Special Commentary

India, Pakistan and the Paradox of Power: Countering Insurgency Across the LoC

09 Sep, 2013    ·   4110

Vice Admiral (Retd) Vijay Shankar suggests that the lack of a proportional Indian response to Pakistani border incursions will only cause the worst escalation

Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Distinguished Fellow

The Inadequacy of Proportional Response
The Pakistan army has relentlessly pursued its politico-military-militant strategy of a ‘thousand cuts’ to keep the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on the boil and in consequence erode the will to federate. While success in this endeavour has been denied Pakistan, it has, for reasons not quite convincing, kept the response from the Indian side proportional, reactive and tactically restrained. This, Pakistan has achieved despite the fact of sponsoring the primary provocation. Ironically the balance of power is so heavily skewed towards India that it is a paradox that the ‘cuts’ persist varying only in terms of gore.

 Given the context and nature of the strategy that relies on bleeding India through the use of irregulars; the low risk, low cost and high return (to the Pakistan cause) of the stratagem and the enduring security predicament that it precipitates leaves the planner in a state of disquiet. In dealing with contrivance of this brand, leadership often makes flawed strategic choices because they are ‘misled by common sense’ (Shy, John.  Jomini, Makers of Modern Strategy). Attempting to restrict action through a one sided belief in the inviolability of the border or Line of Control (LoC) or defend it through a combination of diplomacy, economics and proportional reaction leaves the antagonist to decide where, when and how to inflict the fated forthcoming ‘cut’. Also, the sense of proportionality is hollow and often inconsequential since purpose and value are so distinctly in variance.  

The Perpetual Imbalance
Normally in dealing with a conservative nation, strategic objectives do not present an existential peril and interests are governed by rationality, then a comprehensive strategy consists of sustained political, economic and diplomatic engagement backed by a military posture that supports the strategy. However Pakistan is no normal conservative state; and as Imtiaz Gul, the Pakistani journalist and author, has with so much distress emphasised ‘the perpetual imbalances in the civilian military equation continues to distort the political landscape’. The Army’s obsessive rivalry against India provides the reason for supremacy in affairs of State and the promotion of terrorism as an instrument of state policy (Gul, Imtiaz. The Most Dangerous Place).

The dialectic of an asymmetric conflict is unique in that it is not just one of opposing wills, but, on the weaker side, of radical ideology and barbarism in the application of force with protracted low level violence against civilian targets being the preferred tool. In these circumstances to restrain response from taking castigatory action is to effectively deny physical censure, concede the legitimacy of the assault and to invite the next ‘cut’. India’s counter-insurgency efforts in not just Kashmir but across India are not unlike the Latin American response to ‘focoism’, (Custers, Peter Dr. The Legacy of Che Guevara: Internationalism Today Sri Lanka Guardian, 24 February 2010) earnest, naïve, aggressive and impatient without an effective three-pronged doctrine to challenge ideological inspiration, deter and punish the sponsor while at the same time eliminate the terrorist. It must therefore come as no surprise that low intensity of conflict has endured in Kashmir for quarter of a century. 

The Case for Escalation
Contemporary conditions in Kashmir are appropriate to enable the three-pronged doctrine mainly because the ideological stimulant of an identity in religious terms rather than national is today jaded. At origin, in the late 1980s when Pakistan’s strategy to equip, train and launch the indigenous Kashmiri militants began, the insurrection had a home brewed basis; today the fighters have been supplanted by itinerant and rootless Jihadists. These aliens neither share the ideology nor the beliefs of the Kashmiri. This single consideration must be exploited vigorously through education and economic stimulants and is being done with some success since the lure of Pakistan is hardly attractive, it’s politics lies in militant and sectarian tatters, it’s economic prospects uninviting and its fundamental beliefs exposed and universally repugnant. So much so that the prospects of an Indian political solution in Kashmir never seemed more bright while Pakistan’s involvement, never more vulnerable. However the problem lies not in the politics of that State but in the fractious control that the army exercises in the affairs of that nation.

It is no accident that Pakistan has learnt to exploit our traditional mode of politico-military analysis and response to border incursions. Apologists within India make a slanted argument that the problem of Pakistan-sponsored insurgency is essentially political and the attacks on the Indian armed forces are more an effort to break the political process by provoking armed conflict; forgetting that it is the very institution that sponsors cross border insurgency that also controls the political process. It is nobody’s case that military success must precede the political process for, indeed, the two are inseparable; however it is equally clear that political reconciliation cannot co-exist when strategies that seek to bleed are at play. The aim of the Response Doctrine is to bring about the ambience for a political process by raising the strategic cost (militarily, economically and diplomatically) to Pakistan of its maverick policies. Such being the case, the Indian military response must be so tuned as to introduce an escalatory factor that deepens the intensity of  response and enlarges the dimension of operations that in a calibrated manner emphasises the conventional weight that it carries and consequently deters intrusions.

As the function of military power in international politics undergoes fundamental change on account of its disproportionate growth in relation to most of the objectives in dispute (Kissinger, Henry A. American Strategic Doctrine and Diplomacy, The Theory and Practice of War), so must the doctrines that drive it. There is often confusion in the establishment when instinctive conservatism controls the usage of an armed force dedicated to the principles of unlimited war fought by massive forces. Obviously such forces combating insurgents will result in poor efficiency of engagement. Under these conditions to persistently reason that escalation will invoke the philosophical abstraction of the Clausewitzian extreme is to deny an essential tool of statecraft; that is, to develop integrated force response doctrines and reorganise specially equipped and trained personnel for the task of retaining focus, impact and precision of response.

Framework for Riposte
The Indian Army has absorbed and consolidated considerable experience in counter-insurgency operations based on combating insurrection in the Punjab and the Northeastern states. But the nature of these operations was different since the dominant consideration was that you were dealing with your own citizenry and not foreign sponsored and trained Jihadists being used as an instrument of an adversarial State’s policy. However the lessons of the past were that success against irregular forces depends on first class surveillance and intelligence; on effective coordination of political, administrative and military resources and training of local constabulary. These lessons remain true in countering the ‘strategy of a thousand cuts’ with a distinctness introduced by the fact that the insurgents are in the main aliens, their sponsors a nation inimical to India and they operate from outside the territories of India.

This at once suggests a layered frame work for the riposte, it begins with the creation and enabling of an ‘Intelligence Region’ that concentrates its effort along the border, Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) and LoC to a depth that covers launch pads, training areas, logistic and financial support and cover posts; this network is to be supported by national technical resources and global intelligence complex both national and international. The second layer is the ‘Surveillance and Tracking Area’ which extends from the border or LoC fencing and AGPL extending radially outward across the border and the LoC up to probable launch pads and cover posts, this Zone is to be under electronic and optical surveillance continually by airborne scouts, unmanned aerial vehicles and ground based cross spectrum means all operating from the Indian side of the frontier. The business layer is the ‘Kill Zone’ which starts at the LoC/border and extends inward to the fence and a little beyond which may be deemed to extend to a depth of three to five kilometres within which integrated force by air and land must rapidly be brought to bear. Beyond this Zone within the country, it will be left to ground forces to interdict the intruding insurgents. Coordination between the three layers must be swift and precise. Time in Kill Zone will be short, between five to fifteen minutes demanding near immediate acquisition and brisk neutralisation of targets. Engagements in this layer will be characterised by integration of forces, decisive command and control, speed and lethality.

Contours of a Response Doctrine: Conclusion
In framing a Response Doctrine the primary linkage is between executive actions on the frontier with the authority that has delegated these powers (the Cabinet Committee on Security, CCS, in India) to the Operational Commander. The doctrine must be guided by a set of principles governing armed action when two or more Services and other cooperating agencies are operating together in order to ensure impact and effectiveness of command in joint response operations. This body of response precepts is predetermined and established by the CCS. The doctrine must articulate guidance, directives, procedures, information flow and define command responsibilities in the three-layered zones (mentioned earlier) and relationship within these zones for the conduct of integrated response operations. It must also address material issues earmarking forces available to the Commander including counter insurgency aircrafts, UAVs and Special Forces describing operational concepts and accomplishment of support tasks. Of essence to the response scheme and to assure doctrinaire credibility is time sensitivity of actions. To this end the agglomerate of operational/tactical knowledge will need be put into pre planned contingency matrices generating integrated execution plans in the ‘Surveillance and Tracking Area’ and the ‘Kill Zone’.

 Devising its response, India has the entire spectrum of conventional and technical choices to deter cross-border insurgency and bear down on the intruder; this is the only advantage that the victim enjoys. The resolve with which such a doctrine is enabled is the real challenge for it paves the way to political resolution. Tragically inaction or inadequacy of response, as Kargil, the Parliament assault and 26/11 have shown, will cause the worst escalation.