Universally, there has been tension between the two leadership models in the military. If military leadership is imagined as a continuum with a ‘Leader’ at one end and a ‘Manager’ at the other, a military officer largely tends to one or other end, and has the option of adapting their style depending on the circumstance.
Military history has examples of such contrasts, like the one between two field marshals in World War II: Erwin Rommel and Bernard Law Montgomery. While Rommel's primary identity was that of a military ‘Leader’, Montgomery is placed better towards the ‘Manager’ end of the proverbial continuum.
The contrast in style shows up in the encounter at Anantnag, which has been going on for more than 140 hours now.
The outset of the encounter shows the military ‘Leader’, while the latter part of the operation shows the hand of a military ‘Manager’.
That Colonel Manpreet Singh and Major Ashish Dhonchak identified as military leaders is clear from each having recently earned a Sena Medal (Gallantry). Their reaction to the intelligence received from Deputy Superintendent of Police Humayun Bhat, showcases their ‘Leader’ credentials. At the encounter site, the three were in the lead, and consequently were targeted by terrorists, advantaged by the forested mountain fastness.
The commander who stepped into Singh's shoes reflects the ‘Manager’ style in the way he has methodically squeezed the terrorists holed up in caves in the thickets. He not only deployed modern surveillance means, but also, using the cover of firepower, manoeuvred the cordon into place to corner the terrorists in their lair.
The encounter has gone on longer than usual since there are perhaps strictures that no further losses are affordable, given that the operation is unfolding under a national spotlight. Besides, it has been interrupted by distracting senior officer visits.
The Anantnag encounter shows the ‘Leader’ and the ‘Manager’ in action to the disadvantage of the former, since the price paid was rather heavy. However, the takeaway from the operation should not be that the ‘Manager’ identity should therefore trump that of a ‘Leader’.
While it is true that measured operational actions at the outset may have yielded better results at an affordable cost, this is to second guess the tactical leader on the spot. Singh was acting true to the ethos of the warrior leader ethic of the Indian Army at a tactical level. A trained, experienced, and applauded military leader, just as a leopard cannot change its spots, Singh could only be himself, a military ‘Leader’.
This is of a piece with the standards of leadership of Chinar Corps set by its corps commander at the start of the Kashmir insurgency. He is reputed to have led a house clearing drill to take down holed up terrorists. While doing so a grenade splinter scraped past his head. When asked by the then Army Chief why he was so foolhardy, he replied, that since he was the seniormost present he was the leader on the spot and could hardly order people into harm’s way without himself stepping up. The Chief let him off by saying he’s sack him next time, if he survived.
In contrast, the deliberate operations that have since unfolded are understandable, though their duration appears inordinately stretched. Risk averseness must not be to fore, since the sentiment seeps down the line, throttling tactical initiative.
While the operation unfolded, social media commentary kept pace. One line of thought had it that wresting the terrorist’s advantage of terrain is not worth risking lives. Since grey zone war is amorphous, the score could be settled later, the war set to continue indefinitely. It would be unfortunate if this logic prevails.
It should not be that the Anantnag encounter heralds the end of gallantry and a welcome to the ‘Techno-Manager’ as the dominant military leader. Military leaders must continue to steer between the two ends of the continuum, even if they self-identify as one or the other.
The lesson to anticipate in the ‘Anantnag After Action Report’ is that even if hybrid war is to persist, there is no case for abandoning the Manpreet-Asish style of tactical-level military leadership.