Thursday, 28 February 2019

India and Pakistan must de-escalate the current crisis

At the end of three rounds in the current crisis, it would appear that the two sides, India and Pakistan, are about even. While in round one, on February 14, a Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri terrorist of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) detonated a car bomb killing over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel at Pulwama, in Kashmir, in round two the Government of India said that 12 Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage 2000 jets killing “a very large number” of JeM terrorists at a camp in Balakot, in Pakistan, on February 26.

On February 27, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) targeted military installations in the Rajouri sector, dropping bombs randomly when challenged and chased away by the IAF. In the dogfight, both sides lost a plane each, with the Pakistanis capturing an IAF pilot.

The Indian military actions on February 26 and the Pakistani counter on February 27 received widespread appreciation in respective countries. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in a televised address expressed a desire for peace through talks, reiterating his message of the previous day to ‘give peace a chance’.

This is potentially a juncture at which the two sides, both having drawn blood, can step back from the brink. Both militaries have displayed their professionalism and the public pressures stand assuaged to a degree. There are constituencies on both sides that are not averse to peace at this stage. There is little political impulse on either side to escalate.

Both sides have in their official statements kept the possibility of peace open. In the Indian statement by its foreign secretary, India reminded Pakistan of its obligation under the Islamabad joint declaration, implicitly signalling that the joint statement of January 2004 between Vajpayee and Musharraf could serve as a possible start point.

Pakistan for its part offered to investigate the Pulwama terror attack but not without receipt of proof from India. At the time of writing, its deputy high commissioner had been summoned by the Indian foreign ministry and handed over the dossier on JeM. India could hold Pakistan to its word, buying time for de-escalation to kick-in. The process of return of the captured pilot through Red Cross channels can reduce the current tension.

As for the option of maintaining the level of hostilities at its current level, neither state may prefer this. Both sides have employed air power, universally regarded as escalatory, and have incurred losses. Escalation would remain inherent if continued at this level. Besides, the consequences of ‘friction’ — the concept that has it that even the simplest activity is rendered difficult in war — would increase tensions; witness the crash of a helicopter at a Budgam airfield in Kashmir unrelated to the aerial skirmish south of the Pir Panjal.

There is a lower level of action available along the Line of Control. Both have upped the temperatures there, which they can persist with to keep their martial ardour ventilated, even as they step off the higher threshold of hostilities.

De-escalation can be found appealing only if the escalation ladder is seen as sufficiently daunting and the probability of ascent high. Khan in his address alluded to imponderables of war making escalation control problematic. This is true in his case since decision-making in Pakistan is with the military. In India’s case, it bears considering if escalation, though feasible in light of Indian conventional advantages, is desirable.

Strategically, the prompt Pakistani counter — stemming from the Pakistan Army holding the national security cards — is a message on its readiness to match step with India. India, the stronger power, would require to up-the-ante to subdue Pakistan, which can only be by resort to conventional power. Even if the nuclear level is discounted, the contest would be tough, could prove a long haul and will have an unpredictable escalation dynamic, which could later bring the nuclear dimension to the table.

Politically, India is at the cusp of national elections. It can do without being buffeted and distracted by terrorist action. Since there is no immediacy for sterner action, India can await the formation of a new government and revert, with a fresh democratic mandate behind it, to any long-term harsh measures or take up the talks offer of Pakistan.

Besides, the opposition parties in a meeting on February 27 disapproved of the ruling party seemingly cornering credit for the military’s professional showing.

Finally, the side that takes any further step militarily is likely to lose international support since there is consensus globally on both sides stepping back. Internal political fissures imply lowering of hostilities threshold is necessary.

Of the two options — hardline or talks — the hardline option of compelling Pakistan to wrap up the JeM is the more difficult one. India can settle for deterrence, based on default retaliation for higher order terrorist strikes, which is now the new line in the sand drawn by surgical strikes and the aerial strike.

As for talks, India is not averse to talks to end terrorism. A gear shift to hold Pakistan to its word in Islamabad of January 2004 to discontinue terror requires de-escalation as next step.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Understanding India's land warfare doctrine

The Indian Army’s latest iteration of its doctrine, Land Warfare Doctrine (2018), had a soft launch on December 14th of last year, being placed on the army’s website with merely a link provided on the news page—and without a release event presided over by its normally loquacious chief. As a result, even vigilant defense watchers missed it, only to catch up about a week later.

The surreptitious nature of the document’s placement was enhanced by the lack of mention of the document during the discourse on the four studies ordered by the army chief the previous month. There had also been no reference to the document by the army leadership, including in the run up to the Army Day when the chief customarily dilates on the significant milestones crossed and up ahead. Further, the mention of the doctrine was removed from the media release webpages and the document moved to a nondescript corner of the knowledge pages of the army website in early February. This begs the question why.

This article argues that the army had reasons for its reticence. While its views on the contents of the LWD have been known for about a decade now, this is the first time these ideas have been officially documented. Since the views have been controversial and lacking consensus both vertically (with its civilian overseers) and horizontally (with sister services), it appears that the Indian Army has indulged in a unilateral exercise of agenda setting. Through the LWD, the army attempted to preempt the strategic review being undertaken at the governmental level and privilege its own operational preferences over the priorities of all the services.

Being upfront on the LWD

From a surface-level analysis, there appears little reason for the army to have played coy over the document. The Indian Army could have argued that the doctrine aligns with broader jointness efforts in the Armed Forces, as a service doctrine is a reasonable and logical corollary to the joint doctrine. The second edition of the Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF), released in April 2017, was intended to underpin service-specific strategies. Taking cue, the Land Warfare Doctrine has on its cover the requirement that it needs to be read in conjunction with the JDIAF.

Additionally, the army could argue that it has in fact been transparent. The army chief had at the outset of his tenure acknowledged the existence of the Cold Start Doctrine and had indicated he would operationalize so-called Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs). The Cold Start Doctrine, introduced in the Indian Army Doctrine (2004), envisages a quick launch of multiple limited offensives by Integrated Battle Groups into Pakistani territory. He had let on last year that the army’s Perspective Planning Directorate had been put to producing its doctrine.

Placing the doctrine in context

Despite these possible rationalizations, the doctrine runs afoul of democratic civil-military relations. In India, grand strategy is a civilian function, and not one appropriated by the army as attempted in this document. The contents of the doctrine suggest that the army has gone beyond its remit.

One of these problematic tenets is the two-front war thesis, a concept the army has championed for a decade now. The concept of a two-front war against India’s two primary adversaries, Pakistan and China, first found mention at a closed door conference at theendof 2009 inthe review of the army’sfirst attempt at doctrine-making, the2004 Indian Army Doctrine (IAD). The LWD refers to this as a “multi-front environment” involving an external collusive threat from Pakistan and China coupled with a hybrid (defined in the LWD as, ‘a blend of conventional and unconventional, with the focus increasingly shifting to multi domain Warfare varying from non-contact to contact warfare’) and state-sponsored proxy war.

The doctrine has gone further than envisaging a two-front war. Whereas the LWD calls for deterrence by denial against China based on multi-tiered defenses and strike forces suitably poised, it wishes to enhance deterrence by punishment against Pakistan by launching swift offensives to take out Pakistan’s center of gravity—its military—and secure “spatial gains” in the event of war. It is uncertain how this expansive aim can be achieved by limited war aims. Against a collusive threat, it argues for a “strategic defensive balance” on the secondary front, while the primary front is being dealt with. Without explicitly mentioning it, it appears to designate the western front at the primary front. Arguably, this is the domain of wartime strategy if and when a two-front war scenario comes to a pass, and not one of doctrine.

In bringing out the document, the army has preempted the expected output of the Defense Planning Committee (DPC). The DPC is a high-powered committee set up last April under the National Security Adviser with a mandate to produce an overarching strategic review document. Rumor has it that the strategic review is to be released soon. Since the JDIAF has no mention of a requirement to prepare for a two-front war, the army ought to wait for the government’s cue through its strategic review, rather than attempting to preempt its content or publicly influence its perspectives bottom-up.

Further, the attempt to influence the DPC’s strategic review publicly is contrary to the best practices in democratic civil-military relations. The JDIAF accords precedence to a national security strategy over the doctrine of the armed forces, which is itself then followed by service-specific doctrines. By pitching its contents at a higher-than service level, the LWD risks trespassing on the turf of its two superior doctrines.

Escalatory possibilities of LWD

The LWD does little to contribute to jointness efforts across the armed services. The JDIAF had focused on jointness, which it defined as the creation of synergy across services in order to enhance operational success, optimize costs, and maximize readiness. In the past, the Indian military has not taken measures to improve or achieve jointness due to inter-service debates over the relative importance of the army, navy, and air force in confronting India’s threat landscape. The army chief had sounded the bugle early on in his tenure, asserting the primacy of land operations in the conduct of war and its outcome.

The articulation of the Cold Start Doctrine in the IAD along with the army’s intent to operationalize IBGs after test-bed exercises this summer have once again propelled land operations to the forefront of India’s preparations for warfighting. This will, however, have implications for India’s ability to prevail in its expansionist war aims, particularly in a situation of constrained defense budgets.

The only way to deliver a body blow to Pakistan’s military would be with the support of the Indian Air Force (IAF), which means that the IAF needs to be on-board—of which there is no evidence. Recall here that one of the criticisms of the 2004 IAD was that it did not have the backing of the IAF. Since the army brass has itself not expanded on the LWD in any detail at all since its release, there has been no comment from the air force also on its implications for airpower. The IAF, similarly handicapped by a reduced defense budget, would be loath to be diverted from its preference for a strategic role for air power in war. Therefore, it is uncertain as to the extent the air force reservations faced by CSD have been sorted out in the LWD. It is unclear to what extent the JDIAF has managed to put the three sister services on the same page to be confident that the LWD has the IAF’s concurrence.

The doctrine does not dwell on conflict termination besides tritely observing that politico-military objectives will be met when the war ends, whereas the overarching JDIAF had focused more on conflict termination. The crucial question that remains unanswered in the LWD is how in a nuclear environment escalation can be avoided if the intent is the destruction of the adversary’s military strength.


Absent a national security strategy paper and a Chief of Defense Staff equivalent appointment, such as the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, who can serve as the conductor of a joint inter-service preparation and prosecution of war, the Indian Army has in bringing out a service-specific doctrine chosen to bell the cat. In doing so, it has tread on prospective contents of a national security strategy without elaborating on war limitation in the nuclear context of the next war.

The next government would do well to put out a strategic review early in its tenure so as to provide the three services a starting point when it comes to doctrine-making. The strategic review should also dilate on the nuclear level, so as to give the downstream doctrines—joint and service-specific—the guidelines on including a section on limitations in objectives and methods in future iterations of doctrine. Having a doctrine deal only with sub-conventional and conventional levels, as the LWD limits itself to, amounts to denial that South Asia is in the nuclear age.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Options before India to respond to the Pulwama terror attack

By now war-rooms hurriedly set up in television studios have familiarized all and sundry with India’s response options to the Pulwama terror attack in which more than two score central reserve police force troopers lost their lives.

Talking heads, while whipping up nationalist hysteria, have intoned that the nation is baying for blood. More sober strategic dons have delicately reminded the government that it must survey the risks before taking the plunge. Ruling party honchos from the Prime Minister downwards have taken to the election trail appropriating political mileage out of the nation’s sorrow over Pulwama.

The military for its part has displayed its capability in an air power demonstration in Pokhran. The army has within 100 hours of the terror attack taken out the Jaish minders of the suicide bomber. The corps commander in Srinagar, emulating the army chief, has warned Kashmiri youth that any one picking up the gun would be killed.

In Kashmir, there have been mass arrests of those liable to create pro-Pakistan trouble and additional central armed police forces have been deployed, some by air, for population control when India’s punitive operation against Pakistan, promised by the Prime Minister, unfolds.

The Prime Minister has delegated power to the military to deliver India’s answer to Pulwama. That the otherwise loquacious Army chief has been rather quiet, provides a clue that there is some military action in the offing.

The Pakistani military is also on the alert, as announced by its spokesperson. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned that his country would not hold back.

This has implications for Indian planning and preparation. India would require preparing for a Pakistani counter alongside its punitive operation. Commonsense suggests the less escalatory a punitive operation option the better.

Mature commentators have rightly pointed out that the decision on the choice between options is not the military’s to take. Given that each option would have an escalation quotient, it is a political decision as to the risk the nation would run to deliver a punitive blow to Pakistan.

The political decision makers would require taking into account the expected gains against the risk taken. The Prime Minister in a recent interview rightly acknowledged that mere reruns of surgical strikes are unlikely to get Pakistan to tack. He said that it would be sometime before Pakistan is brought around. This sets the frame for the decision on the gains-risk balance.

While accepting that the military has the professionalism to execute the operation, it needs to have the political decision maker’s imprimatur for the same. It would not do to have the operation signed off at the level of the national security adviser. The operation was authorized by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) at its meeting in the forenoon of the following day of the terror attack. Therefore it is the CCS that needs to give the go-ahead.

The Prime Minister’s empowering the military to respond amounts to passing on the buck. The military are merely to dutifully present the choices, express preferences between these, highlights escalatory possibilities of each and executes the choice made by the political masters.

This choice has been made problematic by the timing of the Pulwama attack. It allows the ruling party to take political advantage of the nationalist fervour provoked. The ruling party has painted itself into a corner by the hype and cannot now climb down. It knows the opposition will take advantage of any slip up in choice or execution. Facing elections, Modi would be hard put to accept responsibility for the military action going awry.

Thus, the impending punitive operation is driven by internal political considerations rather than objective strategic factors. The only silver lining is that the possibility of the military operation going wrong and impacting his reelection chances may stay Modi’s hand.

The question then is how is India to get off the high horse without losing face and the ruling party losing ground to the opposition that will no doubt call out its loud posturing thus far. This time round, there appear to be fewer logs floating past for the two sides to clamber onto and out of a crisis. There has been no substantial peace messaging from Pakistan using the conduit of the visiting Saudi crown prince. The United States not having been forthcoming in calling for restraint and intervening with its good offices as in past crises. There is a call for restraint from the UN Secretary General.

The diplomatic prong of strategy is in gear and can provide a face saving exit. The UN Security Council has called out the Jaish by name in its resolution and asked all states – in a tacit reference to Pakistan and China – to cooperate with India.

The financial action task force meeting in Paris has maintained Pakistan in the gray zone and is to revisit its case in October. France is taking up the case of blacklisting of the Jaish supremo Masood Azhar at the UN sanctions committee. India’s rescinding of the Most Favoured Nation status has kicked in. India can use these measures and internal measures taken such as pressuring the Hurriyet by removal of security cover from its members as proactive actions taken.

To satisfy his supporters wanting military action and take the wind out of the opposition’s sail, Modi can claim that military operations at the time and place of own choosing do not necessarily entail conducting them before elections. He can argue that he would be the right person to give the go ahead for these when he is reelected. In the interim, the activation of the Line of Control can serve as substitute.

This will be a useful change of tack for the government. It would preserve Modi’s reelection chances by not having these predicated on military success – an iffy proposition at the best of times. It would give the military time to prepare. It would enable surprise when Pakistanis switch off their alert status. It would preserve the region from inadvertent catastrophe. It would allow time for crisis dissolution for now.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Consequences for India’s minority of the gathering war clouds after Pulwama

The army’s new land warfare doctrine, put out in December last year, has it that a gray zone obtains where a state-sponsored proxy war is incident. While Kashmir is not mentioned as such, it is unmistakable that to the army it lies athwart a gray zone. From this gray zone emerged a gift horse for Prime Minister Modi. Surveying the election scene mid-month, Modi would likely have been nervous. Now he stands much more self-assured. He has been handed a potential election wining factor by the lone wolf from Pulwama.

PM Modi, and his political Man Friday, Amit Shah, have wasted no time looking the gift horse in the mouth. They are milking the aftermath to draw ahead of the competition. The leading opposition party, the Congress, initially wary of criticizing the government has only belatedly got into gear. This gave the ruling party some lead time to draw ahead and back in the lead by promising military delivered retribution. Meanwhile, mobs supposedly impelled by nationalism hit the streets, looking for Kashmiris to beat in many places, such as Dehra Dun and Jammu.

The sorry episode of hunting of Kashmiris by mobs that required the Supreme Court to step in and tell off nine states that they must uphold their constitutional duty by protecting Kashmiris in other parts of India has much of significance for India’s largest minority, its Muslims. This time it is Kashmirs, next time it is us, the larger constituency of readers of this publication. And our time need not necessarily be some time in Modi’s next term. It could well be now.

Modi has got onto a horse, he would be unable to dismount any time soon. He has ordered the army to swing into action in retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack. The army is presumably planning and preparing. The visit of the Saudi crown prince and Modi’s visit to South Korea have given it time. It would likely have come up with options by now and may have taken a sign off from the Modi-Doval combine on the punitive strike.

This strike may not be long in coming since there is a reasonable limit to the time lapse between suffering a terror blow and retaliation. As the United States was quick to point out, India has the right to retaliate, but the right to retaliate is limited in international law by the principles of proportionality and discrimination. While the army has been allowed to retaliate at a time and place of its own choosing, so that it is most effective and suffers least casualties, there cannot be too much of a delay between the provocation and the reprisal. The reprisal cannot be indefinitely delayed but must bear some co-relation with the initial provocation.

Currently, the Pakistani army is on alert. Its air force has flown combat air patrols. The villages along the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have been alerted to possible hostilities. The hospitals as far away as Baluchistan have been warned to keep beds for use by the military in case of casualties. This alert implies that in the immediate term there is little possibility of catching the Pakistanis by surprise as was the case during the surgical strikes two years back.

The longer India waits to get a counter punch in, the closer it gets to elections. While this will give the Modi-Shah duo more time to milk the situation of its election-related worth, it would also complicate the run up to the elections. The opposition will remind the ruling party of its rhetoric and point to its inability to follow through. It cannot be put beyond Modi to put back the elections in case he thinks the verdict is still iffy for him. He can use the impending operations as excuse.

Conducting operations sooner than later, prior to the elections, has a downside. As mentioned, the Pakistanis can hold up their guard longer. The operations are liable to meet with opposition. This could result in a costly operation, if not a reverse. It can be expected that Modi’s expertise in perception management, duly aided by national security supremo, Doval, can have the usual game of smoke and mirrors obscure the reality. India can come away the winner, whatever the ground reality. This would of course be contested by the Pakistanis, no spring chickens at spinning a yarn themselves.

Even so, there is no guarantee the government’s narrative of the outcome of the military showdown between the two armies would go India’s way and that India’s slip would not show. This implies that there is a possibility of escalation to what one Modi minister calls an ‘aar paar’ conflict. To ensure a victory of sorts, Modi may require upping the ante. In short, body bags can be expected to come home.

This is when the threat for attacks on minorities would tend to go up. Dehra Dun, for instance, witnessed the bodies of two of its sons come home in quick succession, one of which was in relation to operations connected with the Pulwama terror attack aftermath. This led to orchestration by the right-wing of nationalist sentiment to spike up the threat to Kashmiris studying in Dehra Dun, a well-regarded educational hub. Kashmiri youth are studying across India, including in Dehra Dun, mostly under centrally-sponsored schemes designed as much to respond to unsettled conditions in Kashmir – by sending them outside for study - as to prevent alienation in youth there from – by exposing them to India’s soft power.

What happened in Dehra Dun can be expected to be witnessed across India. Given the possibility of a bloody nose, the right-wing would also need to take out its invective and angst. The internal ‘Other’ – India’s Muslims – are readily available, particularly as they are ubiquitous, vulnerable and have in the popular construct already been identified with Pakistan – allegedly cheering for Pakistan during cricket matches. Thus, turning to vent their frustration and cow the rest of the majority and voting public, Muslims could form a useful outlet. The intensity of anti-minority mob violence will tend to increase as the Modi-Doval spiel on the outcome of the military contest unravels as facts inevitably seep through the information war blanket.

This is the good part. There is no limit to escalation since the threat of nuclear war cannot be discounted or underestimated how much ever the national security establishment prefers to sweep it under the carpet. They wish to do so in order to deny Pakistan a deterrence card. It also enables the establishment to undertake a punitive operation by ridiculing the notion that advent of nuclear weapons in such conflict is a far-fetched notion. Nevertheless, a thought to the outcome of such escalation in terms of early warning and consequence management is warranted.

Consider the prospect of escalation. It could occur on both counts, an alert Pakistani army setting back an Indian operation or an Indian operation drawing blood. In the former case, the Indians might be compelled to escalate, since for a bigger power to end up in a draw with the weaker one, it is to lose. The latter case is when the Pakistanis over-react to an Indian success; invest heavily in their counter, and in doing so provoke an Indian cold-start level conventional operation. The Pakistanis have time and again warned that should this happen, they may resort to their nuclear weapons. India is promised to ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation in such eventuality and the current thinking is that it may jettison its No-First-Use and take out Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in a damage limitation nuclear strike with first strike equivalent of megatonnage.

Whatever the level of nuclear exchange - lower order or higher order – there would be hell to pay for India’s minority, even if Pakistan comes out worse and India is spared the worst. It would provoke a backlash to rival Partition. The election backdrop will disappear and the multiple pogroms can acquire a historical mark of their own. There is no indication that the state is envisaging such possibilities as it hurtles along the nuclear path worshipping the false god, deterrence. The state institutions are too suspect to be relied on to follow their rajdharma in such a case.

Even if they were so capable, the Modi era has hollowed them out thoroughly. Recall, Modi was more bothered of the backlash received by the train Vande Bharat express he flagged off – and which promptly hit a snag – than the Kashmiris hounded across India by his supporters. His showing in the Gujarat carnage can only serve to warn of a nationwide repeat in case of a nuclear exchange, irrespective of whether India comes out on top.

The upshot of this consideration of national security matters with implications for minority security is that adverse India-Pakistan equations are not in the good health of India’s Muslims. Such adversarial relations are useful only for the right-wing. This is best evidenced by their attempt to profit in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack. Their sway over power compels the national security establishment also to fall in line. The upshot is a hardline against Pakistan and in Kashmir, one that can go tragically wrong – as seen here - for the country and its largest minority. The antidote is the good health of the relations between the two South Asian neighbours. This can be only through boarding out the right-wing by mid this year, lest some other terror attack later bring the house down on Indian Muslims.

Friday, 22 February 2019

The Indian Army’s second iteration of its doctrine, “Land Warfare Doctrine—2018,” was released in mid-December in the form of a link placed on the news pages of its website (Indian Army 2018). The army has also not shared hard copies of the 13-page document. Such a low-profile release does not do justice to the content of the land warfare doctrine (LWD) document, which deals with significant matters of national interest (Ahmed 2019). Indeed, the soft copy of the document placed on the army’s website in a rather non-descript manner gives no publication details, indicating a rather purposeful approach to keep the document from public scrutiny.

Perhaps, the army has learnt the wrong lessons from its release of the earlier version of its doctrine, “Indian Army Doctrine” (ARTRAC 2004), which not only attracted considerable attention but also substantial criticism. However, the advantage of the transparency that attended the release of the 2004 doctrine, dubbed Cold Start doctrine (CSD), was in the vigorous discussion it generated on the issues of linkage between the subconventional, conventional, and nuclear levels of war (Ladwig 2008). The low-profile release of the second iteration of its doctrine may help the army avoid criticism, but this is at the cost of keeping the significant matters it raises from the benefit of an informed discussion. As it happened in the wake of the CSD release, discussion of the doctrine is useful in terms of enabling feedback for the army on its doctrine and enhancing doctrinal thinking and strategic culture in general (Ladwig and Narang 2017).

One reason for the army’s reticence is perhaps its foreknowledge of the controversial content of the document. Given this, there is greater need to place the content in the public eye. This article first discusses the significant issues covered in the document, and thereafter considers the document in its implications for civil–military relations.

The aspect of particular interest is the army’s putting down in an official document its long-standing view on the collusive two-front threat (Gurung 2018)—the document terms this “multi-front” (Indian Army 2018: 1)—and its view on how this needs to be met. What this spells for civil–military relations is that the “two-front” threat thesis, which has not persuaded the government enough thus far to act accordingly—such as through reflecting the heightened threat in the defence budgets—has been included in the document. This amounts to unilateral agenda-setting and bottom-up dictation on the strategy to tackle it.

This doctrinal articulation of the army may have informal endorsement of its civilian masters; else it is difficult to see how the army can pre-empt the national security strategy review, which procedurally ought to be preceding military doctrines. The national security strategy review, reportedly nearing completion by the National Security Advisor (NSA)-headed newfangled Defence Planning Committee (DPC) (Kartha 2019), has not been released yet. While the placing of the LWD in the open domain suggested a bucking of civil–military relations by the army, the absence of reference to it over the last two months by the military brass itself indicates prudence finally prevailed.

Examining the LWD

The document carries forward two long-known aspects of the army’s doctrinal thinking: CSD and two-front threat. On the CSD, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has been upfront, acknowledging the doctrine with finality early in his tenure (Unnithan 2017). Ever in the public eye, he had in an earlier media interaction given out the army’s intent to follow up on the joint doctrine, “Joint Doctrine: Indian Armed Forces,” released in April 2017 (IDS 2017), by updating its 2004 document (Peri 2017). Recently, the army has been emphasising the creation of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), the bedrock of CSD, in order to operationalise the doctrine. This is the first and most significant of the four high-level studies approved at the last army commanders’ conference (Sen 2018). The IBGs are to be tested in exercises this summer. On the restructuring to follow, the army would presumably be able to prosecute the CSD and defuse the criticism the CSD has received.

The two-front threat has been around since the army’s last closed-door doctrinal review in late 2009 (Ahmed 2010). The review—that in the event did not result in the release of an updated doctrine—was to shift the focus of the army from the western front to China. It rationalised the raising of two defensive divisions in the east and called for the creation of a mountain strike corps. However, the latter was only conceded reluctantly by the previous government and somewhat late in its tenure (Dutta 2018). The current government has also dragged its feet, apparently for financial reasons, resulting in the raising of a mountain strike corps of questionable efficacy and that reportedly was cannibalising the army’s reserves (Economic Times 2018). Given this, the LWD rightly leans towards a posture of defensive deterrence on the Line of Actual Control, based on multi-tiered defensive operations relying on suitable repositioning of reserves and posturing by acclimatised strike formations. In the circumstance of a two-front war, the LWD suggests—without an explicit mention—that the Chinese front be the secondary one, while the western front would be the primary front.

This brings one back to the western front, suggesting an inability of the army transcending Pakistan as its national security fixation. The LWD brings to fore the concept of hybrid war and the attendant “grey zone.” The army chief has been a keen votary of viewing current day conflict as manifestation of hybrid war (Hindustan Times 2018), defined in the LWD as “a blend of conventional and unconventional, with the focus increasingly shifting to multi-domain Warfare varying from non-contact to contact warfare” (Indian Army 2018: 2). Hybrid war according to the LWD is conducted in a “grey zone” (Indian army 2018: 6) involving non-contact domains, such as cyberspace, and plausible deniability by use of proxy fighters.

To the army, the grey zone obtains in Kashmir due to sponsored proxy war and transborder terror incidents. Though the document does not explicitly make a mention of the areas where such proxy war is incident, it can safely be inferred to be Kashmir (Indian Army 2018: 1–2). A resulting conventional conflict could also have hybrid war characteristics, for which the LWD calls on the army to keep its paramilitary—the Rashtriya Rifles and the Assam Rifles—handy once the IBGs have achieved the conflict’s politico-military objectives centred on destruction of Pakistan’s centre of gravity—presumably its military’s strategic reserves—and spatial grab. The IBGs are to create conditions for exploitation, implying flexibility for continuing operations into enemy innards. The LWD’s requirement that IBGs be able to prosecute operations in a nuclear-contaminated environment is the only reference to the nuclear factor. This, despite the IBG’s action—if as described in the LWD—being likely to trigger Pakistani nuclear first use. On this count, the LWD does little to boost confidence that the army is cognisant of the nuclear factor.

Critique of the LWD

The absence of reference to the nuclear factor replicates the error of the Joint Doctrine. Both doctrines assiduously separate the conventional level from the nuclear level, believing that the nuclear level relating to strategic deterrence will be managed by their civilian masters in conflict. The LWD appears to assume that nuclear deterrence would work and, in the case of deterrence failure, the army would rely on its ability for “fighting dirty” under conditions of a nuclear battlefield. This leaves the doctrinal space on the nuclear level to the civilian masters. The army needs to think through in greater detail the nuclear environment its operations may well trigger, and the manner of conduct of the resulting operations in a nuclear environment. These need to be included in a future LWD that would also reflect on the currently absent discussion on the nuclear level.

Continuing operations would likely have an escalatory effect. If in the Indian scheme the nuclear dimension is kept confidential, it nevertheless needs engaging with the conventional–nuclear interface and find written expression for doctrinal guidance. Doctrinal thinking, both at the conventional level and nuclear level, deals only with the opening phases of war and introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict, respectively. There is a need for doctrinal thinking to also engage with what happens after: How are war aims affected in a war gone nuclear? How do conventional operations impact escalation? How can de-escalation be brought about? And, how is conflict termination made feasible? The doctrines mostly dwell on how to get into conflict, but much less on the arguably more important part: how to exit a conflict. A holistic nuclear doctrine would require expansion from its current-day focus on deterrence and employment of nuclear weapons in conflict, to include conflict containment, de-escalation, and termination. Any conventional-level implications need inclusion in a comprehensive LWD. Else, what is there to distinguish an LWD written in the nuclear age?

It is not known as to whether any thinking on the conventional–nuclear interface has been done internally. This has perhaps been done by the army’s civilian masters, explaining India’s reluctance for military resort in face of considerable provocation, such as the Parliament terror attack and the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks (Lamont 2013). This restraint is likely continuing. Consider Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parameters for the surgical strikes. He had required that the troops involved return without casualty irrespective of whether their strikes are successful or otherwise (NDTV 2019a). In case of any future consideration of the military options, there is little in the LWD that would make the political head favour a military option.

The good news is that this implies continuing of strategic restraint. Nevertheless, as explained in a recent book on the Line of Control (LoC), which brought out escalatory possibilities, “autonomous military factors” stemming from institutional culture and the conflict environment on the LoC could in a period of media-fanned nationalism eventuate in an outbreak of conventional conflict (Jacob 2019: 171–254).

Civil–Military Relations

The LWD’s persistence in denial of the nuclear factor is attributable less as a shortcoming to the army, but more so to national security minders. Absent the promised national security strategic guidance till the fag end of this government, that prides itself on being more mindful of national security than its predecessors, the army has little choice but to reiterate what the military can best do. It is apparent that the DPC has not quite filled in the shoes of the chief of defence staff equivalent position that continues to be vacant, even though the three services have put aside their differences and written to the government asking for the Naresh Chandra Committee recommendation that a permanent chairperson for the chiefs of staff committee be created (Peri 2018). What this suggests is that there is little difference in terms of national security management distinguishing this government, a point necessary to bring out in light of the great lengths it goes to building just such an image through perception management, including through relatively “innocuous” practices such as the recent hit film, Uri, that shows the character of the NSA assaying a warlord role.

The government is apparently continuing—if reluctantly—with India’s long-standing policy of strategic restraint, but is unable to own up to this owing to a cultivated image for the opposite. The Prime Minister dashing off to Wuhan to mend fences with the Chinese after the 73-day Doklam stand-off between the two militaries, and the declining defence budgets of late are suggestive of this. By this yardstick, the LWD appears in consonance with the government’s restrained posture on China in calling for a defensive posture on that front. On the contrary, on the Pakistan front, the government has take a relatively hard line. The LWD reflects this hard line. By including the militancy in Kashmir into the grey zone of hybrid warfare and outlining the manner CSD is to be operationalised as a possible circumstance-dictated response, it makes the conventional response option enticing for the government.

An enlightened speculation needs hazarding here. The LWD’s seeming alignment with the government’s view—mellow on China and tough on Pakistan—makes it appear as a conduit for the government’s placing of its preferred strategic doctrine in the open domain; a case of the national security establishment firing from the army’s shoulders. In so far as the “collusive” threat—described as the “greatest danger”—figuring in the LWD, the government can afford to overlook it as a small price to pay since the threat is unlikely to materialise. This reticence on the strategic review, which allows greater doctrinal space to the military, amounts to shirking on part of the government. Even if the government at the fag end of its tenure puts together the national security review, it would only reduce the important exercise to yet another election gimmick.

Escalatory possibilities, apprehended here, imply that the government needs to include conflict resolution strategies in addressing areas of contention with neighbours and in internal security matters. Its strategies must not remain limited to mere conflict management and hedging against escalation through confidence building, lest in crisis the confidence in the military instrument and its choice as the instrument of response is shown up as lacking in judgment. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s electoral bugle call that the back of terrorism will be broken (Tribune 2019), would leave India with little option but to follow through with military action when confronted with provocation such as in the recent terror attack with a car-laden improvised explosive device in Pulwama in Kashmir (NDTV 2019b). The LWD does not provide the necessary confidence that we can have non-escalatory options in such cases. The next government must dig India out of the hole it has got into by putting out a strategic review that is cognisant of the nuclear dimension that can provide a worthwhile starting point for military doctrine-making, both joint and service specific.


ARTRAC (2004): “Indian Army Doctrine,” Headquarters Army Training Command, Shimla,

Ahmed, Ali (2010): “Ongoing Revision of Indian Army Doctrine,” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 6 January,

— (2019): “The Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine,” Kashmir Times, 9 February,

Dutta, Sujan (2018): “Indian Army Puts Mountain Strike Corps Aimed at China in Cold Storage,” Print, 12 July,

Economic Times (2018): “Parliamentary Panel Raps Defence Ministry over Raising of Mountain Strike Corps,” 11 July,

Gurung, Shaurya (2018): “India Must Be Prepared for Two-front War: Army Chief General BipinRawat,” Economic Times, 12 July,

Hindustan Times (2018): “Pakistan Using Hybrid Warfare against India: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat,” 29 November,

IDS (2017): “Joint Doctrine Indian Armed Forces,” Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence,

Indian Army (2018): “Land Warfare Doctrine– 2018,”

Jacob, Happymon (2019): Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India–Pakistan Escalation Dynamics, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kartha, Tara (2019): “Budget 2019 Allocations for Defence Are Disappointing, Govt Needs to Focus on Reforms and Restructuring within Army,” Firstpost, 3 February,

Lamont, Ben (2013): “Revisiting India’s Restraint in Response to Mumbai,” Belfer Center, 4 December,

Ladwig, Walter C (2008): “A Cold Start to Hot Wars? The Indian Army’s New Limited War Doctrine,” International Security, Vol 32, No 3, Winter, pp 158–90.

Ladwig, Walter C and Vipin Narang (2017): “Taking ‘Cold Start’ Out of the Freezer?” Hindu, 11 January,

NDTV (2019a): “PM Narendra Modi’s Interview to ANI: Full Transcript,” 2 January,

— (2019b): “40 CRPF Men Killed In Worst Terror Attack On Forces In Kashmir, India Condemns Pakistan,” 15 February,

Peri, Dinakar (2017): “Army’s Supremacy to Be Maintained: Army Chief Bipin Rawat,” Hindu, 6 September,

— (2018): “Forces Agree on Permanent Chair,” Hindu, 3 December,

Sen, Sudhi (2018): “Integrated Battle Groups Now a Reality as Indian Army Braces for Sweeping Changes in Combat Strategy,” Hindustan Times, 14 October,

Tribune (2019): “PM: Will Break Back of Terrorism in Kashmir,” 3 February,

Unnithan, Sandeep (2017): “We Will Cross Again,” India Today, 7 January,

Why There Has Been No Military Response on Pulwama So Far

It is curious that the Army which has had an ‘Incident Day’ scenario predicating most of its exercises ever since the Parliament terror attack did not execute its contingency operations in wake of the Pulwama car bombing.

The Army has earmarked forces on standby at a few hours notice both in Kashmir and on long-duration training along the border.

The idea is that a speedy reprisal can catch the adversary off guard, even if Pakistan – having engineered the terror strike – had cautioned its troops in anticipation. The best time was the night after the incident by when the fatalities figure was known and was of a justifiably high level for punitive retaliation. That the troops so earmarked have not been used indicates that national security establishment did not sign off on the contingency operation.

Instead, the Cabinet Committee on Security met the following day and the Prime Minister subsequently announced delegation to the military of a befitting reply at a place and time of its choosing. The military appears to be currently preparing for the same.

It is presumably held up in delivering a response not only by heightened levels of Pakistani alertness and ongoing snow fall and levels of snow in the upper reaches of the Line of Control, but also by the fortuitous presence of an eminent Saudi visitor, its controversial Crown Prince, successively in both countries.

The hiatus has been profitably put to use by the ruling party for appropriating the nationalist upsurge for its political ends.

The opposition is hobbled for the moment from the necessity to be showing the adversary a common front. As a result, while the ruling party’s prospects at the oncoming national elections were under cloud only a week back, it has been handed a windfall courtesy the lone wolf from Pulwama.

A lengthening of the hiatus between the terror provocation and the punitive reprisal can be expected for the dividend it is lending the ruling party. If and since electoral calculus seems to be informing decision making on the punitive operation, it is unlikely to happen.

This explains the Prime Minister putting distance between himself – the political master entrusted as decision maker – and the decision on the punitive operation, declaring that he has delegated the decision to the military by enabling them full freedom.

Though the public abdication of responsibility has rightly been called out by a university don with a stint in the national security system and a former military adviser in the system, commentary - including from the last northern army commander - has it that the military be left alone to implement its marching orders.

Giving the army a ‘free hand’ serves to justify the distance between the decision makers – whose political future should instead be on the block – and failure.

The operation can prove challenging twice-over – one in execution owing to want of surprise and the other in the escalation it provokes.

The ruling party that wishes a ticker tape parade, should also be prepared to hold the can in such of the operation going awry. Since this eventuality could exact a political price, only sound and fury can be afforded around a military retribution.

As for the costs of not doing anything militarily after all the rhetoric, there is the diplomatic option unfolding to provide recourse. The withdrawal of the most favoured nation tag not proving sufficient, India has prevailed on France to take up the blacklisting of the Jaish supremo and the talks at the financial action task force on terror are to resume in Paris soon.

There is also a Saudi initiative on the cards that can provide a face-saving opportunity to step down. Incidentally, the Crown Prince is proceeding onto China from India, whereupon the two friends of Pakistan may take a joint view on providing their friend – and India – a de-escalation window. Interest of the United Nations, petitioned by Pakistan in its letter to the Secretary General, can provide a loophole to wiggle out of a commitment trap.

Finally, inaction could also be laid at the military’s door as was done in previous cases succeeding the parliament attack and 26/11 when selective leaks showed up the military as unready. Alternatively, in a win-win situation, Modi can join the ranks of Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh for a sagacious decision on continuing restraint.

The good part of the ruling party’s privileging the veto of its electoral strategy over the announced military counter to the Pulwama attack is that it lends itself to military restraint. On this, he is in sync with sober strategists but not for reasons they adduce – such as the threat of nuclear escalation - leave alone can fathom.

Strategic rationality is not what informs this regime’s thinking but compulsions of longevity in office justified by the higher purpose of firming in Hindutva.

The episode having been used to draw ahead of the opposition that was threatening to catch up, the gains cannot be allowed to go up in smoke in case of a military operation ending up as an exchange of bloody noses between the two sides.

The interests of cultural nationalism require perpetuation in power of the regime. To place the onus on the shoulders of the military brass is a risk the cultural nationalist enterprise cannot take. However, the threat of an impending operation will be milked for sometime longer, with looming elections providing a setting to step down.

The renewed fissures with Pakistan will provide a fitting setting for Modi to resume his reign post elections. It is then he can make his bid to join Indira Gandhi in history as a warlord. Having emulated her in most characteristics such as authoritarian decision making, presiding over a proto-emergency, centralization of power in the prime minister’s office etc., he may yet bid for bridging the gap. Only he will postpone this till after elections, reason enough to ensure he falls short of this ambition.

Monday, 18 February 2019


Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated that the military has been given a free hand in implementing the government's decision for punitive retaliation against the terror attack in which 44 central reserve police bravehearts were killed in Pulwama last week. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security in the morning following the explosion by a car laden improvised explosive device set off by a Kashmiri terrorist.

The parameters of the retaliation are not known. Testimony of the brass then has it that strategic guidelines that ought to accompany such orders have not been given by the political masters earlier in the case of the Kargil War and Operation Parakram in response to the parliament terror attack. This time round, with the National Security Council system entering into its third decade, it can be expected that the military has received its parameters as part of its marching orders.

That the military has not as yet acted on the orders suggests that it is a work in progress and the preparatory phase is underway. Learning lessons from 26/11, the military has over the past decade kept battle ready forces, albeit small, for just this eventuality. It is apparent that these forces have not been employed. It can be inferred that the military is readying for a higher order operation.

The punitive operation itself may be more measured, but the uncertainty attending its success and of Pakistani response would entail the military making wider preparations, not only to conduct the operation but to deal with the aftermath. The onus of escalation will be on Pakistan and it may resort to actions requiring an Indian counter. Pakistan is currently prepared for both reaction and response, no doubt registering the prime minister's words. The Indian military is therefore taking the necessary precautions.

The current hiatus gives the advantage of setting the diplomatic stage. The foreign ministry has been busy apprising their global interlocutors of Indian compulsions and Pakistani complicity. It enables the international community to also chip in and get Pakistan to reverse its policy. The military preparations make for urgency in this, besides strengthening the hands of diplomats.

The diplomats have already made headway, with the United States accepting India's right of self defence informing any proportionate military action it contemplates. It also gives Pakistan's other close partner, Saudi Arabia, an opportunity to rein it in, with the visiting Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), prevailing on Pakistan to shift away from its terror-friendly neighbourhood policies.

Minimally, the visit can provide Pakistan cover to step back by taking sustainable measures to the satisfaction of India against the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the architects of the Pulwama attack, and defuse the crisis. India can follow up with MBS during his Indian next stop over on details of Pakistani compliance. In such a case, diplomacy would continue at the global level to have the JeM head, Masood Azhar, put on the United Nation's terror list.

With diplomacy given a chance, India would have set the stage for a military strike, which it could launch at 'a time and place of own choosing' depending on where surprise and deception give it best dividends. There are limits to surprise since both armies have had opportunity in earlier crises to observe the other's moves.
As to time limits to any such strike, it would depend on readiness of both sides. Pakistani readiness levels tend to heighten as the preparatory phase rolls out. However, Indian forces may be hard put to maintain readiness levels to outlast the Pakistanis.

Besides the political reason of polls in the offing, the punitive strikes would likely be sooner than later. The 'surgical strikes' provide a clue as to when military operations may be launched. While the Uri terror attack was in mid September 2016, the counter went in later that month. This enabled India to prepare the ground at the United Nation's General Assembly session that took place in the interim.

While last time the Pakistanis seem to have stood down their guard, this time round they will likely hold it up for longer. Intelligence reports indicating that Pakistan did not vacate some 50 of 60 posts it usually vacates during winter indicates that they appear to have anticipated the situation. Its military cannot for a second time allow an Indian operation to go unchallenged.

This implies that the contemplated military operation would be liable to escalation, not only by a Pakistani counter but also in India pressing the accelerator either to get out of a jam or to come out on top. The Indian preparations would be catering for this, including a stealthy occupation of defences across the international border by core teams and possibly a graduated mobilization as the operation unfolds. Needless to say, Pakistan will match step.

The strategic directions referred to at the beginning of the article require to essentially deal with such escalatory possibilities. There is no indication so far that the political masters have given their mind on this to the military. In fact, what is available from the media compels one to apprehend the opposite.

The prime minister has said that the military has been delegated the responsibility to conduct the strikes. A credible strategic pundit has rightly pointed out that this amounts to abdicating its responsibility. The prime minister's announcement twice over that a military operation is imminent appears to have put the onus on the military, enabling the political master to distance himself from any adverse fallout of the operations.

In the case of the surgical strikes too, though Prime Minister Modi in an interview claimed responsibility, the parameters he alluded to alongside do not lend confidence that the political head is fully aware of what military operations entail as fallout. He said that he had required troops participating to head back from the operation irrespective of its success or otherwise without incurring casualties by day-break. These are unrealistic parameters for military operations. In the event, it is no wonder Pakistan denied the surgical strikes ever took place.

As outlined here, there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. The political master needs to be put on notice timely that the head on the block is his in case of the counter getting out of hand. The buck cannot be passed on to the military, even if it manages to do a professional job of it and rescues the political master from such fate.

In a democratic set up the political aims are to be indicated by the political leadership, along with any strictures. A joint civilian-military cogitation then ensues under the leadership of the national security advisor and the outcome - strategic and military objectives - vetted and approved by the political leadership in another sitting of the CCS. This may be underway and the ownership of the military operations may be taken up by the political leadership at some stage here on.

The extent to which the political leadership is willing to countenance escalation must be made known to the military. The manner in which the right wing has orchestrated nationalist hysteria since the attack needs no spelling out. This can only come back to boomerang on the political leadership when and if faced with military set back. Impending elections will make the likely impact on elections of the decisions taken as the overriding factor and not what is best in the interests of national security.

The doyen of strategists, the Prussian Carl von Clausewitz had said that the first consideration in contemplating entering into military conflict is to have no illusions over what military perpetrated violence entails. Military conflict is two sided. In South Asia, there is no missing the nuclear overhang.

Therefore, Prime Minister Modi needs reminding that he has his task cut out, even though hopefully such common sense has been communicated to him by his national security adviser. That the Pulwama incident happened at all suggests that this cannot be left to the national security establishment. It failed to deter Pakistan, though it upped the military ante in Kashmir over the past four years without a complementary peace track. It can fail yet again as it moves from deterrence to compellence. It needs reminding timely of Clausewitz's first principle recounted here, so that it does not fail the nation yet again.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Army's land warfare doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The land warfare doctrine: The army's or that of its Chief?

The Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD) was put out in the public domain rather quietly in mid-December. The non-descript manner of introduction of a significant output of the army was markedly different from the release in 2004 of its predecessor document, Indian Army Doctrine (IAD), that had been preceded by briefings to the media and was released as a book by the Army Training Command. The first version of the document was also brought out in a book format by ARTRAC in 1998, Indian Army – Fundamentals, Concepts, Doctrine. Curiously, this time round the army has settled for a release of the document only in soft copy and without any front matter, explanatory preface and introductory foreword.

There was no mention of it at the last army commanders’ conference, though the media carried details of the four high-level studies that were discussed at the conference. In 2004, on the other hand, the army commanders had discussed the doctrine in their spring meeting and the document was put out later at their meeting in autumn. Also, equally surprisingly, there has been no reference to the document either by the usually talkative Chief or any army commanders. What this points to is that the document likely did not command a consensus within the army.

This dissonance is easy to explain by going through the document. It has within it three favourite hobby horses of the Army Chief. The first is admittedly not his alone, but one inherited by chiefs since the turn of the decade. This is regarding ‘two front’ war. The second on the gray zone of hybrid war is the Chief’s contribution to management of the Kashmir conflict, one he presumably felt entitled to make since his elevation as chief was predicated on his supposed expertise in the subject having spent his last three command tenures involved in it. The third also goes back a long way to the 2004 IAD, that had spelt out the so-called Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) without putting a name to it.

The first controversial aspect, the ‘two front’ thesis, is referred to as ‘multiple fronts’ in the document, presumably to include the ‘half front’ that is the Chief’s personal contribution to doctrinal development as part of his hyping of hybrid war. Indelicately put, the half-front is apparently the potential front open to manipulation by the two adversaries, Pakistan and China, inside India: its Muslims (particularly Kashmiri) and Maoists respectively. On the back of a growing economy sometime in mid 2000s and increased interest of the United States in helping India get to great power status, the army sought to switch its focus from its western foe by measuring itself against a more respectable – size-wise – foe, China. There was also a lull on the western front owing to the peace process kicking in around then. The China threat was therefore timely, which if not for real was one that would have had to be conjured up.

26/11 brought the Pakistan threat back into the equation, making for the ‘two front’ threat thesis. Though officially adopted in end 2009, it did not lead to a tweaking of the IAD then, since it apparently did not carry the day with the national security establishment. That two successive governments have not bit into the army thesis is evident from the key take-away from the army’s closed door seminar of end 2009, the mountain strike corps, not receiving the kind of support the army has hoped for.

It can be inferred from the reiteration of the thesis in this document that this lack continues. By no means does this imply that the thesis lacks traction, but currently from a grand strategic perspective it would be untimely to name the collusive foes or create a self-fulfilling prophesy by doing to till the growing economy furnishes the means to take on both over time. This bit of good sense appears lost on the army that instead wishes to use the heightened threat to fight back the marked decline in defence budgets over the past two years. While for the ruling party it is to keep China placated till it gets another term soon, for the army it is to justify its share of the pie. In short, this is a temporary disconnect between the army and its civilian masters, while the thesis amounts to common sense within the army.

The second is the hybrid war hoopla. This is important to flag since it is evident that it is subscribed to by the national security establishment, so much so that the speech writer of the prime minister at his rally south of the Pir Panjals had the prime minister mouth bombast such as ‘We will break the back of terrorism with all our might’ or words to that effect. Rebuke from national security watchers was not long in coming with a senior commentator pointing out that terrorism and militancy are not quite the same.

Unfortunately, the hybrid war thesis in the words of the LWD has it that what is happening in Kashmir is a sponsored proxy war and trans-border terrorism. Such a reading leaves little scope for a peace process, notwithstanding the presence of the representative of the Union government for a year and half now and the recent appointment of a former bureaucrat, with experience at the Kashmir desk in the home ministry, as an advisor to the governor.

This is a self-serving interpretation of the problem since it leaves only the military template operational in Kashmir. It cannot be missed that this serves the interest of the army chief since it allows him scope to display his expertise in his final year as chief. Though not against the institutional interest of the army in terms of keeping it in the national eye – if through the recent hit, Uri - it is uncertain if it commands a consensus since the indefinite engagement it spells cannot but keep the army tethered to the twentieth century.

Finally, the LWD seeks to operationalise the CSD, one that the Chief was the first to acknowledge as the army’s doctrine, even though his predecessors had demurred from doing so as it neither had support of the ministry nor of sister services. There is no certainty that it has the missing backing now. This also impacts the ongoing cadre review of the officers at flag rank. The internal disagreement perhaps owes to IBG operationalising finding its way into the document, preempting the spring exercises at which the concept is to be tested.

In a way, the LWD appears to have jumped the gun and could be updated later in the year, which begs the question why was it not held back till then. Maybe the Chief was in a hurry to get it out for gaining a sense of ownership. It is almost certain that should there be a change in government, he is liable to have his wings clipped and will likely be serving out the balance of his tenure rather tightlipped.

All told, the LWD appears a self-centered exercise, put out the army’s perspective planning directorate and containing its Chief’s pet projects rather than as a document that has undergone the test of due diligence and due process – yet another piece of evidence on the manner of handling national security at the five year mark of this government.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Book review

Happymon Jacob, Line on Fire: Ceasefire violations and India-Pakistan escalation dynamics, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Happymon Jacob, an associate professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, is no stranger to the strategic community. He acquired a higher profile over the past couple of years through his column on strategic affairs in The Hindu and anchoring an interview-based program with The Wire. In his writings, he has capitalized on his engagement over the past decade with the Track II processes between India and Pakistan, having participated in the Chaophraya and Ottawa dialogues. He heads the independent research initiative to monitor ceasefire violations, the Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor. For the lay reader, this background places Jacob as a useful source to turn to for understanding the current impasse in Indo-Pakistan relations in the term of the present government, best illustrated by the reactivation of the Line of Control (LC).

Over the book’s 400 pages, Jacob makes the case that the tension along the Line of Control has potential to spiral into conflict, one that can go nuclear. He contests the prevalent opinion that ceasefire violations (CFVs) – the localized exchanges of ordnance along the LC - are manageable and are perhaps a useful vent. He believes this complacency is unmindful of what he calls ‘autonomous military factor’ (AMF), tendencies towards escalation arising from the institutional life of the military and in military culture. He believes that the media-fanned nationalism in society may tie down the political decision maker’s hands in case CFVs are aggravated by egregious violence. Forced to the up the ante in response – in a variant of the surgical strikes – the two sides may be faced with prospects best described figuratively as an escalation ladder or a slippery slope.

Some three decades into the heightened face-off between the two sides, readers are familiar with what could occur should the precarious situation deteriorate. The escalated exchanges on the LC could trigger India’s Cold Start doctrine, its military’s intention to launch proactive offensives at the conventional level in case of subconventional provocation by Pakistan. A plausible and much discussed scenario has it that these offensives could in turn cross the proverbial trip wires, leading to Pakistani nuclear first use. What might follow is conjectural, but India promises ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation to nuclear strike on it or its troops anywhere. Such retaliation might wipe Pakistan off the map and in its aftermath reduce South Asia to an environmental wasteland.

It is important that this horrific image be conjured up here to show up the dangers from the unwillingness of both sides to wrap up their seventy year old problem and, at a minimum, implement the plethora of already agreed confidence building measures on the LC. For starters, Jacob’s recommendation is that the understanding on the ceasefire on the LC dating to November 2003 be reduced to a written document for mutual implementation in letter and spirit.

Jacob is particularly interesting in his revealing chapter on AMFs, aptly titled ‘Military gamesmanship and moral ascendancy’. While these are generally known within the army, his book serves the purpose of wider dissemination. He includes ‘fun and gamesmanship’, ‘emotional state’, ‘personality traits of commanders’ and ‘revenge firing and ‘honour killings’’ in AMFs, to name a few. Amongst other reasons, such ground level impetus results in decapitations etc. He records the baleful effect such occurrence has on public perceptions on the villainy of the other side and the disruption in efforts to mend fences. His expectation is that knowledge of the internal workings of the two militaries and the resulting dynamics on the LC can lead to mitigatory action on this key escalatory variable.

He brings out a little known feature of the common border, that there are no mutual ground rules. The last inconclusive meeting on this issue of the border ground rules committee was in 1987. The two sides agreed at their third round of the expert level dialogue on conventional confidence building measures in 2006 to wrap up an agreement. Little has changed since on paper, while on ground the border guarding forces are exchanging mortar fire along the border (referred to as working boundary by Pakistan) in southern Jammu and Kashmir. What this tells of is the shirking of responsibility of the concerned bureaucracies and the lack of political oversight on both sides at the unacceptable cost of a reasonable working environment for the border guards and a modern repertoire of professional engagement between the two sides.

The release of Jacob’s book drew attention to the aspect of surgical strikes. Surgical strikes of late September 2016 have been kept in the public view by the ruling party attempting to gain electorally from its showing on national security, using the strikes as illustration. Jacob not only brings out that there was nothing original about these. In fact, his revelations on the aptly named operation, Operation Kabaddi, suggest that a previous government early this century had a much more ambitious trans LC operation up its sleeve, one it was forced to abort by the impact of 9/11 on the region. The surgical strikes of 2016 were different in that the previous trans-border forays were limited in scope to a single locale. Surgical strikes were instead executed over a wider front, at some eight separate locations. According to Jacob’s sources who include the army commander at the time and a tactical level commander charged with executing a portion of the operation, Operation Kabaddi was instead the planned capture of some 25 Pakistani posts.

What this suggests is that the military has a limited border war as an option. It’s the military’s job to present options for the political master to make a choice. Since the exercise of such an option is unlikely to remain unchallenged by Pakistan, it has potential so spill over onto the plains with the attendant dangers in the scenario mentioned earlier. This ought to energise readers and instigate them in their capacity as voters to exercise their power over the political class to, firstly, keep military options at bay, and, secondly, and more importantly, resolve differences that can lead up to conflict. What has been happening instead is that political formations are manipulating the nationalist instinct among people to keep from taking up the problems – border and territorial - to the logical end of conflict resolution. As a result, India has over 5000 km of unsettled borders with two of its significant neighbours. Lest it slip the mind, both happen to be nuclear armed. Under the cover of nuclear deterrence, rather than indulge in protracted conflict management, India would do well to meaningfully settle the hold over issues from last century.

Jacob’s cautionary book is timely. It expands on his earlier monograph on the issue at the United States Institute of Peace. He must be complimented for taking the painstaking research forward and, without institutional and financial assistance, running a civil society watch dog on CFVs. To the extent his initiative has found support on both sides, enabling his travel to both sides of the LC for a first-hand account, there appears to be silver lining. Through his travelogue that can be taken as an accompaniment to this book, The Line of Control: Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies, the practitioners on the two sides appear to be sending a signal to citizens – the principals - to influence their agents – politicians – to set right the conditions that can lead up to our region going awry in short order.