What we learn from our COIN campaigns

…is that we don’t learn from them

Here’s a passage from my review of India & Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned, a volume of case studies and analyses edited by Sumit Ganguly & David Fidler.

A recurring theme in the book is that lessons that were to be learnt in one counter-insurgency campaign were not learnt, and mistakes repeated over and over again. That is as much a damning indictment of the Indian armed forces—particularly the army—as it is of a political class that treats political violence as within the ambit of legitimate politics. But while the failings of political leaders are well-known and roundly condemned, the lapses of the security forces are masked by information asymmetries.

Shouldn’t a counter-insurgency doctrine help prevent mistakes from being repeated? Comparing the counter-insurgency doctrines of the United States and India, Dr Fidler writes that the exercise of developing the Indian Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations (DSCO) was “mainly one of codification—collecting in one document guidance accumulated over the course of more than fifty years. The objective was not to revolutionise how the Indian Army or government thought about how to fight insurgencies.” That sounds quintessentially Indian and evokes images of the Vedas, which were codified into written form after centuries of existence as oral tradition. It will be a challenge to translate this kind of a document into a strategy for current and future conflicts.

Dr Fidler also points out that India’s counter-insurgency doctrine “has not involved the civilian government agencies affected, such as the state and central police forces.” This is perhaps its biggest weakness—by its very nature, counter-insurgency is a problem of (re-)establishing governance. The Indian pattern has been one where, even after a successful campaign by security forces, the civilian government is somehow expected to miraculously appear and resume administration. Unfortunately, this does not usually happen, setting the state for the insurgency to resume. It is unclear if this broad point has registered at the highest levels of the Indian government. [Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review]

Spooked by an unfinished doctrine?

The Pakistani military establishment has its reasons to over-react to General Deepak Kapoor’s remarks

This time, it’s an obscure comment at an internal seminar about a new doctrine that the Indian army is working on. The doctrine is not even ready in draft form. It has not even been endorsed by the Army Headquarters. And, as we know from the story of ‘Cold Start’, the Army’s endorsement doesn’t mean that the other services, the defence ministry or the Cabinet Committee on Security has accepted it. That tells you something about how serious India’s political leadership is about defence strategy. It also tells you how ridiculous the Pakistani establishment looks when it goes into hysteria about a new Indian army doctrine that is still work in progress.

Now the army chief being the army chief merely said that the army will be ready to fight China and Pakistan simultaneously and quickly. This shouldn’t be news to anybody. The fact that both China and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and that this makes large-scale war unlikely, doesn’t mean that the armed forces in those countries don’t prepare for conventional war. In the India-China and the India-Pakistan context, where bilateral relations are hardly like those between the United States and Canada, for instance, the conventional military balance across the border is important, and itself acts as a deterrent to outright conflict.

Furthermore, till the time the Pakistani military-jihadi complex remains intact, it makes abundant sense for India to possess the necessary military capacity to conduct swift, decisive operations across the border. No army wants to go to war, and to some extent, the prospect of having to fight the Indian army will discourage the Pakistani military leadership from using jihadi groups for acts of terrorism.

All this, though, is not some bold new innovation in military strategy. So why is the Pakistani establishment in such a state of excitement?

At one level, given the history, war hysteria is understandable. But it serves two key purposes: first, it rallies the Pakistani people behind the military-jihadi complex. Second, it allows the Pakistani establishment to inflate the ‘Indian threat’ to audiences in the United States, both as an explanation for its reluctance to allocate more resources to the border with Afghanistan, and also to justify its use of US financial assistance to purchase military assets for use against India.

We saw this happen after the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. And we’re seeing it again now.

The Chapter 7 option

A UN mandate might make it easier for India to send troops to Afghanistan

In the July-Sep 2009 issue of Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) concludes his scenario analysis of Afghanistan with the following:

A peaceful and stable Afghanistan capable of maintaining its strategic autonomy is a vital national interest for India. It is a country with which India has traditionally enjoyed warm and friendly relations. Since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001-02, India has contributed only soft power to the international reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. It has spent approximately US$ 1.5 billion for reconstruction, including building the Delaram-Zaranj highway, building and running schools and hospitals and in training the fledgling Afghan administration. As an aspiring though reluctant regional power, India must overcome its fear of overseas military interventions – occasioned by the ill-advised and unsuccessful foray into Sri Lanka in the 1980s – and stand up and be counted as a genuine rising power that is willing to discharge legitimate regional responsibilities.

Should India agree to send its troops to Afghanistan, it will do so only under a United Nations flag. A fresh UN Security Council mandate will be necessary under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Pakistan will be extremely reluctant to accept Indian troops being positioned in the Jalalabad-Ghazni-Kandahar triangle comprising the worst affected areas as it will see such presence as a direct threat. It will be more prudent to send Indian troops to either Mazar-e-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west and relieve US and NATO forces to fight in the east and south-east. India could send a brigade group (5,000 personnel) to begin with and gradually step up the force level to one infantry division (15,000 personnel) when a fully functional logistics system is in place – either from the south through Chabahar Port (Iran)-Zaranj-Delaram-Garland Highway or from the north through Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. Both the routes will present formidable challenges for logistics, but none that cannot be overcome with methodical planning.

The present situation in the Af-Pak region has reached a strategic stalemate. To break out of the logjam, the international community must consider a fresh approach. The tactical situation calls for the infusion of a much larger number of professionally competent military personnel than NATO-ISAF are capable of mustering. If the challenge of fundamentalist terrorism is to be successfully overcome, the aim should be to close in with and fight the Taliban and the al Qaeda on the ground, rather than seeking to bomb them into submission from the air. Among others, the Indian army and air force can help to turn the tide. It is time the international community stopped playing politics with the future of a volatile region and called on the regional powers to play their rightful role. [IFAJ]

Now, here at INI, we are not big fans of supplying troops for UN peacekeeping operations merely because they are for UN peacekeeping operations. But it must be admitted that, in a positive sense, an Indian military deployment to Afghanistan is more likely if it has UN sanction. Also noteworthy is that Brigadier Kanwal, who has served in the army’s Directorate-General of Military Operations (DGMO), believes that the logistics hurdle of supplying up to 15,000 Indian troops is surmountable.

Sunday Levity: Babes, do your patriotic duty

What attracts women?

INI’s resident military affairs expert (no, no pun intended) sends in an article with the following bit highlighted:

Young women who don’t join the army have another important role to play. They may opt to marry army officers and encourage their female friends to follow suit. If pretty young women in large numbers come forward to marry army officers, the stock of army officers in social circles goes up. This in turn provides indirect motivation to other young men to join the corps of officers and serve the nation. [Chitranjan Sawant/Merinews]

Now, Mr Sawant—like the Ukrainian army recruitment department—is not entirely wrong: if army officers get all the babes, then more young men will want to be army officers. But it is wrong to presume that getting women to marry army officers—out of a sense of patriotic duty—will lengthen the list of applicants to military academies.

That’s because of the OMIPP, the Oldest Mistake In Public Policy, which mistakes correlation for causation. In this case, attractive young women of marriageable age might be attracted to young men from a certain industry for the same reason as other young men want to get into that industry. Maybe because that industry pays well, offers a relatively better quality of life, a higher social status or all of the above.

So whether you are recruiting for the army or for the public sanitation department, you are better off making the job profile more attractive. The babes will follow.

Related post: If you don’t think such a grave issue as shortage of army officers ought to be treated with such levity, you can read what we think is the real solution to the problem.

The Rawalpindi raid

An unsatisfactory assessment

The attackers scored the moment they penetrated the outermost cordon of the Pakistani army’s General Head Quarters (GHQ) complex. They broke a psychological barrier by striking at the heart of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. That they probably didn’t get anywhere near the innermost sanctums does not matter: they hit the beast in its own lair, engaged the defenders for almost 18 hours and captured the attention of a nation and the world.

That’s about the only assessment that can be made with any confidence at this stage. This is indeed a very unsatisfactory assessment, for it leaves almost all the important questions unanswered. But it is hard to believe any of the ‘answers’ that have been offered by authorities and analysts over the last 24 hours.

Take, for instance, the narrative that these were the Taliban who attacked the Pakistan army pre-emptively to prevent it from carrying out a counter-insurgency campaign in Waziristan. The problem with this line is that carrying out anything short of a complete decapitation strike is more likely to provoke the Pakistan army to move against the militias of Waziristan than to deter it.

The other narrative—which we might see a lot more of in the coming weeks—is the comparison to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai last year. Other than the fact that both are examples of urban guerilla warfare, there is little in common. It is too hasty to conclude that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an outfit based out of Pakistan’s Punjab province, attacked the GHQ based on the similarity of the two operations. That is because the Lashkar-e-Taiba is the GHQ’s paw, and a entrenched component of the military-jihadi complex. Unless some enraged Lashkar hands did this to demand back pay, this could not have been an LeT job.

What this means is that the star-bearing gentlemen in khaki will have to be even more careful as they go about their daily lives. In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden will tell his boss and his colleagues why he had been right all along, and why Pakistan should be the centre of the US AfPak strategy. And as usual, many people will publicly worry about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into terrorists’ hands.

Related Links: B Raman has a tentative assessment

Why General Kayani is angry

Understanding the Pakistani military establishment’s objections to the Kerry-Lugar conditionalities

If it’s hard to determine the exact cause of the uproar in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it is because there are many. Simply put, every quarter in Pakistan is using it as a stick to beat its opponents. While all the outrage over being insulted (via Zeitgeist Politics), having sovereignty disrespected and being distrusted by the United States contributes to the heat, dust and entertainment, the most important question is why did the Pakistan Army—and there were reports that the navy and the air force differed from their terrestrial colleagues—publicly throw up its hands in protest?

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and his senior colleagues cited “serious concern regarding clauses relating to national security” and suggested that the parliament must shape a “national response.” So what were they referring to?

The sticking points most commonly cited in the public debate over the Kerry-Lugar Bill in Pakistan are the ones attached to action against cross-border terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Now, the Pakistan army is certainly concerned about US scrutiny and pressure over these issues, but it is unlikely that these issues by themselves would cause the generals to raise the red flag. They’ve slipped out of this ring in the past, and they can do so in future.

It is more likely that the military establishment made its move because of other conditions in the Bill that seek to alter the civil-military relationship in Pakistan: by increasing development assistance, by conditioning military assistance, among others, on civilian control of the armed forces. The ambit of civilian control extends to matters like promotions of officers to senior ranks. As INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar (in an email) and Pakistani blogger Kalsoom astutely point out (via Changing Up Pakistan), behind General Kayani’s missive lies the military establishment’s refusal to accept a civilian straitjacket.

There are reports in the Pakistani media about some individuals linked to the PPP government and to President Asif Ali Zardari personally played a role in encouraging the US Congress to include such terms. The insinuation is that Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, was among those responsible. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reining in the rogue military establishment is in the interests of the PPP government, and in most countries, would be considered legitimate.

The corps commanders have clearly drafted their statement carefully. Not only does it register their opposition to accepting aid under the terms of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it also suggests that it is the parliament—not the Zardari government, which is the executive—that should make the decision.

Neither General Kayani nor the military establishment are hurt politically if Pakistan rejects the Kerry-Lugar assistance. The prevailing schizophrenia among the public over Pakistan’s role in sponsoring international terrorism and rampant anti-Americanism will probably make them more popular. And if the Pakistan economy goes into a tailspin, it will be the Zardari government that takes the rap.

This should signal to the Obama administration that its biggest problem in AfPak is Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. The message from Washington should be “take it or leave it.”

Did General Kapoor really call for a review of NFU?

Mistaken nuclear strategy or mistaken media management?

It might well be that General Deepak Kapoor’s remarks on Pakistan’s fast-expanding nuclear arsenal were blown out of proportion by the media. A Times News Network (TNN) headline in the Times of India yesterday said that India “(may) have to revisit nuclear no-first use policy: Army chief” but the accompanying report did not quote him as having said that. The report says that “Kapoor’s implied suggestion that India could have to revisit its no-first use policy in case the strength of Pakistan’s nuclear was close to what had been claimed, will challenge a long held position.” But since it does not carry his words verbatim, the reader must rely on the reporter’s opinion on what the army chief might have implied.

Other reports, including in the Economic Times, TOI’s sister publication, and Indian Express do quote General Kapoor. He said:

There is a difference between having a degree of deterrence, which is required for one’s own protection, and going beyond that. If news reports of them having 70-90 atomic bombs are correct then, I think, they are going well beyond the so-called requirement of deterrence and that is something which is of concern to all of us.” [ET]

Unless there are other reports it does appear that the general fell victim to some irresponsible sensationalisation and media malpractice. General Kapoor’s comment that Pakistan’s nuclear expansion is “of concern” is reasonable, although this blog has argued that it is more of a concern to the international community than to India. But from what can be gathered from other reports, he did not specifically mention or imply that India should review its no-first-use nuclear doctrine. Perhaps he should have been more careful in choosing his words and fully account for the possibility that sections of the Indian media would think nothing of putting words into his mouth merely to create a sensation.

In the event that General Kapoor did say or imply that an increase in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal warrants a review of the no-first-use doctrine, he would not only be wrong, but irresponsible (which, in this context, might be worse than being merely wrong). As K Subrahmanyam points out in a magesterial op-ed in the Indian Express today:

If today an increase in the Pakistani nuclear stockpile and the development of Babar cruise missile cause concern about a decapitating first strike, then the logical remedy is not to abandon our NFU but to provide for credible, visible succession for both political and military command, and to streamline the chain of command. [IE]

If General Kapoor was misquoted, the army headquarters would do well to issue a clarification. To the extent that the episode draws attention to the need for better governance of India’s strategic arsenal, some good might yet come of it. (See my article on the lines of nuclear succession)

Being less of a threat to Pakistan

Shouldn’t India nail that canard?

Here’s a thought: almost everyone in Pakistan, and many thinking people in the United States still believe in that story about why having to face a stronger army on its eastern border makes the Pakistani army less able to throw more resources into the fight against the Taliban (see this post on Pragmatic Euphony).

At one level Pakistan’s insecurity with respect to India is structural. There’s nothing India can do about that (see Dhruva’s post). At another level, the perception of insecurity is purely military in nature. There is something—actually many things—that India could do about that.

Like moving some strike formations and heavy equipment some distance away from the border. Surely, it can’t be that the Pakistanis will take advantage of this and send armoured columns rolling into India across the Indian border? If not Washington’s frown, they surely will fear yet another military defeat at the hands of the Indian army.

Once India gets itself a new cabinet, perhaps the foreign minister or his boss can announce that as long as the Pakistan army is really fighting the Taliban (“the common threat to India, Pakistan and the United States”, as people like to say these days), it need not fear an Indian attack.

Remember, this has little bearing on checking the infiltration of terrorists along the Line of Control, or indeed the international border. Counter-infiltration must continue, and indeed, gear up.

So why not?

Tamil Nadu alert

Tamil chauvinism must be prevented from taking an anti-India form

It is repugnant, but legitimate, for political groups in India to support the LTTE. It is repugnant, but legitimate for them to engage in lawful political activism to promote their cause. But it is wholly illegitimate and totally unacceptable for them to attack an Indian army convoy for any reason. So the ‘activists’ from of Periyar Dravida Kazhagam (PDK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) who attacked an Indian army convoy near Coimbatore must be dealt with utmost seriousness.

The attack itself is unusual and was quite likely to have been conducted after agents provocateurs spread rumours about the convoy carrying an arms shipment for the Sri Lankan army. Like the riot that occurred at the Madras High Court campus a few months ago, this attack suggests that an unholy nexus between Tamil chauvinist politicians and the LTTE’s supporters has not only been allowed to exist, but been given the license to carry out acts of violence against symbols of the Indian state. M Karunanidhi’s DMK government—which never made a secret of its sympathies—and the pusillanimous UPA government in New Delhi cannot escape responsibility for preventing the nexus from developing in an anti-India direction.

The Coimbatore incidents must not be repeated. The prosecution of those arrested for attacking the army trucks must carry on without ‘politicising’ it. This is possible if both the DMK and Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK agree that some lines ought not to be crossed. The chances of this happening appear slim—but without leadership and deft political management the Sri Lankan issue could destabilise Tamil Nadu for the next few years.

Some species are better extinct

How the LTTE damaged the Sri Lankan Tamil cause

More than a generation has grown up without knowing what the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987 was all about. Shekhar Gupta does well to remind us just why there is no need to shed any tears for the LTTE:

Bipin Joshi and I had many conversations on this subsequently, particularly after he took over as army chief (and where he died, tragically, of a heart attack while still in service). He still argued he was right in his description of the LTTE. If they were not macho and irrational, he said, why would they defend Jaffna against a full-fledged army in a conventional manner, a battle they were destined to lose — which they did. No clever, well-led guerrilla force would commit such a blunder, you can’t create a Stalingrad with sneak and ambush, he would say. The LTTE’s (ultimately) disastrous defence of Jaffna, he said, was the starkest example of this cruel, macho irrationality that cared little for human life, theirs or the enemy’s.

In this moment of the LTTE’s destruction and defeat you can’t but reflect on that. What kind of people take on an entire nation’s modern army, in the face of total worldwide opprobrium to their terrorist ways and unmindful of the plight of the Tamils whose cause they professed to be fighting for? Only people driven by violent madness, militaristic fascism, the suicide-bomber cult, for whom killing is not a means to the end, but the very purpose of living. Over two and a half decades, the LTTE has killed literally tens of thousands, a majority of them Tamil. They invented the human bomb and used one to kill the one man (Rajiv Gandhi) who staked his name and reputation and his country’s might and resources to find for their fellow Tamils a peaceful and just settlement. But obviously, that is not what the LTTE and its megalomaniac supremo had wanted. All they wanted was killing, killing and more killing. For Prabhakaran, peace talks were just a cynical tactic to recover, regroup and rearm whenever the going got tough. When the IPKF, under Lt Gen Amar Kalkat, had got the better of him decisively and controlled all inhabited areas, driving him into his Kilinochchi dugout (from which the Sri Lankans have just prised him out) he made common cause with President Premadasa, one of the cruellest and most pathologically anti-Tamil Sinhala leaders ever. Together they got rid of the IPKF — with help from a sudden turn in Tamil Nadu politics after Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat and the arrival in power, in Delhi and Chennai, respectively, of a hopelessly lily-livered V.P. Singh and a Karunanidhi almost as cynical as Vaiko is now. That done, Premadasa too was blown up by a teenaged LTTE human bomb, and how bomb and target got into such close proximity is a story too sordid to be told in a family newspaper even in these permissive times. [IE]