Sunday, 16 October 2016

The future of ‘full spectrum deterrence’

If strategic commentary in India in wake of the surgical strikes in retaliation for the Uri terror attack is to be believed, it is not going to be business as usual either for Pakistani security handlers in Rawalpindi or for their foot-soldiers of both hues - regulars and irregulars - on the frontline.  While those at the frontlines would likely be up at night hereon, like their Indian counterparts over the past quarter century, the brass in Rawalpindi would likely be in a huddle as to what the implications of the surgical strikes are for their concept of ‘full spectrum deterrence’. This article is intended to assist them in their confabulations on the future of full spectrum deterrence.
First, what is full spectrum deterrence? Full spectrum deterrence is Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine adopted to rationalize its acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons. Their first nuclear doctrine mirrored India’s: minimum credible deterrence. However, with India’s shift in its conventional capability towards proactive operations – colloquially dubbed Cold Start - being demonstrated over series of exercises over the 2000s, Pakistan felt that it needed to deploy nuclear cover to paper over the growing conventional gap.
Unlike India, Pakistan has always subscribed to the NATO ‘first use’ philosophy of nuclear deterrence in that nuclear weapons are to deter war, including at the conventional level. In the early nuclear period, the nineties, mindful that India had three strike corps, Pakistan was liable to use nuclear weapons in the case of threat of being overrun in a conventional offensive by India. The lessons of 1971 for it were writ large on this doctrine. The possibility of nuclear use in extremis and was held out to deter India at the conventional level. Since India’s was a No First Use doctrine and India had the conventional capability preclude nuclear use, the premium on deterring India’s nuclear weapons was much lower. Quite like India’s doctrine, it was reckoned as one of city busting in light of few numbers of warheads and delivery systems.
Once it had the opportunity to go overtly nuclear, as a consequence of Pokharn II and presumably having more warheads and missiles in its armoury a decade and half since going nuclear covertly, its doctrine graduated to being one of using nuclear weapons in the eventuality of suffering ‘large’ losses in territory, forces, war economy and in case of externally generated internal instability. In one version of a graduated response, the shift was from counter city to also include counter military targeting. These were spelt out to reinforce deterrence at a time when India’s military was in a mobilized state in Operation Parakram. The noteworthy point was that the threshold was pitched somewhat high – to three of the four parameters ‘large’ had been tagged. Realizing that this gave a largish window to India’s forces below the nuclear threshold if pitched relatively high, Pakistan prevaricated soon after the famous interview by its then Strategic Plans Division chief, Khalid Kidwai. From counter-city
On retiring, Kidwai went on to put out a revised doctrine. The doctrine takes Cold Start more seriously than some Indian strategists. Pointing to the lack of military response to the mass casualty 26/11 attacks, these skeptical Indian strategists believe that India has not yet reached the capability levels called for by proactive operations since they posit a quick, telling, preferably jointly-delivered, blow, but not one that would make Pakistan reach for the nuclear trigger. Believing the cottage industry that built round Cold Start – that included this writer – Pakistan believed – perhaps self-interestedly – that India espied a window for conventional operations below the nuclear threshold. Pakistan then sought to draw the nuclear cloak more tightly round itself. The much-vaunted Nasr was trotted out - with a neutron bomb as warhead if its information warfare is to be taken at face value - to seal the so-called window shut. Now it is mostly counter military targeting in its  first blows, with counter city to serve as checkmate to India’s official formulation: ‘massive retaliation’. Last October, with a statement from its foreign office spokesperson and follow-on clarifications from its foreign secretary, Pakistan went public with this doctrine.
That India’s retaliation to the Uri attack was as precise as limited, might suggest to Pakistan that its doctrine is working. Lack of a heavier punch in the surgical attacks, might make it believe that it has managed to credibly extend nuclear deterrence to the conventional level. It needs timely reminding that such attacks are taken as below the conventional threshold, as defined in India’s subconventional operations doctrine. Though the doctrine characterizes these as subconventional, it does not discuss them any further owing to confidentiality.
From the internal political fallout of the attacks, these attacks are reportedly not quite a departure from earlier operations along the Line of Control. What appears different this time round is public acknowledgement of these. All that the pre-emptive attacks – retaliatory to some – imply is that while there is little change from earlier, implicit in the information operations attending them that there is messaging intrinsic to them.
The message is that these constitute a step up. In some analyses, these constitute a ‘crossing’ of some sorts; perhaps an internal psychological hurdle for Indian planners and decision makers. So while they may not by themselves herald the end of strategic restraint or beginning of strategic proactivism – as goes the debate – they suggest that more shall follow. Their success, its advertisement and political fracas that they have set off, incentivizes higher force packaging in successive iterations. This should ring alarm bells in Pakistan on the forthcoming blurring of the transition between the subconventional and conventional threshold. So, even if to Pakistan, deterrence works at the middle order and upper ends of the conventional threshold, its lower end stands frayed.
In Pakistan’s mind’s eye, full spectrum deterrence might have covered the subconventional level. Yet, the surgical strikes make clear that the nuclear deterrence cannot be stretched so as to cover that level. That such strikes have occurred earlier indicates that Pakistan is well aware of this already. By this yardstick, its term ‘full spectrum deterrence’ is somewhat of a misnomer. Pakistan’s own remonstrations with India on supposed Indian intelligence operations involving proxy Pukhtun and Baluch forces also surely prove to it that nuclear deterrence does not quite work at that subconventional level.
This is a trivial point to make since it is rather well known that nuclear bombs are unlikely to deter terrorism – as India so well knows. But then, ‘full spectrum’ is Pakistan’s claim, and hopefully, it is not self-delusive. Whereas so far India’s nuclear armoury has been unable to deter Pakistan at this level, the shoe is now apparently on the other foot, with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons unable – taking its allegations at face value - to keep India from putting its money where its mouth is: in Baluchistan for one.
To sum up, the change the surgical strikes have brought about is in removing the buffer between subconventional and conventional levels. In its review, Pakistan would do well, firstly, to revise its terminology – ‘full’ spectrum deterrence - since it is at best over a partial, even if a substantial, part of the spectrum. Secondly, given that heavier quantum attacks by India might succeed future terrorist outrages, Pakistan would be hard put not to retaliate conventionally. While not doing so would make its military lose face, the gainers would be jihadists claiming that they are the ones without bangles on. Consequently, conventional riposte – even if limited - by Pakistan, might force India to escalate conventionally, since Pakistan’s military does not have the luxury of hitting soft targets on this side. In other words, Pakistan would have itself dismantled its deterrent hedge at the conventional level. Lastly, India’s escalating in retaliation suggests that tactical nuclear weapons might not be able to prevent war after all. In case of their use in war, they cannot be expected to prevent nuclear retaliation either, even if the quantum of such nuclear retaliation invites debate in India.

From all this surely, it cannot escape Pakistan that full spectrum deterrence stands largely tattered by the surgical strikes. Should it now not be accorded a semi-decent military burial?  

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

How much of a departure since Uri?

Both India and Pakistan have notched a point each from their showing in the Uri terror attack episode. While the Indian military true to form, executed a commendable military operation, following it up with an equally precise press statement by its military operations head, the Pakistani military was wily enough not to pick the bait.
If the story was to end on this note, with Pakistan being suitably impressed by Indian resolve and proceeding to wrap up the terror infrastructure, it  would be game-set-and-match for the Modi-Doval duo and their supposed junking of the doctrine of strategy restraint in favour of strategic  proactivism. However, it can be reckoned that consummate Pakistan-watcher Doval surely knows that this is not the case, at least not before much water flows down the River Jhelum, on the banks of which rests Uri.
If that be the case, it would be naïve to attribute the aim of the operation as being pressuring Pakistan to roll back terror. It at best perhaps heralds that the earlier perception of impunity of Pakistani terror handlers and perpetrators is on notice. Even this might be rather ambitious, since terror handlers are unlikely to be roughing it out in camps close to the Line of Control (LoC). Along the LoC, at best foot soldiers might be found, and even they if not well back, would here on be more alert.
Therefore, future  such operations will unlikely be as surgical as this time round, and might on the contrary, end up rather messy, not  excluding the targets hit who might  well turn out to be civilians with no choice but to eke out  an existence in dangerous places. If and since terror handlers, inciters and profiteers shall remain unscathed and foot soldiers incentivized by the promise of a befitting martyrdom, militarily strategic proactivism does not portend much by way of strategic dividend.
This begs the question of what then was the aim.
The advertised aim of conditioning Pakistan is only possible to pull off in case of follow through with more-of-the-same in case of future provocations. With the resolve having been demonstrated, it sets up a commitment trap of sorts that entails a progressive increase in violence of retaliation. However, from the very limited nature of the operation just concluded, it is evident that the Indian military is attuned to the escalatory dynamics more rigorous operations might entail. In effect, the operation was a one-off, and not replicable with like benefit. If it heralds a shift in strategic doctrine as vaunted, then the new doctrine is suspect, and to put it mildly in one famous phrase, is ‘un-implementable’.
There is one other dimension of a possible externally oriented aim. It could be influence the international community to pressure Pakistan. The efficacy of this is difficult to imagine in light of the problem external players have had in dissuading Pakistan from supporting insurgency in Afghanistan, where their aims were directly affected. They can lean on Pakistan to display restraint in reaction to such operations in future – as has been done on this occasion - but are unlikely to be able to go beyond their known remonstrations against Pakistani supping with terrorists. If India were to be more venturesome militarily, it would be left to fend for itself, with none to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. In case the situation does come to the crunch, not only will terror rollback figure, foregrounding international pressures on Pakistan, but so would ‘root causes’, implying India would not be left off the hook. Since alongside military operations, strategic proactivism entails obfuscating ‘core issues’, by diversionary references to PoK and other areas of erstwhile J&K, there is an inherent contradiction between the military and diplomatic prongs of the newly minted strategy. Unfolding of its military prong would impact negatively on the diplomatic prong.
Since all this could have been easily discernible from any strategic analysis preceding the trans-LC foray, the purported aims of the operation – as external oriented – come under question. In fact, the logic of the supposedly abandoned doctrine of strategic restraint was all along precisely this: that militarily little can be done; therefore, other ways to approach the twin problems of Pakistan and Kashmir, including by meaningful conflict resolution internally and externally, need being broached. In fact the timorous manner of the operation, that allowed Pakistan to pretend that it did not occur at all, indicates that the verities of strategic restraint remain sound. In fact, the strict limitations attending the military operation, including public mention that it is not being continued further, indicates a genuflection of the military operation to strategic restraint. This reveals the supposed shift to a new doctrine of strategic proactivism is more of an information war smokescreen.
This brings one back to the question as to the aim of the operation. The aim, not being externally oriented, can only then have been directed internally: towards the public. The somewhat decisive UP elections are nigh. The strongman image of the prime minister needed refurbishing, under the persistent challenge not only from Pakistani terror provocations but also from political opponents bent on calling the bluff. This implies a military operation has been undertaken with an eye on internal politics. In the event, all parties have jumped on the jingoistic bandwagon, even those that subscribed earlier to the doctrine of strategic restraint. Internal politics appears to have trumped strategy. While this is indeed an abiding possibility in democratic states, the fact needs acknowledging. Pointing this out helps clothe up timely.
In other words, the new Pakistan-centric doctrine of strategic proactivism has its impetus less in the external strategic environment, but more so in the internal politics of this country. The driver appears to be the need for democratically establishing an unassailable dominance of the right wing political formations, prerequisite for the wider cultural nationalist project. The external aspect of this project is to emerge as the regional hegemon, by vanquishing Pakistan. But the fact that strategic proactivism cannot bypass the parameters set by the nuclear age and relative strengths on the subcontinent, suggests strategic proactivism cannot but have an ideological pedigree. The discipline of Strategic Studies informs that ideology undercuts strategic rationality.  
The problem with strategic proactivism lies in its success. The more successful it gets, the more the insecurity. For instance, the success of the recent military operation might suggest military options have efficacy. The next one might be less mindful of limitations, preventing Pakistan from playing deaf. Success could prove pyrrhic. This formed the intellectually sustainable basis of the strategic doctrine of strategic restraint. So long as strategic proactivism is yet another information war gimmick, directed not so much at Pakistan but a media-lulled electorate, it may not be particularly troubling. It would get to be so in case strategic minders in Sardar Patel Bhawan take it as seriously as its votaries in op-eds.

Monday, 3 October 2016

The army officer corps: Missing Muslims

Milligazette, 1-15 October 2016

The Army’s response to the query of the Sachar committee, investigating the socio-economic status of India’s largest minority, on the numbers of Muslims in its ranks, was intriguing. The army had responded that it does not maintain such statistics. General JJ Singh, its Chief at the time, writes in his autobiography, A Soldier’s General, that when queried by the media on the army’s withholding of the information, unlike their naval and air force counterparts, he said: ‘the system for entry into the armed forces and for enrolment is based on merit and qualifications; on the ability of an individual to perform the task assigned. We never look at things like where you come from, the language you speak, or the religion you believe in ... Therefore we consider it important that all Indians get a fair chance of joining the armed forces.’[2]
This appeared questionable on two counts. One is that there are ethnic reservations in the army, since its infantry – the largest arm - still maintains a regimental structure. Secondly, the army certainly knows the religious affiliation of its members since in war conditions it needs to know whether to bury or cremate martyrs. Perhaps it has not aggregated the data religion-wise as apparently there is no call to do so: it being an all-volunteer army. However, even this is also hard to believe since bureaucracies – and the Army Headquarters is reputed to be no less awesome as any other – thrive on statistics.
Such caginess can only give rise to suspicion that it knows it has something to hide. I had in a previous article on this issue in this publication[3] had brought out that the figure is so abysmal as to be somewhat embarrassing if revealed officially in public. A figure dating to mid-last decade had it that there were some 30000 army men, of which most – presumably more than half were in about 25 infantry battalions with Muslim representation, some of which were of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI). Thus, J&K with a merely five million Muslims offered up a larger proportion of Muslims in the army as compared to India’s other Muslim communities comprising some 34 times Kashmiri numbers. This contrasts starkly with the proportion of Muslim population in the country which the 2011 census puts short of 14 per cent.
Of the officer corps, Muslims reportedly comprised 2-3 per cent. Since the army is not parting with the figures, some unilateral spade work was required. My father, who was once Commandant of the Indian Military Academy (IMA), receives a complimentary copy of the twice-yearly IMA journal. The journal lists the names of the passing out course Gentlemen Cadets. In my previous article, I arrived at a figure of 2-3 per cent by counting Muslim names amongst the list of GCs passing out of the IMA. I counted about 45 Muslim names from lists of five passing out courses at the turn of the decade. Discounting the foreign GCs being trained at IMA from friendly foreign countries, about 40 Muslim GCs got commissioned in two-and-half years from IMA. About 600 officers get commissioned from IMA every year. Since officer commissions are also from the Officer Training Academy, while the absolute figure would go up, it is unlikely that the relative presence of Muslim officers increases by much. It can thus be said that about two per cent of army officers are Muslim.
A recent perusal by me of the latest journal – IMA’s Spring Term 2016 edition, led to ascertaining that the figure has remained static in the four years since. The figure from the current IMA journal is that of the 469 GCs of the 137 Regular and 120 Technical Graduates courses commissioned on 12 December 2015, 9 were Muslims, making a percentage of 1.9 per cent. Evidently, half-decade on, nothing has changed.
These figures by themselves do not spell discrimination. The figure for Muslims completing graduation is about six per cent, below that of Scheduled Castes advantaged by reservations. Consequently, they are unable to compete for a position at the IMA and OTA, the eligibility requirement of which is a bachelors’ degree. Muslim graduates, in particular from South India, are finding avenues elsewhere such as in the Gulf and therefore are not quite headed for Dehra-Dun, Chennai and Gaya, the pre-commission training establishments. Finally, there are no Muslim ‘martial races’, Indian ethnic groups that continue to be privileged over others by the quota for the regiments bearing their name. Muslim ethnic groups that were so privileged in the pre-Partition era have ended up in Pakistan. So, Muslim numbers being down in the army is easy to explain. But, the question is: should the numbers – revealing as they are - be explained away?
When I joined the NDA in the early eighties, I was one of six Muslims in my course of some 300 cadets. Little appears to have changed since, though the socio-economic indices of Muslims have registered a growth since and there is reportedly an appreciable and growing Muslim proportion in the middle classes. Clearly, looking towards the government may not be wise. The UPA-I heard out the army chief on the Justice Sachar’s inquiry without comment. By no means could Sachar’s team have turned in a recommendation of positive discrimination in Muslim favour in the military. At best it would have put forward a practical agenda on how to increase the numbers, without affecting the principles of secularism, professionalism and apolitical held by the army. The army certainly lost an opportunity to critically reflect on the larger implication of the absence of Muslims in its ranks. By not admitting to the numbers, the army denies itself an opportunity to take the measures to burnish its credentials as an equal opportunity employer.
The under representation of Muslims in the police and central police forces was remarked on in aftermath of the Sachar Committee findings and steps taken since have led to an increase in Muslims in these organisations to six per cent. This increase does not owe to positive discrimination - which is neither possible nor recommended – but to other measures that can only be taken once a problem is acknowledged to exist.
Simple measures can do the trick. One significant intake into the officer corps is from Sainik Schools and military schools across the country. In my five years at a reputed military school, I was one among three other Muslims of about 225 cadets. I later was horrified to find from a list of about 3000 cadets that had passed out of the school since Independence till early this decade, only about 30 were Muslims. A higher number of Muslim cadets in these schools will lead to a higher number of Muslim candidates for the National Defence Academy (NDA). Since these schools are under state governments, the states must increase advertising of entrance exams in Muslim areas and upping the numbers of examination centers in such areas.
Successful candidates are usually products of coaching centers. This explains the higher numbers of army officers from Uttarkhand, UP and Haryana, making up at a rough estimate over a third of army officers. Setting up such coaching centers through community initiative in Muslim concentrations - such as in Jamia Nagar, Azamgarh, Murshidabad, Srinagar, Goalpara, Kottayam etc - can result in increasing candidate numbers and their competence levels. Members of Parliament from Muslim populated areas and Muslim MPs can take the lead on this.
Since Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jamia Hamdard and Jamia Millia Islamia organise successful coaching for the administrative services entrance exam, they could use the same model for upping the armed forces’ Muslim intake too. With the current focus, the community manages to put in 30 odd candidates into the central services yearly with an intake of about 800; of which about 2-3 per cent make it to the glamourous trio – IAS, IFA and IPS. This figure can be improved on by increasing the tally in the armed forces UPSC merit lists since these are taken out twice yearly.
Both levels of entry - one to the NDA and other services academies and the second targeting the UPSC’s combined services exam for graduate entry – can be targeted. The AMU initiative of starting schools with a public school ethos in Muslim majority areas, can server to send Muslim youth to NDA. Also, women candidates need to be encouraged since Muslim girls are apparently doing better at schools than boys. The likes of Sophia Qureshi, who commanded a training component in a multi-country military exercise, and Waheedah Prizm, the first Kashmiri naval officer, are inspiring, but cannot compensate for concerted community action aimed at increasing women officer candidate numbers. This might require a cultural change, but with avenues in the armed forces opening up, the change can be reinforced by such measures.
Measures ‘targeting them young’ will also serve to alleviating quality. A further perusal of IMA journal reveals that, Muslims are absent from achievers. Amongst the GC appointments of the passing out course, there was only one Muslim, and a relatively modest Cadet Sergeant Major at that. None figured in the list of end-of-term prizes and sporting achievements. It appears this lack of achievement carries over into service, with not a single Muslim officer figuring in the IMA faculty. There are only four Muslim instructors below officer rank, three of whom are outside the military mainstream serving in the physical training and equitation sections. Scarce numbers and limited capability on entry can only translate into absence up the hierarchy in the future. For the first time in a quarter century, a Muslim figures among the army commanders, with Lt Gen PM Hariz taking over Southern Command recently.
For the army, the gains from increasing Muslims in its ranks and that of its officers would be in dispelling stereotypes of the minority amongst its officers and prospective officers. Training alongside Muslims would negate negative images they may carry over from society, which has been increasingly exposed to Islam-sceptical narratives over the past two decades. This could have useful operational spin-off in case of military operations in areas of minority concentrations such as in Kashmir and in conventional war within Pakistan. The JAK LI, which has a reasonable proportion of Muslims from J&K, has acquitted itself well in counter insurgency operations in J&K owing to its feeling of ethnic affinity and the intelligence inflow that this enables, besides ‘winning hearts and minds’.
That said, the onus for increasing Muslim officer intake is not that of the army. However, the army can help with taking measures such as targeting Muslim areas with its recruiting publicity and setting up exam centers in such areas. To make such initiatives palatable, this can be done in conjunction with similarly targeting other thinly-represented ethnic communities, such as from the North East and South India.
For the nation, the gains imply a better endowed minority and it’s mainstreaming. The benefits for the community are in terms of heightened socio-economic indices and increased national participation. Quite clearly then, the onus of change is on the Muslim community – or the several Muslim communities across India. They must offer up their youth – both young men and women - for military service and enable their facing the competition on entry.  

[2] JJ Singh, A Soldier’s General, New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2012.
[3] Ali Ahmed, ‘The Army: Missing Muslim India’, Mainstream, Vol L No 27, June 23, 2012, available at, accessed 17 July 2016.