If the much-applauded surgical strikes were supposed to make Pakistan cower, that hasn’t happened. If we really want to change the equation with our neighbor, we need a long-term strategy and reform.
It is two and a half months since India launched Special Forces (SF) raids across the Line of Control (LOC) and it is time to review their impact on national security.
The operations carried out across the LOC were notably different from the undeclared ones conducted earlier. This time India declared that it had deliberately targeted the ‘launch pads’ of terrorists perpetrating a Fourth Generation War (4GW) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The operations were tactical in nature, but the intent and effect sought were strategic. The intent was to warn Pakistan that our response to its 4GW in J&K and hinterland of India, in future, will invite reprisals across the LOC and International Boundary (IB), and that India will go up the escalation scale if necessary. The effect sought was that Pakistan will stop its terrorist operations in India. There was also the implication that India will raise the ante as per its strategy if Pakistan does not comply.
At this juncture, the conclusion, unfortunately, is that neither Pakistan has paid any heed to the ‘warning’ nor has India done anything more to force it to comply. By all counts, not only has infiltration post-September 29 increased, incidents of terrorist violence (mostly focussed on security forces) have also increased manifold. The number of terrorists killed and security forces killed and wounded in action post-September 29 have been the highest in the last five years.
Are we back to square one? In the short term the answer is an emphatic, yes. Pakistan’s strategy vis a vis India remains unchanged and India has not evolved a long-term strategy to deal with Pakistan.
Let there be no doubt that in Pakistan there is a popular consensus between the public, civilian government and the military regarding policy and strategy against India. There may be differences between the government and the military in respect of supremacy and sharing of power, but when it comes to strategy against India in general and J&K in particular, there are no differences whatsoever. Apart from the primordial religion-driven reasons, Pakistan considers India as an adversary state, which unfairly denied it the major part of J&K in 1947, dismembered it in 1971, intends to further divide it through 4GW in Baluchistan/Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/FATA, and undermines its quest for its rightful place as the preeminent Islamic State in the comity of nations. Pakistan evolved an unambiguous strategy against India, which is pursued as a continuum to wage a deniable 4GW in J&K and the hinterland of India, respond aggressively in a quid pro quo manner to any Indian response below threshold of war and to stalemate India in a limited conventional war if forced upon it under the umbrella of an aggressive and “irrational” nuclear deterrence.
It has been relentless in pursuit of this strategy despite all odds and any deviation is based on careful calibration. Prime Ministers, ‘Military’ Presidents and Chiefs of Army Staff have come and gone, but Pakistan has never deviated from this strategy. Despite its size, limited comprehensive national power, preoccupation with Afghanistan and internal security problems, it has been eminently successful in executing the same.
Pakistan’s response to the surgical strikes was in consonance with its strategy. The surgical strikes were blatantly denied and ridiculed putting the onus on India to provide the details. It responded to India’s aggressive posture along the LOC in a quid pro quo manner using matching firepower and SF/Border Action Teams. Infiltration into J&K was increased and a number of terrorist strikes were launched targeting the Security Forces in fidayeen attacks, something from which terrorists had refrained for the last 13 years. Pakistan not only negated any strategic effect of the surgical strikes, but also denied the domestic political advantage which the Indian government of the day had sought. Pakistan has made it clear that there will be no change in its strategy.
Having upped the ante with surgical strikes, India is now facing a strategic dilemma. Logically, if Pakistan did not respond to the surgical strikes by stopping or at least scaling down its 4GW, India should have gone up the escalation ladder with more potent surgical strikes, using air power and SF, and in due course even a J&K-centric, limited war.
The moot question is, does India really have a National Security Strategy to force compliance on Pakistan beyond diplomacy, counter 4GW in Pakistan and an aggressive posture along the LOC apart from neutralising 4GW in J&K and the hinterland? Post-surgical strike, it is crystal clear that it has none. The surgical strikes were a “one-off” tactical action without any strategic plans to follow up and clearly, they were aimed more at the domestic audience than Pakistan. What compounds the problem is that we no longer have the desired conventional superiority which we had upto a decade ago, to force compliance.
Pakistan has upgraded its conventional and nuclear capability and caught up with us. No reforms have been carried out with respect to higher defence management, structures and organisations of Armed Forces (AF), and their modernisation is stagnating.
“War is too serious to trust it to generals,” said Winston Churchill. But then, Churchill had done a spell in the army, was a war correspondent and was the First Lord of the Admiralty and Minister of Munitions during the First World War before framing the policy and influencing the strategy during the Second World War. In our case, it would be equally apt to say that National Security is too serious a business to be driven by “post-truth politics” in which rhetoric, emotions, ignorance, domestic compulsions and impulsiveness are the main drivers and rational military counsel is either absent or ignored. India does not have any formal long term National Security Strategy. Consequently there are no comprehensive, political directions ever given to the AF in peace and war. There is an ambiguous document called “Raksha Mantri’s Directive”, the contents of which are not very inspiring. The functioning of the National Security Council has not been streamlined and it functions according to the whims of the National Security Advisor.
The National Security Council is the apex body that must formulate the National Security Strategy. This is the start point for all defence planning. Based on the National Security Strategy, a Force Development Strategy must be laid down for structuring, organising and equipping the armed forces. Also, based on the National Security Strategy, a tri-service National Military Strategy is worked out from which flow the operational strategies of the three services. This is a top-down approach. What we have is a bottom-up approach – the Army, Navy and Air Force work out their own service strategies and development plans in isolation. The development plans are then presented to the Raksha Mantri (Minister of Defence) by the Integrated Defence Staff which functions under the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and has only staff functions. The Raksha Mantri then gets these examined by the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Defence headed by the Defence Secretary, who virtually functions as a de facto Chief of Defence Staff and is “responsible for the defence of India and the armed forces”, as per the Government of India (Transaction of Business ) Rules 1961. The Ministry of Defence is not integrated with the service headquarters.
Any number of committees have given far-reaching recommendations with respect to reform of the higher defence management and the armed forces. Neither the government nor the opposition have the knowledge or inclination to focus on these issues. Political and public jingoistic rhetoric, and deification of the AF also stymies reforms. What we have in the end is a highly-suspect system that is, nonetheless, miraculously functional. In the absence of a Force Development Strategy based on the National Security Strategy, the modernisation of our AF is summed up by the title of the book – “Arming Without Aiming-India’s Military Modernisation”, by Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta. If that was not enough, barring a few big-ticket procurements, the upgradation of the AF has been at a standstill for the last decade and a half.
The government needs to urgently focus on reforms to higher defence management. The functioning of the National Security Council must be streamlined. National Security Strategy and Force Development strategy must be formalised. Government’s interaction with the AF must be formalised with the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff and in due course, the tri-service theatre commands. Structural and organisational reforms must be carried out in the armed forces and they must be modernised to establish a technological-military edge over Pakistan and (at least) parity with China. Resources must be earmarked for these reforms and timelines laid down. Once we establish a clear technological-military edge over Pakistan a strategy of compellence can be adopted.
During service my refrain used to be that our AF are fighting a 4GW since 1990, arming and training for the Third Generation Warfare, with structures, organisations and a mind set of Second Generation Warfare. Empirical wisdom is that AF rarely reform themselves from within as by nature they are rigid and revel in status quo. The squabbling amongst the three services on the issue of the Chief of Defence Staff and tri-service theatre commands is a case in point. It is normally the Government, media and the public that force the reforms. This has been the experience of all modern states. Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 which led to radical reforms in USA Armed Forces was the result of relentless pressure of media, public and an enlightened Senate. Sadly, all these elements or their equivalents in India are behaving like “The Six Blind Men of Hindostan” with respect to national security!
In my view, the required reforms highlighted in this column can be carried out in five years. Until these reforms are carried out, we will not be able to go beyond the status quo vis a vis Pakistan. No amount of political rhetoric, chest thumping and new found love for the armed forces is going to alter this situation.
For the last 10 days it is “all quiet on the Western front” (LOC). The Heart of Asia conference with Sartaj Aziz in attendance has been held, a new Chief of Army Staff has taken office in Pakistan, “no substantial evidence” has been found against the alleged R&AW agent Kulbhushan Yadav, rumours abound of impending reforms in the higher defence organisation and covert Track 2 diplomacy with Pakistan and in J&K is in in full swing.
I predict resumption of diplomatic talks in the next three months with both sides claiming victory and having taught a lesson to the other, for the consumption of the domestic audience. Pakistan may make a tactical pause but will continue to pursue its long-term strategy. Ironically, we may have to revert to the strategy of “strategic restraint”.