Every time there is a significant terrorist action or an incident on the Line of Control (LOC), the reaction of the government, Armed Forces, media and the public is predictable to a fault. There is outrage on social media, public protests are held and effigies are burnt, revenge is sought. Sane advice is pilloried, peaceniks and political opponents are berated. Senior officers of the Armed Forces promise retaliation through casual statements. No attempt is made to analyse the lapses leading to tactical failures to initiate reforms.
No formal official statement is given either by the government or by the Armed Forces. Each shifts blame on the other and for about 48 hours, it appears that war is about to break out. Then all goes quiet until the next security crisis.
The response of the nation shows that we treat our national security in an extremely casual manner. Our erstwhile functional strategy of “strategic restraint”, based more on political common sense than on strategic thought, now seems to have been replaced by “hunch” or “gut feeling” – kind of tactical responses.
The moot question is, does India really have a national security strategy to force compellence on Pakistan beyond diplomacy, a counter Fourth Generation War (4GW) in Pakistan and maintaining an aggressive posture along the Line of Control (LOC)? Post the surgical strikes, it is crystal clear that we have none.
The surgical strikes were a “one-off” tactical action without any follow-up strategic plans, and they were clearly aimed more at the domestic audience than Pakistan. Logically, if Pakistan did not respond to the surgical strikes by stopping or at least scaling down their aggression, India should have gone up the escalation ladder with more potent surgical strikes, using air power and Special Forces and in due course even initiated a limited war if required. All hopes have been belied. Pakistan called our bluff, first by denial and then by stepped-up terrorist activities and intifada-style mass protests in J&K. To add insult to injury, they beheaded two of our soldiers on the Line of Control (LOC) on May 1, 2017.
The incident was a mirror image of the one that took place on January 8, 2013 at virtually the same spot. No tactical lessons seem to have been learnt. Our army has been very aggressive on the LOC post-surgical strikes. Given the strategic and tactical environment, a quid pro quo was only be expected. The army must take stock and initiate reforms with respect to tactical training and human resource development.
What compounds the problem is that we no longer have the desired conventional superiority which we had up to a decade ago. Pakistan has upgraded its conventional and nuclear capability and have caught up with us. India has not carried out reforms with respect to higher defence management, structures and organisations of the Armed Forces and their modernisation has stagnated.
The nature of war has undergone a change in the last two decades. What we face today is a Hybrid War which is fought as a continuum without timelines and fought simultaneously over the entire multi-dimensional spectrum of conflict, using all means. It is a complex hybrid of conventional, asymmetric, information, political, diplomatic and economic warfare. What it means is that on one hand, legitimate diplomatic and economic means or coercion can be pursued. On the other, fourth generation warfare, LOC warfare, operations below the threshold of war, limited war, cyber war, information war, criminal/narco war amongst others can be simultaneously pursued.
It is not my intent to theorise on Hybrid Warfare. It is merely an attempt to drive home the point that it is fought as a continuum, over the entire spectrum and without timelines. Of course, short-and long-term political and military goals can be defined and means employed accordingly. But more than anything else, it requires a strategy and the capacity to execute it.
Pakistan, due to primordial religious emotions, the deprivation of J&K in 1947 and its dismemberment in 1971, considers India an adversary state. It has an unambiguous India-centric National Security Strategy for a Hybrid War backed by a political, public and military consensus. Its essential features are:
Pakistan has been eminently successful in implementing its strategy. It understands that in Hybrid Warfare there are no timelines and there would be ups and downs. It persevered with its strategy while simultaneously wearing down the US and its allies in Afghanistan with effect from end 2001, and continues to do so till date despite its own internal problems. Today, it has managed to keep Kashmir on the boil, if not with terrorist violence then with the stone-pelting mass. It has matched Indian aggression on the LOC and above all, it has virtually reduced India to a wailing and strategically impotent nation.
India’s Strategic Options
First and foremost, India must formulate an all-encompassing National Security Strategy to fight the ongoing Hybrid War with Pakistan. This strategy must have two parts – the overt and the covert. The overt part must be placed in the public and media domain to prevent drum-beating for a war of retribution each time an incident takes place.
India has weathered many crises created by Pakistan’s Hybrid War of which the ongoing 4GW in J&K and in the hinterland of India are an essential part. Governments, including the present one, have prudently refrained from taking hasty strategic decisions driven by tactical events with respect to use of force. In my view, the same should be the case now.
Despite our best diplomatic efforts, there has been no change in Pakistan’s inimical political aims vis-a-vis India and its strategy to achieve them. In fact, our restraint has been seen as a sign of weakness and emboldened Pakistan. India’s political aim with respect to Pakistan is very simple – prevent Pakistan from interfering in our internal affairs through a Hybrid War. And if Pakistan still does so, maintain good relations for the common good. Since diplomacy has its limitations, there is no option but to resort to “other means”.
Nations armed with nuclear weapons do not, and I dare say, cannot fight a full-scale conventional war of annihilation or even absolute defeat of the adversary. However, space exists for a limited war – limited in aim, time and space – before international pressure and nuclear weapons come into play.
War or use of force as an instrument of policy is always in pursuit of a political aim. A war of retribution – if it does not compel the adversary to accept peace on your terms – is a war without an aim and serves no purpose. However, Hybrid War is a continuum and even retribution as an immediate response has to sometimes be resorted to for the morale of the nation and the Armed Forces.
The broad contours of strategy for Hybrid War are given below:
This strategy must be pursued as a continuum and not in a knee-jerk manner from crisis to crisis or incident to incident. We should be prepared for quid pro quo and setbacks. The public and media should be prepared for such an eventuality. We should learn to give formal statements at the government and Armed Forces level to prevent speculation and media wars. However, to execute the above strategy we need holistic reforms with respect to national security.
Let me repeat what I have said earlier. “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 World War I before framing the policy and influencing the strategy of the World War II. 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 a formal long-term National Security Strategy. Consequently, there are no comprehensive, political directions ever given to the Armed Forces in peace or war. There is an ambiguous document called “Raksha Mantri’s Directive”, the contents of which are far from 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 flows 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 has 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 Armed Forces 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 Armed Forces is summed up by the title of the book – “Arming Without Aiming – India’s Military Modernisation”, written by Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta. If that was not enough, barring a few big-ticket procurements, the upgradation of the armed forces has been at a standstill for the past 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. The government’s interaction with the Armed Forces 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 Armed Forces are fighting a 4GW (in hind sight a Hybrid War) since 1990, arming and training for the Third Generation Warfare, with structures, organisations and a mindset of Second Generation Warfare. Empirical wisdom is that the armed forces 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.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 which led to radical reforms in the US 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. While the erstwhile “strategic restraint” had at least maintained the status quo, the present “strategic bankruptcy” has led to a state of suspended animation.
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 newfound love for the armed forces is going to alter this situation.
Let me end by quoting a Hindi translation of one my tweets after the Sukma incident:
“Shaheedon ki chitaon par aansoo bahane ke bajai, raksha vyavstha mein sudhar layein!” (“Instead of wailing over the pyres of martyrs, bring about reforms in national security!”)