Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat has broken conventions in combating militancy, and his men have taken a leaf out of it. But this approach alone cannot save the day
Much like the New India promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are seeing the new Indian Army under the Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat. A specialist in counter-insurgency operations (CI ops), he has the onerous task of formulating and apprising his command about the new set of rules of engagement for a different combat.
Instead of the ‘Hot War’, the new Indian Army will now combat the ‘Dirty War’. The ‘Dirty War’ is not the same as CI ops, in which the Army has been engaged since 1990 in Jammu & Kashmir. The CI ops were conducted by an iron fist in a velvet glove. It implied hitting the terrorists but adopting the Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) strategy for the civilians. Pursued under the rubric of Operation Sadbhavana (goodwill), WHAM was meant to get the people of Kashmir trust the Army.
It had two military aims: To ensure that the people, identified as the centre of gravity in CI ops, did not get alienated enough to become over-ground workers; and to get actionable intelligence on terrorists from the people. The military results expected from the Army, was to bring the insurgency down to a minimal level so that the civil administration could function freely and the political process for ending the insurgency begin.
The ‘Dirty War’ is an entirely new ballgame. Unlike the CI ops, the end-game is not to bring about a favourable security situation for the political process to begin. It is to totally crush the people’s revolt. Once done, the Government would decide what to do next.
Abandoning WHAM, the ‘Dirty War’ is about instilling fear in the people’s mind. Lucidly explained by Gen Rawat, the central tenet of this war is that “your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly Army, but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us.” Dubbing stone-pelters as anti-national, Gen Rawat made it clear that “if they become a problem in our operations and if that causes losses to our soldiers, we will not hesitate to use weapons (against unarmed civilians)”.
Since the younger generation is usually adept at innovations, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi understood his chief’s mind. So, he decided to make an example of an innocent Kashmiri by strapping him to the bonnet of his jeep for five hours across 28 villages and ensured that the message of no mollycoddling of civilians went home. Through ingenuity, Gogoi ensured no lives were lost; never mind the loss of dignity of the individual tied to the vehicle.
Gen Rawat, much like the pioneering Gogoi, broke convention and rushed to honour him even when ae court of inquiry against the latter was in progress. In an extraordinary act, Major Gogoi was encouraged to meet the media to explain why he did what he did. This action too had a definite purpose of perception management.
Watching ‘criminality’ being rewarded, veterans like retired Lt Gen HS Panag and many serving officers, though horrified, failed to understand that instilling fear in the people and perception management are two pillars of the new ‘Dirty War’.
Perception management is the skill to make Indians believe that the Pakistan Army is being regularly pounded on the Line of Control; since it is up against the wall, its support to the Kashmiris would be negligible. A few examples will help make the point.
Take the September 29, 2016, surgical strikes across the LoC, where, we were told, Gen Rawat played a crucial role. While no detail or video of Indian Army’s spectacular feat was released, two things not associated with such operations — which are always denied — cast doubts on the veracity of the tall claims made. In the immediate aftermath, the Indian Army Director General Military Operations held a Press conference and said that the strikes were meant to hit terrorists launch pads (and not the Pakistan Army), and no further strikes were planned — an admission that India did not desire an escalation. The true nature of these strikes was explained later by Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar while interacting with parliamentarians. According to him, “The Army had carried out target-specific, limited calibre, counter-terrorist operations across the LoC in the past too but this is for the first time the Government has gone public about it.”
Undeterred by the disclosure, the Government continues to milk the tactical operation for political gains, with Union Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh recently claiming that surgical strike had resulted in 45 per cent reduction in infiltration in the first half of 2017.
Another example is the so-called ‘punitive fire assaults’, which, according to Minister for Defence Arun Jaitley, has resulted in the domination of the LoC by the Indian Army. Explained as an offensive manoeuvre, unrelenting fire-power by long-range guns (artillery) on the LoC — as shown in the regularly released videos of smashed Pakistani bunkers — apparently is crushing the enemy’s morale. Incidentally, the Pakistan Army too released its own videos in response to show havoc caused to Indian bunkers.
The truth is different. Neither side is using the artillery to maintain the semblance of the November 26, 2003, ceasefire. Small arms and mortars, given their limited ranges and lethality, do not amount to much. All they can damage are temporary bunkers. Permanent steel bunkers require a direct hit from artillery guns, which are lying mothballed in sheds.
Moreover, not only is the Indian Army maintaining the fence on the LoC regularly — which serves as its physical war-fighting limit — but the Pakistan Army is letting it do so. As widely reported, India has procured small arms ammunition for 10-day intense firing from abroad; this is being used freely on the LoC.
Furthermore, select veterans have been co-opted to explain the Indian Army’s tactical exploits on television channels. Terms like hybrid war, grey zones of operations and the-last-mile syndrome are being bandied around. This is not all. The few who ask why the Pakistan Army is not deterred, are branded as anti-nationals.
Completely lost in this escalating ‘Dirty War’ is the rising possibility of the ‘Hot War’. Given India’s relations with Pakistan and China, and the military interoperability between these two, the Indian military should get real. It is alarming to note different assessments from forces which are required to operate together in war. For instance, while the Army chief has ruled out chances of a ‘Hot War’ (with Pakistan), the Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa has written to his air warriors to train to fight the ‘Hot War’ at short notice, with available resources. The least they could have done was to talk to one another.
By Pravin Sawhney
(The writer is co-author with Ghazala Wahab of the book Dragon On Our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power)
Courtesy: The Pioneer