Follow by Email

Monday, December 21, 2009

Much hullaballoo, little cause

20 December 2009 - Manoj Joshi, an informed commentator on military affairs, has in his latest volley taken a crack at a Ministry of Defence claim that the armed forces "are fully prepared, battle-worthy and capable to counter any challenges at very short notice". The statement in question was MoD's response to a news item based on leaked information about a presentation made by the army to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.

In its presentation, the army had voiced concerns about shortages in several key areas - 71 per cent in armour, 17 per cent in combat helicopters, 62 per cent in mechanised infantry and 52 per cent in artillery. Joshi opines that, "Even these figures don't tell the whole truth. They do not tell us, for example, that India only has 300 T-90 main battle tanks and that the 2000-strong T-72 fleet is yet to be modernised to fight at night ... it appears that what the army will achieve by 2027 is not a modern army circa 2027, but [instead it will] achieve the targets that it had set nearly 10 years ago."

The Army's readiness - or more correctly, the lack of it - would appear alarming, particularly if it is related to the requirements of the prevalent 'Cold Start' doctrine. This doctrine attempts to undercut the impunity enjoyed by Pakistan due to the proximity of its military formations to the border and its nuclear card. The idea is to have the capability for speedy launch of an attack in battle groups that would confound Pakistan's nuclear calculus. This would not only deter Pakistan from expanding the proxy war, but the military threat would force Pakistan to also roll back its terror infrastructure.

The doctrine can be seen as an attempt by the military to furnish the political leadership with an option for responding to the strategic problem of proxy war posed by Pakistan. As can be seen from recent history, political leaders have been selective in using the military option. Both during Operation Parakram and post 26/11, India refrained from using even the mildest military option. Also, it limited its military response to its own side of the Line of Control at Kargil. Going back to the 1990s and further back to Zia-ul Haq's provocations, a restrained approach to Pakistani adventurism has been the preferred yardstick at the political level.

Of course the military should be prepared for conflict. However, whether to engage in such conflict (and if so, how) is a decision for the civilian leadership. On this score, the military and the political leadership in India are not on the same page. The military's self-given program requires a higher level of capability and a political resolve and intention to use it than the civilian heads appear willing to support.

India's strategic posture - brought about by the overall effect of its grand strategy combining all elements of power such as economic, political, military, diplomatic, cultural etc. - has traditionally been of deterrence. The offensive content of this deterrence has of late increased, due to doctrinal innovation and budget expansion in India. Thus, it has shifted from defensive deterrence to offensive deterrence. The difference between the two is that in the former India would await an enemy offensive before responding, but of late with the movement to the latter, it would be proactive in the launch of its offensive - though only when provoked beyond a point. This ability is nevertheless to heighten deterrence, not for compellence.

It is arguable that the military has arbitrarily settled on a higher degree of offensive deterrence, bordering on compellence (i.e. forcing the other side to behave in a particular way). This stronger posture apparently does not have explicit government sanction. This is the military's answer to keeping conventional strength relevant to the strategic problem posed by Pakistan and into the nuclear era. The government on the other hand would be content instead to remain with defensive deterrence of the pre-Cold Start period, since it is more mindful of the possible implications and consequences of nuclearisation of offensive deterrence and compellence.

The impact of nuclearisation has been such that the military's traditional sphere can no longer be considered solely its own. The military may prefer a higher level of readiness, especially for conventional operations, but the politicians will be alert to the implications of even non-nuclear action on the nuclear aspect. Therefore, the figures on readiness need not necessarily be taken as alarming. The government it seems would prefer non-military means, such as diplomacy and intelligence, instead. These have worked to an extent in restricting Pakistani strategic space over the past half decade.

Military means also need to be seen in context of the state of the opponent. Pakistan is in considerable disarray. Its army is engaged on its western border. Even through it tries to upscale its conventional forces through diversion of US funds meant for operations against the Taliban, the equation is in India's favour, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Second, India's grand strategy calls for a sustained period of growth. It cannot be distracted by a conflict, howsoever localised or limited.

Third, its military preparedness is being undertaken with a long term eye on China. This explains developments and procurements of missiles, submarines, air craft carriers and multi role fighters. Whether these are sufficient to deal with future challenges from the Chinese or not, they would obviously help India militarily out-class Pakistan.

Lastly, in case the higher capability - to the extent the Army wants and Manoj Joshi seems to support - were made available, then the temptation to use that capability would surely be greater. At junctures such as 26/11, when resort to lower levels of military force such as through surgical strikes was thinkable, the very existence of the capability would weigh in favour of such action. Therefore, not having the capability for compellence is not such a bad thing after all. Even if hypothetically, resorting to it would have proved counter-productive in any case. Since it cannot be guaranteed that the conflict would not escalate, there is no reason to risk it in light of India's higher order aims and grand strategy. Therefore, India is better of without it.

See for full article -

But more pertinently, there is a case for political direction of the military. It would be much better for the government to debate and indicate which posture it prefers - defensive deterrence, offensive deterrence or compellence - so that the military could work towards this, rather than define its scope on its own, as it currently does. ⊕

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Leadership involves taking a call. Obama has placed himself in the firing line, not only on account of what he said at West Point but also for what he did not. His laying a deadline has already drawn fire; that of his defeated rival from the presidential polls, Senator McCain. What he left unsaid in terms of addressing the Taliban directly, has already drawn a response in the Taliban threatening heightened violence. In effect, in case the Taliban are not on board as the deadline approaches, then prospects of civil war loom. But by then it would no longer be Obama’s War since he has already announced, ‘Now, we must come together to end this war successfully.’

The exit strategy comprises another ‘surge’ of 30000 troops, supplemented by additional European contributions. This is intended to bring about a sense of security in which the civilian ‘surge’ and training of the ANA can be progressed. With the ANA suitably trained by additional trainers, it would progressively take on responsibility for security. This implies that the ANA has to be made battle ready in a year and half.

This is a tight time schedule for firstly imparting basic soldier training and then training the trained soldier into being a counter insurgent. Pitching the raw counter insurgent into action against the Taliban, that has been waging an insurgency for the last few years against the US-NATO combine, would be a tall order. Particularly when the ANA is known to suffer desertions and is prone to infiltration by Taliban sympathisers. The ANA would be able to take on the Taliban if foreign troops assist with superior technology, mobility and air assets. When they leave, the threat of a Taliban return heightens, even if Americans intend to ‘continue to assist and act as advisers’. This would be an unfortunate aftermath for a war that has seen so much investment of resources and blood.

What needs to be done to avoid this possibility? Clearly, if the past four years of a widening Afghan commitment have not worked, a year’s additional military effort will not. Obama did not spell out the answer. But in the deadline and his stating that, ‘it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country’, he has implied a political resolution needs to be worked towards. The advantage of the deadline is that it would focus minds.

A beginning has already probably been made. The suspicion of ISI connections with the Taliban has been virtually acknowledged by former Pakistani president Musharraf. In addition, Obama has wisely placated Afghan nationalism and sense of honour that under-grids the insurgency, stating, ‘We have no interest in occupying your country...And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect - to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.’ Thus, an approach on an equal footing has been made. The Taliban can be expected to eschew temptation to wait out the US. This understanding has perhaps already been arrived at, otherwise Obama would not have ventured to set so explicit a deadline.

What are the implications for India? India’s position has been anti-Taliban form the outset. In case of an attempt at accommodation with the Taliban, India is likely to view it adversely. This owes to it being seen as a vehicle of Pakistani interests and because of its involvement in Kashmir. It would be unwilling to make a constructive contribution since it has been locked in a zero-sum relationship with Pakistan since 26/11. It can play a negative role by promising aid to its friends standing up to the Taliban after US exit, along with other concerned regional states. Though hard-line strategists in India would encourage this line, the problems are firstly its practicability and second it would only lengthen the conflict and lastly it would re-hyphenate India with Pakistan. However, it would not like to place itself at odds with the US led international community’s effort.

Therefore, what should India do? Firstly, it should cauterise itself against the worst case outcome. It has rightly already reopened talks with the separatists in Kashmir. It needs to continue keeping social harmony - managed well over the preceding year - on even keel. Secondly, it would require reining in any intelligence activity that would set Indian interests up as a target in Afghanistan. In case of an action-reaction cycle getting set, there would be no escaping deepening Indian commitment to upset the Pakistani game plan. Thirdly, on a positive note, it needs rereading the last part of Obama’s speech in which he addresses the Pakistani state and nation. From this would emerge how India can modulate its foreign policy to supplement the Obama initiative. In doing so it can extract from Pakistan like reciprocation. It must resume that stalled peace process as a first step.