Have Prolonged CI-Ops Drained Us for Conventional & 21st Century Warfare? (Redux)

"Combating insurgency for decades in J&K and North East is taking its toll in India with the Army paying for it dearly not only by losing its honour, morale and reputation but more importantly its overall fighting capability and efficiency for a futuristic two front conventional war."

Have Prolonged CI-Ops Drained Us for Conventional & 21st Century Warfare? (Redux)

Background & Trigger

In a recent article by Manoj Joshi published in the Times of India on 17 August, 2018, the author suggests the Indian Army should show greater ‘self-restraint’ and consequently suffer greater casualties than the militants like the British did in fighting insurgency in Northern Ireland and which the Israel Army has failed to achieve against the Palestinians.

In context with the joint petition filed by 356 serving army officers in the Supreme Court, the author opines the move to be disturbing and trade union like act. Joshi perceives that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) does not give the Army absolute protection against the law of the land.

Combating insurgency for decades in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the North East is taking its toll in India with the Army paying for it dearly not only by losing its honour, morale and reputation but more importantly its overall fighting capability and efficiency for a futuristic two-front conventional war. Further, the military is not being adequately equipped and reformed.

There is now an imperative need to change this narrative and not keep the Army bogged down only with fighting insurgency as it can prove to be disastrous in the times to come. Both the political and military leadership are to blame for this sorry state of affairs. A Solution must be found with improved Civil-Military relations and better military and political leadership at all levels.

Responses from Tri-Service Veterans

Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh (Retd), ex-SO-in-C, 1st Course JSW/NDA

I have read Manoj Joshi’s article and do not find much wrong with it. However, he has covered only a small part of the problem to pick holes with the Army top brass and even Veterans. He should have taken a holistic view instead. Some of the points that he should have discussed before finding fault with the Army hierarchy are mentioned.

The Indian Army has been misused in counter insurgency for over 72 years since Independence to tackle unrest among Indian population due to political, bureaucratic and police ineptness, selfish interests and even corruption. No other Army in the world has had to be deployed against its own citizens so many times and for such long periods. Despite this, the record of the Indian Army as far as self-restraint, human rights and self-disciplining are concerned cannot be matched. Look at Pakistan, they even used gunships against their own tribals!

The Army has taken disciplinary action against several officers and soldiers who have violated the rules of engagement. Manoj Joshi is quoting a wrong example in this regard. Time and again the situation in Nagaland, Manipur, J&K, etc., has been brought under control by the Army but the opportunities were squandered away by the politicians and bureaucrats.

As far as nearly 300 officers and men going to the Supreme Court is concerned, what would anyone do if even after years of retirement from the army, you get summons from a court in some remote corner of the country for actions taken by you at the cost of your life to safeguard the integrity of the nation? Perhaps, the likes of Manoj Joshi do not realize as to how and why some politicians and even the judiciary have been extra active to fix soldiers who have obeyed the orders of their superiors/Government of India?

It is failure of top Army Hierarchy and above all the Ministry of Defence (MoD) where nothing moves, and Army’s viewpoint is given least consideration. Look at the way the Raksha Mantri held scores of meetings in two months or so to take decision on opening of roads (one fails to understand why there was such urgency to deal with these matters), but issues like dealing with stone throwers and those bearing weapons against security forces gather dust! Those responsible for law and order find it rather convenient to call in the Army to do the dirty work after they have made a mess due to their lethargy/dereliction of duty.

Earlier, the civil authorities had to render a certificate that they have used all resources to maintain law and order. Now this provision has been done away with quietly. They are the same people who later sit on judgment and process complaints against officers and men for human rights violation/use of excessive force etc., who have discharged their duty in bringing normalcy.

Prolonged deployment in counter insurgency/terrorist environs adversely affect the operational thinking of affected officers and men and take it away from their primary role. Though in their own country land, soldiers must operate in hostile environment as in the affected areas the population is invariably sympathetic if not supporting the insurgents/terrorists.

Even feelings of local civil government functionaries are likely to be with those who have taken up arms. This alienates the local population from the Army, whereas the Army is meant to be protecting the same people and needs their support in times of war to safeguard their bases and lines of communications.

Constant operations against alienated citizens where it is often difficult to distinguish between friend a foe, where a woman or a child may throw a grenade or set off an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), ensuring least collateral damage and keeping in mind highest standards of human right violations makes the task of the Army soldiers full of tension and takes its toll on the soldiers’ psyche. The soldiers are trained and taught how to eliminate the enemy and not get killed. Let him (Manoj Joshi) be embedded with a Rashtriya Rifles (RR) company for a month and then write a similar article!

Air Cmde SN Bal (Retd), Author & Analyst

Manoj Joshi has given grounds for deep introspection by all – the Armed Forces, government, and society in general, as also the media. While it is indeed true that the AFSPA (like any other law) does not grant absolute protection, it is necessary to examine several aspects connected to it. Why is the Army always called in by State Governments invoking the AFSPA – is this not tantamount to continuous (and demonstrated) failure by the civil administration in maintaining law and order? Why is the state government not held to account for such repeated failures?

While the AFSPA does provide protection to the Army in the discharge of legitimate duty as demanded by the State, it does not (and should not) accord blanket protection in cases of blatant violation of all norms and acts that are clearly established as illegal (if not actually criminal). If this were allowed, it would make the Indian Army like the Nazi SS – above all laws. A classic case in point is the action by General Dyer in 1919 – there was no valid case for what he deliberately did in Jallianwala: and the consequences were cataclysmic.

My service experience suggests that commanders are reluctant to prosecute violators – more out of a misplaced feeling of camaraderie, and for requiring to be seen as ‘a good boy’ and sweeping wrongdoings under the carpet. It must not be forgotten that a criminal act is a criminal act – even if done by Faujis (or anyone else for that matter). During service I had four individuals arraigned before courts martial: and secured four convictions – my stand was that an offence was unacceptable, and that the accused must be punished. A cleanup job begins at home. That earned me a lot of flak both from juniors and contemporaries as also from higher formations.

In stating that many serving and retired personnel have developed a sense of victimhood, feel that the country is not giving them their due and seek to be placed on a pedestal above the citizenry, the author has indeed stated an unpalatable degree of truth. If the military feels that it deserves to be placed on a pedestal, then that cannot be demanded, but must be established by strict adherence to the law of the land.

A Fauji must never demand respect – but command it by demonstrated conduct that is unimpeachable – both in and out of uniform. Of course, in a fluid situation and in the heat of battle, excesses could well be (and sometimes are) committed. In such cases there could be valid mitigating factors, but total absolution under the AFSPA is not a valid demand. Military Law is quite capable in addressing such situations: but must be invoked.

In all countries and always, Civil-Military relations are (at the very best) rather troublesome. Civil society (and government) expects the military to do a job where the government has failed (repeatedly) but are quick to pontificate from the comfort of air-conditioned offices. The bitter truth is that a Fauji is no more than a citizen who is expected to obey the law. The AFSPA accords protection in the discharge of legitimate duty – but is not a blanket cover for deliberate transgressions (without sufficient cause). Where such things happen, military law must come down with a heavy hand.

Cdr Ravindra W Pathak (Retd), ESM Activist

It is wrong for the author to call it a trade union like activity. It is a call for justice and direction from the Supreme Court so that they do not have to face action years after retirement for doing a job they were mandated to do. The personnel have not asked for any special protection. Consider a situation where in a group of army men surrounded is by stone pelters and their life is in danger or there is threat to their limbs. Now what they wish to know is should they wait for clearance from the court to act or take action to save their lives and face the court later.

Lt Col Mrinal Kumar Gupta Ray (Retd), Author & Analyst

It is most unfortunate in India that all kinds of comments on specialist issues on matters of defence are made more by generalists and less by defence service officers, who have gone through this situation for decades and in numerable times throughout their professional lives. The AFSPA situation is not a one-day new phenomenon. Armed forces are living with it from the very next day the country was born. India was born with only one problem that was Kashmir. Thereafter came Nagaland and Assam in 50s, Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, in 70s, Punjab in 80s, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh in 90s and continued one after another.

Who created these problems and why were these created? Not by the Army I am sure! Those who were responsible to provide good governance had miserably failed to provide that and sent army to wash their dirty linen. Is the army as demonic as projected by the judiciary and so-called intellectuals and human rights propagators? How many human right cases have been reported and convicted in the last over seventy years? Can there be a better example of the restrained manner in which the army operates?

I, myself, took my Battalion to Sri Lanka where the Indian army had spent about three years under the most trying conditions. Casualties to the Indian Army were almost 1,400. One of my company officers was killed very next day. I know of an incident where a 10-year-old girl had shot an officer when the officer turned his back after seeing a huddle of women and thinking them to be harmless. But there was no retaliation. Under such grueling situations when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) was operating mixed and covered by the inseparable civilians, how many human right violation cases had been reported? Not even one. Just imagine the extent of self-restraint.

I as a human being knew the pressure one withstood in remaining within the perimeter of humanity when the provocations were plenty. On the contrary, their own government carried out genocide to get rid of LTTE. The United Nations (UN) and the world remained a mute spectator. World military history has unanimously hailed the Indian forces as the most disciplined and professional one.

It is in our own country where from leaders and so-called intellectuals – the only so-called country lovers – are making unabashed allegations against their only savior i.e., the India Army. If the same army ever lowers their guard even for one day these people will be nowhere. Adversaries will cut them to pieces as the Mohd Ghazni or Khiljis or Mughals or British people had done.

I do not say that in the army of 1.3 million all is well, but that is negligible to the proportion. Pakistan army raped and killed more than a million of their own countrymen in nine months in their own country, East Pakistan. The Indian Army went in, fought and liberated them. Not a single case of rape and/or murder were reported.

In AFSPA, Army Act works as inbuilt corrective system. Army Act and Army Rules caters for all the situations and so worked well so far. I do not know how local police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or judiciaries are coming into it? What our top brass is doing? Is there degeneration in military leadership? There is only one Chief in the million-strong army. There is no second such authoritative post. In fact, instead of 365 army personnel going to the court army top brass should have felt the pulse and taken corrective measures.

In short it appears that Mr. Joshi has found all wrong in the army. Before attributing trade unionism to the soldiers did not stop for a while to think as to what level the frustrations and fear have permeated in the minds of these army personnel which have prompted to break all the ethos and traditions and knock the door of the highest court of the country. This has been unprecedented with far reaching consequences. The writer even finds it objectionable as to why none of the 50 (I do not know where he got this exact figure) solders were punished! He pronounced verdict of guilty even before hearing!

Col Rajinder Kushwaha (Retd), Author & Analyst

There is a raging debate amongst military circles, whether army should be employed in Insurgency environments or it should be left free to prepare for a future conventional war? Such a question smacks of the hollowness of the understanding of emerging form of a future military conflict. Manpower heavy armies with dud weapons and ammunition, serviced by unintelligent soldiers, are the sitting ducks for the ‘Designer and Customised wars ‘of the future. Weapons of mass destructions (WMD) and Revolutions in Military warfare (RMA) have changed the very concept of war in a ’Nuclear Zone’.

In the South Asian context, Hybrid war, as a major component of ‘Designer War’, is the only war India is going to fight in the next half a century or so. Hybrid war is what you might call insurgency/terrorism/proxy war or fifth generation warfare. It is felt, what was being done in the army was to prepare for a future military conflict in a ‘nuclearized’ environment.

Pakistan’s Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) is being countered by India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD). In other words, to counter the threat of the Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) of Pakistan, as is being propounded in her FSD doctrine, India needs highly light-weight but mobile and self-sustaining mission-oriented Task Forces to bounce off the border in a short notice. This is why the Indian Army has been locating her forces in the military Cantonments near the border.

The Indian Army is readying herself for a ‘Designer War’ of the future, which has three components: Information, Hybrid Warfare or Fifth Generation Warfare and finally Surgical Operations to further the gains of Hybrid and Information Warfare (IW). Therefore, what is being visualised is an assessment that land battles would remain confined to border skirmishes, such as the Kargil Conflict in 1999 or DokaLa in 2017.

In the same breath, the purpose of the ‘designer’ and ‘customised’, on one hand, is to soften and weaken the enemy from inside through Hybrid operations, such as militancy, terrorism and insurgency and then, on the other hand, carry out Surgical Strikes through ‘space and seas’ to bring about the final collapse of your adversary.

Hybrid war seeks to exploit internal vulnerability of a nation through ‘Irregular Soldiers’, call them militants, insurgents, non- state actors, terrorists, fifth columnists and so on. ‘Triggers’ and ‘sparks’ are used in the form of support to separatist movements. This is preceded by IW to create favourable international public opinion. Therefore, it is a considered opinion that proposed changes in the army is a first step towards gearing up for a future military role which would need light weight forces to implement CSD in a FSD scenario.

In the long run, it would save the army from a ‘Future Shock’ which can lead to a military disaster like the manpower heavy army of Saddam Hussein of erstwhile president of Iraq. Remember, in a modern military conflict, what matters is quality and not quantity. Finally, we must also realise that we have been in a state of war since Pakistan – sponsored Azadi Movement in J&K and Khalistan Movement of Punjab.

Let us stop calling it insurgency or terrorism and then dismiss it as a law-and-order problem. Call it the modern conventional war, which India would have to fight. Dread the day terrorist or the separatist organisations lay their hands on TNWs. Therefore, let army reorient herself.

The Way Forward

The recent article by Manoj Joshi has been deemed demoralising to the Indian soldier both serving and retired. However, the bigger question which begs an answer is, what is the price that the Army has paid for their heavy and unbroken deployment in counter insurgency warfare particularly in North East and J&K involving one third of their strength?

The biggest loss is that they have become unfit for conventional warfare and not geared up to meet the complex challenges of 21st warfare like hybrid and designer wars. The time has come for the Army to stop fighting internal disturbances and counter insurgency wars created and fueled by the enemy within the country. These must be dealt with by the PMFs under the MHA which has an equally large and capable armed force (parallel army).

The Army rest, recuperate, reorganise, reform and refocus on their basics of conventional warfare and prepare for the multifarious challenges of the 21st century. If the primary threat perception is a two/three front adversary, with one third of our force already deployed in COIN Ops, how is the army/military possibly going to meet these multiple threats?

The perceived threat is not to be dealt only by the Army but must be tackled as a cohesive national effort involving the three services (under RM), the PMF (under HM) and all the State Police forces. A united and integrated national effort is the imperative and inevitable need of the times. The time to make this happen is in fact the need of the hour!

(This debate was first published in Victory India compendium of books in 2018 and has been reproduced as part of  MVI's archival efforts. Views expressed are the respondents own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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