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Strategic corporals of J&K hold the key

The Indian Parliament has spoken; Article 370 is done and dusted.

Strategic corporals of J&K hold the key

Most visible corporal: The uniformed men of the security establishment.

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd)

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd)
Additional Director-General, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi

The Indian Parliament has spoken; Article 370 is done and dusted. While the media is replete with reports from J&K, fluctuating at the extremities of the conjecture spectrum — from predicting an uprising on the one end to a peaceful acceptance of the changed realities on the other— the real mantle of making a difference rests on the strategic corporals of India. They are the ones who hold the key to a long journey of peaceful ‘integration’ that the nation has just embarked on in l’affaire Jammu and Kashmir.

US General Charles Krulak coined the term ‘strategic corporal’ in a vision document in 1999 for the Marine Corps. While charting the progress of conflict in the recent past, General Krulak postulated that the future corporal, who is the juniormost controlling a handful of soldiers, would need to be adept at the nuances of fighting and directing a ‘three block’ war: a soldier could be engaged in disaster relief in an area, while in just the adjacent block, another could be involved in an anti-insurgency campaign, and yet a third nearby could be fighting a conventional war. All this would be under the glare of world media where purely tactical-level decisions and actions of the corporal, and his band of soldiers, would have effects/repercussions at the strategic level. 

The photos of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in an Abu Ghraib prison by a US soldier, the televised pictures of the massacre in the Sarajevo marketplace during the Bosnian conflict and the horrendous visuals of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam are proof of the strategic effect on decision-makers, national morale and international perceptions due to any intemperate action of a soldier in the field. 

Hence, the General proposed that training should cater to this ‘three block’ scenario in the spotlight of the media — and this last part was an important additive; around the same time, the incendiary cocktail of tactical actions under media glare was aptly summarised by Boutros Boutros Ghali, UN Secretary-General, who quipped, “There are 16 members of the Security Council; the 15 national representatives and CNN.” The beast called social media, incidentally, was yet not born.

Now, with the all-pervading proliferation of social media through smart phones, the actions of tactical troopers are under greater and instant scrutiny; information warfare is now an integral part of all campaigns, civil or military. The present situation in J&K is truly hybrid in nature, with diplomatic, security, administrative and social segments of equal importance; India’s strategic corporals in each of these fields have their tasks cut out.

The trial of the depth of India’s diplomatic acumen has started off well with the blunting of Pakistan’s attempt to get the issue raised in the United Nations Security Council — but, make no mistake, that this is just the start; blunting the guile of the Pak-China combine in the coming months in different international fora and media would be the test of our strategic corporals in the foreign service — the counsellors, secretaries and ambassadors.

The security clampdown in J&K cannot continue indefinitely and we have already seen relaxation in stages. The efficiency and dedication of the civil administration comes into focus when the government's economic policies start getting implemented, and their field operators — the SDMs, tehsildars, block development officers, panchayat officials — all become lynchpins in the successful implementation of policy; these are the non-uniformed civilian strategic corporals whose dedication to the larger cause is absolutely vital if J&K has to return to normal life soon.

The uniformed men and women of the security establishment, to include the central and J&K police and the army, are the most visible arms of the government on whom all the cameras are now focused; by virtue of the security forces being armed and in direct contact with the masses, it is a test of the training, patience and level-headedness of these strategic corporals on the streets. 

It is no state secret that Pakistan, and forces inimical to India, would do all they can to instigate the uniformed personnel to commit some wanton act — through abuse, incendiary speech, fake news or stone pelting. The country needs to have confidence on our strategic corporals, who have always shown exemplary equanimity in their difficult task these past decades.

The rest of us Indians, far away from the Valley, are also strategic corporals in this national endeavour of winning hearts and minds of the common Kashmiri; and the least one can do is to avoid, like the plague, posting triumphalist and incendiary posts on social media that only make the task of the soldiers on the streets of Kashmir more difficult. 

This also goes for many national television channels which, with their incendiary and high-pitched comments willy-nilly paint most, if not all, Kashmiris as being ‘anti-national’, as people who are the ‘other’. 

Nothing would please people across the border more than to have such intemperate debates lead to further alienation of the common man in the Valley. 

If required, the national leadership should come down hard on such display of sordid glee and unrestrained behaviour that, unfortunately, is already happening, including from some law makers — at this stage, to use an oft-repeated phrase these days, nothing can be more anti-national in this hybrid war.

General George Patton, in his book War as I knew It, commented that a man’s full military life is lived for just three minutes in critical decision-making, divided in bits and pieces. For India’s strategic corporals, especially the uniformed forces, these three critical minutes will indeed be stretched long; they need the unstinted support of us all.

Now, with the Pakistan Army Chief’s tenure having been extended by three years, seasoned Pak-watchers can only interpret this as Islamabad girdling up for the long run. India’s strategic corporals have their work cut out.

(Views are personal)

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