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Army Officers Career Management: Take the Bull by the Horns!

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


Officers Management in the Army is demanding recognition as a controversial issue that has reached cul de sac. This clarion call comes with five rationales. One, say within the next two/three years, the armed forces will be prepared for Integrated Theatre Commands. This will have deep repercussions on the Officer Cadre promotional structure, as the three services follow a dissimilar path in entirety, and inter-se seniority is a bugbear currently. Two, the Hon’ble Supreme Court decision on Women Officers has significantly opened the field for their taking over Command of units, which will also have a material effect. Three, the promotion opportunities for commissioned officers from all arms and services, should largely be similar, to be motivating enough to new inductee Young Officers to retain a modicum of ambition. That does not exist presently for the Services officers. Four, warfare is dramatically changing, the foci is shifting to modern, information age conflicts. There would be a transition to newer units and to the new cutting edge in warfare. And, five, cases are yet subjudice in the Hon’ble Supreme Court for allocation of additional vacancies at higher ranks to combat arms, the decision to which will have a more far-reaching effect.
The Army has to resolve the internal officer’s career management policies, which have been under considerable strain for the last nearly twenty years. It is necessary to first address the Army’s imbroglio, with a short backgrounder, though majorly, it will be known to all readers. Consequent to the lessons learnt of the 1999 Kargil War, it was considered necessary to manage the reduction of ages of officers commanding infantry battalions and brigades. With that term of reference, AV Singh Committee (AVSC) was formed, which came up with a mathematical model (colloquially later called Command Exit Model – CEM). The chronology that followed needs recounting with certain specifics:

  • The CEM was based upon two variables – the Command assignments allocated to an arm or service, and the tenure in command. The first variable, the numbers of Command assignments, was left open-ended by the AVSC and has consequently witnessed large increments. The second variable, the command tenures was fixed, with a wide span from Infantry Commanding Officers (COs) having 30 months to Services COs of 60 months. AVSC having been approved by the Union Cabinet, made the Report as if etched in stone for times immemorial, except in 2016, when in a judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme down-scaled the command tenures for the Corps of Engineers, Signals and Air Defence.
  • AVSC rested on many basic premises, the most important of which was to make Short Service Commission (SSC) attractive, to ensure the ratio of Permanent Commission (PC) to SSC to be as near to 1:1 as possible. This would have enabled batch construction at intake in a manner that would have retained equivalence in promotability at the level of Lt Col to Colonel (for taking over Command). The second important premise was lateral absorption of Army Officers in other Governmental Ministries. Despite the two pay commissions – 6th and 7th, and countless representations, these two have not fructified. The SSC has remained singularly unattractive as an intake option, and PC: SSC ratio has largely remained in favour of PC, up to the extent of 1:4.7, with an immensely adverse effect on promotional structures. With the finite number of promotion avenues to Colonel, say 500 a year, and with say 1600 under consideration, the promotability ratio reduces to a little over 30%. However, cumulated with command tenures variation, the promotability can vary between 20 to 60%, between various arms and services causing great consternation. Number of Command assignments at Colonel rank also have a commensurate effect on balance colonel vacancies – for example, if the total command assignments were 1500, and total Colonels authorised on establishment were 5500, then balance 4000 vacancies were allocated on the pro-rata of the ratios of the command assignments held by that arm or service. Hence, the race commenced on designating more and more command assignments by each arm and service.
  • Since 2011 to 2019, there have been a number of Army-internal and MoD study groups that have delved into the issue. The first broad based study group in 2011-2013 was headed by an esteemed Army Commander, had made important recommendations. Subsequently, seven or eight (one looses count) studies were undertaken, even by the College of Defence Management, though none met success on the altar of unanimity, or reached fruition by dedicated decision making.
  • In the interregnum, the CEM reached the stage of litigation at the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) initially and Hon’ble Supreme Court later. Being subjudice, the issue was denied the requisite opportunity to be addressed internally as an Army-Government policy. While in 2015, the AFT had stuck down the CEM, the Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld it in 2016. The Hon’ble Supreme Court also allocated additional vacancies at Colonel Rank to the Corps of Signals, Engineers and Air Defence, which still did not benefit the Services. The case is yet subjudice, for the same arms seeking commensurate vacancies at even higher ranks.

Having broadly chronologised the last sixteen years of CEM, it is apparent that the issue has far-reaching ramifications. The Army has yet to define command, whether it is designated on the basis of the strength of personnel in a unit, equipment held or based upon the functionality of operational or administrative tasking and financial outlay. Indeed in retrospective, many command assignments may not measure up to the original rationale. In trying to adjust to meeting some satisfaction, allocation of vacancies has witnessed many a tweak and a number of loan vacancies, all of which have further muddled the issue. With the passage of time the positions of arms and services have hardened, with all silo-ed in individualistic concerns and believing in their indispensability and meritocracy!
The Army has large officer corps with over 42500 officers, all of the high calibre and near incessantly employed in operations. Career management of the officer corps is a sacred responsibility. The issue has procrastinated for a very long time and cannot be allowed to fester on the doorsteps of the Courts and be decided through a litigative process. Inability to create a policy bespeaks of avoidance of an all-important measure of cohesiveness of the organisation. Also, individual Court decisions on petitions provide solace to a number of litigants within finite numbers of promotional assignments, but it would have a corresponding negative effect on the satisfaction of many others.
The issues that need addressal at this juncture are holistic in nature. Two of these must be considered before making recommendations. First, the CEM was approved by the Union Cabinet and second, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has upheld the CEM. Any significant change hence cannot be initiated internally; it will be challengeable with the Government or litigable in the Courts. Some views are proffered below:

  • Short service commission is not much sought after, as it causes a mid-life crisis for the officers who do not achieve permanence in the Army. Making of Short Service Commission attractive, is absolutely mandatory, for which detailed proposals exist, like for a ten year SSC, allow an officer last year of study in a professional change-of-career institute, like IIMs and IITs ( for E-MBA or M Tech), and then placement. A gratuity had been recommended that provides for each year of service rendered in the Army. This must be pushed in with vigour. This will assist in constructing a balanced PC-SSC batch for each arm and service, and assure better than 50% promotability for all from Lt Col to Colonel.
  • The Hon’ble Supreme Court has given a decision on Women Officers being granted permanent commission and command of units. This will also mandate a share of vacancies at Colonel rank. A proposal on the methodology of implementation was recommended earlier.[1]
  • Tri-service organisations are a reality, and the difference in service profile of equivalent ranks is irksome in managing command and control. With Theatre Commands this will be even more problematic. The joint-service experienced officer will be obligatory, prior to reaching higher rungs in the three or joint Services organisation.
  • New realms of warfare– like cyber, information, precision and hypersonic projectiles, space and drones, are in themselves wholesome in nature, and maybe deciders of future wars. There will be requirement of reconfiguring specialist multi-domain warfare units in future, with differing command expertise, equipment profiles and manpower. For career management, these will have to put inside the CEM.
  • Command has to be redefined. The logic of deciding command was that a unit ought to be operational in nature (which includes arms and services units so committed), manpower or platform (equipment) oriented. The quantum of equipment that a unit ought to be authorised with, has to be credible enough for the operational task.

Status quo is not the answer. To ameliorate it, there are many ways and time is ripe to take the bull by the horns! It is clear, that this cannot be done internally – for there are too many vested, parochial interests. Even at the very higher rungs, individual corps/ regimental parochialism will mar effective visionary decision making, and subsume broader organisational interests. Any significant change will require obtaining Union Cabinet approval, superceding the previous cabinet approval and issue of a formal policy.
There can be three options. One, a well conceptualised Intra-Arm/Service Track 2, (that can involve retired seniors officers too) that will bring about a rapprochement, a balance and a via-media within the parameters of laid down CEM. At this juncture such an option seems a non-starter, due to sharp cleavages. Two, under the powers of the Union Government, a Blue Ribbon Committee be nominated, to study the gamut of the issue and make recommendations, for a Cabinet approval. Three, an HR Management Consultancy to be engaged through the Government, to study, obtain approvals, facilitate implementation and undertake a couple of years of hand-holding! There are also Research Organisations that specialise in Human Resource issues, like XLRI, Jamshedpur and TISS, Mumbai which can be requested to study the same. Though there may be resistance to an outsider agency, for lack of in depth knowledge, for HR Professionals, adjusting policies may be a minor impediment. It is opined that obtaining professional expertise from outside the realm of Army-Government should be the best. This will also require Government sanction/ approvals. The Courts can be informed that the issue has been taken up at the Governmental policy levels for decision-making, and details can be submitted on finalisation.
In sum, there has been undue procrastination, that has caused ill-will and it needs to put behind. Sooner the better!
End Notes
[1] Rakesh Sharma, Supreme Court Decision on Women Officers: Need for Holistic Policy Planning, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), 20 Feb 2020, accessed at

Pakistan’s Intransigence: Point of Inflection

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


The information of the martyrdom of the Commanding Officer, Major and two other ranks of 21 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), and an Inspector of JKP, at Handwara, North Kashmir on 03 May 2020, has been received with great anguish by the Army community at large. Cumulated is the operation of 05 April 2020 at Keran Sector, in which five terrorists were killed, and five of the Special Forces (SF) personnel lost their lives. Both these were in North Kashmir and possibly linked. While the former was a counter-terrorist operation, the latter was counter-infiltration. Both operations were undertaken by very well-trained and experienced units – 21 RR and SF. The data published[1] shows that precisely each and every day of 2020, there has been a minimum one incident of either ceasefire violation (CFV), terrorist initiated incident against the security forces, counter-infiltration or counter-terrorist operations. As the incidents clearly prove, infiltration is being attempted regularly, though mostly gets blocked by the counter-infiltration grid. As is well-chronicled infiltration cannot happen without express connivance of the Pakistan Army establishment – the training that is imparted, the provision of warlike stores and equipment and the posts that facilitate infiltration.
Many writers have envisioned geo-political and geo-strategic reset thanks to the global pandemic – COVID19. It could be but normal to have similar expectations of a change of attitude of Pakistan ‘establishment’, to the long-standing adversarial relationship. The eventology of the last 45 days bespeaks differently. Let it be unequivocally stated that any mindset change in Pakistan is most unlikely. It must thence be taken that what has not happened in 72 years, and what has become a State policy, is bound to remain, ad infinitum, for that is the raison d’être of Pakistan.
Contextually, it may be relevant to gaze at the insides of Pakistan. The ‘selected’ PM seems to be getting on the incorrect side of the ‘establishment’ with deemed failure in the 20 months, on the score of both politics and economics. The high moral pedestal has taken a severe beating with the wheat and sugar corruption scandal that has prima facie implicated those close to the PM. The 18th Constitutional Amendment that gave provincial autonomy and the provinces 53-57% of the total financial award is the bone of contention between the Centre and the provinces and is fuelling up the fire of dissent. The ‘establishment’ is more interested in the increase of defence budget while the government is crying over the debt servicing expenses and developmental issues. If the declaration of Covid19 lockdown on 22 and 23 March showed differences between the PM and the DG ISPR, the implementation has widened them.
Succumbing to pressure from the hardline clerics, the PM allowed conditional congregational prayers, in mosques during the month of Ramzan with a 20-point plan. The conduct of the prayers since has been broadly violative of the agreed upon plan, endangering the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus. The economy is in dire straits for a very long time, with Pakistan having borrowed around $61 billion from international lenders in last five and half years, from July 2014 to December 2019, as per Sectoral Analysis of Foreign Economic Assistance.[2] The foreign exchange remittances, FDI and FII are way downscaled; the foreign exchange reserves are very low at $18billion. The emergency loans from IMF and World Bank (approx $2bn) are enough for just debt servicing and routine management! And to top it, there have been 16 incidents related to terror in Pakistan since 01 Jan 2020 – six in April alone! It has also removed around 3,800 terrorists from its watch-list without any public explanation.[3] To top is, the ‘establishment’ has placed an ex DG ISPR – Lt Gen (retied) Asim Saleem Bajwa, as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for information and broadcasting, to exercise requisite control. As it is, with regularity the PM in his speeches and tweets, as also the Pak COAS has continually been referring to Kashmir!
That India has significant conventional superiority is a given, though this superiority has not deterred Pakistan from the continual support to terrorism in J&K. In posturing, it has relied on nuclear weapons – despite their political nature – to attempt to counteract on Indian conventional superiority, and to continue proxy war ad lib. Even the strong responses to acts of terrorism, the surgical strikes of Sep 2016 and the Balakot attack of Feb 2019, have not deterred terrorism. Similarly, own domination and occasional casualties inflicted across the Line of Control (LOC) are obviously being considered, acceptable. In sum, hence, despite the obvious internal turbulence, Indian conventional superiority and the turmoil of the global pandemic, Pakistan has calculatedly retained, its posture of anti-Indianism and retaining proxy war as State policy.
India must develop a framework of strategic defensive and offensive options against Pakistan. The usage of strong non-kinetic, non-contact offense will be most advantageous, based upon weaponised information, finance, cyber and the like – against Pakistan. India has the potential to establish effective cyber defence and offence options. We must utilise expertise and infrastructure to ensure permanent monitoring and exploitation of social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, and the dark web. Psychological warfare, fake news campaigns, propaganda, subversion, intimidation, demoralisation are commonplace in combat. We too need to recognise their importance. Narrative Warfare and influence operation are another realm that India needs to venture into, to generate long term influence. We also require countering adverse propaganda by Pakistan by focused plans. For this there is need of conjoined team of experts of security forces, social psychologists, and media/ social media experts. India will require an effective bouquet of quid pro quo hybrid options, a quiver full of variable arrows that can be selectively employed, to target what will pain the ‘establishment’ most, within the nation.
The terrorists in Kashmir Valley, having been radicalised and indoctrinated accept the reality of inevitable death eventually at the hands of the security forces. On the beckoning of controlling masters from across the LOC, they engage the security forces, cause damage, disengage and melt away to safe havens. The terrorists are also an admixture of well-trained and under-trained and operate to a plan. With this proxy war having been on for nearly thirty years, the terrorists know the terrain, or have guides, and know the populace. They also understand the SF tactics largely, though these might vary somewhat, situationally. The strengths of the SF and the shortfalls, if any in equipment, would have been implanted in the terrorists’ minds during their graded training regimen in Pakistan. They might also be receiving information of movement of SF from their operating bases, and broadly piece together the schedules through the over ground workers (OGWs). They also fathom that SF are sensitive to collateral damage and accusations of human rights violations, which they themselves have scant regard to. The terrorists would also have logistical sustenance arranged through sympathisers or OGWs.
As has been stated above, and repeated herein, support to terrorism in J&K is the raison d’être of Pakistan, a stated policy that it will not jettison, at least in the foreseeable future. The terrorists and the OGWs, trained and micro-managed by masters across the LOC, operate with guile and deviousness. The SF and RR in the Valley floor and the infantry units on the LOC are very well trained and experienced, know the terrain in detail, operate with grit and determination and exhibit immense courage and bravery. However, there may be need for revitalisation, for which three postulations are proffered:

  • As the counter-terrorist operations are destined for substantive time, and in larger measure will be undertaken by RR and SF units, there is need to upgrade the capabilities of the cutting edge. Many issues are being addressed, like the induction of Sig Sauer SIG716 7.62×51 mm assault rifles. The operational sub-units and soldiers require tactical communication with high speed hands-free, helmet mounted data and voice transmission communication system, backed up by highly secure, reliable, seamless, responsive TAC C3I. There is also a need for hands free night vision goggles that include an infrared LED and an LED warning light (which is built into the unit to remind the user that the infrared LED can be seen by others who are using night vision devices). Mandatory are investments in intelligence, satellites and drones for close surveillance and target acquisition, and in time there will be need for armed UAVs, to be responsive in real time. Though there will be imponderables and contingencies that will present at the zero hour, the imperativeness is of need for a near real-time operational picture to those involved in the operation, the Commanding Officers, and up the chain. Other issues of personal protection and house-entry equipment are equally important.
  • Constancy of learning from each operation is very important, as it shows the changes in terrorists and OGWs tactics. While after-action reports are prepared by respective units and formations, and requisite inquiries held, there is need for obtaining a larger picture and a higher level of professionalism. For that, specialist officers in teams, called say Operations Reconstruction Teams, be formed, to move at the wake of a major operation and reconstruct the same, for the express purpose of learning from it, and creating knowledge modules.
  • The Corps Battle Schools (CBS) should train also on actuals, by reconstructing events and tasking inductees to practice operations and learn from them. The CBS must revitalise training dynamically, to ensure the units and personnel to remain on top of the situation.

Indian armed forces must contemplate that the adversarial Pakistan policy will continue as hitherto fore for indeterminable future, where Pakistan will aim at keeping the J&K pot boiling, without overt military aggression and crossing the threshold of open warfare. The counter-infiltration along the LOC and counter-terrorism operations in the Kashmir Valley will remain to be mainstay for the Army. Counter-infiltration and counter-terrorist operations are cat and mouse games, in which dynamism is an imperative. This has long-term implications, and India has to prepare to contest this continued aggression, strategically and tactically.
End Notes
[1]Refer South Asia Terrorism Portal at
[2] Imran Ali Kundi, The Nation, Pak borrows $61 billion from int’l lenders in last five and a nalf years, 30 April 2020, accessed at
[3] Geeta Mohan, Pakistan removes 3,800 from terrorist watchlist without explanation: Report India Today, New Delhi, April 21, 2020, accessed at

Multi-Domain Warfare, Cross-Domain Deterrence

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


The concept of wars is growing ever more complicated, including all-pervasive information warfare, to applying multi-functional and multi-domain military capabilities below the threshold of armed conflict or the coupling of economic power with militia and irregular forces. Indeed, ‘…the very rules of war have changed. The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and in many cases they have exceeded the power of force of weapons and their effectiveness.’[1] This implies that wars in future could well remain unannounced in non-kinetic format and may even be successful in achieving political goals with or without transcending to force-on-force wars. Use of kinetic means in stand-off forms such as precision-guided munitions, missiles, and rockets or space warfare, can supplement to achieve the political aims in a short timeframe. To achieve political goals, the force-on-force battles henceforth may be finality and not the initiator of the conflict. This highlights the hybridity in which many forms of belligerence are usable disaggregated or aggregated in tandem, as per political aims and military end state sought. The COAS of Pakistan Army wrote thus, “…the environment continues to get complex with introduction of terms like Lawfare, Cross-Domain Deterrence, and the lines keep getting blurry between different kinds of warfare from conventional to SCW, Hybrid, Grey Hybrid, 5th GW, Non-Contact Warfare etc”[2].
Contextually, hence, conventional operations of the force-on-force variety become part and parcel of the larger bouquet of options that amalgamate into multi-domain warfare. Multi-domain warfare hence implies creating an effect in one domain that produces an effect in other. Multi domain-specific capabilities can be leveraged to defeat a capable foe in another domain, or the ‘force-on-force’ operations would supplement the creative ways.[3] The admixture of domains applied, can be different and as considered essential for achieving political and war aims. As an example, like in Georgia 2008 were conventional, Special Forces, Cyber and Influence operations; Ukraine 2014 saw SF, cyber and Information and Estonia 2007 only cyber and information. The armed forces are hence at crossroads. Reliance on attrition, firepower and mechanized warfare had led to our past successes, but they alone cannot win tomorrow’s wars. Our adversaries are analysing and testing our capabilities in multi-domains, and would adopt and adapt their doctrines, strategies and capabilities to take benefit from our vulnerabilities. To arrive at the future, we have to be prepared and ready to dominate the fight and need a concept to guide convergence and integration of capabilities across air, land, sea, space, cyber, and electro-magnetic spectrum.
Deterrence has been around for a very long time. Hence its purpose, logic, and effectiveness are well understood. Bernard Brodie, the famous strategist had theorised that “…thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.Deterrence is the practice of discouraging, preventing or restraining an adversarial nation from taking inimical actions. The all-embracing lesson is that deterrence must primarily be able to shape the thinking and perceptions of an adversary, in that he accepts that alternatives, to aggression or inimical activities, will be more attractive. There are two fundamental approaches to deterrence. Deterrence by denial seeks to deny an adversary the ability to achieve its military and political objectives through aggression and deter him with the risk of catastrophic loss and the infeasibility of success. Deterrence by denial is largely defensive in character and is not limited by military balance alone. Deterrence by punishment threatens of imposing severe penalties or wider punishment, like all-out force-on-force war or even nuclear escalation. The focus of deterrence by punishment is not a direct defence but rather threats of wider punishment to impose unacceptable costs, such as the destruction of an adversary’s strategic and high-value targets, in response to unwanted actions. Most classic studies suggest that denial strategies are inherently more reliable than punishment strategies. Steps taken to deny, such as placing significant military capabilities directly in the path of an aggressor, speak loudly and clearly. An aggressor might doubt, on the other hand, a defender’s willingness to impose punishments.[4]
Indian Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine 2018 (LWD), “…refers to a “multi-front environment” … with a hybrid (defined in the LWD as, “a blend of conventional and unconventional, with the focus increasingly shifting to multi domain Warfare varying from non-contact to contact warfare”) and state-sponsored proxy war. Whereas the LWD calls for deterrence by denial against China based on multi-tiered defenses and strike forces suitably poised, it wishes to enhance deterrence by punishment against Pakistan by launching swift offensives to take out Pakistan’s center of gravity—its military—and secure “spatial gains” in the event of war.”[5] Against a collusive threat, it argues for a “strategic defensive balance” on the secondary front, while the primary front is being dealt with. The evident implication is that Indian Army is intimating mostly force-on-force – offensive or defensive – to deter the adversaries, in all scenarios of conventional, unconventional, contact or non-contact, kinetic or non-kinetic warfare. This, being a political decision, is less likely to be acceptable.
Cross Domain Deterrence” requires that the effects generated through one domain are translated in other domains. These effects generated in various domains such as information, economics, politics and diplomatic should equate the weapons effect – nuclear, conventional, space, cyber, missile defense, chemical and biological etc on the overall strategic space of military action...[6] Cross-domain deterrence implies use of capabilities of one type, to threats or combinations of threats of another type, in order to prevent unacceptable attacks. Examples might include using air power (like in Balakot) to retaliate for terrorism or cyber disruption. While nations have employed a variety of means such as military and nuclear forces as deterrent, the multi domain capabilities makes deterrence particularly challenging.
The most important vulnerabilities in the Information Age are critical national/ information infrastructure. This newer realm of warfare have been utilised in the last two decades; it was a cyber-weapon “Stuxnet” that destroyed numerous centrifuges in Iranian nuclear facility of Natanz. Given the ‘non-attributable’ as well as ‘asymmetric’ characteristics of cyber-attacks, the concept of deterrence in the cyber domain takes on a different flavour. It is evident that there can be no effective cyber defence strategy based purely on a protection/ resilience/ response paradigm. Therefore, India too needs to incorporate cyber deterrence in its national cyber security strategy and develop capabilities accordingly.[7] One aspect of this predicament is that the cyberspace has provided enormous manipulation ability for cyber weapons as elements of coercion, and as plausible deniability.
In the light of the above, India, needs to re-examine and redefine deterrence with proliferating multi-domains of warfare. As the sub-areas of warfare are split, terrorism (especially in J&K), the ambit of grey zone warfare[8], hybrid warfare[9] including conventional war and nuclear war, it is imperative to fathom if cross-domain deterrence will be effective. As an example, hence only an indicative and not exhaustive, an attempt is made to co-locate competing deterrent strategies with domains of warfare, which means can be planned as necessary:

Domains of Warfare Ends Ways Means
Counter Terror proxy war, especially in J&K – Peace in J&K.-Erode confidence of adversary in pursuing policies of sponsorship of terror -Update Doctrines
-Clear Signalling
-Counter Narrative Warfare, influence/ information operations
-Cyber offensives (non-attributable)
-Non-kinetic, non-contact operations
– Offensive strikes/Quid pro-quo operations
Grey Zone Warfare – in peacetime, including limited conventional operations Assurance of national security (including cyber/ infrastructural), and atmosphere of sustained socio-economic development
  • Update Doctrines
  • Negate Grey Zone Warfare, in all manifestations by aggressive action
  • Erode confidence of adversary in resorting to grey zone warfare
  • Effective Cyber defensive and offensive operations.
  • State of Art ISR
  • Non-kinetic, non-contact operations
  • Focussed multi-domain limited offensive operations
Full Conventional War (Hybrid in nature) Political and military victory/ Success in War -Update Doctrines
-Undertake ‘modern, technological war’
  • Effective Cyber defensive and offensive operations.
  • State of Art ISR
  • Focussed multi-domain offensive/ defensive operations
Nuclear War Early cessation of hostilities, minimum cost. The capitulation of an adversary.
  • Update Doctrines
  • Massive retaliation
  • Assured second strike capability
  • Triad

The landscape of deterrence has much expanded; it has become too dynamic, too complex, and without guarantees that it will work. While lack of response to Surgical Strikes of 2016, indicated that deterrence worked, the Pakistan Air Force response post-Balakot can lead to questioning of deterrence. The stand-offs at Daulat Beg Oldie, Demchok, Chumar, Pangong Tso, and Doklam cannot be judged on the altar of deterrence. Mistakes in applying deterrence have come from misunderstandings and lack of clarity, faulty threat assessments, forgetfulness about history, and short-sighted policymaking/ doctrines.[10] It will be apparent that the common feature of Cross-Domain Deterrence is the use of technology as part deterrence. In deterring an adversary India will have to create and exploit strategic advantages to deprive an adversary of the capability to pose a threat. Intimation of national will and threat to use any, several, or all multi-domainal strengths in the repertoire is imperative to influence the adversary’s strategic choices. For this to succeed, the adversary must be forced to choose the path of compromise. It has to be understandable, that multi-domainal strength is an assurance of war-winning strategy against the adversary to whom deterrence by punishment is applied. Alternatively, cross-domain deterrence must be aimed at avoiding war with an adversary, against whom deterrence by denial strategy is applied.
The world of deterrence has become complex in the contemporary world, more so in our backyard, that makes understanding is more important than ever. The greater the deterrence’s salience and clarity, the greater will be its potential credibility.

[1] Valery Gerasimov, The Value of Science Is in the Foresight, Military-Industrial Kurier, February 2013
[2] Qaamr Javed Bajwa Gen, Pakistan Army Green Book 2020, GHQ Pakistan Army, Islamabad, pI.
[3] Rakesh Sharma, Ideating Future War Fighting: Multi-Domain Warfare, Indian Defence Review, 0 Jan 2018, accessed at
[4] Michael J. Mazarr, Understanding Deterrence, Perspectives, Rand Corporation, USA, 2018, accessed at
[5] Ali Ahmed, UNDERSTANDING INDIA’S LAND WARFARE DOCTRINE, South Asian Voices, 26 Feb, 2019 accessed at
[6] Maria Sultan, Cross Domain Deterrence, Pakistan Army Green Book 2020, GHQ Pakistan Army, Crystal Printers, Islamabad, p75.
[7] Panwar RS, IW STRUCTURES FOR THE INDIAN ARMED FORCES, Future Wars, 21 April 2020, accessed at
[8] Rakesh Sharma, Grey Zone Warfare in the Indian Context-Building Capabilities, Synergy, Journal of Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, New Delhi, 26 Feb 2020, accessed at
[9] Rakesh Sharma, Contextual Evolution of Hybrid Warfare and the Complexities, CLAWS Journal, New Delhi Winter 2019, accessed at
[10] Michael J. Mazarr, Understanding Deterrence, Perspectives, Rand Corporation, USA, 2018, accessed at

The Importance of Strategic Communication

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


Strategic communication became popular as a term, about three decades ago, from the times of the First Iraq War (1990-1991). Strategic communication is a vital activity that supports the military, in peace and in war. If planned well and intelligently executed it can affect attitudes and behaviour. It can be used as the most important tools to shape the environment. It is also indispensable for fighting adversaries who employ non-traditional and asymmetric means. Strategic communication deals with the challenge of influencing and convincing others to think and act in ways compatible with own objectives.
It has been taken as means to enmesh and amalgamate communication with a laid down agenda and an overall plan. Strategic communication is not manipulative or negative as propaganda is deemed to be. Basically, strategic communication is a perception strategy that provides information, ideas and actions, to align the perceptions of key audiences with our policy objectives. It is also about long-term engagement over decades and generations to win the hearts and minds of diverse audiences, and to influence future generations. We are living in an entirely new information environment and are engaged in the war of the information age.
The all-important question is that have we measured up to the challenge of this change, or have we fallen way short? In short, have we yet risen to the challenge posed by adversarial propaganda? The fact of the matter is that often it seems that strategic communication is being undertaken as if by rote. For instance, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram carry out the same caption, picture or write up –like “details of martyrs of 1948”. Though each medium addresses different audiences, lack of imagination and story-telling prowess for these social media platforms comes out starkly.
It is necessary to delve also into strategic narratives, which are a type of storytelling, and like all good stories, they need a compelling plot, a climax, and a conclusion. In the military, a strategic narrative is a special kind of story, it builds on the strengths of the organisation, what it is doing and where is it going in the future. The narrative reinforces why Army exists and what makes it unique. There can be other context of the narratives. The cornerstone of a strategic narrative is a shared purpose, for example between the Army HQ, and the Command HQ. This shared purpose is the outcome that all are on the same page. The narrative then becomes a journey over a longish period, months, and years and may be decades!
We are fighting networked adversaries that enemy have highly professional and sophisticated propaganda machinery that exploits electronic media, internet, social media to disseminate messages globally, to recruit adherents, to radicalise population and provide pre-recorded videotapes and audiotapes to show their success rates. Our adversaries are certainly communicating effectively. In fact our adversaries are using communication and information very adeptly, actually more effectively in communication than actions on ground. If strategy dictates that you play to your strengths and exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, our enemies’ use where we are weak, imaginatively. There are many unknowns about the future, with the expertise that our adversaries have gained; they will continue to challenge us in the realm of ideas and information, through infinite media.
When we get ready to accept Strategic communication as an imperative, we will have to design the schema concerning who should be reached and in what way. The field of strategic communication is fairly wide and complex and would consist of trained professionals, who incessantly develop news, disseminate information to within the organisation and to public at large. They will rely on the right medium to propagate. And then decide on regularly undertaking audit through experts who understand perception and sentiment analysis. Strategic communications fuses the pushing and the delivering. If we recognise the importance of strategic communication for the Army, then five postulations are proffered:

  • Select the Media and methods of Outreach. The media and the methods of outreach is glut in the market, from traditional print and audio-visual media, social-media, blogs, vlogs and even Wikipedia. The selection of each must be different, addressed to a particular audience, if required carrying separate narratives. For professional messaging YouTube and podcasts can be used to disseminate position. To this are amalgamated interviews, sound-bytes and media briefings which are regularly undertaken. Each one must carry clear premediated message – and not repetitions like number of launch pads and terrorists waiting to cross the Line of Control. Same figures have been repeated for so long, that they do not even merit a small corner news item, and is of no interest to the viewers! These give an impression that senior leaders have nothing to say. Press releases and rebuttals are also not the right method; they do not get adequate reportage, and seems propagandist!
  • Constancy and Synchronization. Indeed Strategic Communication and Strategic Narratives are not an ‘one time effort’. It necessitates constancy of the narrative that develops into a continuity and would be impression forming. Googling information, which is the norm among people, should bring out the constancy of the theme. Various tiers in the Army have to be on the same page, and fully comprehend what will follow, where and how. There is a greater need for consistency, which seems lacking.
  • Total Professionalism. The strategic communication and developing of narratives is no place for amateurs and for on-the-job-trainees. It has been stated that the more senior you get, the less of a specialist you become as you mature into a generalist. There is need for social-media specialists, IT technicals and sound experts, front and back-ender and public information staff. To build right narratives, the organisation would require even psychologists and sociologists. Strategic communication is a serious business, in many ways in the current era more important than even operations. There is also the importance of planning for damage control, as some events will go wrong, and which may have even international repercussions. For example, the case of the individual tied on a Gypsy in Kashmir! As a case in point also, Balakot, that we did well, and yet be immensely defensive in the communication thereafter.
  • The Army, in fact the services, are intensely secretive and very hierarchical organisations. In the era of social media, to retain total secrecy is well nigh impossible, especially on issues of welfare, pay and emoluments, and terms and conditions of service. The media too keeps at the heel, seeking ‘breaking news’ The Army has to learn a significant measure of transparency, which will inevitably promote accountability and provides information to the rank and file, as to what is being done. Time is ripe to avoid the prevalence of military secrecy over military transparency. Of the organisation, we have to build confidence and, respect for the truth, there should active dialogue and exchange of ideas. Military leaders must understand that they are the driving force of strategic communications.
  • Committing Veterans for Strategic Communication. Old Soldiers don’t die, they just fade away, is rather a melancholic catchphrase that is about one hundred years old, but made immortal by Gen Douglas McArthur is his address to the US Congress on 19 Apr 1951. Currently, fortunately, the veterans are being bestowed long lives, and hence sufficient time post-superannuation ‘not to fade away’. A large number have no axes to grind, love the Army and even without seeking remuneration, would like to plough in energies to create narratives, and undertake strategic communication through multifarious channels or work back-end.

In sum, this was not a theoretical treatise about Strategic Communication. Communication must be taken as a strategic weapon to assure organisation and dissuade and deter adversaries. Strategic communication is not an additional activity; it is part and parcel of the planning process and conduct of operations. Actually, it must be taken up even prior to an operation, with the buildup of the narrative, the selection of media, and dissemination is essential. Most General officers feel that they are both senior leaders and senior communicators. In actual fact, the audience is the best judge, of good communicators, those who repose confidence, and give a feeling that they can be relied upon. However, strategic communication for senior officers, especially with those with charisma, can be a force multiplier. The Army must focus on the need to broaden the baseline communications skills of all Army officers and make them all communicators. The Army also must recognise that its communications professionals (implying strategic communicators) need to be more broadly capable, culturally aware and able to operate in volatile, uncertain and stressful information environments.

The Writing is on the Wall!

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


This article is not about Coronavirus – COVID-19 that has shattered the world and taken it by storm. However, to be sure, there will be significant slowdown in the Indian economy, as and when the threat recedes, treatment and vaccine are found, costs are counted and as we limp back to some normalcy. The virus will also reshape how we see the world, our region, geopolitically, geoeconomically and geo-strategically. It will be well understandable that the national priorities will change significantly, to be prepared better for the next disaster or for socio-economic development, learning from the serious pitfalls of the public health systems, health infrastructure and the health-worker to population ratios. There have also been evident lacunae in social delivery like the public distribution system, primary and secondary education and limitations of the reach of direct benefit transfers. The extent and dislocation of migrant population in India has enlivened stark national realities. If it is so, the nation will need fiscal resources, and cost-cutting wherever feasible, to divert national resources where most necessary. There will be significant drop in gross domestic product (GDP) and national earning due to severe downslide in economic activity, the time taken for provision of economic stimuli and economic stabilisation thereafter. It can be simply appreciated that the defence budget, which has already been under strain, will get a focus to provide for the national effort, affecting the defence budget outlays for the fiscal 2020-21, and for the next two years assuredly. Socio-economic priorities and ambit of human security will far out-weigh the defence needs. The defence community must prepare for the same, before fait accompli descends, without notice!
This paper is hence about prudently, and as an optimal necessity, re-examining the issue that pertains to defence force management, focussing on future wars and warfare, in the light of newer geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic realities.
In delving into future warfare, there is need to refer to some recent history. First is the Iraq War II that began on 19 March 2003. Spurred by dramatic advances in information technology, the US military has adopted a new style of warfare that eschewed the bloody, slogging matches of the past. It sought quick victory with minimal casualties on both sides, with hallmarks of speed, manoeuvre, flexibility, and surprise. It was heavily reliant upon precision firepower, Special Forces, and psychological operations, and it strove to integrate naval, air, and land power into a seamless whole. The bulk of the combat punch was provided by the Third Infantry Division, which had about 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks and 250 M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and the First Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), which had about 120 Abrams tanks. These forces were supplemented by the British First Armoured Division, the 11th Aviation Regiment, the 101st Airborne Division, and a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. As came to light, there was some contestation from retreating Iraqi forces; though large numbers of Iraqi troops simply chose not to resist the advance of coalition forces. Iraqi resistance, though at times vigorous, was highly disorganised. In southern Iraq, the greatest resistance was from irregular groups of Ba’ath Party supporters, known as Fedayeen Saddam. The most obvious was the ineptitude of the Iraqi defence.
Despite all the hype about “shock and awe,” the initial bombardment was very restrained. This bold dash towards the enemy capital left the US lines of communication exposed. Senior commanders made a decision to temporarily slow down the advance to allow their forces to get rested, regrouped, and resupplied, and to secure rear areas. The precision of US airpower is well known and almost taken for granted. Though the potency of airpower was clearly on display, the air force still did not realise the dreams of Giulio Douhet, Billy Mitchell, and other early advocates of airpower, who claimed that aerial bombardment could win wars by itself. Airpower by itself was also incapable of preventing Scud launchings. Nor did Saddam’s regime crumble during the first few days of the bombing of Baghdad; he was neither shocked nor awed by the initial onslaught. The problem with armoured forces was that they are hard to deploy and hard to supply. (The Abrams tank weighs 70 tons and drinks gallon of fuel per half a mile.) With all its overwhelming superiority, technological prowess, and absence of a resolute enemy, it was not until 09 April that US tookover Baghdad. To sum up the operation, it is best to quote Lieutenant General William Wallace, Commander of the Army’s V Corps, which was in charge of all army units in Iraq, who said in an interview, the enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against! [1]
The Israel-Lebanon War 2006, is significant in many ways. Between 12 July and 14 August 2006, Israel waged war on Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon and the Lebanese capital Beirut, by land, air and sea. Over the 34 days of the conflict, Israeli Air Force carried out 15,500 air sorties attacking 7000 targets in Lebanon. The Israel Defence Force fired 1,00,000 tank and artillery rounds, and committed 30,000 soldiers. Israel sent an armoured force into southern Lebanon, against Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon and in a Shiite suburb of Beirut, known as “Security Square” and up to Litani River.
Over the 34 days of the 2006 conflict, Hezbollah rained an estimated 3, 970 Katyusha rockets and longer range missiles on military and civilian targets in northern Israel, and then it hit the densely populated port city of Haifa, forcing 3,00,000 to evacuate their homes and move into underground shelters, where they lived for the better part of a month. Hezbollah rockets killed 43 civilians and 12 soldiers inside Israel, 33 civilians suffered serious physical injuries, 68 suffered moderate physical injuries, and 1,388 suffered light physical injuries, according to official Israeli statistics. Hospitals also treated 2,773 civilians for shock and anxiety. It quickly became apparent that this was not the traditional war between Israel and an Arab state; it was rather an asymmetrical war with Hezbollah rockets striking northern Israel and Haifa. Hezbollah’s means of attack relied on unguided weapons that had no capacity to hit military targets with any precision. It repeatedly bombarded cities, towns, and villages without any apparent effort to distinguish between civilians and military objectives.
The third reference is of 0430 hours in the morning of 11 July 2014, when a column of battalions from the Ukrainian 24th and 72nd Mechanized Brigades and 79th Airmobile Brigade were struck with an intense artillery barrage near Zelenopillya, close to the Russian border. The attack lasted only three minutes or so. Imagery posted online of the aftermath revealed a scene of devastation and scores of burned out vehicles. Analysts noted that the Zelenopillya rocket-strike incorporated dual-purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM), mix of air-dropped mines, top-down anti-tank sub-muntions, and thermobaric fuel/air explosives to achieve a devastating effect. It was surmised that the munitions were delivered by Tornado-G 122mm MLRS, an upgraded version of the BM-21. This three-minute onslaught of rockets and artillery commenced shortly after the drones arrived, left over 36 Ukrainian soldiers dead, hundreds more wounded, and over two battalions’ worth of combat vehicles–tanks and BMPs-destroyed. No figures were released on the number of vehicles lost, but a survivor reported on social media that a battalion of the 79th Airmobile Brigade had been almost entirely destroyed. The attack left the Ukrainian forces decimated and demoralised.
The last reference is of 27 Feb 2020, on the Turkey-Syria border. 33 Turkish soldiers were killed on that night in an airstrike in Idlib, northern Syria, in a precision strike. Over the following 48 hours Turkish forces retaliated massively with domestically developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and artillery strikes against the Syrian regime forces in north-western Idlib. This attack showed the successful use of a drone army against tanks and armoured vehicles, destroyed by the UAV-directed or supported strikes in an Operation called Spring Shield. Both the ANKA-S developed by the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Baykar Makina’s Bayraktar TB2 UAVs took part in the operation. Drone footage showed the destruction of over 100 armoured vehicles/ artillery guns like T-55, T-62, and T-72 main battle tanks, BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, Pantsir-S1 and ZSU-23 Shilka short-range air defence systems, and 2S1 and 2S3 self-propelled howitzers. An unverified figure of as many 2,200 soldiers killed was claimed by Turkey.
The four references deliberated above are significant as they relate to cross-border operations – Kuwait-Iraq, Israel-Lebanon, Ukraine-Russia and Turkey-Syria, and because Indian armed forces are tailored for such contestation, due to un-demarcated/contested borders. There are other noteworthy instances, like the do-it-yourself kit that blew up half of Saudi Arabia’s crude oil output on 14 Sep 19. The 18 low-cost drones (along with cruise missiles), allegedly deployed by Houthi rebels in Yemen to attack the Saudi oil facilities, caused oil prices to jump more than 10 per cent in a day.
And then there are Information Warfare and drone swarms. From 27 April 2007, Estonia was hit by major cyber-attacks lasting 22 days. Online services of Estonian banks, media outlets and government bodies were taken down by unprecedented levels of internet traffic. Massive waves of spam were sent by botnets and huge amounts of automated online requests swamped servers. Perhaps the best known attacks were distributed denial of service attacks, resulting in temporary degradation or loss of service on many commercial and government servers. The result for Estonian citizens was that cash machines and online banking services went out of action; government employees were unable to communicate with each other on email; and newspapers and broadcasters suddenly found they couldn’t deliver the news. In Jan 2018, Russia shot down seven drones using anti-aircraft missiles while the other six were taken under control and landed by its military. Ten drones rigged with explosive devices descended over Russia’s Hmeimim air base while a further three targeted the Russian Naval CSS point in the nearby city of Tartus, according to the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. What would have happened if these armed drones had stuck their targets? COVID-19, with its earth-shattering effect is not included as a bio-weapon – obviously, it may not be so, and that the jury is out on it.
In this amended paradigm, medieval linear defences (and strong points) yet form the bedrock of warfare for Indian Army, again resting on the premise of contested borders. There is also extraordinary reliance on strike corps in the plains (inspite of IBGs), for the Blitzkrieg. It is apparent that armoured vehicles on the modern battlefield cannot hide. Indirect fire, particularly airpower, as also armed drone swarms, and precision guided munitions, if queued against static or exposed vehicles, could be devastating.[2] Similar can be written about infantry in dugouts, of losing importance and increasing vulnerability. And about the ongoing debate of ‘dumb’ artillery bombs, which are markedly cheaper than their ‘smart’ counterparts and the overwhelming success of precision weapons (politically and militarily). With the convergence of artificial intelligence, super-sonics, space, cyber and influence operations – there is a markedly different scenario discernable in warfare, even in one’s own backyard.
Geopolitical competition and animosities and conflictive nature of nations, as also globalisation, have been intrinsic to mankind through its history. Pre-COVID India had fundamentally conflictive nature of inter-state relations on contested borders. There will assuredly be a new geopolitical paradigm post COVID-19, which cannot be simply compared with events like the plague of 1918. It may dawn on the wisdom of many a nation on the futility of conflictual politics that abound, and may direct energies towards solutions to long drawn geopolitical animosities, and further towards human security and socio-economic developmental issues.
Wars and conflicts have been a historical constant, and COVID-19 is not, as yet, burying the conflictual issues of India with adversaries. However, the national call of socio-developmental will materially affect defence outlay in India over many a year. Case in point is the strong symbolism of the 30 per cent salary cut by Parliamentarians! Defence outlay will be under-written by committed liabilities – even if rescheduled due to delayed deliveries and economic state. Indian National Security realm and the Military Strategies would need to go back to the drawing board, and the planned acquisitions will require a revamp, based on geostrategic realities of modern and future warfare. Irrespective, if the acquisitions are tanks, artillery guns, infantry units, aircraft or aircraft carriers!
The oft quoted Unrestricted Warfare notes that “war will be conducted in non-war spheres . . . so that people’s dream of winning military victories in non-military spheres and winning wars with non-war means can now become reality.” Taking Clausewitz, “war is the continuation of policy by other means’’, imagination and vision are imperative, to accept and create other means, to achieve policy ends, even if inevitably by war!
[1] Extracted from Max Boot, The New American Way of War, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2003, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, Iraq War 2003, accessed at
[2] Please refer to Nick Reynolds and Jack Watling, Your Tanks Cannot Hide, RUSI Defence Systems, 5 March 2020, and comments on,. Also Not Dead Yet: Why Modern Tanks Will Still Dominate the Battlefield by War is Boring, accessed at

Supreme Court Decision On Women Officers: Need For Holistic Policy Planning

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 17 Feb 2020, ruled for Government to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Army at par with their male counterparts, should they wish to continue with it, after completing their Short-Service Commission (SSC). The judgement has also stated that women officers be allowed career progression through availing command opportunities as their male counterparts. Naturally the order has far-reaching implications for the Army, ones that mandate serious deliberations. At this juncture, it is inconsequential to debate on the progress of the women officers court cases that continued over a decade. The issue has been deliberated by studies at the apex levels and the Army Commanders collegiates. The Government position has had its time in the courts and in affidavits, and stands finally negated by the Apex Court judgement.
In fact the situation among the three Services is different – the Indian Air Force (IAF) is located in AF Stations/ bases where feasibilities are different, and there are also no incessant operations. The Indian Navy has to manage deployments in high seas. Similarly the ten arms and services in which Permanent Commission (PC) exists, each have their own operating conditions and challenges. There are imaginations and apprehensions of all kinds being voiced, largely on social media, although many of them have merit. However, these cannot be dragged in discussions ad infinitum, it will only cause consternations. Time now is to look forward and we have to undertake Indian Army and India- specific measures. It is incorrect to ape or compare with other armies experiences and policies, as these have little relationship with the Indian structures. It is imperative to crystallise the thoughts in a manner that the judgement is executable in exactitude with its attendant concerns.
The judgement must be taken as an opportunity to undertake many a career management reforms of officers that have hung fire over a long time. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and its elaborate charter of responsibilities are also God-sent at this time to holistically plan and take decisions on these policies. Six issues that merit attention are:

  • The career progression of officers is well regulated and optimised for the first 15 odd years of service careers. The officers get empowered with initial attachment to a combat unit in an active environment, undergoing Young Officers Command courses – Junior and Senior, technical courses, passing the promotion examinations and also competing for nomination on the Defence Services Staff College. The imperativeness of a successful sub-unit command and the cumulated quantified value of the career thus far, become the measure for consideration for the first select rank of Colonel – the rank that brings with it the most important and critical command assignment, that of a Commanding Officer of a unit. Thus far this schema has facilitated grooming of the officers for the onerous challenges, and there is but no need for revamp even for the career progression of women officers.
  • The officers’ intake is nearly 1800 per year from varied modes, both permanent and short service, lopsided in favour of PC. The numbers of select rank Colonels is finite a little short of six thousand, as authorised by the Government on establishment. As a statistical measure, of the Lt Cols considered in the promotion board for select rank of Colonel, only about 30% are empanelled for promotion, depending on the vacancies arising in each arm and service, independently. Accordingly, the non-empanelled continue in various appointments as Lt Col, till 26 years of service to become a Colonel. The imperative point is that, the promotability satisfaction among officers is way too low, and the gap to achieve a time-based Colonel is way too far.
  • Short service commission (SSC) remains a very unattractive option for the youth of the country, when in their thirties, officers non-empanelled for permanent commission leave the Army. There does exist some possibility to be absorbed in jobs in the civil sector based on quota – like security officers in banks. Despite two pay commissions strongly recommending measures to make the SSC attractive, providing qualifications to out-going officers and possibility of commensurate job placement, it has not seen the light of the day.
  • Women officers currently serving in the Army in ten arms and services are in various service brackets. Many would have missed the age and service for achieving empowerment, imperative for command of a unit. The policy parameters for women officers of service brackets below and above 10 years will have to run differing paths. It is not feasible to allow women officers to be placed in a promotion board for selection to the rank of Colonel without requisite qualifications and experience. It is an issue of operational command that cannot be taken on emotively.
  • Intake and pre-commission training for male and female officers has to be planned. Fixing arbitrary numbers for intake will be objectionable. As explained earlier, the numbers of permanent commission (PC) officers, and the quota for SSC officers getting into PC must be notified in a manner that about 1000 to 1200 officers are placed annually for consideration for promotion of Colonel to achieve near 50% satisfaction. That dictates that PC at intake level should reduce to only about 750 annually. With prospective 1000 SSC officers at intake, only about 250 be allowed PC.
  • Postings of male and female officers should be balanced and equated in field-peace management. The Military Secretary’s Branch is well experienced in understanding the need to remain fair. Understandably the women officers will require a consideration at times of a spouse-posting or in management of families. For this, the well established and formalised mechanisms of compassionate posting board and policy on adverse career certifications should work. A limit to numbers of such compassionate postings in various phases of life can be worked

Indeed the issues above are not finite, and may have to be examined by a competent study that must have representation from women officers. The following pathways can be considered:

  • The entire schema rests on SSC entry being made attractive. This is an imperative. Empowering officers not empanelled for PC, should be armed with a strong civilian qualification (like MBA or M Tech) and be provided with a reasonable golden handshake. The off-take must happen when the officer is of about 35 years of age, or ten years of service so that he or she can make a successful career outside. SSC hence should terminate at 10 years service maximum, with an off-take permitted at five years. With Government jobs scarce, this has to be in the civil sector, which can be nudged to accept a quota. Indeed having been in the thick of action, ex-servicemen status should be provided.
  • Only NDA and TES entries (that is at 10+2 stage of education) should remain as PC entries, with an intake of about 750 annually. The balance of entries like CDS (that is after graduation) should all be converted into SSC, and with the entry made attractive, can be increased to 1000 approximately. The SSC entry for male and female candidates should be as per SSB merit. The board considering empanelment from SSC to PC at 8-9 years of service should consider the men and women officers alike, unmindful of the women officers option for command or staff stream.
  • There should be a staff stream exclusively for PC women officers, after 10 years of service. To be fair, and in the spirit of the Apex Court judgement , each women officer should be approached to exercise the options of seeking PC and of command. Contingent on option exercised, women officers should be empowered for consideration for command, or be considered for continuing in staff assignments only. The women officers opting for PC service should thereafter undertake mandatory courses, command of sub-units and promotion exams, to be eligible for consideration by promotion board eventually. For those currently above 10 years service it may be difficult to manage the same.
  • The women officers exclusive staff stream may not be considered for promotion board for select rank of Colonel, till eligible for time-scale Colonel. Those women officers opting for command of units, should be considered at par for postings, physical standards, empowerment and promotion boards, as contemporary male officers.
  • The time-scale Colonel must be brought to 23 years service, to eventually 21 years. This will have manifold advantages, though criteria can be worked out.
  • Pre-commission academies will have to be refashioned. Allotment of arms and services must be fair and as per enunciated policies and balanced.
  • Creation of infrastructure for accepting presence of women officers in units/ sub-units will be necessary.

The Supreme Court judgement has forced a directional change. This change can best be brought out by conjoined discussions and imaginative solutions. The time must also be taken as an opportunity to make far-reaching reforms in career management of officers. These are different times for the Indian Army, and with deep thoughts, it should develop into a model professional force.

The Art of Generalship, the Science of Selecting Generals – Sequel

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


Previous Article postulated that “…seeking out the right officers with singularly cognitively adaptable qualities, broad-based knowledge and experience, with the capabilities to lead and manage simultaneously, is imperative for the future General.”[i] The prime necessity of 21st century of erudite, innovative senior military leadership is singularly profound. Within the realms of discretion, this sequel builds on the previous article on the subject and would attempt to zero on negatives and postulate some pathways.
Creatively intelligent Generals are call for Indian Army Next. Any contemplated change faces status-quoist mind-set or motivations of parochialism. Understandably, Human Resource managers have an onerous task to balance force objectives versus career aspirations in a steeply pyramidical structure. A revolutionary change is improbable, and maybe not even be necessary.
Imperative at the outset is to accept that there are issues that need to be defined. Procrastination is not conducive for a committed organisation. The case is built on six candid premises:

  • First, envisioned land warfare in its conventional form, without the clutter of grey zone, 4/5/6G, hybrid, multi-domain, non-contact or non-kinetic warfare, has immensely dissimilar connotations. The Army has to fight many divergent wars, against different adversaries at incongruent levels, which mandate contradictory doctrines and strategies, structures, competencies and training. The high-pressure combat of insurgencies and terrorism continues, destined for perpetuity. The Western Front by itself has severe differentiations of super, high altitudes, riverine sectors, built-up and obstacle ridden developed areas and desert terrain. The Northern frontier is fraught with warfare in super high altitude in under-developed regions, against a sophisticated adversary. Competencies for each of these demand field command and control tailored in exactitude, with jointness as an imperative. This balance of knowledge and experience remains wanting, even at threshold of generalship.
  • Second, ‘Command-Orientation’ is capstone for the Army that has been cemented under the Mathematical Model (command exit model), by the Honourable Supreme Court in Feb 2016. This is matter of separate consideration. In furtherance of careerism, commanders at higher levels seek safer command assignments, in previously well known areas. Repeated exposure in similar assignments does facilitate specialisation and is advantageous to finding right man for the right job. This however lends to the premise that command in comfort-zone type field or peace stations is ‘fixed’ to promote careers and conversely to stagnate promising careers! A mechanised officer commanding Corps in super/high altitude and an infantry officer of plains strike corps, with no previous experience, is pointless, may show the General in poor light, is counter-productive for the organisation and detrimental to promising careers.
  • Third, the General Cadre (GC), (Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry) and Non-General Cadre (Artillery, Air Defence, Army Aviation, Engineers and Signals), is perplexing. This denies large number of competent Non-GC officers opportunity to contribute to strategy at higher command. Similarly, in the logistics streams, remaining sheltered in individual service is also counterproductive.
  • Fourth, ‘to lead’ as well as ‘to manage’, in war or peace, is crucial for the Army. Varieties of staff assignments lend the correct gravitas and the eye for detail; inculcate vision of management of force. It is fashionable and suits career-orientation, to stick to operations branches, as against the exacting administrative and material oriented staff. The importance of staff assignments in quantified merit is grossly underplayed. Repeated postings in select branches at Army HQ, where postings are felt protected, shine in records of service, even if it lacks freshness of vision and thought. Such phenomenon produces gladiators of competence in limited fields, not all round developed Generals.
  • Fifth, effective Generalship and its effect on the organisation can only be with adequacy of payback time to the organisation! As is generally true, ratio of service in ranks prior to becoming general and as a general is approximately 32 years to 8 years. This is severely lop-sided. In this metered-down scenario, officer attempts hurriedly to prove his mettle, is unable to train the command or re-visualise the tasks. Many are able to portray competence in limited time, many rise to higher glory but reputationally remain also ran, and many competent ones do not get adequate opportunities to be suitably gauged in potential.
  • And lastly, despite earnest efforts to sensitise the environment, hyper-inflation mars reporting. In this quantified merit ironically, 89.123 is suitable Brigadier or a General, while 89.122 is not – value based additionality notwithstanding. The pen-pictures are abnormally similar as if from templates. ‘I will have the officer in war with me’, means nothing literally. The generic record does not indicate field in which officer has gained expertise. In addition parochialism (school/ arm/ regiment/ service, etc) is a serious bane, benefits many undeserving, and as corollary disallows meritorious ones to achieve requisite status! The best part is that the organisation at large is very knowledgeable and understands the typology of parochialism that had propelled promotions/ assignments!

The critical part is to select the right officer for higher ranks, one with requisite experience, intelligence and knowledge, intrinsically creative and willing to challenge the status quo. To do this requires a new rubric of evaluations. On evolving a newer model, six pathways are considered, only to facilitate a debate:

  • Who is the best judge of competence or otherwise of an up and coming officer? Sycophancy, parochialism, self-promotion and superficiality, or awards, postings and courses of instructions attended, become instrumental in colouring opinions of reporting chain. While one may be meritocratic, assessments can be imperfect and biased. However, facade of competence or otherwise cannot be retained over a long time with subordinates and colleagues. The latter may get bound/ carried away by either fierce loyalty or intense competition. Is time ripe for seriously considering 360 degree reporting? The 360 is one tool to understand how leaders are doing in command or major staff assignments, though multi-source feedback may also be deceptive. Using 360s as part of evaluation processes could create perverse incentives. Negatives apart, to the extent that 360s could be used to supplement or complement existing or future assessments, idea has great merit, with care taken to ensure no overlap with existing assessments. Three issues herein:
  • One, the Military Secretary’s Branch requires – as a good professor said – impurities! Competent social psychologists should be teamed in, to work through documentary profiling in organizational consultation, applied psychology fields, and in niche areas, such as group behaviour, leadership, attitudes and perception. They may be able to arrive at better prompts of competence or otherwise.
  • Two, highest commanders taken in confidence to assess specific officers on merit or otherwise and comment, to form a better picture – outside the realm of routine annual reports.
  • Three, naturally there will be naysayers, and there are obvious pitfalls, however, a pilot project over a couple of years for 360 degree reporting may be advantageous.
  • As argued above, there is lop-sidedness to the career profiles, wherein, it takes 32 years in ranks before a general, and then seven to eight years to pay back as a general. For best results, 70:30 ratio must be endeavoured. The human resource managers have to create a balance in competencies in the career of officers. It is imperative that clear-cut career planning be endeavoured for command – as Colonel, Brigadier and Major General, irrespective of arm, must be in different environs for all – mountains/ field (including insurgency), plains/ deserts, Northern or Western borders. Similarly staff assignments must balance with joint service, administrative, materials management and operations, at different headquarters. Staff stream can be considered from Colonel onwards. Repeated postings in same directorates like Operations or Officers career management branch, creates senior officers with inadequacies in breadth and depth of knowledge/ experience. That should be strictly NO-NO for betterment of the organisation!
  • The promotional structure is bound under allotment of arm and service and the merit list (judged by narrower criteria) of commissioning institution. There is need to normalise this at a stage –an issue for another debate. The consideration methodology for non-GC officers for inclusion in GC is very restrictive. As promotions for non-GC arms are also governed by need for in-line assignments, an officer can be given an option for opting out of GC at Colonel itself. For all others, a systematic be created for providing requisite experience and judgement of suitability. A second opportunity for opting out of GC consideration can be at Brigadier rank, albeit with a haircut. Similar working can be methodised for General Logistics Cadre and in-line logistics cadre. The issue of vacancies is matter of detail.
  • The armed forces lack a focussed leadership centre, and all leadership expertise is expected to be on the job. Hence a Centre for Armed Forces Leadership (CAFL) is a prime necessity. Even in the Armed Forces, leaders must be constantly coached/ mentored on focussed leadership and motivational short workshops centrally, or by CAFL faculty on regional basis.
  • Revitalisation of Professional Military Education (PME) is a crying need! In Indian Air Force, an officer submits a contemplative paper on professional subject with every annual report. Rare Brigadier or above gets to write summarily beyond a noting! Unfortunately cut-paste is denying originalities in dissertations and in professional growth. It is also axiomatic that most writings need vetting up the chain that deters thought-provoking penning. It is important to recall that Lt Col Paul Yingling, a serving officer of US Army wrote The Failure in Generalship in 2007 that left an indelible imprint in US.[ii] Serving officers must be encouraged to original writing. Articles published internationally by doctors are imperative part of their curriculum vitae. Over-anxiety on secrecy, information loss or image of the Army, is counter-productive to freshness of ideas and vision.
  • Lastly, is the reporting system. This has been has been under internal debate for long. Three issues are highlighted:
  • The grading system has become outstanding heavy. Will second decimal reporting or one that totals to 90, help? While we may consider ourselves competent to address the malaise, it may be advantageous to incorporate specialist human resource management consultancy like Xavier Labour Research Institute or Tata Institute of Social Sciences. To proclaim that these institutions may not fathom multitude of Army specificities, is to challenge professional expertise.
  • The cleansing process on repeated complaints on promotions or annual reports needs to be set right. Expungement of first report denies corroboration of next complaint. Hence many keep ascending having reports set aside and expunged regularly, thereby thwarting the entire system. It may not stand legal scrutiny to deny repeated complaints. Methods can be formulated to check perpetual complainants. Instead of ‘expunged’, a system of ‘discounted’ may be better, when previously discounted report can also be studied for corroboration.
  • Career development and management policies must be resilient and transparent, and not amended with change in personalities. In truer sense, it is impractical to develop policies to satisfy all. Endorsement by the army commanders collegium is insufficient, as the effect of the policies will be to the next generation. With simulation and modelling, involving larger percentage of officers at Major General and below in a consultative process is essential.

In sum, the article attempts to find methodologies for selecting the right Generals for an oncoming era of warfare. There would be manifold other issues that merit consideration, or methodologies that can be built-in for Army Next. It is not to state that the ongoing system has failed, on the contrary, the aim is to initiate a debate to consider all it right or not right, transcending any bounded parochialism. Indian polity at this juncture is leading change and taking difficult decisions. The time may just be ripe for the Army!
[i] Rakesh Sharma, The Art of Generalship, The Science of Selecting Generals -1, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, 25 Nov 2019, accessed at
[ii] Paul Yingling Lt Col, A Failure of Generalship, The Armed Forces Journal, USA, 01 May 2007, accessed at

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) In Pak Occupied Jammu And Kashmir (POJK)

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of One Belt One Road (OBOR), connecting Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Province with Gwadar Port in Pakistan. The projects under CPEC are of four types – Energy Projects, Infrastructure Projects, Gawadar related Projects and Industrial Cooperation. It has been estimated that besides creating two million new employment opportunities, Pakistan would benefit with at least two percent increase in its GDP per annum, and develop a wider regional connectivity. Much has been written about CPEC, the immense effect that it will have on the debt burden on Pakistan, though in Pakistan it is brandied as a ‘game changer’.
Two parts of POJK, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) are integral to CPEC. It is necessary to examine the effect CPEC will have on POJK, which is legally Indian territory, and any change has immense effect on India.
Projects in POJK – Infrastructure, Energy and SEZs
In the POJK, on the infrastructural front, is the National Highway 35 (N35) that passes through GB. More than 400 kilometres of the CPEC route passes through GB, starting near the China border in Sust Dry Port to the Basha area at the periphery of the boundary with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The plan is to reconstruct and upgrade works which forms the Pakistani portion of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). The KKH spans 887km between the China-Pakistan border and the town of Burhan, near Hasan Abdal, through GB. The 175 kilometre road between Gilgit and Skardu will be simultaneously upgraded to a 4-lane road at a cost of $475 million to provide direct access to Skardu from the N-35. Construction is expected to be completed at a cost of approximately $1.26 billion with 90% of funding to come from China’s EXIM bank in the form of low interest rate concessional loans.
POK is a narrow strip lacking intra-district connectivity. POK and GB are also not interconnected through a road network and exist as separate entities. In the absence of any viable land route, the people of the southern districts of Mirpur, Bhimber and Kotli, have to travel to Muzaffarabad via Islamabad, which is both expensive and time consuming. In the POK, 200km long Mansehra-Muzaffarabad-Mirpur-Mangla Expressway (named as M4) plans to connect Muzaffarabad, the capital of POK, with the Grand Trunk (GT) Road through Mangla and Mirpur. This is expected to open the tourist potential of Jhelum-Neelum Valley, which incidentally received more than half a million tourists in 2018. It addition to the natural beauty, Neelum Valley has Sharda Peeth which is one of the eighteen Maha Shakti Peethas and Sharda Buddhist University – an ancient centre of learning dedicated to the Goddess of learning Sharada.
A long term project under CPEC involves construction of the 682km long Khunjerab Railway line between of Havelian and Khunjerab Pass, with extension to China’s Lanxin Railway (Southern Xinjiang Railway) in Kashgar, Xinjiang. This railway will roughly parallel to KKH, and is expected to be completed by 2030.
Between Thakot and Raikot plans are underway to construct several hydropower projects, most notably the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and Dasu Dam. Sections of the N-35 around these projects will be completely rebuilt in tandem with dam construction. A series of energy projects are being planned in POJK. It is home to two big power projects – Mangla and Neelum-Jhelum, which together produce over 2,000MW of electricity. The Kohala Hydropower Project on the Jhelum River, upstream of Domel has been planned as a run-of-the river project with a total installed capacity of 1,124MW and an estimated cost of $2.5 billion. Construction work on the Kohala project has remained suspended since December 2018 due to the public concern over its ecological impact. The Karot Hydropower Project is a run-of-river project, located near Karot in Punjab and Hollar in POK. A 100MW hydropower project near Karakoram International University in Gilgit, and an 80MW hydropower project in Phander area of Ghizer are other such projects in the region. Obviously, this hydroelectricity production has given rise to transmission from power plants to National Energy Grid of Pakistan.
In November 2017, Pakistan dropped its bid to have Diamer-Bhasha Dam financed under the CPEC framework. Although not officially under the scope of CPEC, the 1,223 MW Balloki Power Plant, and the 1,180 MW Bhakki power-plants have both been completed in mid 2018, which along with the 969 MW Neelum–Jhelum Hydropower Plant completed in summer 2018 and 1,410 MW Tarbela IV Extension Project, competed in February 2018, will result in an additional 10,000 MW.
Similarly a fibre optical cable project covers an area of 820 km and will provide the ICT infrastructure for 3G/4G services between the Khunjerab Pass on the China-Pakistan border and the city of Rawalpindi. It has been constructed as part of the CPEC at an estimated cost of $44 million
China is a world leader in establishing SEZs, by 2017 having established and managing 77 SEZs in 36 countries. SEZ development has been adopted energetically at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In the host nation it would provide Chinese companies (and executives) near permanent presence, with a controlled channel for building familiarity with and exposure to local markets and economy.
Two Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are planned in POJK. A mixed industry SEZ is to be established at Mirpur over 1,078 acres. It is situated 22km from GT Road Dina-Jhelum and 140km from Sialkot. It would be connected to main CPEC route via M4. Currently 430 medium and small sized industrial units exist in Mirpur, with 5,681 people employed with them. The planned SEZ is 5 Km from proposed Dry Port at Mirpur with a railway link between Dina, Jhelum and Mirpur is being established. Special incentives have been offered by the POK government for investment in Mirpur economic zone, including tax-free import of machinery and other equipment, construction of infrastructure and permission to prospective investors to generate their own electricity to run industries at the local level.
Moqpandass Heavy Industry SEZ in GB is planned 35km from Gilgit and 160km from Skardu, occupying 500 acres. It is located 200km from Sust Dry Port enroute to Khunjerab Pass. It is planned to have industries for granite/marble, iron ore processing, fruit processing, steel industry, mineral processing unit and leather industry. Co-located will also be Gilgit Hydropower station generating 100MW.
POJK – in Transformation
It is a fact that with the exception of Karot Hydropower project, work on the other proposed projects has been slow or not initiated, primarily because of the non-release of funds or controversies regarding the project design and the ensuing environmental issues. POJK is in seismically and ecologically fragile and flood prone zone. GB has large mineral deposits, including metallic, non-metallic, energy minerals, precious and dimension stones, and rocks of differing industrial value. Mining is dominated by corporations mainly from China. In terms of value, annual extraction of gemstones from GB is worth around $3 million. Prospecting is on for other precious minerals.
Local communities have claimed that the Pak Government awards licences secretly to ghost companies either operating on behalf of the Pak Army or the Chinese. Pakistan has illegally awarded more than 2000 leases in GB for the mining of gold, uranium and molybdenum (which is used in space technology) to China. Chinese companies and labour are everywhere in GB, especially in the Hunza-Nagar district, which is rich in uranium. Far more serious is the creation of ‘no-go’ areas by the Chinese, who prevent locals from accessing these areas. This is apparent in some areas in upper Hunza, like Chapursan Valley, where the Chinese have done both tunnel building and mineral exploration. Chinese has also leased areas in Astore district to extract high quality copper.
The GB region is losing its ethnic identity with planned demographic invasion and settling of population from Sindh and Punjab. It is easy to state that CPEC in POJK may collapse under its own weight, due to local resistance, financing anxieties (especially the dire straits Pak economy is in currently), the ecological fragility of the region, serious vagaries of terrain, altitudes and weather and the geological apprehension of earthquakes/floods/land-slides. Each one has the potential to put a serious spoke in the CPEC plans for POJK.
Yet, because of the enormous advantages for China (and Pakistan) – geo-politically, economically, in resources and for the Xinjiang Province, the plan should succeed in some measure. If that happens, the entire POJK will be inundated with Chinese managers, supervisors and workers and movement of convoys. Indeed, the Chinese workers may establish permanent presence by constructing their own administrative enclaves (as in Gwadar).
This projected makeover of POJK will become too calamitous in the next decade or so. The age-old socio-cultural character of POJK will be largely subsumed in this economic invasion of the area. The transformation that is arriving in speed in POJK requires constancy in monitoring, as this change may have grave geo-strategic ramifications for India.

The Art of Generalship, the Science of Selecting Generals – 1

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


‘Generalship’ is, perhaps, that segment of leadership which is uniquely valuable to the Army, and to the nation. To become a general officer is to join an exclusive club; to become a Head of Arm (HoA)/ Head of Service (HoS)/ Corps/ Army Commander is to be in the most elite club. The system is geared to seek out the good General with the right intellect and attitude, and has proven its credibility over a long time. Becoming a general is based upon multitude of judgments of institutional, demonstrated and personal criteria – judgments mostly rational and objective; though some may be on parochial or subjective rationale. A clinically quantified merit based largely upon annual reports makes for the near total decision support.
The dramatically changing character of warfare in the 21st century is challenging the Army — to transform! Technological sprint is directing newer doctrines of warfare, from its multi-domainal character to non contact/ non-kinetic frameworks. The oncoming operating and administrative environment has a complex matrix of factors that is leading to ‘decision making’ becoming very challenging. Warfare in future indeed will be fully chaotic, non-linear and unpredictable. Contextually hence, a General of tomorrow will have to be a mythic, intuitive person, a change agent with a clear vision of the future who endeavours to remould the mold and believes in innovating passionately. Excessive reliance on tactical expertise will make only tactical generals and not visionaries that the environmental realities will demand.
The General of tomorrow has to make a difference to the organisation, while working within the larger system, which is by itself a challenging notion. Any organization, even the Army, periodically needs to shake itself up and reinvent. The attempt herein is to objectively contemplate and envision future imperatives for future ‘Generals’, selected without any biases, like that of schools, regiments, arms or service, or whatever else of parochial, short-sighted segregations!
The Perplexing Art of Generalship
Taking a step back, what indeed is generalship? In many ways, we need to unfreeze the notions of Generalship. The fact is that the responsibilities and attributes of a general are totally different from what goes in ranks prior to becoming a general. The transition is dramatic, and the formative years under-prepare an aspirant for what lies ahead. As decisions taken (or avoided) in formative years are constantly under gaze and the promotional structure is awfully steep, more and more military commanders gravitate towards orthodoxy, yes-manship, playing safe, remain risk averse or avoid risks altogether. Many prefer to micromanage tactical subunits and remain status-quoist, for personal careerism.
Assuredly Generalship is to possess superior military skills and vision in a higher commander that equips the general to be effective in the sphere of influence, and way beyond. The exercise of generalship carries with it tremendous difficulties, huge responsibilities and on most occasions while working directly with the Government functionaries, think on the feet, independently and with no fall back options. There are no really conclusive treatises on what makes a good and an effective general in Indian Army (of course there are leadership traits, etc). Three issues are contemplated below.
Firstly, even though a General would prefer or profess to be singularly a strategic (or Operational) leader (reveling in ‘I am a lifelong operations-man– the Col GS/BGS/ MGGS/MO/PP syndrome!); management is equally and importantly juxtaposed in the articulation and accomplishment of Generalship. Military, more so the Army is also about soldiers and human dynamics – which itself is in immense transition and is hugely complex. Military is also about administration, of anticipation and provisioning material and equipment – involving operational logistics, supply chain management and land construction planning. Armed force are increasingly also about financial management and fiscal prudence.
To lead’ as well as ‘to manage’, in war or peace, is crucial. With near-total focus on leading at higher rungs of the Army, stereotypical managing is considered boring, tedious, dumped on to staff, relegated to a passé function and considered of lesser value in promotional merit. Hence many of the strongly aspirational kind, at lower levels and as Generals, assiduously avoid assignments of the managerial kind especially those relating to human resource, land and material management. These have difficult choices and inculcate taking risks that matter to soldiers well being. Hence Generals when accosted with administration issues, become procrastinators, naysayers or strongly status quo-ists. While to lead is important, to manage effectively and proactively brings in credibility to a General. As was said anonymously, ‘…the most essential quality of leadership is not perfection, but credibility’. Any definition of Generalship for Army must juxtapose leading and managing expertise. Leading and managing are not inculcated only by years of service; these have to be ingrained-in over a period of time, through focused efforts.
Secondly, an officer rises in his career by professional training and knowledge, and rigours of hard work and experience. Are knowledge and experience enough on the altar of producing credible generals? A general, to be a role model, should have referent power, that is, unrelated to his rank or appointment, people in and out of military must refer to him and seek counsel. This also depends on accessibility of a General to one and all. To get to that, important is to have expert power that is based upon broad perceptions that the General has a high level of knowledge and specialized skills and that he is approachable for guidance. Expert power is a great asset to have, as it provides leaders with a robust base from which they can lead and manage their command confidently. Expert power is more important than reward based or coercive authority in leading effectively. Of course these have to be hard earned and require great deal of credibility fashioned over a long period, energy and focus. More than seniors, the best discerners of expert and referent power, of an aspiring General are the led!
To return to the question –are knowledge and experience enough for Generals? Knowledge stems from acquisition of facts, information, and skills acquired through experience, research, investigation or education. There is however difference between knowledge, and wisdom or cognition. Wisdom is to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable. It is the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life. It is also much deeper. Cognition in its commonsensical meaning includes the senses and terms/concepts of ‘knowing (knowledge),’ ‘awareness (understanding),’ and ‘judgment (decision-making and execution).’ Simply, wisdom or cognition cannot be acquired through reading books/ article/ online study, on-the-job-training and experiences (OJTE) or courses of instructions. It is not important how much one reads, but how much one understands and imbibes on personal terms. Cognition has to be individually extracted in the growing years, from the books, OJTE and courses, and experiences – both good and bad.
A large number of us feel that experience is the best teacher. In the Army specifically, gaining experience is tough but can be severely bounded and encased, like for example, in isolated domains –say J&K or deserts/plains, or in typology of operations, like special operations. There is also an imbalance of very short time from Brigadier to Lt Gen vis-a-vis from commissioning to a Colonel! The short tenures (though attempts have been made of late to address this) from Brigade Commander to Corps Commander, disallow cognitive growth, meaningful contribution in rank/appointment or judgment of potential. Paucity of an all rounded experience even after long years of service and becoming General, impairs the organization. It may not be wholly an officer’s fault in seeking safer pastures (even though challenging) of previous experience which will facilitate careerism. Ensuring broad-based all-rounded experience is the responsibility of human resource managers. This becomes a severe lacuna when due to paucity of availability of appointments (or even parochial reasons), a General is thrust to discharge assignment in hithertofore totally uncharted waters. It can be detrimental to the career of a top-calibre General and also to the organization. Experience can also pass through an officer undigested. Experiences need synthesis to learn from them; otherwise it does not tantamount to gaining wisdom. Selecting genuinely cognitive generals is a great challenge!
The third and a significant issue is ‘’creativity’’ and the desire to be creative among Generals. In 1932, JFC Fuller had identified the most essential attribute of successful generalship as having “creative intelligence.” What is creative intelligence? Creative intelligence includes finding a novel solution to a problems or situations, as a process of creating new ideas and concepts, unencumbered by established doctrines. Words like original, imaginative, inspired, artistic, inventive, resourceful, ingenious, innovative and productive come to mind. The ideas do not have to be revolutionary; they just have to be new and advantageous for the Army. Creative people are willing to take the risk new ideas will pose, and will even accept failure if it happens. Creatively intelligent Generals would also allow time to their commands to think creatively, generate ideas and tolerate ambiguity.
In this context a deliberative status quo bias by a cognitive General is intentional cognitive conservatism. Actually cognitive ability and conservatism are negatively correlated, when intelligent Generals, who are supposed to be change leaders, prefer things to stay the same, with tendency to resist change, or by sticking with a decision made previously. Major reason for this is a reluctance to rock the boat and play safe. Status quo bias is consistent with risk adverseness and avoidance, focused on higher rungs, even in causing stagnation to thinking and action in the organisation. Such status quoist attitude among Generals, even if with a façade of creativity, invariably leads to herding, when the led keep quiet and play wait-and-see game, rather than exhibit novelty of ideas. Converse to cognitive conservatism will be cognitive adaptability, which is not only the ability to change, but to change with knowledge to derive the maximum benefit of that change. Though Stephen Hawking had written that “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”, in the current information age, it is imperative for a General to be ‘cognitively adapt’.
In good organisations, the led must have a responsibility to place contrarian opinions for consideration, where conformity or yesmanship is not the best for the organisation. Seeking out the right officers with singularly cognitively adaptable qualities, broad-based knowledge and experience, with the capabilities to lead and manage simultaneously, is imperative for the future General. These are the hallmarks of a General having left a constructive mark, and remembered positively. Of course there is a need for charisma and communicability to cumulate to effective Generalship, but those are matters for separate debate.
An examination of the systemology prevalent and envisioning the selective processes, will be matter for a continued article!

Geo-politics of Nepal, China and India: TWO to TANGO; THREE Must JIVE

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


While geography has remained ever important, its significance is being greatly challenged and diminished by technology. This march of technology has nearly negated the geographical barrier of the Himalayas between Nepal and China, thereby causing a rethink in Geo-politics of the region. Simply, in 2017, approximately 59 percent of Chinese imports to Nepal came through India-Nepal border, but then the remaining 41 percent came by air (to Kathmandu) and by land from Tibet.[1] In fact there are more flights daily from Kathmandu to Tibet and China than to India. Geopolitics of the land-locked Nepal has been greatly affected by what is noted in the Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan that the Himalayas have been flattened and no longer separate the two great civilizations – India and China, and the distance between China and Nepal stands defeated. There is a newer strategic geography in the region, and the earliest India fathoms, the best, as the ‘trade routes linking China and India, by way of Tibet, Nepal, West Bengal, and Myanmar – joining Lhasa, Kathmandu, and Kolkata – will only further mature, with peaceful commerce.’[2]
The top priority of Nepal and its foreign policy orientation is a natural product of being land-locked and that it is located between two large neighbours with adversarial relations. It is oft stated, ‘Nepal is like yam between two giant boulders’. In this Himalayan geopolitics, perspicacity and suppositions of the attitude of the two big neighbours would determine Nepal’s response to the environment. There are obvious concerns of security. Nepal has had a two-decade political instability. The Maobadi dwandakaal or the Maoist Insurgency lasted from 1996 to 2006. The Nepalese Monarchy that existed for 240 years was abolished in 2008. Ten Governments changed in one decade up to 2012. Following the democracy movement an Interim Constitution was promulgated in 2007. Two Constituent Assemblies worked to formulate the final Constitution that took nearly seven years.

The recent visit of President Xi Jinping to Nepal, was preceded by the visits of Nepal PM to China in June 2018, and President of Nepal to attend the Second Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing on 27 April 2019. President Xi Jinping’s visit witnessed signing of 18 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and 2 Letters of Intent that elevated bilateral ties from comprehensive partnership of cooperation to a strategic partnership of cooperation. China has also made deep inroads into Nepal, with major investments in infrastructure. The 72 km Kerung-Kathmandu railway corridor will get a detailed project report in the next two years. This rail link will finally connect Kerung to Lumbini. (Figure 1: Proposed China-Nepal Railway Line)
There are motorable roads from the Chinese border to Hilsa, Korala, Rasuwa, Kodari, and many more are being added. Under the Protocol of Transit Transport Agreement with China with Nepal signed in Sep 2018, China has also agreed to let Nepal use Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang open seaports and Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse dry ports for trading with third countries.[3]

There was a commitment of US$ 500 million in the next two years for capacity development and uplifting basic living standards in Nepal. (Figure 2: Motorable Road between Lhasa and Kathmandu). The relationship between the two communist parties would be further strengthened as a fraternal relationship was established between the Communist Party of China (CCP) and Nepal Communist Party with the signing of six MoU. The Confucius Study Centres are bound to proliferate language training to Nepal. The roads, the optical fibre network, the burgeoning trade and increasing people to people contact are pointers to a new geo-political architecture between China and Nepal.
India on her part always stands with the special, socio-cultural relationship with Nepal, the Hindu majority nation of the world, with a 1751km long open border with Indian five states. There are a very large number of Nepali workers in India, with no requirement of acquiring work permits (and vice versa). Nepali citizens are free to acquire property in India (though vice versa is not allowed). The Indian Army recruits from Nepal in the Gorkha Rifles, units which have exhibited great valour by their ferociousness and courage and have sacrificed in war and peace. Their also exists a substantial Gorkha soldier veteran community drawing pensions from India. The Gorkha veterans maintain very close bonds with the parent regiments. There are substantial financial remittances from the Nepali workers and soldiers to Nepal. Nepal being land-locked is allowed transit trade through twenty-two designated routes between India-Nepal border and the ports of Kolkata/Haldia and Vishakapatnam, in addition to Nepal’s trade with Bangladesh. Bilateral trade, as per official data, in the fiscal year 2017-18, India-Nepal was $8205 Million.
Despite this, Nepal and India relations are complex and had been inconsistent to say the least. The accusation of ‘big brotherliness’ or even ‘elder brotherliness’, the perceived unfair water treaties – Koshi, Gandaki and Mahakali, Indian objections to the major marker in Nepali politics – Nepal Constitution of 2015, and especially the four and a half month 2015-2016 blockade, rankle in the minds of the Government and the population. There are also, though unfair, accusations of Indian support to Madeshis and Janjatis, who inhabit the plains bordering Indian States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There is often stringent anti-India rhetoric, which challenges the sensibilities of the Indian establishment. Suffice it to say, an image of continual interference by India in internal, domestic affairs of Nepal has been created, and that India remains a factor in domestic politics of Nepal. This is not to say that the historic linkages and the warm relationships, socio-cultural links that peoples of Nepal enjoy with India, stand degraded. On the contrary, a strong pro-India constituency exists in Nepal.
These are certain trends that must be anticipated and accepted as ‘given’. The geographic barrier of the Himalayan Mountains between Nepal and China is being changed by railways, roads and tunnels. In the battle between geography and technology, inevitably the Chinese technology and deep pockets will win. Simultaneously the China and Myanmar Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative envisages a “Y-shaped” corridor connecting China’s Kunming to Mandalay and then extending east and west respectively to Yangon and Kyaukpyu.

The Trans-Himalayan, Trans Tibet Economic Corridors will come into being, linking Nepal and Myanmar with China’s Yunnan, Sichuan and Gansu Provinces, and Tibet, and allow intensive trade and interaction. (Figure 3: Myanmar-China Economic Corridor)
As an aside, India, Thailand and Myanmar are also working on about 1,400km long highway that would link India with South East Asia by land and give a boost to trade.

It is obvious that a new architecture is on the make; the signposts are already on the wall that China will continue to rise in importance in Nepal in multifaceted ways. And hence forth, when push comes to shove, Nepal will have the options to decide based on its own national interests, like any sovereign nation would do. (Figure 4: India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway)
A sharing of relationships with China is inevitable. India has valid objections to the Belt and Road Initiative. This must not deter improving connectivity with Nepal and China under the UN Sustainable Development Goal No 9 that lays down development of quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure. In the era of ‘flattened Himalyas’ India must visualize taking due advantage and usage of trans-Nepal connectivity with China. Maybe India can expand its exports of bulk goods and raw materials to China through this newly emerging economic corridor.
India needs to envision the glaring future. The infrastructure on Indian side of Nepal-India border needs urgent upgradation. It includes upgrading approach highways to the border on the Indian side across Birgunj-Raxaul, Biratnagar-Jogbani, Bhairahawa-Sunauli and Nepalgunj-Rupediya to international standards. The newly inaugurated oil pipeline is an excellent step forward and should be extended further. There is for upgrading and expanding of the road network in the Terai region, broad gauging and extending rail links to Nepal. In imagining the future, India will have to unlearn and re-fathom the national policies relating to Nepal, which is a sovereign nation, a friend, with lots in common. It will be detrimental to our own interests if our policies are perceived to be inimical to Nepal. Similarly, Nepal must ponder too on its stringency against India, and manage its domestic environment. There are vividly apparent security issues in the background that India is mindful of at all times. It’s for us to create a win-win situation from this inevitability of the future – and the situation is ripe to a total change of tack.
In sum, contextually if the nations look for it, the political and economic interests will converge, and may overshadow the underlying security theme of India–China relations, in furtherance of the Wuhan Spirit and Chennai Connect. Any wait and watch policy or a philosophy of procrastination may be to our disadvantage. It is important for the future to strike a balance to ensure an effective China-Nepal-India relationship, which will determine the Himalayan geopolitics in decades to come. For the future generations, the THREE MUST LEARN TO JIVE together!
[1] Krzysztof Iwanek, Himalayas Leveled: How China-Nepal Relations Have Defied Geopolitics, The Diplomat, accessed on 25 Oct 2019at
[2] Bibek Paudel, The Pan Himalayan Reality that Awaits South Asia, 03, April, 2016, Accessed at
[3] Geeta Mohan, Protocol of Transit Transport Agreement with China, India Today, accessed on 25 Oct 2019, at
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