turmoil will make Afghanistan a magnet for proxy war by interested regional and outside players.

Such a scenario needs preventing. The UN has been in peacekeeping for over seven decades. It has experience of scores of peace operations, including those with complex mandates in highly unsettled conditions. Its efforts through this century have professionalized peace operations considerably, making the instrument adaptable to difficult conflict and post conflict settings as Afghanistan. Its peacekeeping doctrine is fleshed out, covering as it does peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding – peace enforcement not being relevant here.

Adequate appetite can be expected for the UN Security Council to back the idea. The Chinese and Russians would be happy to see the US exit the region. The US itself appears to be set to leave. The other two P5 members, UK and France, have had a presence in Afghanistan as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and would also be leaving with the US. International peace and security requires that Afghanistan does not provide sanctuary for terror groups. The peacebuilding effort in Afghanistan needs preserving.

Missing so far is a regional organization to step up to the conflict resolution table. The UN prefers to act alongside and in support of a regional organization. Afghanistan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and an observer with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), drawing its membership from mainland Asia including Central Asia. The two organizations can broker the UN’s role in Afghanistan and provide the necessary regional heft and ballast to the peace operation. China has already urged the SCO to take a view of the coming change in Afghanistan. The SAARC for its part has been moribund for long only an out-of-the-box idea, as here, can challenge it to step up its act as a regional organization.

Is the idea doable? This very valid question can be examined in the peace operations framework made famous in Boutros-Boutros Ghali’s ‘Agenda for Peace’: peace-making, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and peace enforcement. Currently, there is a special political mission in place, which will have to convert to a peace operation with the addition of peacekeepers into its format.

Peacemaking is ongoing and would need to eventuate in an agreement on an interim government to see the transition of Afghanistan into the next government. This may entail elections down the line. Peacemakers in Doha would require staying engaged, with the UN mission keeping them informed and advising as necessary.  A precedent is in the Doha peace process in Darfur being assisted by the hybrid UN-African Union Mission in Darfur in which the joint mediator of the two organizations worked intimately with the peace backers in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The transition would require securing with peacekeeping troops on ground under a Chapter VI mandate. Chapter VI is emphasized since the militarised template has been tried and roundly failed in Afghanistan over past forty years. The country will likely be seemingly divided initially with the sides controlling their respective areas of dominance. Peacekeepers will have to maintain the ceasefire, intercede in localized mediation to restore breaches and support the protection of vulnerable civilians by the dominant party in areas of their deployment and within their capacity.

The forte of SAARC members is peacekeeping and it is here that SAARC can consider contributing. Both India and Pakistan can be represented in the force, with their areas of deployment being India majorly in the areas of the erstwhile Northern Alliance and Pakistan largely in the Taliban controlled areas, with other SAARC member contingents deployed alongside.

Peacekeeping deployment also has an overlay of blue beret monitors. These can be provided by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Since Iran is a member its monitors can be deployed in Hazara inhabited areas. This point on having states with a legitimate interest in some areas being deployed in the area of interest is to give each a sense of reassurance and preclude proxy wars that might arise if states get a perception that their agenda is being undercut. It also helps with security of the deployed elements, deploying as they would be areas welcoming their presence.

Since terror groups may target the UN, the two main sides – the government and the Taliban – would require curtailing the power of terror groups. The peace operation may have a hammer element within it, Chapter VII empowered, to deter and respond to terror attacks such as by the Islamic State Khorasan chapter. This could be SCO provisioned, since the SCO has undertaken exercises on counter terrorism as part of its cooperation over the past few years. The peace enforcement element can assist the two sides in controlling ungoverned spaces.

Afghanistan secured by peacekeepers thus, peace building will taken on significance. Elections and run up to elections will be the most crucial. There may be constitution making support to be provided, depending on what the agreement in Doha comes up with. Even after the new government is in place a couple of years on, peace building support will have to continue in areas as security sector reform and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The post conflict management including incorporation of some Taliban into the Afghan National Security Forces will have to be done. Demining effort will be colossal. Capacity building across all sectors – education, health, corrections, justice etc – will be covered by the UN Country Team, with the UN Peace Building Commission stepping up as necessary.

A replication of the Bonn meeting, in the aftermath of Operation Enduring Freedom, may have to be called so that the resources underwriting peace building are made available. The US and the European Union (EU) should contribute to Marshall plan levels of contribution, if only to compensate for keeping the country in turmoil for two decades. China’s Belt and Road initiative’s extension into Afghanistan would also help.

The buck for the operation will of course rest with the Security Council. However, with the regional organizations extensively involved – SCO, SAARC, OIC, GCC - the command and control set up must reflect their interest and include the regional players in the mission leadership. For instance, the head of mission can be from the OIC, to give the mission a Muslim profile. Her political affairs deputy could be from GCC, since GCC would continue to be involved with peacemaking, and the deputy overseeing peace building from EU. The force could have force commander in rotation from SAARC member states, with the deputy from SCO.

Whereas national and religious orientation is not a criterion in the peopling of positions in UN missions, all appointees under oath not to act in parochial interest but only to further the UNSC given mandate, the issue finds mention here only to make the idea of the mission more palatable for the two sides. It reassures the people of their security and interest being catered for. It also will further cooperation between the regional organizations, making them stakeholders in a positive outcome. It also helps further the UN idea of a regional solution to regional conflicts.

What’s in it for the region? The region, including India, is Covid ravaged. It cannot continue into a post Covid future as though nothing has changed. It has to reconfigure its national security policy to privilege human security. This would entail forging ties of cooperation with neighbours, in this case principally India and Pakistan. Afghanistan, that has served so far as a site for regional rivalry if not proxy war, can serve instead as an opportunity. Pakistan has already voiced its interest with its army chief talking about geo-economics. India can take this forward using SAARC to secure the peace operation and integrate Afghanistan into the regional economy through connectivity projects involving Pakistan. The interface with both China and Pakistan in securing peace in Afghanistan can throw up habits of cooperation, reduce mistrust and help the three sides tackle their bilateral issues better.


Tuesday, 9 March 2021





Ali Ahmed, PhD (JNU), PhD (Cantab.),

is a former infantry officer and has been an academic and a UN official.

He blogs at and tweets at @aliahd66.


For Kashmiris, fellow citizens


I have compiled here my occasional long form writings on Kashmir since the high tide in the affairs of Kashmir in the early nineties.

To begin with the earliest, which is at the fourth and last in order in this compilation. It was written when on leave in Srinagar as a subaltern. During my stints in Punjab, where my infantry unit was deployed in an anti-infiltration role along the Pakistan border for some time and later in Sri Lanka with the Indian peacekeeping force there, I grew an interest in the contextual factors of insurgency. In the period, I spent my leaves in Srinagar where my parents were, my father posted at Badami Bagh first as chief of staff and later as the corps commander during the outbreak of troubles in Kashmir. This meant I was more or less in conflict zones, when with my battalion, that went on to Assam and participated in Operations Bajrang and Rhino there, and even when on holidays.

As all officers of my generation, I got adept at the tactical side by participation in three counter insurgencies – Punjab, Tamil in Sri Lanka and the Bodo and ULFA in Assam – and during leave I was exposed to the operational level of it, watching keenly from the sidelines. My interest at the operational levels was whetted by occasional visits to my uncle who was commanding general of the corps my battalion was part of in Assam.

Thus, I was somewhat uniquely positioned to have a view of the tactical and operational levels, while my reading habit enabled me to keep up with the political - contextual – factors through devouring strategic literature well beyond my rank. In effect, rather early on, I had a somewhat unique view of the tactical, operational and the political levels. Writing alongside honed this interest. The inclusion placed at the end here – ‘Kashmir: A Study in Insurgency and Counter Insurgency’ – is a product of that period.

The second, and first inclusion in this volume, is my MPhil chapter written at Cambridge University in the mid-nineties. By then I had like my fellow course mates seen enough of insurgency environments, but unlike most, had had a ringside view of events in Kashmir when on leave thorough the nineties. I also had, atypical for most young officers, an exposure at the national capital, at its very heart, living for two years in Rashtrapati Bhawan, as aide to Rashtrapati Shankar Dayal Sharma. My free time – and there was more of it than warranted – was spent in the libraries at the United Services Institution (USI) and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), where I also spent my time occupying backbenches at seminars in the national capital, including at the India International Center. The time evidently not entirely wasted, enabled me a space in the master’s program at King’s College London, followed by MPhil at Cambridge, for which the army – uncharacteristically - afforded me sabbatical. I mention this since I used the effort put into my dissertation to try and understand my own experience better. Thus, my Cambridge dissertation had chapters on the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgency and on Kashmir. The Kashmir chapter – ‘Pakistan’s involvement in Indian Kashmir’ - is reproduced here.

The third entry is when I got back to the army. I still had a yen for study and writing. I could not sublimate it by taking up a doctoral seat in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that I was selected for on my return since I had run out of sabbatical time. I then took up a non-resident fellowship at the USI holding the Ministry of External Affairs Chair for a year, extended by a year as Operation Vijay intervened, in which we were deployed in the desert sector in anticipation of and to deter horizontal escalation. The Kashmir insurgency, that I had followed closely through the nineties, was then at its height. I devoted a chapter of my fellowship paper to the insurgency, writing up while serving on staff on the Line of Control in Kashmir during the period. The study was not published since it would have required military intelligence clearance to do so and I suspect that would not have been possible since the study was critical of the Indian handling of the insurgency, besides, in another chapter, questioning India’s move to nuclear status that had just been attained then.

The last paper included here is a book chapter I did for a book on terrorism after retiring from the army. I had by then another stint in Kashmir, on the Pir Panjal ridgeline with the Rashtriya Rifles. Thus, a worm’s eye view of Kashmir supplemented the bird’s eye view I always had, and informed my thinking and writings, a rare advantage. Whether I used that advantage to good effect I leave it to readers to judge.

I was then with the IDSA as a research fellow, while also doing a doctorate with the JNU alongside. I got selected a second time round for the latter and was able to undertake the same finally since work with a Delhi based think tank alongside a doctoral position is permissible by the rules. In the period, there as respite in Kashmir, enabling revisiting the issue with little less urgency and allowing for a more reflective approach. The book chapter – ‘Countering insurgency in Kashmir: The debates in the Indian Army’ – captured the debates ongoing within the army between the two schools – hardline/kinetic and softline/WHAM. I was of the latter school and often sparred with those of the former on the pages of some in-service publications. Often my letters to the editor failed to make it to between covers of publications since they went against the dominant narrative. I have compiled these into a volume of ‘Unpublished Writings’ on my blog. I took the opportunity of a book chapter contribution to have the last word.

The four taken together cover the first two decades of the militancy in Kashmir. I actively covered the last decade in Kashmir writing extensively in online publications and in the Kashmir Times on how not handle Kashmir and how it should instead be managed. Some 100 op-eds in the latter comprise a complementary volume, Kashmir: Strategic Sense and Non-sense, also available at my blog and on I leveraged my developing interest in peace studies that covered peaceable approaches to violence, acquired in my academic avatar as a university teacher and later as a United Nations official. These commentaries and articles from my quarterly column in the second half of 2010s in the Economic and Political Weekly, are available at my blog, I suspect the quality of these was such that my alma mater, Cambridge University, under its PhD by special regulations program considered by candidature favourably, awarding me my second doctorate.


Over the last three decades there have obviously been some very significant influences on my thinking. I wish to thank them but at the risk of being accused of name dropping. The ones not listed here are left solely on account of space. Even so, the usual caveats apply in that this is an unaided work, the sole responsibility for errors in facts, inference and reasoning being entirely mine and institutions the writings were submitted to have no responsibility for these. 

Let me begin with my father, General MA Zaki, the ‘saviour’ of Kashmir for India in the nineties (an apt observation by Manoj Joshi), whose appending of comments on the first essay mentioned (visible in the pages at the end of this volume in his neat hand), constitutes fuel that keeps me going thirty years later; my uncle General Jameel Mahmood, who took time off to converse with me, a young officer, on affairs higher than my pay grade; Generals SC Sinha and Dipankar Banerjee, old boys from my school, mentors while I was in Delhi; the Rashtrapatiji Pandit Shankar Dayal Sharma, of the great generation of freedom fighters, for without his shadow over me I could never have acquired academic grounding; my first company commander Colonel CP Muthanna; my battalion commanders – Brig. ‘Jerry’ Gonsalves, Brig. SP Sharma, Brig. Ranjeet Misra, Col. SV Chaudhry, Col. Amit Sehgal, Col.  Bhupinder Singh - who allowed me to moonlight from my duties; my subedars who kept a hawk eye on my company and battalion when I was physically present and mentally absent, including Hony Capt. Bharat Jadhav; Shri. NN Vohra for suggesting to the concerned bureaucrat not to sit on my study leave file in the ministry; Prof. Kanti Bajpai, who accepted me as a doctoral student only to see me falling out even before joining; General Satish Nambiar for taking me up for the MEA Chair and doyen of strategists, late Shri. K Subrahmanyam, for guiding that study; Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan, India’s leading realist theoretician, who tolerated my ambling along on a liberal tangent; Prof. James Mayall who went through my life’s work, so to speak, including writings on Kashmir, to pronounce it, along with Dr. Vipin Narang, worthy of a Cambridge doctorate; General Prakash Menon, who allowed me access to his doctoral work my generous editors Anuradha Bhasin, Seema Mustafa and successive EPW teams; and my peers, General Hariharan Dharmarajan, who I mention hoping it won’t jeopardise his career, since his only fault was we were cadets together; General Virk, who as chief instructor at Staff College Wellington let me off the hook when some Hindutva inspired brigadier (my retrospective judgment) thought my unorthodox writings merited a march up; General SS Dhillon, a Rimco, for letting me off this time for interception by military intelligence of a letter home from the Line of Control, else it would nipped both my careers, as a military officer and writer; and finally, Polly, our pet parrot, that sitting on my shoulders did the spell check, fact check and grammar.

As is lot of partners of writers, Farah finds mention last. More so because there is no vocabulary my cadet school equipped me with nor do I know Urdu, the language in which what needs saying can perhaps be best expressed in. Maybe my next book will comprise letters to her from Kashmir on faded red service inland letters, preserved by her for no reason I can fathom. 





















Maroof Raza (ed.): Confronting Terrorism,

New Delhi Penguin Viking India, 2009




(unpublished essay, 1990)