Homeland Security

Indian Army’s Counter-Insurgency Operations in J&K
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 03 Jun , 2012

Soldiers of Indian Army in Insurgency Areas

The Indian experience of tackling insurgency is both varied and rich. This is so both in terms of area and terrain and in terms of groups or organisations pursuing a particular ideological goal. The focus of the present analysis is on the experience of the Indian army in CI operations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, especially from 1989–1990, when army troops were inducted with a view to quelling the Pakistan-backed uprising that threatened the very sinews of the state.

The recent media attention on the role of the army in Kashmir was because of the appeal made by the chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990, as applicable to the state.1 While the debate goes on, it does not take into account the operational factors impinging on the functioning of the armed forces when inducted for CI operations and also throws open the question of how effective the application of the armed forces is in internal security situations.

The Indian army has been involved in CI operations almost continuously since independence. Its formations have been active in CI operations in the Northeast since the 1950s and in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. This evolutionary CI experience has been unique in many ways, and this paper focuses on the experience of the Indian army in CI and counterterrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir, with the specific objective of trying to understand the limitations of the use of force in such internal security situations.

There are two aspects of the present situation that must be noted before detailed analysis of the experience of the army is performed—the need to understand the defined roles of the military in India and the need to ascertain whether there is a written or followed doctrine for the same.2 On the first count, it is clear that its primary role is to defend the nation against external aggression. The secondary role is to assist the civil administration in internal security duties and in times of natural calamities. And to assist the armed forces in the discharge of their duties, the Government of India extended the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.3

There are three aspects to the army’s role in J&K examined here:

  • Is the doctrinal background in which the army is performing its CI duty?
  • Is the examination of the actual nature of CI operations, including counter-infiltration operations, conducted by the army?
  • What is the long-term impact of such operations on the army’s CI doctrine and training?

CI Doctrine

The experiences in fighting the Nagas and the Mizos set the broad outlines of the Indian CI strategy.4 The most important element of the army’s CI doctrine is the limitation on the use of force. Therefore, army troops deployed on such duties usually do not take with them their heavy equipment and do not receive artillery or air support. Such attitudes were reinforced by the army’s own view of counter-insurgency, which was based on studies of both British post–Second World War CI experience as well as Mao’s writings on guerrilla war. Both stressed the political nature of insurgencies.5

Again, taking a leaf from the Malayan model, on the need to isolate the guerrillas from the population by the resettlement of villages, the Indian army attempted the same tactic in dealing with both the Naga and Mizo insurgencies. In the case of the British, this policy helped to isolate the Malayan communist guerrillas from their sources of support in the population. In the Indian case, this policy did not always work, and on occasion, the constitutional validity of such schemes was challenged in the courts. It has continued to be in the lexicon of the army’s CI doctrine.

The concept of “area domination” is third element in the Indian army’s CI doctrine. It lays emphasis on dominating the area of operations by blanketing it with troops. This is because of two reasons—first, the inducted troops are not fully aware of the number of personnel and their firepower capacities in the area of operations; and second, superiority of numbers or large troop presence allows area domination by the army without the use of heavy firepower. For example, in Sri Lanka, the Indian army had as many as four divisions deployed to fight the LTTE, in the northern and eastern provinces. Such troop-intensive operations are possible because India has a very large army.6

If the principle of area domination is to be adhered to, then it follows that Indian army is also keen to conduct CI operations with more than adequate force levels. Interestingly though, the British experience in Malaya demonstrated the value of small unit operations in CI situations. The reason for this disjunct is that the primary role of the army is defending India against external threats and it trains accordingly and primarily for full-scale, high-intensity conventional wars. Most of the Indian army’s infantry equipment is also optimised for conventional war rather than counter-insurgency.

In the final analysis, the army’s doctrine is also quite clear, that its role is limited to restoring normalcy and then it is for the political establishment to find a solution to the issue or issues underlying the insurgency. The realisation that there are no military solutions to an insurgency has long been there, but its formal articulation had to wait till the 1980s, when it became clear that the army did not have a magic wand to clear all challenges to national security.7

There are clearly laid down principles for conventional warfighting and for unconventional, low-intensity conflict; the Indian army has evolved a doctrine. The latest avatar of this doctrine is termed the Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations (2006).8 The base document for this is the army’s 2004 doctrine, which gives the broad guidelines for CI operations and states the basic objective as being that of “conflict management.” And the focus is really on winning the hearts and minds of the people in the conflict zone. The same has been termed within the scope of the 2006 directives as the “iron fist, velvet glove strategy.”9

The 2004 document termed classified low-intensity conflict, irregular war, proxy war and insurgency under the category of subconventional operations.10 The 2006 doctrine for subconventional operations takes this further by emphasising that “a humane and people-centric approach, underscores the need for scrupulous upholding of the laws of the land, deep respect for human rights and minimum use of kinetic means, to create a secure environment, without causing any collateral damage. It propagates the use of overwhelming force against foreign and hardcore terrorists, while affording a fair chance to indigenous inimical elements to shun violence, surrender and join the mainstream as per (the) laws of the land.”11 This by itself is not perfect and can be criticised, but the point is that it gives a sense of the evolutionary nature of the project to define the role of the Indian army in IS duties.

In his significant work on the evolution of the army CI doctrine, Rajesh Rajagopalan criticises the Indian army’s CI practice as suffering from a conventional war bias that stems from its structure and organisational culture.12 According to Rajagopalan, this for a long time prevented any doctrinal innovation in its CI operations. Therefore, from its experience in Nagaland and Mizoram, where the army’s doctrine was first implemented, Kashmir was the next stop with little change. However, with time and further experience, each component of this doctrine underwent a change, and today, an overall low-intensity-conflict doctrine stands out for operations.

To understand the evolution of the Indian army’s CI doctrine, one has to go back to its experience in Nagaland and Mizoram in the 1950s and 1960s. It is from here that the basics emerged based on actual operational experience. The doctrine, as it developed over a period of time, had four major components. First, there was the limitation in the use of force. Second, it called for the isolation of the guerrillas from the population. Third, it sought adherence to the principle of area domination. And, finally, it sought the maintenance of superiority of forces at all times. The fundamental precepts of the experience were politically driven in that caution and limited force were to be used in dealing with “fellow Indians.”13 This has also meant that civic affairs (read hearts and minds policy) were part and parcel of CI operations.

Analysis of the Chinese guerrilla tactics under Mao Tse Tung and the efforts of the British in Malaya indicated that the state had to isolate the population from the insurgent. In the Indian case, the influence of the Malayan model of resettling villages led to a similar attempt in the Northeast, with Naga villages being “grouped” under the control of the army. The tactical adherence to cordon-and-search operations was a part of this strategy of isolation. Two other aspects of the doctrine also had to do with historical experience. One was the perception that to keep the insurgent tied down, it was necessary to dominate the area of operations. This meant maintaining a physical presence in the area in the form of posts and patrols and also ensuring that a large number of forces were readily available for quick forays in the operational area.14

In the 1980s, the Indian army proposed that it could engage in conflict resolution but that the political resolution of insurgencies was of paramount importance. That was the real meaning of “aid to civil authority.” Over a period of time, the doctrine became more specific and the 2006 DSCO expresses a preference for the “manoeuvre warfare” template that sought to place the terrorist in a reactive mode and to influence his “mind” and that of other antagonists.15 So from the hearts and minds of the people in insurgency-affected areas, the Indian army has moved to waging psychological warfare against the terrorist!16 Therefore, much has transpired since the early days of involvement in the Northeast. It is argued that while the basic elements remain the same, the language of CI operations has moved on!

Experience of CI Operations in J&K

From 1947 to 1990, the Indian army was deployed in Jammu and Kashmir for safeguarding the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border (IB) as well as for offensive military operations as and when called upon to do so. Then, in 1990, when insurgency in the Kashmir valley erupted and intensified, leaving the police and paramilitary forces unable to handle law and order, the Indian army stepped in. The Indian army had to handle the situation because Pakistan had initiated a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and the militants and foreign mercenaries they were infiltrating were armed with an array of modern weapons and sophisticated communications equipment and were trained to operate along regular military lines.17

When a strategic overview is taken of the nation’s modus operandi, it is clear that despite the large component of the army compared to the paramilitary, the pattern of deployment is along law enforcement lines, i.e., the judicial component of law enforcement is emphasised, special acts are promulgated with the option to extend or repeal and deployment is on a grid pattern like police districts. From the stage of mass-mobilisation dissent politics to Pakistan-assisted guerrilla warfare, the insurgency was being viewed from a single prism, making it difficult to innovate tactics to suit the ground situation.18

The context in which the army was drawn into the insurgency in Kashmir was that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was winding down while Pakistan continued to divert the resources it received from the United States into expanding the proxy war from Punjab to J&K. Pakistan’s ISI was emboldened in its task by the inept handling of the internal political situation in Kashmir during the mid-eighties. Already engaged in internal security duties in Punjab and elsewhere and drained by the deployment in Sri Lanka (IPKF), the Indian army was faced with a fresh challenge when it came to Jammu and Kashmir. Despite being pushed in without too much preparation, the army’s 15 Corps had by 1998 decimated the JKLF and put in place a potent counter-infiltration posture.19

By May 1990, the Kashmir valley was in the throes of an insurgency, which starting out in the urban areas, rapidly spread to the countryside. The army, which till then was the guardian of the IB and the LoC, was called in to conduct CI operations with a view to controlling the situation. There were two Corps HQ, 15 Corps and 16 Corps, in J&K at this point in time. 15 Corps is headquartered in Srinagar, in the Kashmir region, and consists of two infantry divisions and one mountain division supplemented by an artillery brigade. 16 Corps is headquartered in Nagrota, in the Jammu region, and consists of three infantry divisions within Jammu and two infantry divisions in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. With an artillery brigade and three independent armoured brigades, this is the largest army corps in the world and covers the LoC and IB in the Jammu region.20 Northern Command, with HQ in Udhampur, was tasked with counter-insurgency right from the beginning. In 2007, the then GOC-in-Command, Northern Command, stated that he had over 335,000 troops in the command, of which less than 30 per cent were committed to CI duties.21

Based on its experience with low-intensity conflicts in Nagaland, Sri Lanka and Punjab, the Indian army, by 1993–1995, put together a road map for the CI operation in Kashmir. While in the initial phase, the army focused on counter-infiltration. It soon realised that given the penetration of Pakistan-backed militants inside Kashmir, it needed to generate a road map for that purpose. In the mid-1990s, the army installed a simple three-tiered counter-infiltration system along the LoC and IB, which is used to this day. The first tier was on the border itself and aimed to intercept and kill any insurgent trying to sneak in. Constant patrolling and ambushes were mounted to check infiltration. The second tier consisted of a 5 km belt from the border. There was night curfew in this belt, with shoot-to-kill orders. The third tier was to “cordon and search” villages behind the 5 km belt. Depending on the area, the size of these tiers varied. For example, in the Kupwara sector, the second tier could be 15 km or more.22

From its experience in Nagaland, the army also learnt that physical domination of each and every village was one way to combat insurgency. At the same time, it was aware that applying the grid system could help in containing or localising the insurgency challenge and making command and control an easier task. Each node in a grid, at any given time, would have a platoon of ready-to-move soldiers—the quick reaction team (QRT) which would mutually reinforce other nodes. All would be covered with heavier fire support and have adequate logistics. In Jammu and Kashmir, the grid consisted of 49 sectors.23 Then, units were placed in each grid and expected to dominate it. The challenge was in using regular military forces for CI operations, which meant that they could not use heavy weapons. The terrain was variegated, and with insurgency being dominant in both urban and rural areas simultaneously, tactics had to be evolved that would make up for the limitations on firepower that could be brought in.

Once the army got its counter-infiltration strategy in place, it had to take on the insurgency in the Valley. The Valley spanned an area of 150 km by 80 km. Not only was the terrain for infiltration in favour of the infiltrators, but the Valley also had an uneven terrain with some raised outcrops with deep wooded gullies, providing militants a suitable terrain to operate from.24 Initially, the lack of intelligence led to CI-search-and-cordon operations that were based on just the application of force. Entire brigades were utilised for such operations. This was the tactic of area saturation in which villages were cordoned and searched; people were asked to assemble outside the villages and frisked while their homes were checked. All areas near a village, including ponds and wells, were checked for weapon caches. The results were minimal. Although weapons were recovered, most militants preferred to lie low. Because of the lack of interface and trust with the J&K police, no civilian agency was involved in the cordon-and-search operations.

This led to allegations of human rights abuses and challenges to the authority of the army in CI operations. While the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 was extended to J&K in 1990, issues of human rights and proper administration of the army’s CI role did not fall into place till the mid-1990s, when the forces began to use a combination of offensive CI operations along with a civic affairs “hearts and minds” campaign to wean the Kashmiri on the street away from the insurgency.

Also the establishment of the Corps Battle Schools to provide preinduction training to troops being sent on CI duties provided the army a medium through which its soldiers could be taught the basic principles of adherence in CI situations, where the possibility of the enemy misusing your every action was drilled.

Another tactical manoeuvre that became a regular sight in J&K was the road opening parties, or ROPs. These would sanitise a road of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These were extremely dangerous operations as they were set-piece operations and as such an invitation to attack. Every morning, truck-mounted patrols would start off from both ends, scanning for mines or IEDs up to 50 metres on either side of the road. They were coordinated with QRTs which were vehicle mounted and ready to move at a moment’s notice. Once the road was opened, guards would be posted for the day before withdrawing for the night. More recently, these ROPs have been provided with Caspir mine-proof vehicles. The QRTs now have better access to helicopters for quicker reaction.

With years of experience and the wish to keep its frontline forces fighting fit for border security, the Indian army raised the Rashtriya Rifles (RR). This military subset force has managed to create a condition of stability within the state, while the army’s main units continue their deployment along the borders, providing the necessary security to Kashmir. The creation of the RR was really another aspect of the changing nature of CI operations in Kashmir. It was felt that the army needed a force with roots in the region and with capacities for long-drawn operations. The second part of the doctrine was the establishment of a force that would have its roots in the area and hence would be effective in a long-drawn-out insurgency. This led to the formation of the RR and established permanent forces in the Valley (Victor) and Doda (Delta).25 8 Mountain Division was also moved in from Nagaland.

While regular army units were deployed on CI duties, it also made use of the skills of forces trained and equipped for small unit operations, like the army’s Special Forces, the National Security Guards and the Marine Commandos. The Marine Commandos took positions in and around Wullar Lake, cutting off infiltration routes and taking away the safe havens for militants. On occasion, when and where the situation permitted, sometimes heavier firepower was used. Instances of trapped militants being attacked with BMP cannons and machine gun fire from Mi-25 helicopters are there. Similarly, Mi-17 helicopters of the IAF have been used to move QRTs as well as provide suppressive fire, especially in the Doda region. The army, however, has been reluctant to use this on a daily basis in order not to hand the propaganda victory to the militant. The army also turned around some militant units. In addition, village defence committees (VDC) have been raised consisting of ex-servicemen and other able-bodied men to defend rural settlements.26

There was no coordination of CI efforts of the army for the first couple of years. The military chain of command passed from the Northern Command HQ to the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi. While the military command and control structure was adequate to take care of the operational side of things, lack of coordination with the state governments and civilian intelligence agencies had the drawback of dependence on military measures alone. This inevitably led to inadequate collection and poor dissemination of intelligence and the subsequent overemphasis on military measures, thereby setting in motion the trend for heavy-handed countermeasures. The creation of the unified headquarters (UHQs) in 1993 was aimed to overcome these lacunae. But it did not alter operational trends significantly. At that time, the UHQ functioned under the Adviser (Home) at the highest level to be able to coordinate the actions of the security forces, intelligence agencies and the army. Conceptually, it was a good idea but never got off the ground because of the turf wars between the various agencies and the inability of the paramilitary forces to function under the control of the army. After Kargil, the central government effected a few structural changes, such as integrating the unified command at the divisional and district levels and extending the 30-odd operational sectors into 49 Sectors.27

By 1997, the army’s CI operations were so effective that the militants and their organisations were being picked off at will. The frustration in Pakistan was obvious, and it showed in the large-scale artillery attacks in the Kargil area to create diversion for more militants to sneak in. This sequence of events culminated in the Kargil War of 1999. The war came at a time when the Valley was subdued and only needed a political solution. The war effort pulled in a number of battalions from the CI operations. The grid was severely disturbed, with the replacement CRPF and BSF units not being as effective. Consequently, the months after the war saw the number of terrorist attacks go up. With the troops of the 8 Mountain Division assigned north of the Zoji La, it took some time for the replacement troops to build up the knowledge. But once the grid settled in place things, the tempo swung back and, today, the situation is by and large peaceful, allowing the army to perform its primary role.

The army extended the ambit of its operations in J&K by beginning a civic affairs programme called Operation Sadhbhavna in 1998. The initial aim of the operation was to prevent the Kashmir insurgency from spreading to the Ladakh region. It focused on bringing development and dignity to the 109,500 people residing in the 190 villages close to the LoC. After Kargil, the operation was extended to Ladakh and Kargil by Lieutenant General Arjun Ray, the then commander of 14 Corps. From 1998 to 2008, a total of Rs. 276.08 crore was allocated by the government to spend on numerous developmental activities. Throughout the operation, the villagers of the conflict zones were the focal point around which the development was planned. Acting as the facilitator between the state administration and the villagers, the Indian army assisted in planning, providing technical solutions and supervising the developmental projects.28

There is a point to be made here about the results of the operations by the army in terms of numbers. After all, one of the challenges of forces fighting insurgencies is to ensure that it is not a statistical battle, and this was apparent in the early years of the insurgency, when according one source, military commanders remained wedded to the concept of the “numbers game” to judge the success of operations in terms of number of weapons captured and number of militants captured or killed.29 In 2007, one newspaper report claimed that the levels of violence had seen a steady decline since 2001–2002, when India and Pakistan almost went to war in the wake of the attack on the Parliament House. And this was by a comparison of the figures of people killed in terrorist-related violence. In 2004, in all, 707 civilians, 976 terrorists and 281 police and military personnel were killed. In 2009, the numbers plummeted to 64 security personnel, 78 civilians and 239 terrorists.30

At the present juncture, the Indian army is in the barracks and will stay there until needed. Of course, the troops of the Northern Command continue to monitor and patrol the LoC and IB for counter-infiltration operations and ensuring the integrity of Indian territory. And with the situation in the Valley improving, there is no reason the army should not stay in the barracks and not seek to become an internal security force. The apprehension that prevails is that given the volatile situation across the LoC, the revival of militancy is a factor that needs to be considered in the light of any move to reduce troop strength or reallocate the army’s present responsibilities in the state. The current juncture finds the situation so much improved that the government decided to withdraw 25 per cent of the deployed paramilitary as a confidence-building measure to bolster the search for peace. In 2007, it was decided that the CRPF would replace the BSF in the urban areas of J&K. This was to allow the BSF to go back to its primary role of guarding the borders.

The Impact of CI Operations

The Indian army has been involved in CI operations almost continuously since independence. Army formations have been active in CI operations in the Northeast since the 1950s and in Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s. This evolutionary CI experience has been unique in many ways. It has allowed the army to evolve an understanding of both the nature of insurgencies and the strategy and tactics that are needed to be adopted to take on this challenge. But the involvement of the armed forces directly or indirectly in CI duties tends to take them away from preparing for their primary role—that of defending the nation. Perhaps it is time that realisation of the moment sinks in—which is that preparing for war means preparing for all types of war, across the spectrum. That is why from the Indian army 2004 doctrine to the 2006 doctrine on subconventional operations, there has been an effort to modify one’s understanding of the problem. In a moment, focus will be turned on whether this theoretical underpinning is sufficient as India hurtles down the path of growth and development and inimical forces attempt to obstruct that occurrence.

In real terms, there has been a manifold increase in the army’s involvement in CI operations in both J&K and the Northeast, with the ever-present danger of it being sucked into anti-Naxalite operations. This is not only in terms of the number of troops involved but also in terms of associated formations like the Assam Rifles, RR and so on that are now engaged almost fully in CI operations. Thus, it is natural that the army feels the impact of regular operations in terms of induction and deinduction, logistics, command and control and the like. Training for regular military operations does suffer; however, the Corps Battle Schools and the courses in jungle warfare (which the U.S. greatly admires) provide sufficient opportunity for the army to have its troops in position for CI duties.

From one angle, continuous involvement in CI operations disrupts the army’s training routine, regimental ethos, culture, traditions, peace field tenure and human rights record.31 In addition, CI operations, by their very nature, demand a close and continuous interaction with the civil population in insurgency-prone areas, where at the best of times the local population is sullen and resentful of security forces, even if it means tacit support to the militants. The main function of the army in J&K is on the LoC. Its induction into the Valley to combat insurgency has brought it into contact with the civil population, and often cordon-and-search operations have led to situations where human rights violations are commonplace. That is why one source mentioned perceiving a difference between debriefing an officer who had served on the LoC and an officer who was on CI duties in the heartland in Kashmir. This was because the latter was subject to a much higher stress than the former.32

From a tactical perspective, the Indian army certainly used the lessons it learnt in the Northeast to fight a more proactive battle in Kashmir. It adapted itself, as always, to the given situation. What mattered most was the efficiency of the junior-level leadership which was at the forefront of the CI battle. And within this imperative was functional autonomy within a grid or area. But at the same time, the lack of unity of purpose in operations often led to counter-strikes by militants, and the inevitable allegations of human rights violations abounded. Lack of coordination with other agencies, including paramilitary forces, did create confusion as the militants blamed every action on the security forces and the army got the blame for it. Innovation in tactics and the need to focus on CI operations led the army to create the RR.

It was the V. P. Singh government which in 1990 gave the army permission to raise the RR. Initial sanction was for two sectors headquarters (HQs) comprising three battalions each. Just at this time, there was pending a proposal to induct 39 Infantry Division at Pathankot and 6 Mountain Division into the Valley. General B. C. Joshi, the then army chief, pushed the view that instead of inducting regular troops, it would be better to have RR induction as the army was already involved in the Northeast and Sri Lanka. A more important consideration, which Kargil would eventually expose, was that using the two divisions mentioned above for CI operations would play into the hands of Pakistan, which had just begun an intense proxy war against India. General Joshi, instead, sought the government’s permission to set up 10 more RR sector HQs—30 battalions, or the equivalent of three divisions. From the CI perspective, this was sound thinking and provided the army with three more trained divisions. One issue that does arise is, why did the army not think of training and equipping existing territorial army battalions for this job?

From a strategic perspective, the raising of the RR for CI operations in J&K brought home a fundamental issue about force structuring. Inducting troops from other areas into CI situations meant taking them away from planned strategic placements, and this disrupted their regular operational posture. For instance, in mid-1991, HQ 28 Division and its reserve brigades were drawn into the Valley for CI operations from the Kargil sector. This created a strategic void in the Kargil sector. In fact, the Kargil Review Committee Report goes as far as to claim that the proxy war by Pakistan was “deliberately designed” to offset the perceived overall conventional superiority of the Indian army.33

Since the army was inducted for CI operations, its deployment and role in the state changed from being a defensive/offensive force against an external enemy and its new posture disrupted the normal training routine of soldiers and had an impact on the mindset and state of readiness of troops. There is little doubt that long-drawn presence in CI situations does adversely impact troop morale, which is why the army created a tenure system (of two years) whereby all arms and regiments would get a sense of the operational situation in Kashmir.34 This has had its pluses and minuses.

In terms of actual operations, the army has used its operational experience in the Northeast to establish grids, and different formations are put in charge of each grid for area domination. Apart from the grouping of villages, the army used all other tactics outlined in its doctrine and followed the tips or rules of engagement set out by the army chief.35 The grid pattern was disturbed by the Kargil intrusions in 1999, and it was only after the conflict that the army managed to re-establish the grid. In the later part of the nineties, additional raisings of the RR enabled the army to increase its footprint in areas to which terrorism had spread south of the Pir Panjal.

In doctrinal terms, the constraint on the use of force in operations remains that it is a generic one seeking to deploy forces in large numbers in CI situations with a view to dislodge the guerrilla from his secure zone and restore order for political authority to be established. The inability of the system of governance to deliver has also meant that it uses the presence of the military/paramilitary to go ahead with development projects with the aim of harnessing popular support. This is the main reason why Operation Sadbhavana was launched.

Need to Revisit the National Strategy on Counterinsurgency

The Indian strategy for counterinsurgency rests on the British model of winning the hearts and minds of the people. While there is contemporary literature that shows that this is not often the most viable option, CI doctrines have not changed. Of course, the changing dynamics of insurgencies globally has meant a revision of the basic doctrine. There is reason to revisit the Indian army’s doctrine from the historical perspective and in terms of operational lessons learned. For instance, the work of historian Karl Hack permits a revisiting of the British policy in Malaya and gives us a sense of the role of individuals (like Gerald Templer and Harold Briggs) and policies, such as “hearts and minds” in the overall context of British policy.36

One view is that if doctrines are to be modified, then lessons can be learnt from the offensive operations launched by the former director general of Punjab Police, K. P. S. Gill’s, who demonstrated that it was possible to succeed without a population-centric CI strategy.37 Gill’s tactics focussed on operations which targeted the leadership and cadre of Khalistan terrorists. There is no doubt that these unconventional methods were useful in defeating the militancy in the state. It is in fact an axiom that small units operations with specific objectives and good intelligence are often successful. This is true even in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, where the Special Operations Group succeeded in decimating the leadership of the Hizb ul-Mujahideen. Similarly, it may be argued that the Greyhounds raised by the Andhra Pradesh government to exclusively deal with the Maoists have curbed the once once-powerful Maoist insurgency in the state. The only point to be made here in the context of Punjab is that K. P. S. Gill, as he himself admits, that good intelligence lay at the heart of his effort and he had the support of the army in Operation Rakshak I & II.38

If one takes an overview of the army’s role in J&K, then the following points by way of summary come to mind. Kashmir is an operational front with international focus on it. This is because Pakistan, which created, supported and perpetuated the proxy war, did so precisely with a view to internalise the issue of political alienation. That the alienation is also a function and result of domestic policies is a factor that cannot be wished away and needs to be kept in mind when the Indian army states that its task is conflict management and not conflict resolution.

Inducted as it was in an environment of uncertainty and driven by self-preservation, the Indian army performed the CI mission on its own in the initial years of insurgency. While it succeeded in breaking the back of insurgency, this led to a situation where even the creation of the unified headquarters, where the Corps Commanders worked under the Adviser (Home), was seen as an undermining of the military chain of command.39 Looking back, this seems to relate to army’s arguments on the AFSPA and appears to mean that it has forgotten that it is providing “aid to civil power” and that its main concern is with its image and credibility.

Similarly, in the case of unified HQ (UHQ) which operates today under the chairmanship of the chief minister of the state, the military is represented by the two corps commanders and not by the army commander. This again shows the faulty appreciation of the need for clear command and control in CI operations. While the army’s reluctance (as was the case with the paramilitary forces) to earlier work under a civilian leadership was a contextual challenge in the absence of any established political authority, the present anomaly in the UHQ only creates further pinpricks in civil military relations. One can only surmise that in seeking to legitimise and institutionalise its presence in J&K, the army raised the RR. Similar is the case with Operation Sadbhavana. While this has certainly strengthened the CI grid in Kashmir, it raises long-term questions about India’s strategy of constantly creating new paramilitary forces while expanding or revisiting existing forces.40


At the outset, this paper stated that it wanted to explore the army’s experience in CI operations from the perspective of the use of force and its limitations. The army’s operations in Kashmir are two-fold—counter-infiltration (which continues to this day) and counter-insurgency in the hinterland (which is considerably reduced). The former was clear in its perspective and succeeded because the lines of authority and accountability for action were military. When it came to the latter, there was a blurring of the lines of authority and this created a challenge for the army in operating in a CI environment.

The limitations on the use of force has also meant that the lack of heavy firepower in CI operations in the Kashmir hinterland have witnessed manpower-intensive firefights lasting for many days. While collateral damage is sought to be reduced, the psychological scars this leaves take longer to heal. Second, the superiority of numbers of operating forces has not always translated into successful CI operations. Third, the application of force can at times lead to human rights violations that are media visible. While this is a necessary component of the operating philosophy of the army, it also leaves open the question of whether the judicious application of force across the area might not yield better results.

As stated above, India has experienced all types of insurgency and counter-insurgency in variegated terrain and amongst various socioethnic populations. Applicability on a case-to-case basis demands that we refine our national CI strategies to deal with given situations based on local genius and other factors. That is perhaps the most important lesson from the Indian army’s experience of CI operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Notes and References

  1. Hindustan Times. “Army Wants AFSPA, Omar Insists Act Must Go.” 9 November 2011. Jammu/New Delhi Edition. <http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NorthIndia/Army-wants-AFSPA-Omar-insists-Act-must-go/Article1-766982.aspx>.
  2. Rajesh Rajagopalan. Fighting Like a Guerrilla. The Indian Army and Counterinsurgency. Routledge India, 2008. This is one of the first works to try and understand the evolution of the army’s CI doctrine set against a conventional war thesis.
  3. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act was first enacted in 1958 for the states of the Northeast to basically give legitimacy to soldiers in the Indian armed forces operating in insurgency situations.
  4. Rajesh Rajagopalan. “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency.” In National Security: A Symposium on Re-examining Strategic Institutions and Practices, July 2009, no. 599. <http://www.india-seminar.com/2009/599.htm>.
  5. Op cit, n. 2, pp. 149–158.
  6. Op cit, n. 4.
  7. Op cit, n. 2, pp. 164–168.
  8. The Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations is listed on the website of the Integrated Defence Staff but does not load. Present facts of the doctrine have been adapted from Ali Ahmed, “Revision of DSCO: Human Rights to the Fore,” IDSA Policy Brief, pp. 2–4. <http://www.idsa.in/system/files/PB_RevisionoftheDSCO.pdf>.
  9. For a critique of the DSCO 2006, see Gautam Navlakha, “Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations: A Critique,” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 14, 7–13 April 2007, pp. 1242–1246.
  10. The doctrine of the Indian army is available at the website of the Integrated Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, Government of India. <ids.nic.in/Indian%20Army%20Doctrine/indianarmydoctrine_1.doc>.
  11. DSCO 2006 cited in Navlakha, op cit, n. 9.
  12. Op cit, n. 2.
  13. Op cit, n. 2, p. 146.
  14. Op cit, n. 4.
  15. Ali Ahmed, op cit, n. 8.
  16. Lt. Gen. Arjun Ray. Kashmir Diary: Psychology of Militancy. New Delhi: Manas Books, 2004. This is among the first books to explore the information warfare aspect of winning the hearts and minds of the local populace in Jammu and Kashmir.
  17. Government of India, National Security Council Secretariat. From Surprise to Reckoning. The Kargil Review Committee Report. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2000. p. 75.
  18. For a detailed analysis of the evolution of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, see Sumit Ganguly, “Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilization and Institutional Decay,” International Security 21, no. 2, 1996. <http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/sumit.htm>.
  19. Ali Ahmed. “Counter Insurgency Learning from Kashmir.” Article No. 1735. Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, 20 January 2011. <http://www.claws.in/index.php?action=master&task=736&u_id=77>.
  20. Military History of India. “Op Rakshak-III.” 27 March 2006. <http://horsesandswords.blogspot.in/2006/03/op-rakshak-iii.html>.
  21. Praveen Swami. “Figures Back Case for Army Rollback in Kashmir.” Hindu, 28 October 2011. Net edition, 21 March 2012. <http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2574588.ece>.
  22. Subramanium. “CI Operations in Jammu & Kashmir.” Bharat Rakshak Monitor 3, no. 2, September–October 2000. <http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/MONITOR/ISSUE3-2/lns.html>.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Brig. Amrit Pal Singh. “Countering Insurgency in South Asia: Three Approaches.” Small Wars Journal, 23 September 2011. <http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/countering-insurgency-in-south-asia-three-approaches>.
  25. Op cit, n. 22.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Arpita Anant. “Counterinsurgency and Operation Sadbhavana in Jammu and Kashmir.” IDSA, Occasional Paper No. 19, October 2011. <http://www.idsa.in/system/files/OP_CounterinsurgencyKashmir.pdf>.
  28. Maroof Raza. Wars and No Peace Over Kashmir. New Delhi: Lancer Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1996. pp. 94–95. Ali Ahmed contextualises the operations of the RR in Kashmir by stating that “Owing to the divergence from theoretical yardsticks in certain periods of the campaign, symptoms of ‘brutalization’ and the ‘fatal attraction’ of the ‘bean count’ and the numbers game surfaced.” See Ali Ahmed, “Countering Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir,” in Maroof Raza (ed.), Countering Terrorism, Penguin Viking, 2009. p. 73.
  29. Op cit, n. 21.
  30. For an interesting study based on responses to a questionnaire on several aspects of impact of CI duties on soldiers of the army, see K. C. Dixit, “Sustaining Motivation in Sub-Conventional Conflicts,” IDSA, Occasional Paper No. 14. July 2010.
  31. Personal interviews of author with army officers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, May 1998.
  32. Maj. Gen. A. K. Verma. Kargil: Blood on the Snow. Manohar Publishers, 2002. pp. 73–74.
  33. Op cit, n. 17, p. 76.
  34. Op cit, n. 30, p. 16. According to the study by Dixit, 82 per cent of the respondents were of the view that the duration of tenure in CI or LIC environment should not exceed 18 months.
  35. Jha. “Armed Forces and Human Rights, Open Page.” Hindu, 3 August 2004. Wing Commander Jha, a retired air force officer, states in this article that the Supreme Court of India in the case of Naga People’s Movement v. Union of India (decided on 27 November 1997) upheld the AFSPA. It expressed satisfaction with the 10 Commandments issued by the army chief for dealing with militants.  <http://www.hindu.com/op/2004/08/03/stories/2004080300251300.htm>.
  36. Dr. Karl Hack, “Extracting Counterinsurgency Lessons: The Malayan Emergency and Afghanistan,” RUSI, Expanding the Learning Curve, Modern Lessons of Military History, Autumn 2009, <http://www.rusi.org/militaryhistory/series1/>.
  37. Praveen Swami. “For a Review of Counter Insurgency Doctrine.” Hindu, 13 April 2010.
  38. S. Gill. “The Dangers Within: Internal Security Threats.” In Future Imperilled: India’s Security in the 1990’s and Beyond. Edited by Bharat Karnad. New Delhi: Viking, 1994. pp. 118–119.
  39. Cited in Ali Ahmed. “Countering Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.” In Countering Terrorism. Edited by Maroof Raza. Penguin Viking, 2009. pp. 68–69.
  40. One perceptive analysis of this issue was the report of the Task Force on Border Management, which was headed by Madhav Godbole, set up by the Group of Ministers, Government of India, in 2001. The task force recommended inter alia, a one-force-one-border principle, and proposed that the CRPF should be the national-level counter-insurgency force.
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About the Author

Bhashyam Kasturi

Bhashyam Kasturi has written extensively on terrorism, intelligence systems and special forces, in Indian and international journals/newspapers. He is the author of the Book Intelligence Services: Analysis, Organization and Function.

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