Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)
In conventional warfare command decisions are based on a range of options, the escalation matrix is well understood and risk is quite easily calculated on the basis of resources, surprise and leadership. However, in irregular warfare the challenge of decision making is sometimes of a higher order. Keeping the threshold low and escalation within control is difficult. The situation on the LoC in J&K is tricky and quite unlike situations which present themselves in conventional operations. However, a non-military mind may not fully grasp this as common perception prevails that there is nothing more to ceasefire violations than simply kinetic responses, the tit for tat concept. The ‘force on force’ approach has never found winners and is considered the unprofessional way of tackling an adversary. However, India’s military leadership which is quite capable of ‘indirect approach’ is yet to fully exploit the chinks in Pakistan’s armor. Has the time come for ratcheting our response by many notches?
The situation which presents itself needs a brief reiteration. The Valley and its LoC segment is comparatively quiet and even in the hinterland only small scale militant actions are taking place; mainly by our proactive search for contact. South of PirPanjal the LoC is active both in the Poonch-Rajouri segment and the Jammu IB sector. Large scale terrorist actions have not been attempted although the Udhampur ambush, Gurdaspur strike and the earlier actions at Samba and Kathua severely tested India’s will and tolerance despite being classified as small scale in nature, in the comparison of terror related events. Infiltration which can never be zero is down to very low levels although Naveed, the young Pakistani terrorist captured at Udhampur has confirmed his route of infiltration in Gulmarg sector. It may be incorrect to dismiss the ceasefire violations in passing; these are assuming dimensions larger than witnessed for many years. In pre-2003 daysthe exchanges were far heavier but they could still be accepted. In today’s world of televised news they form a breaking news story every day, hurting the sensitivities of the public. This in turn is putting pressure on the Government and much more on the Army which is required to respond and put an end to this. Armies are not very good at calibrated responses; they prefer a no holds barred engagement.
In trans LoC exchanges of fire there can only be temporary victories between armies; the effect on troops is marginal but the civil population in the vicinity suffers immensely. We are apparently still in the mode of counting the number of violations by Pakistan Army without realizing that the ceasefire in the South of Pir Panjal is as good as dead. It continues to hold in the Valley’s LoC segment. Can we declare boldly that the ceasefire has ceased to exist and India reserves the right to use its weaponry and manpower at place and time of choosing? There never was a formal ceasefire agreement, just a declaration by both sides with Pakistan no doubt taking the lead.
Pakistan is firm of the belief that India is too obsessed with her economic growth and development to risk a full scale conflict. It is calculating its risks very carefully so as not to breach the limit of tolerance or the proverbial ‘tipping point’. The nuclear capability is an artificial protection which Pakistan’s military leadership considers its trump card and which it assesses will keep India acting rationally. Its leaders give veiled threats of the use of the nuclear option if India responds conventionally. With this assessment Pakistan feels emboldened to play the J&K card even as it is embroiled in bitter and violent turbulence brought on by home grown terror. It is also seeking to enhance its strategic hold over Afghanistan. Having sensed J&K slipping from its control it has gone into an overdrive which it feels it can calibrate.
Given the analysis above it is clear that the nexus of the Deep State is completely outside the ambit of political control in Pakistan and it can act irrationally to the extreme without considering the impact or outcome of its actions. Pakistan’s recent foreign policy successes with different international players, has added to this confidence. The bottom line seems to be that India will not risk conflict, it will respond in kind on the LoC and this will help in sensitizing the international community on the potential of war in a nuclear environment. From the utterances on media there seems to be a tutored line to demand investigation by a neutral agency recommended to be UNMOGIP, in order to revive the UN resolutions. As a result of its actions Pakistan is attempting to brow beat India militarily, diplomatically and most important psychologically. In the season of the run up to the Golden Jubilee of the 1965 Indo Pak Conflict, Pakistan realizes that there is considerable research going on in India and the celebratory events will project the defeat of the Pakistan Armed Forces. By upping the ante through LoC exchanges it hopes to retain the self-image of being the victor of the 1965 conflict.
What are India’s options? This question a week before the slated NSA level talks does appear strange and puts the Government under pressure. Through history nations have often remained engaged in discussions even as armies fought on the battlefield. It is a part of the comprehensive narrative of war that whatever be the level of engagement the last edge of the war spectrum is never reached; a miniscule window is always open for reason or conveyance of messages. The Indian Government need never be under pressure on the issue of talks and engagement and can adopt other proactive measures which continue to counter the adversary’s intent. We too have a perception of an escalation matrix and can work within its parameters. What would this involve?
Firstly, public perception cannot be wished away. It cannot lose its confidence in the capability of its armed forces. Therefore a response in kind along the LoC is an absolute necessity. It needs to be to a plan and not just a shell for shell and bomb for bomb response. There are many areas in which we hold a major terrain advantage. In 2011 the J&K media would recall reports from PoK of a segment of people there who held a demonstration before the office of the local DC demanding that Jihadi terrorists be evicted from their area as the people did not wish to see the triggering of exchanges of shelling along the LoC. There are many such locations along the LoC where we hold a major advantage towards hurting the logistics of the Pakistan Army and imposing a time and financial penalty. These are well known within the Army. The transLoC small pin prick actions can be responded in kind quite easily as was done prior to 2003. These are just the first baby steps in response and we need not even be in denial mode on these as Pakistan is. Pakistan can escalate in response, by expanding the ambit to Ladakh; it is not as if we have not lived with this in the past. It is just the quest for rationalism and better sense which has dictated our response discourse. In the bargain a perception has been built within the Deep State that we will not defend our honor because we are obsessed with our growth process. This perception has to be firmly put down through an escalatory ladder of response.
Secondly, the openness of media and the free discussion on India’s military capabilities in the true democratic spirit may have hurt us in terms of a negative perception. This perception appears to have seeped into Pakistan’s thinking. The lack of modernization of artillery and air defence, the inability to induct helicopters and the MMRCA as also aspects such as insufficient ammunition holdings are no doubt issues of concern. However, many of these problems have existed and it is not as if the Pakistan Armed Forces are equipped optimally. India’s Armed Forces need to shed their reticence, speak up and demonstrate. They cannot be perceived to be defensive when offensive nature of conflict forms the cornerstone of their doctrine. The message should be clear; we are prepared always, the gaps are work in progress.
In recent years the Indian Armed Forces have taken a psychological beating due to being embroiled in nonprofessional issues. They are tied in thousands of legal cases involving personnel, pensions, land etc which dilutes the perception of their professionalism. This appears to be sending home incorrect messages to our adversaries. It is a world of perception and psychological warfare has never been our strongest point. The recent OROP controversy needs to be placed at rest the earliest as it is harming our national image. Pakistan must be under no delusion that this has affected our war fighting capability.
Only a few aspects of escalation have been explained above due to space constraints. Our professional warriors know the game well and need to demand their space from the Government. At the Government level my only recommendation is the early conception of psychological warfare machinery. It can start with the MoD loosening the ropes on the public information system of the three Services,in which strides are being made but only gingerly. Half the problem on the LoC is because of incorrect perception that the Deep State holds. Time we gave the perception that we can be even more irrational than what Pakistan is. Who better than the NSA to convey that message and leave the spectrum of response open as per our choice.
(The writer is an ex GOC of the Srinagar based 15 Corps, now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and the Delhi Policy Group)
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)