Armies do not fight wars; nations fight wars. War is not a military activity conducted by soldiers, rather a social activity that involves entire nations. Carl von Clausewitz noted that passion, probability and policy each play their role in war. Any understanding of war that ignores one of these elements is fundamentally flawed.[i] The conflict in Jammu & Kashmir is becoming more complex and strategy ineffective with signs of fatigue and fragmented approach distinctly visible. We need to ask the question whether our Kashmir strategy is flawed. Who is fighting the hybrid war in Jammu and Kashmir, is it security forces or is it India as a nation?
Pakistan has employed all major components of hybrid war- regulars, irregulars, criminals, economic and cyber war in the same battle space. Regulars are providing training, logistic support, intelligence support, facilitating infiltration and exfiltration, irregulars undertaking terror strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and rest of the country, criminals undertaking drug trafficking, arms trafficking, FICN, cyber-attacks and radicalisation of population in J&K and rest of the country. India is fighting this hybrid war in a conventional manner by employing regulars to deal with a hybrid threat. Pakistan has employed a hybrid threat that is physical and conceptual in its dimensions: the former, a struggle against an armed enemy and the latter, a wider struggle for, control and support of the combat zone’s indigenous population, the support of the home fronts, and the support of the international community.[ii] To secure and stabilize the ground situation and defeat the hybrid threat, India should break the contact between Pakistan-based terror modules and Kashmiri youths. At the same time the economy needs to be improved, law and order situation should be improved and costs imposed on Pakistan. If India fails to reverse the threat three consequences can be expected from a flawed grasp of the contemporary conflict in J&K:-
- Unreasonable political and public expectations for quick victory by employing conventional military power.
- An overly simplistic grasp of the application of blunt military power and flawed perception of victory.
- Naïve views of both adversaries and the context for conflict.[iii]
The current strategy against the hybrid war of Pakistan seems to be wearing out and the strategy to deal with it is becoming ineffective. Acts of terrorism are on the rise, the population is disaffected and masses are resorting to Intifada. For students of the art of war, it is one of the most inefficient method to fight such a war, where adversary is fighting not from across the border but from within borders. Thus collateral damage whatsoever, will be that of the target nation. In this case the territory, resources and sustenance to support hybrid war is coming from within India and investment of Pakistan is only directing the war.
Indian Strategy Showing Signs of Fatigue
The pitfall of fighting hybrid war by direct means is that India is focused on elimination of terrorists but the source of energy to sustain a hybrid war remains intact and the perpetrators of war unpunished. On the other side Pakistan has managed to increase contact area by investing in human terrain to prepare future Jihadis from within India. We need to ask the question from ourselves whether it is the right strategy to gain victory through tactical successes without addressing the source of war? The choice is either to fight within borders and suffer collateral damage such as Pathankot, Uri, Nagrota, Gurdapur, Pampore 1,2 and 3 or take the war to the source of energy and make the perpetrators of war pay the price. With every passing day conduct of CI/CT operations are becoming increasingly difficult to execute due to public resistance and ground support to terrorists.
Modern Wars are not a competition to display ethical practices, but to pursue national objectives. Being morally correct in war is either inability to fight the way adversary has chosen or lack of will to fight and take the war into enemy territory. The obvious issue here is that the Indian political leadership has shied away from building hybrid capability till now, as a result the only tool the nation has is conventional capability. Some policy makers have conveniently termed own lack of will and capability as strategic restraint; a strategic restraint has made the adversaries bolder by the day. This strategic restrain has allowed Pakistan to increase contact area much beyond J&K and the target ranges from innocent civilians to strategic installations.
Asymmetry as Strategy[iv]
The surgical strike has shown that India is now prepared to undertake shallow strike on frontline targets of Pakistan Army and their terrorist launch pads, but this has limited impact on dismantling the terror network. Retaliation will be a natural outcome of any strike across the line of control, thus India should also be prepared to face reverse threat. It has certainly put the Pakistan Army on the defensive and has sent a message that there would be heavy retaliation to any attempt of gross violations across LOC. The Pakistan Army may not retaliate in similar manner but the advantage Pakistan has is that it is in a position to strike well in depth because of presence of terrorists and Jihadi sleeper cells within J&K and in the hinterland. That also throws up another challenge of guarding the sensitive and soft targets in rear areas and the hinterland. As a result the Indian Army and security forces will have to place additional resources to defend soft targets that will be in focus more often in the future.
Defeat of an adversary can never be ensured with predictable use of military power; therefore, asymmetry can either be brought in by a superior modern military or superior strategy and innovative use of available resources. Resistance to change will only produce more body bags and demoralise the foot soldiers. In the backdrop of the above, the need of the hour is to change the operational philosophy and take the war to where it originates
But before we look at operational and strategic issues, there is a need to look inward as to why the rate of casualties has increased? Why intelligence is only suggestive or advisory in nature? Why soldiers continue to fight with rudimentary weapon systems and continue to remain ill equipped? Whenever the casualties start mounting it is a sign of deficiency in training, leadership, failing tactics and strategy. Brig Anil Gupta an Infantry veteran says that casualties to soldiers are failure of the nation to equip them.
Use of conventional forces against hybrid threat needs review. Irregulars can only be defeated through irregular and asymmetric means. Fighting hybrid war within own territory is a weak and timid strategy. Hybrid war has to be fought by irregulars, covert means purely by and through intelligence organisations. R&AW and IB should pick up the cudgels and move beyond advisory, they have to fight hybrid war from within Pakistan and create fissures and insecurity within terror organisations. They have to shape the environment for security forces to execute operations. If the terrorists are able to reach the LoC it is intelligence failure. Political leaders must demand accountability as to how terrorists are able to reach the LoC and how they are able to cross over. It is the responsibility of the intelligence agencies to eliminate the terrorists in Pakistan terror camps or before they cross LOC; if some terrorists do trickle in, real time intelligence should be shared with troops on ground to eliminate them before they cross over. There may be circumstances where some leads may break but then re-establishing the link is the responsibility of the intelligence. Time has come to make intelligence agencies responsible to the field commanders. First input should reach field commanders and rest can wait. Because ultimately the information is required by troops on ground and not as much by bosses in Delhi.
Fighting any war on own shores is lack of capability and absence of strategy. Time has come for the Army to take the war into enemy territory by covert means. Selective black operations need to be authorised to send the message that no terrorists will be safe irrespective of the place of hiding. Use of covert assets to eliminate the terrorists in population centres should not be considered a taboo. It will rather create a sense of insecurity among the terrorists and their sympathisers. The cost of act of terrorism on both sides of the LOC must be paid in kind. For a nation it is unethical to allow criminal acts to go unpunished. Power of the state must be delivered and the means could be direct or indirect.
Presenting an exposed flank is a sure sign of neglect and lackadaisical approach. Hardening of targets is important to prevent collateral damage. Hardening can be done by effective intelligence, structural security, periodic evaluation of security and proactive approach.
Whichever army goes stronger in battle is sure to achieve victory. The greatest dangers to the army engaged in active combat come from unexpected people especially against whom you have no weapons to respond. It is not enemy actions that affect the morale of forces as much, rather it is the neglect of own soldiers by way of destroying elitism, poor equipment, disrespect to soldiers by equating them with civilian government functionaries. If the soldiers are equated with the police or other government servants then you should also be prepared for him to act like them A Solider has to be treated as an elite ready to give and take lives of enemy.
The biggest problem in Kashmir is – who is in command of operations? Is it the Army that operates under MOD, CAPF under MHA or state police under J&K Government? All of them are operating in the same operational space under different command authority. There is no exclusive space where a force has liberty to employ covert teams to eliminate terrorists by operating incognito. Whenever there are contacts or engagements with terrorists, the action is more often done by Rashtriya Rifles and J&K police, but the area is crowded by all types of forces that may not have any role or worthwhile contribution to hasten up operation. Similarly there is duplicity of road opening due to lack of faith and trust. Responsibility and accountability must be fixed and to avoid confusion there should only be one agency doing one type of task. More exposure of troops will invite more reaction from terrorists and population. There should be least amount of exposure of troops overtly.
There is increasing dependence on Special Forces for executing operations be it Fedayeen or holed up terrorists in built up areas. Rashtriya Rifles units always consider it an operational blot if they allowed other units or Special Forces to come and operate in their area of responsibility. This tendency of calling Special Forces for most operations is unwarranted since RR units are capable of dealing with such threats on regular bases.
Fidayeen attacks are increasing by the day and as a result casualties are mounting. There is definitely a requirement to train sentries and QRTs to be able to engage and neutralise Fidayeen before they make entry into the camps. One of the battalion commanders deployed in the Valley told the author that success and failure of Fedayeen attack is determined by reaction of alert sentries and QRT. If Fidayeen is eliminated before they make contact with the fence it is successful operation, any delay beyond that period is catastrophic, because if they are allowed entry into the camp, unacceptable damages are bound to take place. It needs training of men, clear orders and trust in intent and judgment of men. It is the responsibility of the higher leadership to stand by men even if there is an error of judgment.
For far too long the strategy to deal with acts of terror has remained defensive and cautious. Reluctance has crept into the minds and actions of soldiers due to fear of reprisal by the system for error of judgement. Soldiers in such wars cannot be asked to perform under threat of legal actions even if there is error of judgement. Because more often soldiers operate under instinct and delay in response could be a costly mistake. There is a need to alter the strategy and it is time to fight the guerrilla as guerrilla. In war it is a crime for a leader to sacrifice men for want of unambiguous orders, correct strategy and correct weapon system.
The task of the army to fight a hybrid war is twofold- fight the battle in such a way that they cannot bring their strength or strategy into play and create such a level of frustration that enemy is forced to make mistakes in the process.[v] The moment the army becomes defensive in its action and troops too cautious, it is very difficult for commanders to make their commands proactive. Decision dilemma among men and commanders is a sure recipe for disaster.
[i] LT. COL. PAUL YINGLING, A failure in Generalship, Armed Forces general, May 1, 2007.
[ii] John J. McCuen, “Hybrid Wars,” Military Review (March-April 2008): 107-113.
[iii] Dr. Frank Hoffman, The Contemporary Spectrum of Conflict, Protracted, Gray Zone, Ambiguous, and Hybrid Modes of War, HERITAGE: National Security and Defence,
[iv] Lukas Milevski, Asymmetry Is Strategy, Strategy Is Asymmetry, National Defence University Press, September 30, 2014.
[v] Robert Greene, The 36 Strategies of War, VIVA Books Pvt Ltd, 2006 Edition, P 189.