Military & Aerospace

Moving Beyond Cordon and Search!
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Moving Beyond Cordon and Search!, 4.9 out of 5 based on 10 ratings
Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Mar , 2017

As India battles Urban Insurgency in parts of Srinagar valley, I recall my experience during 1988 while I attended the Senior Command Course at College of Combat Mhow. I was an unusual student officer as at that point in time I was on deputation to History division of the Ministry of Defence and researching on 1962 Sino-Indian conflict and Mizo insurgency. I had also a Doctorate under my belt having studied Regional Security in Middle East. As a part of my work I had unearthed enough information on 1962 debacle (the much mystifying ‘Henderson Brooks Report’ was in my personal custody). One of the major issues I tackled along with Air Commodre OP Sharma VrC, was on non-use of offensive air power in that conflict.

When General Rawat, the new Army Chief seemed to deviate from the norm and talked of dealing firmly with those obstructing army operations, all hell broke out on media with the usual suspects crying ‘human rights violation’…

As a part of this study when our team asked the then ACAS Ops (later Air Marshal) Dewan, he had replied that Air Force use was not considered as that would lead to ‘escalation’ and we would lose world ‘sympathy’. The long and short of the story is that one decision that could have turned the tables in 1962 and which was our strong point, was never given serious consideration and was rejected on flimsy grounds.

During the Senior Command Course we carried out sand model exercise that was located in the precise area that (Towang, Sela, DirangZong et al) 1962 battles were fought. I was astounded to find that the use of air power was excluded in the exercise, with the same excuses …….My arguments that air power could be used to our advantage fell foul of the DS (Directing Staff) solutions and I was shut up. It was amazing to realize how wrong historical decisions had solidified into axioms, permeated into thinking and become second nature.

The reason to recall this incident is that our approach to Kashmir seems to have fallen in similar rut. When General Rawat, the new Army Chief seemed to deviate from the norm and talked of dealing firmly with those obstructing army operations, all hell broke out on media with the usual suspects crying ‘human rights violation’ or even army take over etc. Seems that conditioned by our long experience in fighting insurgencies in the North East, we have fallen into the trap of stereotype thinking.

As a student of counterinsurgency for over three decades, I can clearly see the difference between the situation in Kashmir and that obtained in the North East. The North Eastern insurgencies were largely homegrown with only limited help from outside. While the Kashmir conflict is at once an insurgency as well as proxy war by an inimical neighbor. As a corollary to that unlike in the North East, at the tactical level of engagement there is parity in weapons and fire power between the militants/foreign terrorists and our own soldiers. It is no wonder that we seem to be suffering equal number of casualties in most engagements. Currently the thinking seems to be that since we have greater numbers, we would prevail eventually. This ignores a major facet of war, effect on morale! Casualties inflicted on us raise the morale of insurgents. The insurgents have been using social media to reinforce this false equivalence.

The trouble in Kashmir is now confined to a few districts in the valley, while the rest of J&K is unaffected. Yet the separatists, led by Hurriyat and Pakistan, never tire of talking of whole of J&K.

I recall a conversation with late Mr. Lal Denga, the Mizo Supremo, who mentioned that when in the initial stages of revolt India used air power against the Mizos, the morale of the insurgents plummeted. Lal Denga told us that in order to keep up the morale of Mizo insurgents, whenever an air craft was spotted he told his followers that it was an American aircraft from Seventh Fleet that was supporting them.

General K. Sundarji, aptly described the counterinsurgency operations as fighting with one hand tied behind our back. We seem to have taken this to heart without understanding the nuance and have mechanically stuck to the tactics and strategy that worked in the North East. It is indeed correct that in insurgency situation the armed forces must avoid use of area weapons like artillery or ariel bombing so as to avoid collateral damage and charge of human rights violation.

The operating principle is ‘avoidance of co-lateral damage’ and not some kind of prohibition on either use of airpower or smart weapons. But such is the inertia that we have made this into a principle of counterinsurgency—–non use of air power and made a fetish of it just as we did in 1962 for all the wrong reasons.

Kashmir situation in 2017 is a classic example of both sides being trapped in a time warp. The trouble in Kashmir is now confined to a few districts in the valley, while the rest of J&K is unaffected. Yet the separatists, led by Hurriyat and Pakistan, never tire of talking of whole of J&K. Strategic thinking or what passes under in it name in Delhi, in reality is current affairs analysis. This is conducted under the looming shadow of the Red Fort. Even an ostensible ‘outsider’ succumbs to the notion of equating India with North India, ignoring the South, the West and East. The salience of Kashmir in national dialogue has much to do with this. The lazy media contributes to this by making a small incident affecting 1/100th of population a national issue and breaking news!

It is time that we confine the use of mosques to religion and not politics.

Indian establishment is yet to fathom the change that came over due to 1998 nuclearisation and consequent borders freeze as well as world reaction to Pak’s Kargil misadventure. Evidence, we still protect separatist leaders so that Pak int. should not harm them and put the blame on us. Post 9/11 and especially after the rise of murderous ISIS, the world at large is least concerned.

Our squeamishness in use of force, one is not advocating use of artillery/tanks/fighter aircraft as Pakistan is doing but surely air power especially helicopters, drones and lasers ought to be used. World is a much changed place from 1990s, no country has a stomach for secession. In Kashmir sermons in mosques continue to be used for politics, loudspeakers spew incessant hate while the state looks the other way. Even in Islamic countries use of religious places for propaganda is not permitted. It is time that we confine the use of mosques to religion and not politics. It is also time that a technologically advanced country like India use its advances in the battle field to give its soldiers the latest and establish tactical dominance over the insurgents. This is the only way to affect the ‘will’ of the enemy, the ultimate aim of all warfare.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Anil Athale

former Joint Director War History Division, Min of Defence. Currently co-ordinator of Pune based think tank 'Inpad' that is affiliated with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

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