Thursday, 26 November 2015

A call for nuclear sanity rather than retaliation

26 November 2015

Amb. G Parthasarathy’s opinion piece in The Tribune (19 November 2015) argues that, ‘Pakistan should be presented a stark picture of what would happen to its Punjab province, if it resorts foolishly to nuclear adventurism, whether tactical or strategic.’
He prefers that India respond to any Pakistani use of nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, with ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation in keeping with India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine. To him, holding densely populated Pakistani Punjab hostage would deter Pakistan from going nuclear.  
He is not alone in holding such a position. Amb. Shyam Saran also made the same point in his Subbu Forum Society lecture in New Delhi in 2013, when he was Chair of the National Security Advisory Board. Saran said, ‘if it (India) is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary… the label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant.’
That India continues with its declaratory nuclear doctrine that dates to 2003 implies that it is a widely held view. It is easy to see why this is so. The prospects of near certain destruction can only serve to deter.
However, since 2003, much water has flown down the Indus. The subcontinent has witnessed vertical proliferation, with Pakistan reputedly having 140-160 nuclear warheads. India is not far behind.
What this suggests is that Pakistan has the capability to retaliate in kind in case India was to massively counter Pakistan’s introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict. Since India stands to be grievously hurt, it may be unwilling to follow through on its promise of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation.
This may embolden Pakistan to go nuclear. Consequently, India would do well to arrive at safer and saner options than the one it has currently.
Amb. Parthasarathy in his article points to Pakistani Punjab as offering plentitude of nuclear targets for retaliation even if Pakistan’s nuclear first use only targets Indian troops operating under its ‘Cold Start’ doctrine.
However, if India was to target west Punjab, then its own border areas in proximity starting from Rajouri, through Jammu and onwards via Amritsar down to Ganganagar stand to be effected by direct and long term environmental consequences.
Even areas further away will not be spared. The usual autumnal media story is that burning of paddy stubble in fields in Punjab invariably chokes Delhi with its pollution. On Diwali, the figures for pollution in Delhi were 23 times WHO’s permissible limit. It can only be imagined what the environmental fallout from the burning of even a couple cities would entail.
There would also be socio-political fallout. The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe suggests multiple problems and dangers. Population movements will be akin to those witnessed at Partition. These will not necessarily be towards the west since across the Indus begin deserts. Afghanistan is also an unlikely prospect as destination. India may well be where these flows will head.
The refugees in Europe today are unlikely to be going back any time soon. Similarly, those who gatecrash India’s border fence will be here for the long term. As the Paris attacks show, their influx will not be without dangers.
They would be in addition to India’s own border populace who would likely have fled inwards. This is in addition to the internally displaced people India may have to cope with in case any of its cities are hit in counter retaliation. Many would flee cities such as Delhi, fearing such targeting.
The civil administration that at the best of times find coping with monsoons difficult will be unable to rely on the military to bail it out. The military will be busy inside Pakistan. A proportion of the paramilitary have relieved the army to stanch possible resurgence of insurgency in Kashmir.
Further, there are also imponderables such as effects of the contrived identification of Indian Muslims with Pakistan. The latest manifestation of this was in the BJP president saying that in case the party loses in Bihar, there would be celebrations in Pakistan. Some have interpreted the reference to Pakistan to mean a reference to India’s internal ‘Other’, its Muslims. Given extant conditions of polarization, it is not impossible to visualize a communal carnage within India in case of war going nuclear with its largest minority as scapegoat. 
Clearly, with such scenarios easy to visualize, it is strange that India persists with the logic of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation. On these counts, Pakistan will unlikely be deterred by this formulation, knowing India cannot follow through.
Consequently, India needs to reframe its nuclear doctrine, moving away from ‘massive’ to a more credible ‘tit for tat’. Such exchange(s), albeit avoidable, will yet keep Indian cities safe.
The rumours of impending nuclear doctrine revision that attended the BJP election campaign last year must be taken to the logical conclusion in a revised nuclear doctrine. The revised one must be predicated on preserving India from nuclear damage to the greatest extent possible; feasible only by a ‘city avoidance’ strategy in first place.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


The Marathas at peacekeeping frontiers

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

(Unedited version)

That the Indian army has been at the forefront of UN peacekeeping is well known. Axiomatically then, it follows that along with their comrades from all regiments, the Marathas too have shouldered the peacekeeping responsibility across the globe. This article highlights the contribution of the Marathas.

Ever since they watered their horses at River Indus in the eighteenth century, the Marathas have ‘been there and done that’. They went overseas under the British. They have enforced peace in the erstwhile North West Frontier Agency yesterday and provided aid to civil authority in the North East today. This has stood them well in their peacekeeping forays as part of a sovereign republic’s contribution to world peace.

Maratha participation has ranged from the traditional peacekeeping such as in separation of belligerents in Ethiopia and Eritrea by 12 MARATHA LI and in undivided Sudan by 11 MARATHA LI to multidimensional peace operations by 15 MARATHA LI in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently, 9 MARATHA LI is in the midst of robust peacekeeping in South Sudan’s civil war, with 6 MARATHA LI poised to take over the same area of operations a year from now. Maratha officers have also left their mark as military observers, with Lt Gen Satish Nambiar in the lead. 

The Marathas are uniquely predisposed as peacekeepers owing to their character traits and historical legacy anchored in the example of Chhatrapati Shivaji. They are imbued with a constabulary ethic, typical of good counter-insurgent troops, and, lastly, are part of a glorious Indian military peacekeeping tradition.

In his approach to peace and conflict, Chhatrapati Shivaji set an atypical standard in medieval times. Although he confronted the Mughuls, his way of war was one by the rules and with an eye for the dignity of the common man. Before humanitarian considerations were conceptualized and institutionalized into the law of war, his armies were already practitioners. Marathas are no strangers to foreign militaries, having reckoned with the British and Portuguese during the colonial period, or to ethnic diversity that characterizes UN peacekeeping ever since the Sultanats had a field day in the Deccan.  

A hundred years back, the First World War firmly established the Marathas’ reputation for discipline and stolidity in face of hardship. The ethnography left behind by the British, admittedly considerably Orientalist, is nevertheless testimony of the cool quietude with which Maratha troops go about their military business. Peacekeeping locales are similarly exacting, remote and at a corner of a foreign, forgotten field.

Being forever in operations in some theater or other, from Jaffna to Kashmir, the Marathas are familiar with conflict conditions and psychological demands that it places. They are therefore able to take to demanding peacekeeping environments with equanimity and deliver in a crunch, such as 9 MARATHA LI is currently demonstrating in South Sudan.

India is a reckonable peacekeeping power. Whereas its contribution in terms of numbers is not different from other South Asian states, its quality sets it apart from all other peacekeepers. India also takes care to send its proven units abroad, not only as a reward for services rendered in difficult areas and circumstances, but also to ensure that it’s showing in peacekeeping is of a higher order. Elite Maratha units have upheld this tradition.

Peacekeeping is mistakenly believed to be a good break from India’s multiple military engagements ranging as they do from LC deployments to counter insurgency commitment. Peacekeeping instead has elements of all these environments together: be it remoteness, adverse climate, interesting context and tactical challenges. A demanding effort is required that proves greatly enhancing professionally for participant outfits and personally for individuals exposed. The Marathas have risen to the occasion. This has qualitatively bettered them as cohesive units, junior leaders and as soldiers.

The UN journey does not begin in catching the white aircraft at Palam or sending off the containers at Mumbai. It begins in putting in that extra bit that enables selection as a unit detailed to travel on a UN assignment. Nor does it end in landing back on Indian soil but after redeploying at a new operational area. In effect, it may take up to three tenures with a UN stint sandwiched in between. This is about a decade all told, which is a considerable proportion of a soldier’s service life.

There is passion involved in measuring up to the requirements of selection. At a minimum an Army Commanders’ unit appreciation is a must. This comes with sweat and planning, not PR! This bit of measuring up is followed by a period of anticipation in which the unit awaits with bated breath word on its nomination, since this may be in competition with other regimental units with as distinguished a record in some or other field station.

But the dreaded part is to turn up in Delhi where the routine of getting the outfit ready for departure is strenuous. This is understandably so in so far as training regimen is concerned. However, what rankles is that despite the two decade long enhanced commitment in peacekeeping, the accommodation and amenities for looking after troops detailed remains rudimentary. Delhi’s heat and dust and cold and smog have first to be bested in the six months additional troops from sister units turn up. The individuals who join from other units to make up the strength also go through a selection process pitching them against their peers. A cohesive body of men is to be formed in this melee. In addition, are attachments from other arms and services to make up a battalion group. Then it is finally, take off time.

The arrival in the mission area is after considerable exposure to the same in lectures, training and briefings. Nevertheless, it can be disorientating, since for instance within hours of landing in Juba, troops of 9 MARATHA LI found themselves emplaning for remote Pibor, where the Murle battled the Nuer. This baptism by fire was useful when the Dinka-Nuer civil war broke out soon thereafter.

Such transitions are the test of command and of troops. Marathas have been known since their days harassing the Moghuls in the Ghats to be nimble and surefooted. Their ability to function on little makes them adapt to operational conditions that obtain in most peacekeeping environments, in particular in Africa. 11 MARATHA LI was involved in two missions as force reserve in a single tenure, moving from UNMIS with ‘single S’ to UNMISS ‘with a double SS’ when Sudan divided into two. Its showing was duly acknowledged in an Indian Vice Presidential visit to its location.

On mission, Maratha units have had differing circumstances to contend with even if in the same mission. 9 MARATHA LI was involved in a unique riverine task of providing Force Protection for movement of barges from Malakal to Juba on the Nile. It has provided 17,000 civilians protection at its newly constructed IDP Camp with a multi tier defence system. Alongside, its main task, the battalion has provided protection to high level delegations from countries such as UK and Kenya and carried out On-the-Job training for newly inducted troops along with Bangladesh Force Protection Unit (BANFU). This is addition to the usual maintaining of peace in its AOR by round the clock Short Duration Patrols (SDP) and Dynamic Air Patrols (DAP) in areas controlled by both Government and by rebel groups in Jonglei. Similar feats by other units are not recorded here for reasons of space, but have been uniformly been rewarded by award of Force Commander’s Appreciation to all four units that have participated this century.  

The downside of the mission is unfortunately the equipment that the units have to maintain that more often than not has withered in the conditions obtaining on mission. On that score governmental support seldom measures up to its rhetoric. In effect, India does not look after its troops to the extent of the gains that India makes by their peacekeeping presence. The upside is in the knowledge base and good practices acquired being shared across the regiment as troops rejoin their parent units on repatriation.

The tenure for Ganpats being six months, it is more difficult since a passage home in between is very costly. Even though the mobile has considerably reduced the distance that they are not within travel distance of their families is a tough burden to bear, for both the Ganpat and his family. Today family problems have multiplied and WhatsApp is only a partial answer to these. At most places, there is no such luxury – conflict having accounted for the infrastructure. Thus, the primary unit – his subunit - is the family of the Ganpat for the duration. The family has to await his return. The compensation in the form of money for this is useful but cannot be envied them. 

Finally is a return to homeland. There is an understandable strut in the walk of those returning from such deployments. Not only are they professionally rewarded in terms of experience, but personally in terms of memories. The UN ribbon on the chest is prized. They are now worldly wise, technologically aware and updated with world news. Not to forget, they also have a bank balance. This is wisely locked away by some units for a period, lest there be temptation to splurge or to leave the service. The Belgaum-Kolhapur-Pune-Mumbai belt, though a happening place, appears unwarrantedly alluring. Sensibly, commanding officers have to exercise persuasion and a bit of pressure to dispel simple notions of civil life in Ganpats. They have to be reminded it is back in the Indian army and to its well-worn routine of peacetime or field as the case may be.


Ahead, there is only more violence, with armed actors out to target the UN too. The UN is preparing a response, with the release of the report of the High Level Panel to coincide with its seventieth anniversary. The Marathas will have technology and a robust response UN doctrine at the peacekeeping frontline. But more importantly they have their intrinsic resilience and unit cohesion that will ensure that laurels keep rolling in

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What the next war spells for Kashmir

Kashmir Times, Op-ed, 4 November 2015

The 1965 War’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations in India saw amateur military historians opportunistically claiming that India won the war. If Zhau Enlai’s view of history is taken as guide – in which when questioned on effects of the French Revolution, he is said to have remarked that it is too early to tell - it is somewhat early to celebrate 1965 War as a victory.

Whereas there have been two wars since – 1971 War and Kargil War – these have not been about Kashmir, even if Kashmir figured prominently in the former’s peace treaty and served as the site of the latter. In the 1971 War India cut Pakistan to size in the hope of creating the conditions for having it give up on Kashmir. It succeeded partially in this, in that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, firmly in saddle with the Pakistan army down and out, was ready to sign away Kashmir. Later the army hanged him for that, not for political murder. For its part, the Kargil War was an extension of the war in Kashmir, in its theater along the Line of Control. It extended Pakistan’s bloody fingers in the conflict by another three years.

Instead, the 1965 War was fought by both sides over the issue of Kashmir. Pakistan was stampeded into war by India’s political actions seeking to normalize its relationship with Kashmir in the mid sixties. India also took the opportunity offered by Pakistani military action to claim that having tried and failed to wrest Kashmir, Pakistan had lost raison d’etre in Kashmir. Going by the aims of the two sides, it cannot be said that Pakistan lost since it has kept its stake in Kashmir alive. Likewise, it cannot be reckoned India won since the Kashmir issue is not quite history.

That Kashmir continues as an ‘issue’ ensures it will figure in the next war.

That another war is not being ruled out by either state is clear from Pakistan’s foreign secretary acknowledging for the first time that its Tactical Nuclear Weapons are in response to India’s conventional war doctrine and capabilities. Within merely a week from his statement, India announced field maneuvers for its field army, Southern Command, and its strike corps, 21 Corps.

It is unclear if this is a preplanned exercise since the announcement has been without the usual publicity that attends such exercises. Incidentally, there is no name given to the exercise as is the usual practice either. It is also uncharacteristically the second exercise of a strike corps within the same year; 2 Corps having been exercised in early summer this year. Usually, the three strike corps exercise in rotation, with one being exercised each year. 

This bit of ‘signalling’ by both sides will no doubt keep both security establishments wary of war. Both hope to deter the other and can be expected to succeed. However, there is a ‘jack in the box’ that can upturn things.

India’s readiness to battle – evident from exercises this year across the frontage of its South Western and Southern Commands stretching from southern Punjab to Rann of Kutch – can only serve as incentive to jihadists. Should they attempt another mega terror attack, the favoured scenario of strategists would indeed play out: a terror attack followed by India’s conventional inroads into Pakistan forcing Pakistan’s nuclear trigger finger.

This is all the more plausible since the two sides would be relying on the US to pick their chestnuts out of the fire. US think tanks have extended the scenario into its post nuclear use phase and in a war game held in Dubai conditioned players from both states that external peacemaking initiatives would be necessary and inevitable in such a case. Indian participants have shifted their advocacy of dispatching Pakistan to oblivion for the temerity of nuclear first use to a softer nuclear response of throwing back merely a double of tactical nuclear tonnage. This non-strategic war will presumably enable de-escalation.

Kashmir will figure in such a war not only as a theater of war but also in its aftermath. However, no scenario lately has a mushroom cloud figuring over Kashmir. The last such cloud was conjured up in the early eighties when a threat of a nuclear bomb on Banihal blocking its access to Kashmir, enabling Pakistan to wrap up Kashmir, was used in scaremongering by nuclear hawks to push India into catching up with Pakistan in bomb making.

As a theater of war, India can employ its new mountain strike corps to wrest territory. This would be in keeping with its information war plank that taking back POK is what is meant by ‘outstanding’ issues of Partition. Since this could be a messy enterprise and would take longer than a ‘short, sharp war’ allows, it could at best straighten the Line of Control to its own advantage. It may be more forthright in advancing in areas that it can hope to control firmly later such as along the Skardu-Gilgit axis. The strategic gain from this would be in threatening the Pakistan-China link and proposed economic corridor in perpetuity.

It would be sticking its hand into a beehive in case it drives into the Punjabised areas to Kashmir’s west. Not only will these be difficult to wrest, but there would be an irregular war backlash even as the war progresses and prospects of failure in stabilization operations later. It would put Indian troops on the wrong side of their fortifications built over half century. Besides, the shifting of the Line of Control forward would open up spaces for infiltration the likes of which would put the infiltration of fidayeen in wake of the Kargil incursion seem a trailer. The consequence on revival of troubles in Kashmir can be easily imagined.

As for the aftermath of what was intended as a Limited War and ends up as a Limited Nuclear War, Kashmir can be sure to figure in the peace. Since, as mentioned, both states would be abdicating their accountability to respective citizens by outsourcing peacemaking in a war that goes nuclear to the US lead international community, the international community is unlikely to confine itself to humanitarian assistance and mediating a ceasefire. It could legitimately engage in structural peacemaking, meaning the elimination of structural conditions – root causes - that lead to war.

Since India as the status quo power – one in firm possession of its secular crown Kashmir – would not like to see external arm twisting over Kashmir, it needs deciding now if its inclination for the military option is in its best national interest. For Kashmiri nationalists, war might not altogether be such a bad thing. For jihadists it will be altogether a good thing. What’s good for them cannot also be good for India.

Clearly, the analysis here does not suggest that the current day militarized approach to Pakistan can protect India's interests as defined by itself. While somewhat late to inform Mr. Modi’s package for Kashmir to be rolled out on 7 November, there is a case for defusing Kashmir from within, rather than seeking to ‘resolve’ it through a 'final' military tryst with Pakistan. What needs doing, and urgently, is a change of tack: leavening an ideological strategy with strategic rationality.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Strange Silence Surrounding an Indian Military Exercise

In late September, India’s media reported on a military exercise to be undertaken by one of the country’s three “strike” corps, 21 Corps. Since then, Indian military watchers have encountered only silence on the exercise. This is uncharacteristic of India, on two counts.
One, India has always undertaken such exercises with a flurry of publicity, even if the military details are necessarily kept under wraps. There is sense in publicity in that it reassures the public of a vigilant military; it is good for the government’s image as “strong on defense”; and it sends a deterrence message in the form of military readiness to India’s neighbor, Pakistan. Yet this autumn’s round of exercises is an interesting shift in India’s information strategy.
The silence could well be for a mundane reason: During October the formation moved into an exercise location in the desert sector and is undertaking preliminary training. The exercise proper could build up to its climax in the near future with the relevant publicity and the attendance of high-level officials such as the defense minister and Delhi-based military brass.
Nevertheless, thus far, all that is known is that 21 Corps is on exercise along with the remainder of Southern Command. Even the name of the exercise – usually a martial one and sometimes with mythological roots – has not reached the public domain yet; and therein is the mystery.
Two, this is the second exercise involving one of India’s strike corps in the same year; the earlier one being held in earlysummer, in which India exercised 2 Corps, alongside the “pivot” 10 Corps. In effect, two field armies have been exercised this year: South Western Command earlier, of which 10 Corps is part, and now the Southern Command.
Usually, India exercises one strike corps a year. This owes to reasons such as the cropping pattern in exercise areas only allowing a window in early summer along with budget limitations. To exercise a second strike corps in the second seasonal window in late autumn/early winter the same year is a departure that, while indicating more budget availability, also suggests urgency.
Why the silence and possible urgency attending this exercise?
It can plausibly be speculated that the lack of publicity so far owes to a statement made by Pakistan’s foreign secretary on the eve of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the U.S., namely that Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) have been acquired to deter and if necessary respond to India’s conventional operations.
Since strike corps operations are offensive and have strategic ends, their employment can be expected to flirt with Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds. Pakistan has now publicly acknowledged a low nuclear threshold. Therefore, for strike corps operations it can no longer be business as usual.
From India’s conventional doctrine and exercises, it cannot easily be discerned if India is sufficiently cognizant of the nuclear reality. Its doctrine is of post-Kargil War vintage, though officially adopted after Operation Parakram in 2004. Much water has flown under the nuclear bridge since, including vertical proliferation and the addition of TNW to Pakistan’s arsenal in 2011.
India’s military, in exercising two field armies and two strike crops this year, is indicating that it can activate the border theater, from the semi-developed terrain abutting the northern part of Rajasthan to the desert terrain in the south. Strategically, it is projecting to Pakistan that it is not deterred by TNWs.
Such muscle flexing cannot be seen merely as going about what armies normally do in peace time: train. This could well imply that India has an answer to TNW that enables it to believe that it can persist with conventional operations.
Thus far, India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine has been of “retaliation only” and predicated on deterrence by punishment. However, since this would be a disproportionate response to TNW and could trigger a strategic exchange, it is possible that India’s operational nuclear doctrine has shifted to “proportionate” response or “graduated” deterrence. That way it can provide nuclear cover for conventional operations by employing TNW in retaliation. This has been the thrust of the recent strategic debate in India.
The urgency of two field armies exercising in the same year consequently derives from India’s conveying to Pakistan’s military unmistakably that it continues to have options, even when confronted by a lower nuclear threshold.
At the same time, the accompanying public silence (at the time of writing) surrounding the exercise appears to be intended to keep the focus of both strategic analysts and the international community away from this message intended for Pakistan’s military.
Strategic analysts skeptical of the so-called Cold Start doctrine of 2004 have pointed to the truncation of the crisis response window that quick-off-the-block conventional operations portend as well as the subsequent nuclear dangers. With India’s next edition of the conventional doctrine of 2010 not in the public domain it cannot be critiqued adequately. The manner in which the military exercises unfold will offer clues as to potential nuclear risks. Keeping the lid on this aspect enables the military to go about its business without external scrutiny.
If strategic analysts are unable to blow the whistle for want of evidence, the advantage for India is the lack of alarm in the international community. Even India’s public is kept ignorant of nuclear dangers, allowing its politicians to enjoy the limelight from military prowess while obscuring the dangers.
India’s belief that there is a conventional reply for any mega-terror action from across the border has one positive: It could help deter any Pakistani covert intelligence engagement in any such action. However, the flip side is that should rogue or autonomous elements undertake such action, the two states could be at blows before peace has a chance to intervene.
While both militaries apparently envisage few TNW mushroom clouds, they need to be forewarned that this will only be so if they mutually put in place de-escalatory measures.