General's candid comments
India is fighting a nasty battle in Kashmir. It's a war against separatism, terrorism, and of late Islamism that has combined against the Indian state. Each successive government has had its share of Kashmir ordeal and its own method of dealing with it. Being in power, now it's the turn of the NDA government, which seems to have decided to deal with the terror backed insurgency rather firmly and squarely.
Accordingly, while maintaining utmost restraint, armed forces are giving a befitting reply to the perpetrators across the LOC and in the few disturbed districts of the valley. However, it's a pity that certain sections sympathetic to the separatists are questioning army's tactics and strategies. They conveniently ignore that it is an irregular war in which one side does not represent any state but new kind of stateless formations bound by radical ideology. These radical mercenaries innovate new strategies to unleash terror and browbeat the authority of the state. Stone pelting, ambush, kidnapping, murder, intimidation through social media; they keep inventing new methods but for counterinsurgency, a professional army maintains restraint. Even in the midst of grave provocation, it remains more concerned about securing the civilian population rather than destroying the enemy. So what's wrong with army's strategy to use a stone-pelter as a human shield to minimise collateral damage to civilians and defend the nation and itself? General Bipin Rawat's bold stand and defence of army's strategy reflects India's determination and firmness.
For hundreds of years, nations thought that threat comes only from other nations and that terrorism could never be as severe. It was considered the weapon of the weak. The premise has changed and so have the strategies of war. Today, democracies are being challenged by the liberal and radical alike. The earlier is unleashed by selfish politicians, vested interest groups in the guise of civil society, human right activists, pseudo-intellectuals and their ilk while the radical terror outfits perpetrate the latter. Liberal democracies like India are falling victim to both. As such, making army our last and most formidable line of defence answerable to vested interest groups and political parties will be detrimental. It's time our internal security doctrine unequivocally announces that in conflict zones, the strategy of the forces should not be subjected to unauthorised scrutiny and comments. Making our troops subject to media and political trials is a deliberate ploy to weaken the institution. True to the tradition of Army leadership, General Rawat has given the message that he is with his men who are at the forefront in the line of duty. The General has done what a General must do in such a situation. But what has our political class done other than muddling the situation? People of J&K and the rest of India are yet to see any constructive and practical proposal of reconciliation forthcoming from their end. Today, the army is fighting a war which successive previous political parties and governments have lost.
We're living in the most difficult times as far as global and national security is concerned. Ideological fault lines have deepened, and rabid radicalism is replacing moderation. Liberal democracies are not yet fully prepared to either preempt or meet the challenges of radical ideologies whether religious or political. The French defence and national security doctrine recognise this threat. It holds that though the world is not necessarily more dangerous, it has become more unstable, more unforeseeable.
As a result, any future military operation is going to be more dangerous than before. It admits that casualties have a substantial impact on national perception and support at home. Nevertheless, the doctrine also very firmly reiterates that protecting the force is not only a moral imperative, but also a strategic and tactical requirement in such a situation. What's wrong with General Rawat if he stands by his men and supports their strategy? A strategy can be devised only by the man on the spot. American defence expert Col. Arthur Lykke explained strategy (military) through an interesting non-mathematical equation. According to him Strategy = Ends+Ways+Means. Military intervention in Kashmir is just strategic, not the end in itself. It's just a means to achieve the end which is to restore order and create an atmosphere to strengthen the democratic process. American Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, the author of the famous Weinberger Doctrine, was even more forthcoming. He said if we decide it is necessary to put combat troops into a given situation, we should do so wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning.
Conventional wars involve all elements of national power which include military, diplomatic, economic, and informational prowess. But the one going on in Kashmir is different. It's a war within, so the options are limited. More than military, it's also a psychological war. Any collateral damage is our loss. The armed forces know it well, and that's why they maintain utmost restraint. Coercion and humane judgment are at the core of all major military doctrines. Indian army knows it well in letter and spirit. Force must be used when there's no alternative. But it's just for achieving an objective. British Defense Doctrine says that fighting power can be applied benignly. However, it is an especially powerful and influential instrument of policy when it is used to deter or coerce during a measured process of conflict prevention and confrontation management. The message General Rawat has given is clear and unambiguous: use of force is the last option, but if it's inevitable it must create the impact. That's what the nation expects from its army.
(The author is a senior academic and a socio-political commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal.)