The Army is not war ready

Speaking recently at the Counter-Terrorism Conference in Jaipur, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, alluding to Pakistan, said, “Some countries have used non-state actors (terrorists) for 15 years to achieve political and strategic objectives, with counter-productive results.

The Army is not war ready

Speaking recently at the Counter-Terrorism Conference in Jaipur, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, alluding to Pakistan, said, “Some countries have used non-state actors (terrorists) for 15 years to achieve political and strategic objectives, with counter-productive results.” The truth is, far from being counter-productive, the Pakistan army has achieved substantive results against India through this strategy.

On the one hand, it has increased India's policing commitments on the land and coastal borders. The 1999 Kargil conflict forced the Indian Army to deploy a division (12,000 troops) round the year at 15,000 to 18,000 feet to ensure no reccurrence of mischief. After the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Indian Navy, made responsible for coastal security, has been flogging its expensive warships, at the cost of war preparedness. On the other hand, Pakistan's strategy has, to its own amazement, rendered the Indian Army unfit for conventional war. After Operation Parakram (the 10-month military stand-off from December 2001 to October 2002), where India failed to militarily coerce Pakistan, the Indian Army was expected to learn the right lessons. Since no insurgency which enjoys an inviolate sanctuary has ever been defeated, it was, since 1990, argued that the Indian Army should build capability to hit terrorists' bases in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir rather than fight the elusive terrorists on its soil. 

Instead, it did the opposite. Once the November 26, 2003, ceasefire, at Pakistan's initiative, was accepted, the artillery guns on both sides fell silent. With long-range firepower to hit Pakistani bunkers no longer an option, raids by Special Forces to thwart the proxy war was the natural choice to keep the Pakistan army on tenterhooks. Calling it a war-avoidance measure, this option was closed by the Army Chief, Gen. NC Vij by fencing the Line of Control in July, 2004.

The argument that the fence is cost-effective and prevents infiltration continues to be made by senior officers who are unwilling to concede its biggest drawback: It has instilled the Maginot mentality, (a line of defensive fortifications built before World War II to protect the eastern border of France but easily outflanked by German invaders.). 

Any worthwhile military commander the world over will attest that a fortification induces a false sense of security and stifles the offensive spirit and action. Today, the fence denotes the Indian Army's physical, mental and psychological limit of war-fighting. It gives respite to the Pakistan army and encourages it to continue with the proxy war, without fearing Indian retaliation. The initiative has passed completely into the hands of the terrorists and their Pakistani handlers. The latter dictate the rates of engagement, infiltration, areas to be activated and to what purpose, including methods of initiation. This is the reason that even with the strength of over 12 lakh, the Indian Army fails to deter the six lakh Pakistani army from cross-border terrorism. The Pakistan army refuses to hand over Hafiz Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim, Masood Azhar and others to us. Each time our political and military leaders warn Pakistan, it challenges us to a war.

The Indian Army Chief, Gen. VK Singh wrote a letter (leaked to the media) to the Prime Minister in March, 2012, saying the Army was unfit for war. Media reports routinely decry the unpreparedness of the Army. What little the Army has as war reserves, for example, equipment, vehicles, spares and ammunition, is merrily being using to raise more units — two divisions (each with 12,000 troops) between 2009 and 2011, and a Mountain Corps (90,000 troops). Since 2012, the Army's annual defence spending ratio of capital (for acquisitions) and revenue (pay and allowances) has been 40:60, instead of the other way round. This means more manpower costs and less war preparedness.

Unfortunately, the present state suits both the political and the Army leadership; the former does not want to understand military power and is petrified by nuclear weapons, the latter is comfortable with counter-insurgency operations (CI ops). The Army has honed its skills in it for 25 years. About 40 per cent of the Army is in the Jammu and Kashmir theatre doing CI ops, while an equal number prepares itself to replace those. A generation of officers has grown and won awards, laurels, promotions and status doing CI ops. With all present generals having donned uniform after the last full-scale war of 1971, war-preparedness has become an elusive concept. 

The irony is that the people of India do not know what the Army is supposed to do. The nation regularly pays homage to soldiers who die fighting terrorists inside the Indian territory rather than fighting Pakistani soldiers on the border. Few bother to think that if the Army does CI ops (which should be the paramilitary's job), who would do its job of fighting the war? Should the nation be spending huge amount of money building a military force when what the Army wishes to be is to become a glorified paramilitary force?

The idea of a fence on the LoC came from the BSF, which had erected one on the India-Pakistan border from Gujarat to Rajasthan and another on the India-Bangladesh border. But the Army was never receptive to the idea of erecting a fence as it was found effective only against illegal immigrants and was considered a police tactic. The Army chief, General S. Padmanabhan (General Vij's predecessor) told me: “When Vij asked my opinion on the fence, I told him that this idea had been there since 1993. The reason why it had not been implemented so far was that it was unsuited for the terrain along the LoC. Moreover, a fence would instil a defensive mindset in our troops.” What should the Army do? The Army Chief, Gen. Bikram Singh invited me to his office in January, 2013, and asked my opinion. I suggested four-pronged action: The fence on the LoC should be dismantled; troops should be reoriented to the conventional war role from the present anti-infiltration role; CI ops should be handed over to the paramilitary and the police in Jammu and Kashmir in a phased manner; and the Army should go back to its core competency — preparing to fight a war.

These are the actions that the Army would take during war; taking them in peacetime would help deter Pakistan from continuous trouble across the LoC. Adopting an offensive-defence posture does not imply war; it means peace and stability on the LoC as it would spur the Army to equip and train itself for war. These actions will also help the Army to reduce its strength by nearly 2,00,000 troops in five years; a must for a professional Army desiring to prepare itself for present-day warfare. 

The Modi Government, which projects itself as more muscular than the previous regimes, has not helped matters. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha on  July 22, 2014, the then Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley praised the Army for CI ops by concluding that, “innovative troops deployment, efficient use of surveillance and monitoring devices and fencing along the LoC have enhanced (the Army's) ability to detect and intercept infiltration.” Encouraged, the Army decided to upgrade the fence. The northern Army Commander, Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda told the media in August, 2015 that, “The new fence will be twice as effective as the existing one. It will be hard to breach.” The Pakistan army will continue to allow the Indian side to repair the fence damaged by vagaries of nature each year, without resorting to small-arms firings. 

The writer is Editor, FORCE, a newsmagazine on security & defence.

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