Saturday, 30 March 2019

My tenth book - Ebook

South Asia at a strategic crossroad


Ali Ahmed

Book X – eBook compilation of writings on

October 2017-March 2019

For those who speak truth to power


The themes in this book compilation remain the same as in my earlier nine books, specifically, India-Pakistan strategic equations, nuclear and conventional doctrine, counter insurgency, Kashmir, military sociology and minority security. I have remained engaged with the major issues in national and regional security in South Asia over the year and half over which I wrote these commentaries. The book thus provides a source under one cover for appraising and understanding the ideas and events that have swirled in the cup of strategic affairs. It is particularly pertinent as it has been put together prior to the 2019 national elections in India, enabling voters to reprise the recent past and make up their minds as to whether they feel secure and are convinced that their country’s security is in safe hands.

The undercurrent in the pieces collated here is that national security has suffered under the the regime subscribing to cultural nationalism. Its view of security through ideological blinkers has endangered India and imperiled the region. This was brought to a head in the India-Pakistan crisis of February 2019. While a set of articles dating to the period present this case, the commentaries in the run up over the preceding year appear to predict the oncoming crisis in their coverage of the dangerous – if not reckless – manner national security in India has been run under its current minders.

The election mindedness of the ruling dispensation, with a view to further the cultural nationalist project on a reset of India along right wing lines, has been the over-riding factor and has quite naturally influenced strategic thinking and action. I record in these essays that this influence has been baleful at best. Strategic vacuity has been on full display for anyone caring to look and not be swayed by the compliant media and majoritarian extremists in the strategic community.

I remain indebted to my editors who have courageously accepted my contributions for publication. This has been despite the environment being one of intimidation, where dissidence and sedition are mistaken as synonyms. My insights – if any – on these pages only build on the back of observations and work of straight talking liberal thinkers and activists, who have stood up in difficult times to be counted and spoken truth to power. I believe their effort has firmly contained the right wing lurch of India, but there is much still to be done to reverse the tide of political and strategic toxicity. The book hopes to make a difference.

The book’s 72 commetaries are divided into 4 parts. The Strategy pages cover the issues arising in India-Pakistan relations, developments in Kashmir, internal security under assault by cultural nationalists and politico-military strategy. The Nuclear pages comprise articles on nuclear doctrine. The Military pages are devoted to the army that figured more often than usual in the headlines in the period owing to the visibility of its chief in the media. Finally, I cover the issue of security of India’s Muslim minority in the last part.


The Strategy pages

· Post poll national security options
· The National Security Agenda for the Next Government

· Can Shah Faesal bring the winds of political change to Kashmir?

· What is the difference between 'defensive offence' and 'offensive defence'?
Lessons learnt from the Balakot strike

· Balakot: Divining India’s strategy from its messaging
Where does the needle point?

· Pulwama: The counter attack

· India and Pakistan must de-escalate the current crisis

· Understanding India's land warfare doctrine

· Options before India to respond to the Pulwama terror attack

· Putting the army’s land warfare doctrine in the dock
· Why There Has Been No Military Response on Pulwama So Far

· Reminding The Political Class Of Clausewitz's First Injunction
· The Army's land warfare doctrine

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

· Operation Kabaddi Revealed But Only Partially

· What do the echoes of Operation Kabaddi really say

· Kashmir: More of the hammer in the coming year

· Kashmir: Need for a peace process

· Kashmir: Towards peace with dignity

· Governor, 'root causes' matter

· Why the events in J&K are not good for democracy in the state
· Divide and kill

· Ajit Doval's platter: Centralisation with a purpose

· Making security a voter consideration
· India-Pakistan and the tussle of escalation dominance

· India-Pakistan: How dangerous are the waters?

· India-Pakistan: Ideology trumps strategy

· India on the brink

· Kashmir: When politics contaminates strategy

· India's spooks: Getting too big for their boots?

· Another disastrous idea from the Modi-Doval stable

· Decoding the Logic Behind the Shelving of India’s Mountain Strike Corps
· The army's two impulses in Kashmir: Human rights Doctrine and departures

· Human Rights: All so unfortunately ho-hum

· To fail Kashmir is to fail India
· Kashmir Peace Initiative: Depriving Pakistan Army Of A Lifeline

· What normalising the Sangh means for national security

· India’s military: Preparing for war in the nuclear age

· The Doval Scorecard
· India's internal security unravels

· A police wallah as proto Chief of Defence Staff

· War in 2018?

· Spiking possibilities: What is the army chief up to?

The nuclear pages

· India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Strategic Direction or Drift?

· Modi May Say Otherwise, But India Is Still Short of ‘Survivable Nuclear Deterrent’

· Modi at the Helm: Whither Nuclear Decision-making?
What nuclear weapons have done to us

· Are India’s nuclear weapons in safe hands?

The military pages

· Contextualising the army chief’s news making

· Selectivity in military justice

· Command responsibility in relation to good faith

· Opening up the cantonments: Army in the cross hairs of the right

· The army chief as regime spokeman?

· The Hindutva project and India's military

· Budget let down further strains army-government relations

· A revolt of the generals?

· A political army or an apolitical one?

· Dissension in the top brass?

· The General is at it again

· The Army: Introspection is warranted
The Chief has spoken; but is the Chief listening?

The Muslim minority pages

· Nailing the lies in name of national security

· Consequences for India’s minority of the gathering war clouds after Pulwama
· George Fernandes keeps his date with Gujarat carnage martyrs

· The minority security problematic

· Finally, the IS bogey laid to rest

· PM Modi's version of Rajdharma

· The army’s robustness in aid to civil authority: Lessons from the Gujarat Carnage

· On the Strongman myth

· A national security mess

· Noting the spokesperson-minister’s remarks

· An officer and gentleman: Worthy of a Muslim's ambition

· The 'incident': Nothing but political

· Is there an Indian 'deep state'?

· The dissident terror narrative


Friday, 29 March 2019

In history, ‘chowkidar’ will forever be associated with the 2019 elections. In Prime Minister Modi’s appropriation of the term, it signifies an alert, anti-corruption watchdog, somewhat personified by none other than himself.

Though the term dates to the 2014 elections, when Modi presented himself as out to clean up the stables of United Progressive Alliance’s malfeasance, the term has expanded in its current avatar post-Balakot to depict Modi as the one to be entrusted with national security.

While different people would say differently on Modi’s claim in regard to the first version of the term , the second, recent, version of the term needs detain us longer. This owes to the electoral agenda featuring national security for the first time, distracting from more significant issues as joblessness and farmer’s plight.

To begin with, the Balakot aerial strikes, now considerably politicized, not least because of ruling party first making the claim of 300 dead. The effects of the strikes are not of much consequence. The key question instead is on the outcome of the strikes.

This is yet to play out and would be evident in the coming summer when India would be faced with holding assembly elections in Kashmir. Simultaneous elections to the parliament and assembly being ruled out on security grounds by the election commission, a decision on the assembly elections will be the first challenge facing the new government. Its choice would be dependent on the expectation of voter turnout that would likely be so bleak as to expose the underbelly of Indian democracy.

In case the Modi government is returned to power, it will be happy to postpone assembly elections indefinitely with security indices in support of its decision. Its recent political actions of banning the Jamaat and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front have set the post-national election agenda. The advantage it would seek would be in enabling the military template another summer to wrap up the insurgency.

Since the indigenous wellsprings of insurgency may dry up if another cohort of Kashmiri youth is killed in the bargain, Pakistan is unlikely to watch from the sidelines. The ceasefire violations testifying to an active Line of Control provide it cover to infiltrate terrorists and send in weapons. In short, Modi would have set up the conditions for another Pulwama-like incident.

India’s response – and the Pakistani counter – can both prove escalatory. Having exhausted the surgical strikes option after the Uri attack and forewarned of the escalation potential of aerial strikes by the Balakot-Naushera tit-for-tat exchange, Modi may settle for lobbing missiles across.

The missile threat figured in the immediate aftermath of the Pakistani aerial bombardment in Naushera, on the day following the Indian Balakot strike. Reportedly, India readied its short range missiles for launch, apparently to force Pakistan to treat its pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman in their custody, as per the Geneva Conventions and return him safely.

Pakistan, for its part, threatened to hurl back thrice the number of Indian missiles. Elsewhere, the numbers involved have been reported as 9 Indian and 13 Pakistani missiles readied for launch. While there was no indication of the intended targets on either side, these could well have been escalatory in themselves, besides the fact that missiles crossed the Radcliffe line for the first time since their advent in arsenals in the eighties.

Fortunately, President Trump’s second Singapore meeting with the North Korean dictator had aborted by then, enabling the Americans to step in with their class monitor act. In short, the step up the escalatory ladder was avoided.
The question that needs asking is whether the Indian reaction to Naushera – aborted by timely American intervention – and the inevitable Pakistani counter would not have precipitated matters that were already at a boil in the recent crisis? How could the missile strikes have secured India?

The answer is fairly self-evident. A source reported in the media has it that the Indian side was willing to up the ante into the uncertain terrain of missile exchanges merely to force the Pakistanis to treat one of its combatants in Pakistan’s custody in keeping with international humanitarian law. That Pakistan would have had no other choice but to play by the rules of the Geneva Convention since it had released the visuals of the pilot on social media and officially admitted to his capture was overlooked by Indian decision makers.

This over-solicitousness for the well being of the serviceman even when engaged in the life threatening part of his occupation is part of a pattern.

During the surgical strikes, the prime minister admitted in an interview that troops had been asked to return prior to first light irrespective of their task being successful or otherwise. A report on the air force’s aerial strike has it that the air force had similar parameters to contend with in that the planes were not to venture too far on to the other side but to launch a stand-off attack.

This caution is perhaps understandable. With elections approaching, the political decision maker perhaps did not want to hold the can for casualties. The strictures also suggest dampening of escalation possibilities – which is all for the good – but put a question mark on the chest thumping ongoing since then.

More gravely, it indicates that the prime minister and his national security minders are not aware of what military action – essentially a bloody enterprise – entails. They need acquainting with one of the insights of the doyen of military strategists, the great Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote:

Let us not hear of generals who conquer without bloodshed. If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that is a ground for paying more respect to war, but not for making the sword we wear blunter and blunter by degrees from feelings of humanity, until someone steps in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our body.”

Alternatively, it is well nigh possible that the missiles were readied not so much for securing the release of Abhinandan – as the news report has us believe – but as cover to follow up on any Pakistani counter to Balakot.

In the event, firstly, the readying of the missiles did nothing to deter the Pakistanis – if they picked up the messaging – and, secondly, India did not follow through with the launch. The missiles-to-help-free-Abhinandan story in this reading is a post-facto rationalization, meant to kill two birds with one stone: one, take credit for Pakistan’s release of Abhinandan, and, two, to explain the climb down from missile readiness to missile stowage.

This has implications for the future.

The scores of the Balakot-Naushera episode are not unambiguously in India’s favour. Pakistan by its brazen daylight attack forced a draw of sorts on a more powerful adversary. To realists, this required India to have upped-the-ante, for, not having had the last laugh, it has instead conceded the moral ascendancy to Pakistan.

If Modi returns to power, to compensate for this, he – more likely than not – will overreact to the next terror outrage. This can potentially set the region afire, as there is a nuclear button at an uncertain rung up the escalation ladder.

The second post election possibility needs examining. In case of a change in government, there is likelihood that anticipating a foreign policy shift Pakistan may hold its horses in Kashmir. This would prevent the triggering event; thereby allowing the new government to conduct the elections – even if the president’s rule is extended by another six months in Kashmir. A different direction in the Kashmir and Pakistan policy may follow.

This is a policy shift which even Narendra Modi if re-elected can equally choose to pursue. Now that he has demonstrated his strength, he could opt for the softline – of parallel though separate talks with Pakistan and Kashmir.

It is apparent that there are other ways to beget national security. Hopefully, the next government – of whichever hue – would choose the path that less imperils national and regional security.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

The National Security Agenda for the Next Government

In case the Indian voter sees through the last-gasp clutching at perception management straws by the ruling party using the Balakot aerial strike, the next government would have a full national security agenda.

The outgoing government has set the stage that enables it to pick up the pieces if returned to power, even as it has queered the pitch for the next government if of a different complexion. The latter would enable it to call the shots even as the fledgling coalition finds its feet.

A new government’s agenda would be two tiered.

One would be an immediate term retrieval of India’s twinned Pakistan and Kashmir policies from the wreckage left behind by Ajit Doval’s stewardship of national security over the past five years.

The second, spread over the duration of its tenure, would be detoxification as part of stabilizing national security institutions truncated to varying degrees by ideological influence and penetration of cultural nationalism.

To begin with the first, a roll back to India’s Pakistan and Kashmir policy would not be as difficult as the Bharatiya Janata Party may have liked it to be with its disruptive gambit. Even so Pakistan’s prime minister, finding his initial outreach rebuffed by the Modi government that was contemplating elections, maturely decided to resume the initiative after elections.

The eponymous ‘Bajwa doctrine’ that under-grids the outreach – credited to the army chief’s reported privileging of Pakistan’s doddering economy over its proxy war commitments – may get a lease of life with General Bajwa granting himself an extension come November when he superannuates.

As for Kashmir, from the back-to-back bans on the Jamaat and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, it is clear that Ajit Doval, a veteran of intelligence battles with Pakistani intelligence minders of these outfits, is living in the past and is way past his sell-by date.

India’s Kashmir policy would need immediate rescue from the return to the nineties in terms of a militarized template operational there.

While a BJP government would likely have persisted with president’s rule if re elected in order to attempt wrap up the insurgency militarily, a different coalition would have a significant decision immediately on taking power on its hands: of holding assembly elections before president’s rule expires early July.

For a BJP dispensation to postpone elections would be understandable since India is not in a position to have its democratic credentials in Kashmir exposed by an absence of voters from booths. However, a new government need not worry since, in anticipation of a change in policy, the very change at Delhi would energise mainstream parties, including the smaller and newer parties such as those of Sajjad Lone and Shah Faesal respectively, and the electorate, particularly youth.

The government would require eventually substituting the no-talks policy – under pretext of continuing terrorism - with a dual-pronged but separately-tracked talks’ process. Assured that Pakistan would not keep up its end of the 2004 Islamabad agreement under threat of Indian coercion, India - backtracking speedily from its manifestly military action at Balakot in the statement of its foreign secretary following the strikes – promised to keep up its end of the bargain: of talks in case of Pakistani restraint on export of terrorism.

A new government can keep to the commitment, sanguine that talks within Kashmir will have the beneficial effect of dampening any pull (Kashmiri disaffection) and push (Pakistan’s axe to grind) factors underlying Pakistani support of terrorism there.

The second tier reforms would assuredly be more challenging. In the intellectual space, the shift over the past three decades towards cultural nationalism and its influence on strategic culture can at best be contained.

What needs doing is to have conservative-realism reclaim its legitimate space, lost over the past five years to religious majoritarianism infected political and strategic culture.

This contextual political-level exercise would be internal to the conservative spectrum of national politics and likely fall out of an electoral defeat in which the hard-line verities of the strategic doctrine of the Modi-Doval combine are questioned.

Instigating and encouraging such retrospection needs to be done by the liberal realists in the strategic community in a counter discourse challenging the media-enabled dominance of the majoritarian ideologues. Doing so would be a necessary prerequisite to the strategic shifts by the new government.

At the institutional level, the muck is self-evident, the latest illustration being the letting-off of the Samjhauta blast perpetrators. The National Investigation Agency has long lost its integrity, victim as all other institutions to the intimate attentions of ideology purveyors in power.

Policy makers seem unmindful of the laughable implications for India’s single-track foreign policy – counter terrorism. Perhaps to them, India’s bid for a global consensus on ‘international terrorism’ (India champions the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism) precludes domestic terrorism from the purview of the definition of terrorism, enabling keeping India’s ‘good terrorists’ – its majoritarian (frankly put, Hindu) terrorists – off the radar.

The implication is that the imprint of the powerful intelligence fraternity must be diluted. It has got powerful in an imitation of its favourite bogeyman – the Inter-Services Intelligence – and to similar affect. Confidence needs to be infused in foreign service officers to hold their own in policy making.

Another – more problematic - illustration is in order. Cultural nationalist historiography has it that India was colonized a thousand years ago. No less than the prime minister adheres to this trope. The same has now penetrated the thus-far liberal and secular military. A serving colonel writing unselfconsciously in a 2017 number of the prestigious, Trishul, the intellectual output of the Defence Services Staff College, has it that India was lost to colonizers at the Battle of Tarain. It should disconcert that the editorial board did not find this amiss.

If the military has not been spared the attention of the cultural nationalists, it can well be imagined what the impact of the last five years has been on the normally spineless police and on the long-corroded steel frame, its bureaucracy. Detoxification based on a liberal-secular and modern outlook is the answer.

The plausibility of the foregoing agenda for the next government indicates the vacuity in the proposition bandied in wake of the Balakot strikes that there can be a consensus on national security with cultural nationalist narrative at its pole. The media-fanned notion is intended to place the opposition on the defensive. Instead, since the ruling party is parading its national security showing, it needs to be exposed.

The ruling party’s muddying of the Balakot aftermath by likening questions on damage assessments as undercutting the air force is to deflect a legitimate critique of its intelligence-led choice of target. The strategic purposes served need querying in contrast to the escalatory potential of the strike. Consider the counterfactual: What would have been the consequence if indeed 300 were killed at the site? This reveals that political calculus were at work behind the decision, not national security considerations.

The government needs changing for precisely the reason it thinks it needs another term. For now, the counter narrative can form the manifesto for the alternative.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Can Shah Faesal bring the winds of political change to Kashmir?

The year 2019 had an ominous start in Jammu & Kashmir under conditions of rule by Delhi with the six months period of governor’s rule transitioning into President’s Rule for the first time in 22 years on December 20. With the Election Commission of India deciding to not hold simultaneous elections to Parliament and to the assembly on security grounds, President’s Rule may well end up being extended in case the incoming government at the Centre takes its time to settle in and decide on new dates.

This extension of rule by Delhi has one bright side. It gives Shah Faesal’s newly-launched political party, Jammu and Kashmir’s People’s Movement, time to find its feet. Launched on March 17, it gets off to a flying start fielding candidates in the parliamentary elections, including possibly Shehla Rashid, the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader who shot to fame in the episode of alleged sedition in 2016. Its plunge would provide it an indication on the political winds that it could in the breather between the two elections build on or course correct.

The new political party ticks all the right boxes in its vision document, pledging to make people “politically empowered, economically prosperous, socially emancipated, ethically evolved, culturally enlightened and environmentally conscious”. It comes as a breath of fresh air in otherwise rather bleak prospects in Kashmir over the coming summer.

The jury is still out whether Delhi’s rule can be brought to a close any time soon. The last time in the early nineties it lasted six years. The bypoll in the Anantnag constituency, vacated by Mehbooba Mufti on taking over as chief minister in 2016, became the longest delayed bypoll since 1996, being postponed thrice over on security grounds in 2017. The bypoll in the Srinagar constituency held in April 2017 had a record-low seven per cent turnout. The urban local body elections in October last year witnessed a further fall, with Srinagar City recording merely two per cent polling. A low turnout in assembly elections could prove embarrassing for India and show up the hardline in Kashmir as politically vacuous.

The latest round of troubles in Kashmir, dating to the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, have registered an uptick with the Pulwama car bomb terror attack on February 14 and by security forces killing at least 18 terrorists in J&K since then. The latest incidence of the hardline is in the banning of the Jamaat-e-Islami, despite its distancing itself from terror long back.

Since the summer would be in full swing, the prospects of Pakistan-supported infiltration would be higher, as would violence indices. The recent India-Pakistan crisis may prompt Pakistan to be more proactive than it has been lately in its proxy war. All this would increase the likelihood of the next Union government — even if it is a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi — considering postponing the assembly elections. This is even thought the current position of the Union home ministry is to hold it in June before the spell of President’s Rule ends in early July.

People staying away from polls would also reflect their disaffection from the nature of democratic politics in the state. This is already seen in the insurgency being largely centred in south Kashmir where people were angered by their chosen party, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party, aligning with the Bhartiya Janata Party to form the government. The BJP pulled the rug from under the PDP in June last year.

Soon thereafter, rumours were rife that the BJP connived with Sajjad Lone — whose party had just two legislators — and potential PDP defectors to attempt to form a government. Finally, in November, the governor dissolved the assembly under circumstances in which rival claims were made through social media.

Faesal’s arrival on the scene in a political avatar after leaving the administrative service helps with alleviating this bleakness. His topping of the civil services 2010 batch served as an inspiration to Kashmiri youth back then. He hopes to repeat the same a decade on. It remains to be seen if he can live up to his slogan, ‘Ab hawa badlegi’.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

What is the difference between 'defensive offence' and 'offensive defence'?

At a lecture at Sastra University in February 2014, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval, who was then heading a New Delhi-based think tank, characterised strategic doctrine into three modes: defensive, defensive offence and offence. Elaborating on these three modes of engaging an adversary – Pakistan – he made a case for shifting from a defensive mode to defensive offence.

The defensive, which India preferred through a strategic doctrine of strategic restraint, had the limitation of lack of positive results and being status quoist. The offence on the other hand was unmindful of the nuclear threshold. This left India with the strategic doctrinal choice of ‘defensive offence’.

The offence component of defensive offence is to carry the fight to the enemy through means such as exploiting internal contradictions, international isolation, etc. It has a deterrent objective of sensitising the adversary, best illustrated by Doval’s dramatic phrasing: ‘You do one Mumbai, you lose Baluchistan.’ This, to Doval, kept out the nuclear dimension and therefore worth a gear shift for India.

Since Doval went on to be appointed the NSA in the new government soon after this speech in which he advocated the gear shift, it can be inferred that defensive offence best describes India’s strategic doctrine of today.

An illustration of its operation is in the recent India-Pakistan crisis in which India responded to the February 14 Pulwama terror attack that killed 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers with an aerial surgical strike on February 26, targeting the training facility of the perpetrators within mainland Pakistan at Balakot. That India did not militarily counter Pakistan’s aerial riposte to the Balakot strike through its air attack on military positions in Naushera sector of the Line of Control is indicative of India’s defensive/deterrent intent, but through offensive means (defensive offence).

‘Offensive defence’ is similar, though differently worded. The term has been linked to Pakistan’s strategic doctrine dating to the post-Zia period. Pakistan, known to have limited strategic depth, was loath to lose territory to Indian offensives based on India’s strike corps. It therefore adopted a doctrine of offensive defence in carrying the war preemptively to the enemy, India, taking advantage of the mobilisation differential in its favour. With an overall defensive purpose, the offensive is to force the larger foe on the back-foot at the outset by seizing the initiative.

Its doctrinal evolution, after being posed with the challenge of India’s ‘cold start’ doctrine, has reinforced its offensive defence doctrine, now named ‘comprehensive response’. It is permissive of counter-offensive ripostes and is the conventional complement to the move to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ in its nuclear doctrine.

Strategic doctrine has been conceptualised variously. In some versions, the modes of a strategic posture are: defence, deterrence, offence and compellence, with each mode having subdivisions, such as deterrence which could be of two types: defensive deterrence (deterrence by denial) and offensive deterrence (deterrence by punishment).

The choice of strategic doctrine is a prerequisite for a government as it informs its actions in preserving, creating and securing the conditions of security for the state. The strategic doctrine is usually in the form of an official national strategic review document that sets the aims and parameters for the follow-on doctrines of the instruments of state, such as joint military doctrine and service-specific doctrines.

For more on the subject, please refer to the following:

Shri Ajit Kumar Doval’s Lecture at Sastra University, February 21, 2014.

Ryan French, “Deterrence Adrift?: Mapping Conflict and Escalation in South Asia”, Strategic Studies Quarterly, 10 (1), Spring 2016, pp. 106-137.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Lessons learnt from the Balakot strike

The return of the two high commissioners to respective places of duty at the national capitals, after each having been recalled for consultation sometime after the Pulwama terror attack, has finally put a lid on the latest India-Pakistan crisis.

The dust having settled somewhat, it is an apt time to undertake initial lessons learnt.

Obscured in the din over the toll from the Balakot aerial strike is that the decision itself is strategically questionable. The decision appears to have dismissed the possibility of a Pakistani response. It was not long in coming, with the Pakistan’s vertical escalation in the Naushera sector using its air force on military targets along the Line of Control (LC).

It is obvious any Indian deterrence of such a counter proved insufficient. India did not follow up its deterrent posturing, if any. As pointed out by a distinguished army general, Lt. Gen. HS Panag, echoing an observation initially made by the noted strategic thinker, Air Cmde. Jasjit Singh, a draw with Pakistan is hardly edifying for the larger power, India. This has implications for any future crisis.

In the wake of the Balakot aerial strike, a leading Indian realist thinker had opined that India must be prepared to twist the knife once plunged. His piece was penned the day of the Balakot strike and published the very morning Pakistan turned the tables at Naushera. He appeared to anticipate a Pakistani reaction and had required India to project readiness to scale up the heat in order to deter it and in case of deterrence failure, meet it.

In the event, India missed the boat for counter retaliation that could have given it the moral ascendancy at the end of the crisis. The rather tame Indian response to Pakistan going one up on it had the benefit of putting an end to the crisis, but has a down side to it. India is liable to overcompensate at the next crisis and end up flirting with the proverbial nuclear threshold of Pakistan.

The scene for the next crisis has already been set by the Pulwama terror attack. Even if executed with a different aim, it has certainly helped with improving the chance of Narendra Modi to power. The ruling party is making full use of the opportunity for military grandstanding the Pulwama terror attack has provided Modi.

The Jaish’s terror planners based in Pakistan and the two handlers killed within a 100 hours in an encounter near the car bomb attack site at Pulwama would have been interested in knocking back any post-election mending of fences between the two neighbours.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, on taking over charge, had extended a hand. Since he was reportedly the military’s candidate in the elections he won, his reaching out to India was taken as having the endorsement of the army. One Pakistani view has it that the Pulwama attack may have been to overturn Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s reported interest in patching up with India, in order to take the Pakistani economy out of dire straits.

The possibilities were aborted when India called off the meeting between the two foreign ministers, to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, in wake of the incident in which Indian border guards were mutilated. Imran Khan for his part had said that he would resume the initiative after Indian elections. In the interim, the interaction between the two over opening up of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor served to keep hope of talks alive.

These have been decisively dashed for now. In case of Modi’s return to power, a more likely possibility was that he that he will persist with a hardline, as his campaign rhetoric suggests. In case there is a change of guard, India would require more time to get its act together before it shifts gears.

With talks in abeyance and the likelihood of a hot summer in Kashmir higher, the military instrument willy-nilly becomes a seemingly viable option to address the next crisis. India having exhausted the surgical strikes option and burnt its fingers with the aerial strikes option, could contemplate a more robust punitive operation.

It bears considering what a future crisis could look like.

The cold start doctrine provides a clue. India is operationalising the doctrine through exercises this summer. Having struck a non-military target this time round, India may be tempted to knock some sense into the Pakistani army to punish and deter it. A variant of a cold start operation, such as military attacks along the LC in the tradition of Operation Kabaddi – the trans-LC operation aborted in late 2001 on account of the impact of 9/11 that unfolded in the region at the time – could be an option.

Through its action in the Naushera round of the latest crisis, Pakistan has demonstrated that it will hit back. This may push the two sides up the ladder, especially if India executes a ground based punitive operation for which Pakistan – being army led – is better prepared. Given that India cannot afford yet another draw, it may resort to offensives by select integrated battle groups alongside in the plains sector.

While these are limited war options, it is here that the apprehensions voiced by Pakistani general and former president, Pervez Musharraf, from his retired perch in Dubai, kick in. Musharraf had it that nuclear initiation by Pakistan, even if with one nuclear device, may bring a score Indian nuclear bombs down on it. This according to Musharraf would effectively finish Pakistan. He went on to observe that in order to pre-empt this, Pakistan may have to undertake a first strike with fifty atom bombs.

This logic has figured in the nuclear discourse in India. In order to ensure Pakistan prepares for going first with nuclear weapons, India could undertake a damage limitation strike with a few dozen more bombs taking out Pakistani ability for a first strike. An Indian movement towards a nuclear capability for preemptive counter force options has been assessed recently by two nuclear watchers, Vipin Narang and Christopher Clary, in one of the world’s leading journals on international relations, International Security.

Conservatively speaking, such exchange(s) could account for some 70-100 bombs going off. Studies have it that an exchange involving the higher figure may result in two billion deaths worldwide. Two successive workshops held in Colombo, under aegis of the Stimson Center and the Regional Center for Strategic Studies on limited nuclear exchanges involving a handful of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan arrived at the conclusion that consequence management would be prohibitive. Clearly, fewer bombs and correspondingly fewer casualties do not make running the risk any more worth it.

The nuclear dimension did not figure in the recent crisis, making some believe that India has called Pakistan’s bluff. However, it was never envisaged that the nuclear factor would figure at the relatively low level blows exchanged in the crisis.

Nevertheless, Pakistan took care to point to its nuclear capability with its military spokesperson informing of a meeting of its nuclear decision making body, its national command authority, at just about the time Pakistan air force launched the aerial attack on Naushera.

This was no doubt to draw Indian attention to the nuclear overhang in order to deter Indian retaliatory action. It cannot be said that this impressed the Indians since it is not known if any action to move up the ladder was ever contemplated in first place.

The nuclear factor not having overly intruded this time, complacence may attend its consideration in the next round. In the next crisis, the Indian counter could well be of a higher order than Balakot. The possibility is heightened by the perception gaining ground that India has not appreciably gained ground over Pakistan this time. It may be tempted to be harsher next time, running the escalatory risk and its nuclear implications.

Scaremongering is necessary now to inform the war-gaming underway in the national security system. The nuclear factor may deserve more space in the consideration than some would have it under the mistaken belief that punitive operations are now replicable at will.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Publication summary

Pen name – Ali Ahmed

Books –13 (8+4 ebooks+1 unpublished)
• Book - 1
• Self published books– 4
• Edited book (co-editor) – 1
• Ebooks – 4 (self-published)
• Monographs – 2 (IDSA)
• Unpublished monograph- 1 (USI)

Book chapters –13 • Book chapters – 12 (1 forthcoming)

Peer reviewed publications –150 • EPW– 14;
• International journals (Comparative Strategy -1, South Asian Survey - 1, South Asian Journal - 1)
• National strategic and military journals (Strategic Analysis– 6)
• Military journals – 40.

Articles/commentaries/book reivews/op-eds – 445
• Web: 96 (The Diplomat, The Wire, The Citizen; Eurasia Review etc)
• - 39 ; - 37; 41; - 40;
• Book reviews – 40 (The Book Review India - 21)
• Newspaper op-eds- 78;
• Light readings –27
• Military publications miscellaneous - 60

Pen name– Firdaus Ahmed

Books self-published–3

Articles –293 • Compilations of articles published as self-published books
•; Kashmir Times;;;; India Opines; Tehelka;

Total publications -

Books – 16; Papers/chapters/commentaries/articles - 901

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Balakot: Divining India’s strategy from its messaging

Kashmir Times op ed 9 March

In April last year, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval stepped down from his minister of state level perch to take over chairpersonship of the defence planning committee, the headship of which ought to have been with the permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee or chief of defence staff-equivalent member of the brass. Since this government has no better record in national security than its predecessors – howsoever much it has tried to distance itself from its predecessor in public perception – it has not created that appointment.

One of the tasks of the defence planning committee was to conduct a strategic review, the outcome of which was to be a document on the government’s strategic doctrine. It was obvious even then that since grand strategy-making is at a higher level than defence, the defence planning committee was a misnomer. Sensing this a few months on into the year, in October, Ajit Doval reportedly displaced the cabinet secretary as head of the strategic policy group: a pillar in the national security system India gave itself late last century. The move was justified as necessary for the strategic review. The cabinet secretary, being a generalist bureaucrat, was perhaps unqualified for the task.

Earlier strategic reviews were periodically done by the national security advisory board and shared confidentially with the government. Since that body has non-official membership and is in an advisory capacity, its output did not amount to the official strategic review. In this government’s tenure, it has just a handful of members, as against its score plus membership at its inception and prime. Even then, its output was inconsequential, such as the draft nuclear strategy derided by the Vajpayee government’s busy-body in defence matters, Jaswant Singh. Perhaps this government does not need the input from official sources, since it has sufficient resources in private think tanks affiliated to Doval - conflict of interest notwithstanding - and in its ideological fountainhead based out of Nagpur.

Even so, the promised strategic review has not seen light of day. Its absence brings to fore yet another failure necessary to highlight lest the ongoing chest thumping on national security passes without contest. It is a failure with ramification since success or otherwise cannot be squared off against aims owned up to in a strategic review.

Five years into this self-confessedly national security-minded government, its strategy can only be read from its moves in national security. The latest has been the Pulwama-Balakot-Naushera episode, of which its showing in the Balakot segment is claimed as trumping the score notched up by Pakistan at Pulwama and Naushera.

Apologists, bhakts, institution-ensconced strategists and assorted experts are acclaiming Modi’s take on the Balakot decision, that it was a landmark one worth repeating, put inimitably in his words to the electorate: ‘andar ghus ke maarenge’! The decision is worth careful strategic analysis. That sobriety is not possible to undertake under studio conditions explains the acclaim.

The aerial strike on Balakot has been credited with the aim of exacting a cost on the perpetrator outfit of the car-borne terror attack at Pulwama, the Jaish e Mohammad. The messaging through choice of target in mainland Pakistan – Balakot being in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province – is that India will not allow terrorists targeting India with mega-terror attacks sanctuary anywhere in Pakistan.

Experts have it that this would require reinforcing periodically with punitive operations. No one is under any illusion that it would end the insurgency or Pakistani support. It may deter high-end terrorist strikes, but cannot rule these out. In any case, the aim is to impose costs and end impunity, with the added benefit of releasing public pressures and political point-scoring.

This is not a new idea. A former northern army commander in his book on counter insurgency had advocated punitive operations. He is credited with plugging for and planning Operation Kabaddi, an operation aborted due to the impact of 9/11 that coincidentally unfolded in the region around then. The intention is to keep counter insurgency and anti-terrorism manageable within Kashmir by deterring Pakistan from upping-the-ante, such as by resort to car bombs, mines and anti-air missiles. India does not want a crossing of its threshold of tolerance, impacting its ability to sustain indefinitely in Kashmir. An ability to be atop things enables home-front support continuing alongside and prevents calls there-from for more risky strategies. Punitive operations provided offensive - preventive and pre-emptive - options other than the usual defensive – protective, reactive and responsive – options. These options were not conflict resolution relevant – the use of force route to end conflict in Kashmir - as much as a conflict management adjunct.

The particular offensive option chosen by Modi must be taken down a notch or two lest the accompanying hype mislead that it is rather a grand decision. It is an advance on ‘surgical strikes’, which India had been conducting in any case even prior to Modi’s advent in national politics. As such, Modi’s expanded version of surgical strikes proved a failure at Pulwama; forcing him a step up the ladder. The failure was an outcome of the restrictions on the operation, testifying to Modi’s incomprehension of the military instrument and his unwillingness to take a political risk.

Even so, the Balakot strike can potentially impact high-end terrorism, such as the Pulwama terror incident, but it will not deter the Jaish. The group is already using it in its advertisement for infusing of fresh young blood into Kashmir soon. The Pakistan army is unlikely to feel overly obligated to control the group on three counts. Firstly, Pakistan is not incentivized through talks to hold back, and, secondly, the ongoing Operation All Out stands to wipe out local militants over the campaigning season unless they receive a dose of material support once infiltration routes open up. Lastly, it would not like to bear the brunt of its ‘good’ terrorists turning guns on it for seeming pusillanimity over Pakistan’s jugular vein, Kashmir.

Incidents such as the one at Uri can recur in case an incident is compounded with bad luck. At Uri, most Indian fatalities were in a fire engulfing a tent. The response was credible in wresting the initiative from three terrorists at the price of six soldiers. In short, the incident did not merit the surgical strikes. Therefore, the surgical strikes were a result of a commitment trap the government had set itself in going to town over the cross border strikes in Myanmar earlier.

What emerges is that a government with Modi at helm would be only too willing to extract political mileage, but would be wary of a political price. This explains the great lengths it has gone to distance itself from the aerial strikes. Prior to the strikes it had publicly delegated the response to the military, whereas the escalatory potential clearly merited political ownership of any decision between options. The distancing was to create a moat around itself if things went wrong in face of fog of war, friction and plain bad luck. The second is its subsequent conduct of hiding behind the military when confronted with legitimate questions; questions prompted incidentally by its haste to politically capitalize on the strike. That it is unmindful of the using the military as a pawn, needs calling out here.

The surgical strike option having been exhausted prematurely in response to the Uri terror attack and the aerial strikes having only served to set up a hot summer in Kashmir, the next step that looms involves taking on the sponsors of the Jaish, the Pakistan army. The Pakistani military in its Naushera counter-strike has broadcast that it will prefer to precipitate matters.

This suggests the vacuity in the strategic thinking that calls for India to emulate Israel – most recently voiced by a former army chief who sullied the stature of a service chief by settling to being a junior minister in charge of firefighting duties such as organizing evacuation of Indians from troubled shores abroad. He forgets Pakistan is not Gaza and Lebanon just yet. India’s strikes could push it onwards in that direction. That would place India as a frontline state as it would bring the instability that plagues West Asia and AfPak to the Indus.

What the business of a frontline state has meant for Pakistan is well known. The result for India could not be any different. In the interim, the region will find out what successive punitive operations against a nuclear armed state – presumably tottering from the strikes – could eventuate in. This is the underside of India’s strategic engagement with its partners, the latest round of which were the well-advertised ‘Dolton-Boval’ conversations after Pulwama.

It cannot be that Balakot was to compel Pakistan to go after the Jaish and its proxy instruments. The Balakot-Naushera exchange indicates Pakistan will disallow India the luxury of impunity as enjoyed by the United States (US). It is also amply clear that even the US has not quite succeeded in compellence against either state actors, Syria, Iran and Pakistan, or non-state actors as the Taliban. The next India-Pakistan episode will be the real thing. Balakot spells as much.

Strategy is to attain an aim. A continuing of insurgency – or proxy war if you will – makes for fertile ground for high-end terror. Punitive operations can keep high-end terrorism off the terror repertoire but are a risky, high-cost strategy. A strategy to roll-back the fertile ground and insure against high-end terror can only be talks-centric. A democratic change of government is the necessary - though insufficient - initial step. A written strategic doctrine must follow to inform India’s Pakistan and Kashmir strategies, currently adrift from political opportunism and institutional haemorrhaging.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Balakot segment of the recently concluded Pulwama-Balakot-Naushera episode in India-Pakistan relations is having an afterlife in the opposition political parties questioning the ruling party’s usurpation of a military feat for political ends. All they are asking is to be taken into confidence as to the damage done to the Jaish training facility at Balakot that was supposedly hit by the Indian air force on 26 February, ostensibly to preempt a terror attack in various places across India.

The toll at Balakot has varied from 300 initially to 25, the latter reportedly settled on by Ajit Doval, the national security adviser, in his briefing to the cabinet. A ruling party honcho placed it at 250 at an election rally, steaming up the political counter on where the figure came from. A ten-fold increase from Doval’s figure cannot but be politically inflated, calling out for being dubbed as a lie.

That lies have figured in the past in the ruling party’s election run up was in the campaigning in Gujarat assembly elections when no less than the prime minister appeared to suggest that his predecessor, along with some diplomats and former generals, was conspiring with the Pakistanis using a party in Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house as cover. This time lies cannot be allowed to fly.

The official figure in the foreign secretary’s verbiage – ‘a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated’ – is hardly any closer to the truth as it has emerged since. A government lying to the people for the sake of votes needs a democratic backlash.

The consequential point, however, is not on the casualty figures. The point is on the ruling party’s claim of a gutsy decision to take out the Jaish facility that was within Pakistan through an air strike. This claim needs deflating, since the ruling party – and its lapdog media and support base in right-wing formations – has gone to town with it. Their case is that Narendra Modi is a potential warlord to whom national security is best entrusted.

Firstly, the reports on the orders to the air force have it that these were considerably restricted, allowing for the targeting but not through crossing into Pakistani airspace. It was the derring-do of the air warriors who wanted to ensure success that led to their air intrusion of some miles into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir for bomb release.

In case the bombs did not find their mark, it is not on account of military incompetence, but to three reasons, none particularly useful for the ruling party’s showing on national security. First, it could be faulty coordinates provided by the intelligence agencies on the target. Second could be faulty equipment from India’s defence partner Israel, which provided the technology for the bombs to find their mark. Last, the restriction on the air force to stay on own side of the Line of Control for political reasons – so that none got shot down and impacted Modi’s reelection chances – interfered with a successful strike.

Secondly, the decision itself was rather timid. While the Pulwama terror attack attributed to the Jaish put it in the cross-hairs: Modi did not have the gumption to target the overall coordinators of the Pakistani proxy war in Kashmir, its army. Instead, India went after the instrument of the Pakistan army, the Jaish. Even as it did so, it did not have the guts to call the strike by its real name, resorting to subterfuge in absurdly calling it a ‘non-military action’.

India’s expectation was to take out a gathering of budding terrorists at the Jaish facility, one that is known as a madrasa, implying that India was not averse to killing seminary students alongside. The acceptability of such targeting cannot, therefore, be conceded without question in a civilized society that is not quite under war conditions that may have made such an strike legally, strategically and morally acceptable. The new-found vocabulary – borrowed from India’s strategic partner, the Americans – makes the situation in Kashmir appear as a quasi-war, called a hybrid-war and a gray zone in a recent army publication, Land Warfare Doctrine 2018. It perhaps allows the government to target civilians and children on the pretext of taking out potential fidayeen in their midst.

Thirdly, the strategic rationale of a preemptive action against the Jaish is of interest to readers of this publication. The foreign secretary statement had it that, ‘Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose.’ Poor drafting is self-evident (pointed out in an article by a law expert): how can ‘another suicide attack’ (singular) be conducted in ‘various parts of the country’ (plural)? Nitpicking apart; the idea that the Jaish can conduct terror attacks in various parts of the country needs burying without ceremony.

Clearly, India’s diplomats are not so unlettered. It is, therefore, an insertion by someone the foreign secretary reports to. It is no secret that the foreign minister has been more or less missing in action for reasons other than poor health all through her tenure, making her presence felt only on twitter addressing a constituency largely in the diaspora. Interference from their operational master in the current national security set up, the intelligence czar, Ajit Doval, can be inferred.

Last October, Doval displaced the cabinet secretary as the head of the Strategic Policy Group in the national security system in order to oversee the national security review. He had earlier been appointed as the head of the defence planning committee in April that was to come up with the review. It is in a multi-hatted capacity that Doval needs to bell the cat on national security. Any shortcomings must therefore be laid at his door. It needs no reminding that he is a political appointee in an appointment - national security adviser - that is in contravention to the spirit of parliamentary democracy. It is a step in the direction of a presidential system preferred by Modi, gauging from his manner of campaigning and conduct of business in his cabinet and government.

This is not for the first time that the foreign service has had its drafting under cloud owing to political interference. The last time such gaffe happened, a diplomat mourned: ‘The professionals in South Block couldn’t have drafted such a crude statement.’ He was referring to the phrasing of the statement overturning an earlier decision to take up newly elected Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s offer of talks at the foreign minister level on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year. The crude wording in question, doubtless an imposition on the diplomats, was: ‘The true face of the new Prime Minister has been exposed within the first few months of him taking office. Any meeting with Pakistan is not conducive in this environment.’

It is obvious that such preemptory behavior with Pakistan contributed to the conditions leading up to the Pulwama terror attack. It is clear that Adil Ahmad Dar, the Pulwama car bomber, was no lone wolf. He had contextual support from the Indian side in its policies towards Pakistan and in Kashmir.

This time round, the insertion has been in the intelligence input on the imminent attacks across India by fidayeen under training at the targeted Jaish facility. Firstly, if they are under training, it cannot be an imminent attack. If the attack(s) was (were) not imminent, then it puts Indian preemptive action afoul of international law that is permissive of anticipatory self-defence only under severely restrictive conditions. Therefore, India’s military action, absurdly phrased as “non-military,” was not preemptive, but preventive, in line with the American interpretation of international law that has no takers as customary law in the international legal fraternity.

Secondly, only a few could qualify as fidayeen, with most madrasa students there targetable merely for being outside the formal schooling system in Pakistan due to poverty and other reasons.

Thirdly, the targeting risked a ‘CNN ambush’, in the form of bodies of youth being carted away from the rubble. It would have led to a reputational loss for India, something it appears Modi was willing to chance to profit electorally.

Most significantly, the cover of a wider attack on ‘various parts’ of India enabled Modi and his ilk to get on to their favourite hobby horse, targeting India’s Muslims as the potential providers of support for such a diabolical plan attributed to the Jaish. Whereas it is possible to envisage such a plan for Kashmir, it is but a tarring of India’s largest minority for internal political purposes of the right-wing to claim that the Jaish can target various parts of India. No such thing is possible since the Indian Muslim community, implicated in the subtext as a potential support base for such action, would not have it. This is testimony to the success of the political project of Hindutva and its othering of the minority, in which linking it with terror was the leitmotif.

Therefore, it is yet another lie in an official statement of this government that needs an unceremonious outing. The foreign secretary read out this nonsense, rather than resign. It is but an indicator to the extent institutions have fallen under this government. The only way to salvage India is to rescue it from another five years under the Modi-Doval tutelage of its national security.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

From the din surrounding India’s stamping down on terrorism and Pakistan in the Pulwama-Balakot-Naushera episode, one could be excused in believing that India scored a grand victory. The ruling party’s usurpation of the credit seemingly only confirms this. Instead, the ongoing information war only serves to obfuscate the abject provision of national security that brought on the episode in first place.

The din is itself proof that the episode needs not only papering over but the supposed success over-hyped.

This would offset call for heads to roll, beginning with the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, and ending with a democratic showing-of-the-door to his boss, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

To begin with the Pulwama car bomb attack.

There are three possibilities, none of which are edifying for India.

One is - as the Indian side has it - that it was Pakistan-sponsored. This begs the question why the situation got to such a pass as to have Pakistan up the ante in such manner.

The second is - as the Pakistan side has it - that it was an indigenous expression of alienation and part of the ongoing struggle in Kashmir. This begs the question how the situation has worsened at the fag-end of the government’s five year tenure to this extent.

The third – that it was an Indian black-flag operation – unsurprisingly surfaced in Pakistan in immediate wake of Pulwama. It was ditched in favour of the second possibility since the second served Pakistani strategic purposes better, suggesting as it does that a full blown indigenous insurgency is on in Kashmir, enabling Pakistan to counter the Indian accusation inherent in the first possibility.

The evidence touted – which has not been sufficiently dispelled as yet – has it that the Pulwama terrorist, Adil Ahmad Dar, was whisked away from the site of a firefight in which two of his terror accomplices had been killed on September 10, 2017.

If the person picked up was the self-same Pulwama terrorist, how was he back in circulation? If different, in any case how did the Pulwama terrorist reportedly in and out of detention centers some six times, give his surveillance the slip? This has shades of the Afzal Guru case in which Guru, a former militant, was also frequently tapped by the police and intelligence in Kashmir.

Since this has intelligence fingerprints all over it, there is more than merely an intelligence lapse in these queries to be resolved.

Moving on to the Balakot segment, the information war obscures the effectiveness or otherwise of the aerial strike. The posturing by the ruling party on the numbers of budding terrorists killed has been queried by political rivals. The prime minister pronounced that they are guilty of calling in question the word of the armed forces. The air chief for his part rightly put the ball back in the government’s court that it is its remit to answer.

There being no evidence of the strike’s success being put out by the government and if the air chief is to be believed that air warriors got the target, then the coordinates – presumably supplied by intelligence agencies and fed into the bombs - were imprecise.

This amounts to yet another intelligence failure either way, imprecise information and inability to assist with damage assessment. Given the questions, there is little reason to hide damage assessment information, which was reportedly pegged by Doval at a meeting of the cabinet’s security committee at 25 hardcore terrorists dead.

In so far as the credit for ordering the strikes, any credit for boldness is diluted by the parameters that accompanied the order: that the planes were not to intrude into Pakistani air space. This is plausible since in the preceding surgical strikes, PM Modi had similarly constrained the operations, requiring these to finish by day break irrespective of success.

Apparently, to get a better fix on the target, the planes crossed over the Line of Control (LC) a few kilometers over Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) before releasing the ordnance. So, the credit is not with their political masters as was unsurprisingly wrested by Modi at his rally in Churu the very next day, but with air warriors.

Modi’s luxuriating the very next day at three public events (at the time lapdog television anchors had it that 300 terrorists were killed) is only explicable if the analysis of Pakistan’s retaliatory options predicted Pakistan would be too cowed down to retaliate. If this was not so, Modi would likely have been more circumspect, apprehending he might have to eat his words.

In the event, Modi spent the following day out of sight after the Pakistan evened scores in the Naushera sector of the LC through pugnaciously conducting a daylight aerial strike. As to whether their strike was at the price of an F-16, is yet an open question.

What is consequential is that the national security analysis incentivized the decision on Indian strikes under a mistaken conclusion of Pakistan being deterred by a ‘new India’ drawing a new line in the sand. This shows the ideological blinkers strategists have on in Modi’s national security system run by Ajit Doval.

Finally, to the Pakistani air strikes in Naushera sector. The Pakistanis, lacking an equivalent target on the Indian side, settled for vertical escalation restricted to military targets on the LC. The new level of mutual deterrence is thus at a higher less-stable level, begging the question how has Indian national security been the gainer.

Operations in Kashmir continue and at a heightened pace. PM Modi has said that the army ‘resolved’ to wipe out terrorism, yet again putting the onus on the military when its operations are on the direction of his government. It requires no clairvoyance to see the outcome.

The Jaish has already called for recruits, claiming for good measure to have been hit by the aerial strike so as to ensure that more turn up and more impassioned at that. While by most accounts Pakistan has been relatively restrained in its support for terrorism in Kashmir over the recent past, it would be less so this summer, if only because Indian ‘success’ in Kashmir requires a fresh infusion of terrorists into Kashmir soon.

The jihadists it controls would be at its neck if it does not facilitate their infiltration. It would prefer they turn their guns on Indians instead.

Therefore, the analytical conclusion in the analysis preceding the strikes that Pakistan would be deterred is liable to be proven false. The analysis probably had it that with Pakistan pushed on the back-foot by the punitive operation, Operation All Out ongoing in Kashmir would prove just that for Kashmiri terrorists is liable to be called out soon enough.

Instead, the situation over the summer – when India is poised to hold elections twice over (for the assembly and parliament) – may deteriorate. This would not be unwelcome to India since it could use the violence as excuse to postpone elections to the assembly, thereby precluding showing up India’s democratic exercise as vacuous since only few will likely turn up to vote.

It would give the army more time under president’s rule and, absent a state government, with less democratic oversight, to contend with the insurgency.

This would increase the opportunity for more mega-terror incidents. With supposedly a new redline in place, the punitive response options could move up to the cold start spectrum: cold start-lite (a few integrated battle groups (IBGs) taking to limited offensives in the plains) and cold start itself (a largish offensive on a broad front with multiple thrusts by IBGs).

In light of Pakistan’s demonstration of resolve to hit back, it would not take much to move from cold start to cold start-plus (strike corps marauding in the rear), pushing both sides into uncertain nuclear terrain (the introduction of tactical nukes on the battlefield, followed up speedily by counterforce and/or ‘massive’ exchange(s)).

This begs the question how national security is better served by the new red line and continuing of the disturbed conditions in Kashmir that are liable to trigger it. Since it would not do to let a bunch of terrorists determine the time of moving to the new red line, the disturbed conditions provide space for black-flag operations enabling invoking of the new red line at a time and place of own choosing.

Given the showing of the national security apparatus in this episode, it is unclear how they could be bailed out once again in the next episode by a professional showing of the military.

The military has been starved of resources over the past two years. This dilution of the conventional deterrent, and the army’s reversion to a twenty-first century version of operations in Kashmir that obtained in the nineties, perhaps prompted Pakistani provocation.

What all this spells is that heads must roll. None has either resigned or been sacked so far – not even those responsible for the move of the central reserve police convoy targeted at Pulwama. As for the conditions that led to Pulwama, it is reportedly part of the Doval doctrine.

The failure in the Balakot segment can easily be laid at the door of the intelligence community, the czar of which is Doval.

The Naushera segment bespeaks of an analytical failure in the secretariat that reports to Doval.

While a democratic change of government would be useful in cleaning up the stables, particularly at its top, continuing by the government on reelection with its national security charioteer can only be at the price of national security. With elections behind it, it could consider a change of horses and select one without blinkers on.

Monday, 4 March 2019

26 Feb

Pulwama: The counter attack

India’s response to the mid-month Pulwama terror attack in which more than two score
central reserve police troopers lost their lives was delivered twelve days later by the air force.

This was the outcome of the prime minister’s order to the military that the response be at ‘a time
and place of its choosing’.

The Air Force’s preparedness was most visible. At a previously scheduled airpower
demonstration in Pokhran, Exercise Vayu Shakti-2019, co-incidentally held immediately
following the Pulwama incident, it displayed its prowess at destruction tasks, pulling ahead of
the army as possible choice of service for executing India’s retribution.

It’s Chief, hinting at the possibilities following the recent development, said, ‘While wars are
few and far between, we have an ever present sub-conventional threat as the enemy knows he
cannot defeat us in a conventional conflict. So today we showcase our ability to punish.’ Anyone
listening could have seen what was coming in his words, ‘We are showcasing our ability to hit
hard, hit fast and hit with precision, hit during day, hit during night and hit under adverse
weather conditions through our autonomous bombing capability.’

While it was speculated that the air force would be a useful instrument to deliver the retribution,
there were apprehensions of its escalatory implications. It was apparent that the Indian response
would be harsher than hitherto and the reaction by Pakistan could well be forceful. This
spelt escalation, an avoidable proposition for a government looking at elections a couple of
months ahead and wanting to avoid any military reverses in the interim. Consequently, a less-
escalatory option from India’s menu of options for punitive operations would have been best for
the ruling party.

Each option has an escalation quotient. The military can at best furnish the political head the
menu of options. The risk to be run is a political decision to be taken by its civilian masters. The
prime minister in an interview rightly acknowledged that mere reruns of surgical strikes were
unlikely to get Pakistan to change tack. Such a perspective lends itself to a limited aims option.
Even so, for a reasonable trade-off between gains and risks, Modi needed asking after escalation

The Pakistani army spokesperson had warned that they ‘shall also dominate the escalation
ladder.’ Hoping to deter, he cautioned of an ‘escalated response’ which would ‘surprise’ India.
While India can project nonchalance in its own bit of counter messaging, it being fore-warned,
needed to be fore-armed accordingly.
1 Ali Ahmed, a former UN official, academic and infantryman, blogs on security issues at www.ali-

Escalation is inherent in conventional operations. Military strategy is a two sided contention. The
other side has agency and autonomy of choice. War gaming can help, but there is no guarantee of
knowing in advance the adversary’s playbook.

Two concepts attributed to the Prussian general of the Napoleonic era, Carl von Clausewitz, are
relevant for both sides: the fog of war and friction. The fog of war implies functioning in a
domain of suboptimal information availability for decision making under pressure-cooker
conditions and friction is that everything becomes difficult in war, like walking in water is.
Besides, Murphy’s law that anything that can go wrong will, and boxing champ Mike Tyson’s
quip that the best plan cannot outlast the first punch on the nose, bear recall.

Theorists have it that there are organizational pathologies endemic in military considerations.
The relevant one here is a penchant for offensive options, to enable the military gain, seize and
maintain the initiative. While such organizational considerations can be expected to contaminate
the Pakistani response, these are not absent in the Indian case.

The Indian military cannot settle for a draw. It needs to ensure greater damage to the Pakistani
military – both physically and optically. In the information war that will kick in to project
victory, it required to have something substantial to show – unlike during the surgical strikes.
The strategic consideration of the need on both sides for future deterrence stability also drives
escalation. Indians required a successful punitive strike. The Pakistanis cannot have the Indians
drawing a fresh line in the sand with impunity. The need though felt by both respectively, is
mutually exclusive.

Finally, the pressing escalation impulse for escalation is interestingly not from military factors
and does not lie in Pakistan. It stems from the ruling party’s electoral calculus. The ruling party
has taken political advantage of the Pulwama incident but in doing so ended up in a commitment
trap. It had to deliver on the punitive operations and to ensure their success if necessary by
climbing up the escalation ladder at the crunch.

By this yardstick, as Modi surveyed the prospective punitive operation, he needed no reminding
that his self-interest in political longevity lay, firstly, in choosing the least escalatory option and,
secondly, during its implementation to de-escalate timely.

Modi’s choice of punitive operation appears to have been vindicated by the air force. The foreign
secretary has indicated the extensive considerations that went into the choice of target, with the
planners taking care to hit a terrorist training camp way out on a jungle hilltop. The air force for
its part made a brilliant foray taking a window of opportunity when the Pakistani air force had its
guard down. The foreign secretary has finessed the limited nature of India’s operation by
choosing an interesting term – ‘non-military preemptive action’ – to describe it.

These contribute to escalation control. It now devolves on the political class to keep the lid on
the situation. The situation at the time of writing continues to be delicate. The more triumphalist
India’s right wing appears – contrary to the measured tenor of its foreign secretary – the more
likely Pakistan would settle for a harsher counter than necessary.

Pakistan for its part has observed that the action constitutes aggression and has reserved the
choice of response. It is planning to take the media to the site of the bombing and present its side
of the story that little damage occurred. In case it carries the day, this is liable to heighten the
political heat in India, with the ruling party claiming – as is by now quite usual – that those who
question its narrative are ‘anti-national’.

Though, the ball is in Pakistan’s court, it has as guide the precedence of playing coy – as it did in wake of the surgical strikes of two years back. Escalation possibilities should guide its response as well, including making the choice of ignoring the airattack as a welcome option.

The story is yet unspooling. The target, Balakote, being in mainland Pakistan and the use of air
power against it may tend to shaping Pakistan’s response. While it rode out the American’s
launching Operation Neptune Sphere it would not like to allow India a feeling of impunity for
what it terms ‘aggression’.

Strategic maturity demands that India’s counter to any such response needs to yet again be
mindful of escalation.