February 1, 2009

Kind words and guns

Issue 23 - Jan 2009

Sushant K Singh

A dispassionate analysis shows that more than the Pakistani nuclear blackmail or half-hearted support from the Western powers, it is India’s declining credibility as a military power that led to the failure of the diplomatic offensive. After 9/11, when the United States was able to threaten General Pervez Musharraf with ‘bombing Pakistan back to the Stone Age’, the Pakistani state did a U-turn on its policy on the Taliban. Even the Indian military mobilisation of 2002 elicited certain significant concessions from the Pakistani state which eventually led to a decline in terrorist activity in Kashmir.

Some media reports suggest that the Indian armed forces were unwilling to guarantee to the Indian political leadership a successful military campaign against Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attacks. Since independence, with a few exceptions like the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh, the Indian state has generally failed to formulate the political objectives of a major military campaign (which are then translated into strategic objectives for the armed forces). The clamour for more modern equipment for the armed forces is facile unless underpinned on well-articulated political and strategic objectives. 

The doctrine of Cold Start, developed by the Indian Army after the mobilisation of 2002, has neither been accepted by the other two services nor promulgated by the defence ministry. Jointmanship between the three services still remains a dream while the institution of a Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and integrated theatre commands are not even on the horizon. Small wonder then, that India, despite being one of the highest defence spenders and with numerous big-ticket acquisitions, continues to lacks credible military options today. 

As the recent naval deployment in the Indian Ocean against pirates has demonstrated, the changing geopolitical situation predicates a need for the Indian armed forces to have the capability to insert, station and support troops overseas. Rather than being limited to token and ineffective deployments under the United Nations, the Indian armed forces will need to operate jointly under the Indian flag, by themselves or as part of a multinational force in ‘away’ theatres like Afghanistan. The Indian armed forces will also need a doctrinal change and increased jointmanship to land expeditionary forces in Indian Ocean littoral states to secure India’s strategic interests.

The successful assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir have been accompanied by lowest ever level of violence since the start of the insurgency in 1990. This is perhaps an opportune moment for the Indian army to redefine its balance between counterinsurgency and conventional operations. The public mood for a credible military action to punish Pakistan also provides the Indian armed forces with a great opportunity. The three services and the defence ministry should look at restructuring themselves and undertake a root-and-branch reform of the complete set-up that will remove all doubts on their credibility as a viable option against Pakistan. While the focus on inducting modern weapon platforms and systems is welcome, it will achieve little without concomitant changes in the organisations, structures, processes, systems, policies and culture of the defence set-up.

Diplomacy can succeed only when it is backed by a credible military option. Paradoxically while a strong military capability will lead to successful diplomacy, the military machinery will itself not be called into action when diplomacy starts yielding results. There is a range of coercive military options on the spectrum—from mere mobilisation to a full-scale conflict—available to the Indian state that can back up a diplomatic initiative. By rejecting outright this range of options due to fears of a surgical military strike blowing up into a full-blown war or due to threats of a nuclear strike, India is playing into the hands of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. After the terrorist attacks on Mumbai on November 26th last year, the Indian government moved forward with some urgent action to reform internal security. What has so far escaped public attention is that the attacks call for urgent reforms to India’s military doctrines and capacity as well. 

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