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Friday, June 30, 2017

Mapping India’s doctrinal movement
In his very first extended interview, in the run up to Army Day in January of 2017, General Bipin Rawat got off the mark by publicly dusting the army’s conventional war doctrine, its ‘proactive strategy’ dubbed as Cold Start. Earlier chiefs were rather coy, unwilling to own up the doctrine dating to 2004 lest it shows India as a state with an offensive intent. One chief even denied that any such doctrine exists.
On the sub-conventional doctrine front, recently, the general has gone on to award Major Leetul Gogoi for quick thinking in use of a ‘human shield’ against stone throwers in the Kashmir Valley. This comes on the heels of his threatening those impeding ongoing operations in Kashmir that they would be treated as ‘over-ground workers’ (OGW). Many in the Valley recall that at least some occupants of the 2000 plus unmarked graves across the Valley were ‘OGW’, mostly Jamaatis taken as the front of the Hizbul and the Lashkar by the security forces back in the nervous nineties.
When Jawaharlal Nehru sent the army to quell the Naga rebellion in the mid-fifties, he was keen that the army should earn the respect of the people. While General Rawat has made it amply clear that he prefers that people should be ‘afraid’ of the army.
A movement in India’s nuclear doctrine - how and when it plans to use nuclear weapons - has also been detected by avid analysts in their close reading of the joint doctrine, Joint Doctrine: Indian Armed Forces, released earlier in April this year.
The joint doctrine in its reference to the nuclear doctrine described it as ‘credible deterrence’ instead of ‘credible minimum deterrence’. While to one analyst, the omission suggests ignorance on part of the drafters, this is too glaring to have been less than deliberate. The ‘minimum’ in the nuclear doctrine stood for deterrence-by-punishment based on holding a few counter-value targets of the nuclear adversary hostage to his good behaviour.
By eliminating ‘minimum’, analysts fear that India appears to be headed towards a warfighting nuclear doctrine. The two possible answers to Pakistani nuclear first use by employing tactical nuclear weapons, would be proportionate response and preemptive first strike. Both the responses require large numbers; thereby, impinging on ‘minimum’ and making the term expendable.  
The across-the-board doctrinal movement is not surprising.
Fearing criticism from the strategic community - the self-styled guardians of national security in New Delhi with the current-day National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval being one of its leaders - the UPA I government was not able to clinch the peace feelers it had sent out to Pakistan and Kashmir.
The strategic community, amongst whom were many closet cultural nationalist and current day Modi ‘bhakts’, closed ranks behind Ajit Doval in the later UPA II years. This further held up UPA II, as it didn't want to appear to be outflanked by the right wing for being ‘soft’ on Pakistan or in Kashmir. The final nail in the UPA coffin was the drafting of a press release in 2013 by Vivekananda International Foundation, a think tank then headed by Ajit Doval. In retrospect, the press release, with its hardline stance on Pakistan can be seen as precursor of a strategic manifesto.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was on the campaign trail, Doval – perhaps by then sounded out that he would get the coveted post of NSA - projected himself as holding a mild, ‘defensive offence’, perspective on the use of force. However, as a national security czar, Doval has since pursued the Doval doctrine, encapsulated in the phrase ‘You do one more Mumbai, and you lose Baluchistan’.
While the actions on the nuclear level have been kept below the radar, muscle flexing on the conventional and sub-conventional level has been rather visible lately. ‘Surgical strikes’ have been witnessed on both the eastern and western fronts. It is back to fire assaults at the LoC and cordon and search sweeps in the Valley. The army chief reprised the ‘two and half front war’ trope, more than five years after it was last heard of. Some $200 billion are lined up for acquisitions over the coming decade. These are fallout of the Doval doctrine, which passes for the overarching strategic doctrine lending direction to India’s military doctrines.
The UPA II saw India move from offensive deterrence to offensive, under hyper nationalist and cultural nationalist pressure. Under the present dispensation, India’s strategic doctrine has moved towards what can be called “compellence”. Military doctrines, keeping pace, consequently have had to become more aggressive.
The dangers are in the inter-linkages between the levels of the conflict spectrum: nuclear-conventional-sub-conventional. With more ‘surgical strikes’ on the cards, the buffer between sub-conventional and the conventional level has been done away with. Pakistan had early on whittled the divide between the conventional and nuclear levels. In absence of any distinction between the levels, there is a short fuse to conflict and conflict is set to escalate in short order.
The problem with compellence – what Doval’s doctrine advocates - is that the onus of throwing in the towel is with the target, Pakistan. India appears to be relying on Pakistan’s strategic good sense in knowing when to play ball.  Though General Rawat has signaled as much to Pakistan (‘If you (Pakistan) accept peace, we will go along’), alongside he noted that there is a ‘dirty war’ on in Kashmir.
Clearly, Pakistan is unfazed. Compellence does not seem to be working. This might force India to tweak compellence further. When it does, it would likely find - at some cost to itself - that the doctrinal movement has not made India any safer.

Thursday, June 08, 2017
Reading the Army Chief's words

Luckily for the army chief, the government had earlier let on that he was chosen for his operational experience, the subtext being that strategic acumen was not to fore in its choice. The chief in his recent utterance in an interaction with PTI has proven the government right. He averred that the morale of the army's junior leaders in Kashmir needed lifting and he had awarded Major Leetul Gogoi to help with this. His inability to rise above the operational level prevented him from seeing the strategic hit-wicket he has done in that the award was at the cost of regard for Kashmiris, the good Major having been awarded despite of his being under inquiry in the 'human shield' case. 

The chief did not end with that, going to rue that Kashmiris had taken to stones instead of guns. Their taking to guns would have leveled the playfield for him. His troops would presumably have been able to fire back, instead of waiting - in his words - to die; even though there has been no death on the side of security forces from a stone hit. On the contrary there were close to a hundred deaths on the civilian side and many going blind due to retaliation by pellet guns. 

What the public rumination of the army chief tells us is that almost nine years since full-throated stone throwing made its advent in Kashmir, there has been no doctrinal, organizational and tactical effort on part of security forces to meet it. Granted, the army has not been at the receiving end for most part, coming in with two brigades only for a while to pacify south Kashmir late last stone throwing season. Those in khaki uniforms have borne the brunt instead. 

It would be too much to expect of them - and their IPS leadership - to have come up with a suitable, people-sensitive strategy. True to form, the home ministry set up a committee to assess efficacy of pellet guns last year. Any other country would have turned out police forces suitably equipped with protective gear, trained in phalanx formation and with humanitarian law compliant weapons. The winter's respite has not led to any change of tack from their inheritance dating to handling the Quit India movement. The innovation if any is in the use of catapults to give a taste of their own medicine to stone throwers. They apparently miss Mr. KPS Gill and his tactics. 

All they needed doing was to look up on the manner, say the South Korean riot police handles mob violence or even the statelet Kosovar police handles the opposition's Molotov cocktail charged challenge. Given India's advantages of manpower, such forces could have been deployed in each district for easy access to stone throwers in real time, dispersing them with a routine finality but with fewer casualties. Suitably deterred and with no casualties to appreciably boost their angst, stone throwing - reminiscent of the intifada - might have dissipated. 

With girls straining their arm in like pursuit this season, the army appears to have been placed on call. It has already - under its new chief with a wealth of operational experience in the Valley - reverted to tactics abandoned over a decade and half back: cordon and search sweeps. On the Line of Control it has walked back over a decade to the pre-ceasefire days. Whereas it is on comfortable ground on the Line of Control, in the by-lanes on the Valley floor, from the words of its chief, it appears at sea. 

What the army chief therefore is really saying is that the army is in a position it would rather not be in. Explaining his innovative solution to the tactical cul-de-sac he found himself in, Major Leetul Gogoi was worried that he might have had to drop a dozen stone throwers to break his way out of their siege. By rewarding him, the army chief has seemingly agreed with him. Even if the army wants a fight on its terms, it expects instead to have a people-centric fight as Ramzan gets along. 

Clearly, it has been left with the can. This is what its minister has put them to - washing his hands off by saying that military problems needed military solutions. For a minister who is also handling the finance ministry, this would be an appropriate tack to take since he really would not have the time to supervise the defence ministry left vacant by a predecessor absconding at the first opportunity to his home state. With a heart operation behind him - dating to his last stint at managing both ministries at the beginning of this government's term - he can be excused. The ruling party is so thin on talent that it has no one to substitute. 

The problem is that whereas operational freedom for the military is understandable on the Line of Control - where the army in its element can be expected to do its bit - this is not so in respect of the 'war among people'. The minister is obviously oblivious to the 'strategic corporal' concept that attends such environments. Major Leetul Gogoi's action is an illustration of what may be lauded at the tactical level ending up as a strategic disaster. 

But there is an even more significant aspect of the twin reflections in the press respectively of the minister and his army chief last week. This is of a piece with the typically Indian civil-military relations dating to the Sino-Indian war. India's foremost military historian, Srinath Raghavan, informs that the civilians learnt the wrong lessons from the war, believing that the military space needs to be left entirely to the military. He explores how the conduct of the 1965 war reinforced this false belief, even though the result of the war itself did not suggest that the civil and military domains in war are distinct and without overlap. Be that as it may, the nuclear age is here. Any verities held over from prior naturally need rethink. 

Yet two decades into the nuclear age, for the defence ministry to believe that the military sphere continues to be distinct is an abdication of responsibility. Both the minister and his army chief opined that there is little possibility of war. To the minister, the army's dominance of the Line of Control ensures this, while the army chief ruled out 'limited war'. It bears reminding that for his part, the air force chief in emulating General Sundarji sent a demi-official letter to his officers exhorting war readiness. Getting hold of a copy of this missive, the Pakistani air force activated its forward airfields and buzzed Siachen. Throw in a surgical strike or two, and there could be yet another India-Pakistan crisis, a throwback by a decade. 

Since this is all too easy to observe, this analysis opens up an interesting possibility. If all this gets to a shooting stage, either the army can fetch the government kudos - a'la the short term benefits 1971 and Kargil did for the political heads at the time - or in case the army messes it up, the 'military solution for military problem' thesis provides an alibi for the civilian national security apparatus. A short, sharp war might be good for Mr. Modi's image, lacking as it does warlord credentials currently. Navigating such political waters, the army chief needs to keep his head up and not look down, as appears to be his wont.