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A Matter of Honour

Major Gaurav Arya

Indian Army (Retd.)


Major AVD Pillay was a soldier’s soldier. His father had served in the army. And he expected his son, Divakaran, to be no less. His family had a cherished tradition of bearing arms, now for the Indian Army, and in centuries past, for the kingdom of Travancore. His family had shed blood for the motherland. The Pillays were Nairs, a fighting clan, and were expected to do no less.

In a school play, 12-year-old son Divakaran was given the part of a primeval Naga warrior. When young Pillay entered the stage, he did not look the part. A Naga going to war is a fearsome thing to behold. He roars like a lion. Major Pillay’s son squeaked. He neither looked Naga, nor Nair.

In a family tradition where young adolescent boys were expected to bear arms and fight the enemy, Major AVD Pillay’s son fell woefully short.

And so, young Divakaran was packed off to spend an entire night at a graveyard.

As we sit in his office in New Delhi, Col. Divakaran Padma Kumar Pillay speaks about the fear and sheer trepidation of that night. The loneliness, the sounds, the howling wind, the haunting expectation of graves creaking open at night and corpses crawling out would have seen grown men run away in sheer terror.

“Gaurav, I almost died out of sheer fear that night. But I did not quit”, says Col. Pillay.

When Major Pillay came in the morning to take young Divakaran home, something had irrevocably changed in the boy. He stopped shuffling and he looked into people’s eyes when he spoke.

It was in 1994 that Manipur, and with it the rest of the North East, descended into violent chaos. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, an extremist Naga outfit, controlled much of the regions bordering Manipur and Nagaland, collecting taxes and defying the Indian state. Efforts at peace had failed, with an increasingly belligerent and intransigent NSCN quickly increasing the levels of violence. They used a complex mix of perceived wrong, tribal loyalties and fear to keep the people in line.

India was forced to use its final argument. It sent the Indian Army to the North East to establish the writ of the state.

Capt. Divakaran Pillay had specific intelligence that insurgents were planning to blow up a bridge, to hamper the movement of security forces. His orders were clear – locate, engage and neutralize. For four days he led his platoon through sweltering jungle, a fruitless and frustrating search that yielded nothing.

On the morning of the fifth day, he had contact.

As the platoon approached a nondescript village called Longdipabram in the Tamenglong District, insurgents opened up with murderous fire. Capt. Pillay responded. The militants had the upper hand; they could fire where they wished, unmindful of collateral damage.

In counter insurgency, sometimes avoiding collateral damage and civilian casualties means taking a bullet to your chest. It’s a Catch 22 situation.

Capt. Pillay approached a hut in which the militants had found safe haven. As he kicked open the door, a three-round burst from an AK 47 caught him in the elbow and arm. Another single shot slammed into his chest. The militant’s AK jammed. He threw a grenade at Capt. Pillay. Weak with shock and loss of blood, Capt. Pillay kicked the grenade milliseconds before it exploded. The explosion took away a piece of flesh from his leg. Miraculously, the thick door had absorbed the shrapnel.

Another militant hit him on the shoulder and then on the spine. Both shoulder and spine were fractured. As Capt. Pillay lay bleeding, close to death, the encounter raged around him. Many militants were killed. In the cross fire, two children were seriously injured.

His platoon radioed for CASEVAC (Casualty Evacuation) by helicopter. The army responded quickly and the helicopter landed, to evacuate the wounded officer. Capt. Divakaran Pillay has always been different, sometimes a little stubborn to straightjacketed army men. He was known to speak his mind with brutal honesty.

When the pilot came forward to help him into the helicopter, Capt. Pillay did two things, which only those who knew him intimately could have expected.

One, he told the pilot that he still had some strength in him and could cling on to life a little longer and that the children should be evacuated in his place. Two, he ordered his men that if he died, they would carry out no reprisals. The village was under the protection of Capt. DPK Pillay of 8 Battalion, The Brigade of the Guards.

Before fainting from shock and loss of blood, Capt. Pillay heard wails of gratitude from the women and the old men of the village who rushed out and fell at his feet.

For this unique and heroic deed, Capt. Divakaran Pillay was conferred the Shaurya Chakra by a grateful nation.

In 2010, the local Brigade Commander, a friend of the now Colonel Pillay sent a patrol to find out about the village in which this famous encounter had taken place. It was through this army patrol that the villagers found out that their savior was still alive. They immediately requested for a reunion. So, Col. Pillay went to meet the villagers in that small village in Manipur.

He was accorded not just a hero’s welcome. He was welcomed like a village elder. Through his remarkable heroism and generosity, a Keralite had found family in Manipur. The little girl who was shot in the stomach and whose life he had saved by getting her airlifted, was now married and a mother of two. The young boy was a strapping young man.

During the reunion, Col. Pillay saw a familiar looking man in the crowd. That man was amongst the few who had attacked him, almost killing him on that fateful day. Col. Pillay called out to the man and hugged him. In that instant, all was forgiven. All was forgotten.

As the story of his visit to the village spread, the national media made Col. Pillay a celebrity. And, so true to his character, Col. Pillay used this fame to devastating effect. He was now in touch with ministers and senior bureaucrats. So, he used his influence with the Minister of State for Defence for a 23 km long black top road that would connect Longdipabram to District Headquarters at Tamenglong. The Border Roads Organization would construct this road. But Col. Pillay was not done yet. He realized that the road would fall into disrepair after a few years because the BRO did not have the mandate to maintain roads that were not on the border.

Col. Pillay went on a liaison overdrive and a charm offensive. He called and met the high and mighty of Lutyens Delhi. Everyone had heard stories of the young Captain who had courted certain death to save two innocent children. Many people shut doors to his face. But good things happen to good people. Or at least they happen to people who are both good and terribly stubborn.

On 7 October 2016 I received a phone call from Col. Pillay.

“Gaurav, Mr. Nitin Gadkari has approved a 100 km long National Highway, connecting Tamenglong to Peren in Nagaland. And Longdipabram will be a reference point in the NH,” he said excitedly.

70 years after independence, a non-descript village in some remote corner of the North East that no one had heard of suddenly found itself right on a National Highway.

I recently met Col. Pillay in his office again. His three sons were there, all school going fine young lads. Over Dunkin Donut burgers, they introduced themselves – Vikramaditya, Siddharth and Harshvardhan. They told me that their father teaches them Kalaripayattu, the ancient Kerala martial art.

Little Harshvardhan knows what to do in case terrorists attack his house. He knows what he can use as a weapon in case of an emergency.

They boys are shaping up just fine. They have an illustrious father to look up to; a father who understands what it is to wield power with kindness, and who understands that in forgiveness there is courage.

Capt. Divakaran Pillay was willing to die to save two children he did not even know. He forbade vengeance on non-combatants. He used his fame for helping people who were strangers. He embraced a man who tried to kill him. This is not just the story of Capt. Divakaran Pillay.

This is the story of the Indian Army.


Pakistan under Imran Khan – What’s in it for Indo-Pak Relations

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar)
Former Military Secretary & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Whoever heard Pakistan’s Prime Minister (Designate) Imran Khan speak on 26 Jul 2018, after it became quite evident that the election had gone his way, would have had to change his image in the mind’s eye to make any sense of it at all. We have seen him in India over the years in friendlier times. The flamboyant playboy image, his strong competitiveness and hugely India friendly leaning signified his personality. Those were the days when people wondered why the attitude of Imran Khan could not be replicated by the establishment in Pakistan which was always unfriendly. It is now becoming quite clear to all, that in order to be high in the pecking order in Pakistan, you just have to simply change your colours much like the chameleon. In Imran’s case that change over became a makeover; his entire personality has undergone a change as against the other mainstream faces such as Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto.
The Pakistan Army, which exercises control over the destiny of Pakistan in many ways, realised that its sojourn with the first two mainstream political parties – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) – was over. The reason for this was the apparent emboldening of their leaders with passage of time and attempts to seek an independent line, mostly on the relationship with India. For Pakistan Army, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehree-e-Insaf (PTI) Party, young in comparison and freshly in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), appeared to have all the boxes ticked as far as national power potential was concerned. Any party so sponsored would obviously be beholden to the sponsor. For the last three years or more the build up of PTI had been underway.
For Imran Khan’s personal survival a makeover to an Islamist image was necessary, in addition to the nationalist image already in existence due him being the Captain of Pakistan’s Cricket World Cup winning team. In the recent past he has often been referred as Taliban Khan and Jihadi Khan after he helped paralyse the city of Islamabad a few times to protest corruption in the then existing PML-N government. Whether the Pakistan Army actively connived with the Pakistan Election Commission to have the PTI come to power may eventually become inconsequential because a very appropriately orchestrated result has come to be. The PTI is there and yet not; it will need support of some parties to make a government. The stability would have been much higher if the PTI had scored a full victory but that may have emboldened it a little too early. In other words, the control of the deep state over Imran Khan is complete.
Given the above situation does anyone in India perceive better times ahead as far as Indo-Pakistan relations are concerned? Slivers of hope have arisen in the recent past. The arrival of General Qamar Bajwa as Pakistan’s Army Chief a year and a half ago sent some positive signals. He was known to be well educated and someone who could understand the larger interests of Pakistan in peace with India in order to resolve Pakistan’s far more serious social and economic problems. However, that perception did not translate into anything substantial despite a much hyped Bajwa Doctrine. The build up to the Pakistan election of 2018 was arranged by Pakistan Army’s near-total connivance with the higher judiciary and a subjugated media to prevent the PML-N returning to power, because the latter was straining at the leash to be allowed free hand in the conduct of its India policy. With Imran therefore, nothing is likely to change. Mindsets and history do not allow changes to occur, only circumstances do. So its circumstances that has either to be created or has to come about through trends and events that will change the way in relations are conducted. What could, if at all, these changes possibly be?
One is a possible outreach by India as a fresh initiative. With nine months to another hotly contested general elections in 2019, this is highly unlikely. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government had earlier made an honest attempt, and in fact took the proverbial two steps that Imran Khan spoke of in his recent speech, without receiving even one step in response. Any softening of approach towards Pakistan as an Indian initiative is therefore highly unlikely.
Two, can Imran Khan take the initiative? Given the fact that he is shackled under Army control, makes that least likely. Assuming that he does, the approach that he displayed in his initial speech, of addressing Kashmir as the core issue and accusing the Indian Army of serious human rights violations, is unlikely to create even an iota of the positive environment which would be necessary for India to walk the extra mile, even in a longer time frame.
Three, could be a set of circumstances dictating Pakistan’s internal situation which could trigger a forced policy change and eventually lead to the creation of a better environment. This refers to the Financial Assistance Task Force (FATF) related strictures against Pakistan asking it to set right its internal mechanisms to prevent financial support to terror networks. With Pakistan’s economy in a mess and two billion dollar relief packages already given by China, Pakistan will at some stage need to display more transparency in the measures that it has to undertake to prevent sponsoring of terror. That calls for a proactive Indian approach to ensure that it does. It will need diplomatic initiatives and influencing of the right quarters to ensure that Pakistan’s counter-measures include the India centric jihadi elements that it treats as its strategic assets. The election has produced one positive situation – the relative political marginalisation of the India focused jihad groups. Hafiz Sayeed and his Milli Muslim League, riding atop Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek Party, scored no victories. Can this be exploited or more importantly will the Pakistan deep state allow the placement of these assets in cold storage, at least temporarily. Relative control over these elements could create an environment free of jihadi oriented violence and any major attempts to target India.
The fourth element among these circumstances is the role of China. For many years, Pakistan’s emboldened stance of taking on India through the hybrid conflict route has been possible because of the backing from China. It then suited China too. However, 2017-18 have been eventful years in Sino-Indian relations, with its peaks and troughs. The reset in place after Wuhan, Sochi and Qingdao is yet underway and China may well view an improved Indo-Pakistan relationship as beneficial to its larger international interests. Under those circumstances China’s initiative could go far in setting the environment for an improved Indo-Pakistan relationship.
The bottom line Indian requirement that will see any breakthrough is a set of measures by Imran Khan’s Pakistan that will place controls over the anti-India jihadi groups in Pakistan. It has to be a verifiable set of measures with meaningful statements in the diplomatic environment. A quiet Line of Control over an elongated period of time will assist in pegging any process which comprises all this.
Interestingly, a question being asked is whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi should accept Prime Minister (Designate) Imran Khan’s possible invitation to attend his swearing-in in the near future. There are no easy answers to this and the Indian Government will have to seriously consider the issue. Possibly, with nine months to the own general elections and no Pakistani assurance of any follow up diplomatic initiatives, which any way will be in the hands of the Pakistan Army, Mr Modi would stand to lose face. He had tried one transformational moment on 25 Dec 2015 which came cropper; a second one for no foreseeable gains will not fetch him or India any dividends. Perhaps India’s Minister of External Affairs, Mrs Sushma Swaraj could be an ideal personality to attend the ceremony.

A Cogent National Strategy is Needed for J&K in 2019

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar)
Former Military Secretary & GCTC Advisory Board Member

This article commences with a couple of presumptions about future scenarios. First, that in the predictable future there is likely to be no workable agreement with Pakistan on J&K and the issue is likely to continue with status quo. Pakistan will plan and cater to an optimization to stay ahead in the loop of baiting India and executing its actions within its perception of our limit of tolerance. Second that the Indian security establishment will continue to perform at high levels of tactical competence, dominate the security environment and continue on its spree of neutralizing terrorists. However, apart from achieving machismo through good statistics of kill ratios, this won’t move the graph of conflict from the late stages of conflict stabilization where it has been stuck for some time now. Third, the security establishment, political community, intelligence agencies, the veteran community and various informed academics and diplomats, are all aware what exactly needs to be done but there will be a dearth of ideas on how it is to be done.
The above presumptions are useful in determination of any strategy on J&K. Yet there needs to be clarity on the existing environment on the basis of which some known and less known facts emerge. From the high of 5000 or more terrorists 20 years ago the residual strength is no more than 300-350, majority being local and concentrated in South Kashmir. The resident strength in areas South of Pir Panjal is almost zero. In Kashmir, 248 terrorists have been neutralized in 2018 (180 are reported to have been recruited) but the residual strength hasn’t changed. With infiltration and recruitment this strength can remain constant year on year.
Infiltration figures vary from 100 to 150 each year and the Army is unable to guarantee anything better unless additional deployment is done or technology upgrades executed; that remains less likely. Figures of infiltration in 2001 and prior were to the tune of 2000 a year. North Kashmir is reasonably stable but any tampering with deployment will lead to spaces being opened and gravitation of infiltrated elements into them. It is South Kashmir where separatism and terrorism is rife. Local cadres are available to replace neutralized ones; the average life of a new recruit is no more than four to five months. Funerals of local terrorists are the recruiting grounds for terrorist ranks. Increasingly, not only terrorists but even local over ground workers (OGWs) and stone throwers, who form part of the anti-national networks, are becoming brazenly bolder and unafraid to confront even the Army; this leads to attempts at mob intervention to interfere with anti-terror operations in which civilians die or get injured triggering more alienation and antipathy. The separatist leadership remains intact with no effort to disrupt it.
The only strategy which is working is the neutralization of terrorists but in the absence of any strategy to prevent the creation of more terrorists this too is only leading to an unending cycle of military operations. Governance issues are being tackled by the Governor’s administrative team but the energy and ability to effect change is extremely limited due to the inability of field administrators to go the full distance in the implementation of directions on governance. The one thing missing from the turbulent internal proxy conflict zone is any focused strategy to get to the people, speak to them, break mindsets, overcome challenges of increasing radicalism, help create different narratives and generally regain the initiative.
Realistic political activity has eluded Kashmir for many years and neither the political community nor the administrators have the will and capability to go to the grass roots. The only ones who do are the Army, the JK Police and the CRPF; political, ideological and social issues cannot be resolved by them. The Army’s military civic action program Operation Sadbhavna has been of great help in only allowing the soldiers to reach out to the populace; it continues with vigour but obviously has limitations. What is required is an Operation ‘Sadbhavana Plus Plus’, owned not by the Army alone but by Delhi and the State Government, with every agency on board and many more. This is not something which can be set up in a year and executed. 2019 can be the year in which it can be initiated and a long-term strategy designed with mid-term reviews.
There is no point served by evolving complex strategies. There have been experiments of the past which have succeeded in creating hope among the people and languished for want of continuity; such a situation arose out of an absence of doctrinal guidelines with each institution and department fighting its battle. Two simple examples from the past will highlight this. First, the Central Jail continues to be a den of vice with little control; inmates enjoy facilities of communication and can connive and even set up terror operations from within. The escape of notorious Pakistani terrorist Naveed Jatt, later involved in the killing of journalist Shujaat Bukhari and neutralized in a recent operation by the Army, was planned this way. In the past, the inability of the administration to set up even the basic detention facilities for detained stone throwers forced them to be kept with hard core terrorists in the Central Jail thus converting them to terrorist ranks in many cases.
From an angle of strategy, the foremost guideline needs to be the continued conduct of security operations to prevent any potential surge in terrorist ranks. There should be no lag in the provision of the best equipment to the SF, including night vision equipment for counter infiltration. The CRPF and JK Police need quality training in mob handling and the equipment in their hands needs to go well beyond pellet guns. This must be visible, quantifiable and accountable training. No small detachments of Special Police Officers (SPO) should be deployed to prevent weapons falling into terrorist hands. From the security angle, no attempt should be made to reduce the Army’s footprint, including in the comparatively peaceful areas south of Pir Panjal. Absence of violence must never be assumed to be the return of normalcy; persistence in such deployment must be exploited for other measures described below.
There must be insistence upon defining the term ‘outreach’ with no scope for individual perceptions on this. Outreach must at the least include the progressive restoration of dignity and self-esteem to the people everywhere and not just in the areas held by the Army. There has to be a focused effort to get the political community to revisit and engage with the people. The erstwhile experiment of the Army and JK Police to assist in the meeting of people in small and perhaps later slightly larger gatherings at community centers in the Sadbhavna mode will help in the restoration of genuine political activity.
There is a common complaint about the ugly face of radical ideology having captured the mosques and converted the secular and tolerant culture of Kashmiri Sufism. Without the assistance of the clergy, restoring the moderate streak is not possible. This push cannot be local. It has to come from rest of India. Purge of radical clergy with assistance of intelligence agencies and replacement with a moderate one has to be a slow and steady campaign with willing takers from the clergy.
Outreach to the youth has different connotations. There has to be a splurge in activity to engage with them in small groups through imaginative programs including bringing youth icons from rest of India. The antipathy is real but given a chance to express their views, even with venom, gets them to a different attitude. We must remember that if the notorious Tral tehsil has given a couple of hundred terrorists, it has also given many more patriotic soldiers to various Indian Army regiments, including JAK Light Infantry and JAK Rifles. Sports and games are being organized aplenty and many young Kashmiris have excelled themselves. This should be used to develop pride in the youth.
Social media is well recognized as the villain that facilitates propaganda from different anti-national quarters. It cannot be countered by entities in isolation in Delhi who are out of sync with the reality or by individual organizations such as the Army, JK Police or intelligence agencies. It’s a professional job which needs research, content writing and psychological guidance. It has to be a cogently joint effort provided organizations can shed their individuality. Information warriors are the need of the hour; those who can devote hours of effort and remain in continuity on the task; the Unified Command may assume responsibility provided it is empowered. The Governor as the Centre’s representative must take charge of the Unified Command and employ it more often for war gaming and brain storming. It may sound contentious but the Army’s long experience in the information game makes it the ideal choice to be the lead organization in this effort.
There are five major universities in J&K. Their role is as yet unrealized but can be defined more clearly. Besides academic pursuits, they should lead the efforts towards bringing people from different sub-regions on a common platform to discuss and enhance awareness; even mutual adoption of towns from the Jammu division and Srinagar might be suggested. Let Samba and Anantnag have adoption as much as Udhampur and Baramula; promotion of interaction between citizens of different cities enhances bonhomie and understanding so necessary to arrest divisive trends in conflict zones.
The above are but a drop in the ocean of thoughts which runs across hundreds of minds in the rest of India. We should question ourselves whether some of our democratic practices are acting as obstacles to mainstreaming the people of Kashmir. It’s not a stray thought that media bashing of Kashmiris in Delhi is unhelpful in setting out our larger goals of making 2019 the year of reckoning in finally getting to grips with the 30-year problem in J&K.

By discussing retribution for Pulwama, the element of surprise is lost

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar)
Former Military Secretary & GCTC Advisory Board Member

When a nation virtually announces that it is going to do something in reprisal it compromises one of the basic principles of war — surprise. It is patient and planned operations that will hobble Pakistan.
The Pulwama incident has created a national outrage even greater than Mumbai 26/11. That is because in the last 10 years, social media has developed to such an extent that information earlier heard on the radio, read in newspapers or watched on television by choice is now absorbed almost by compulsion when smartphones buzz. Besides, the casualties of 26/11, although four times greater than Pulwama, were centred on Mumbai while the 40 CRPF brave hearts came from every nook and corner of India
the radio, read in newspapers or watched on television by choice is now absorbed almost by compulsion when smartphones buzz. Besides, the casualties of 26/11, although four times greater than Pulwama, were centred on Mumbai while the 40 CRPF brave hearts came from every nook and corner of India.
Their last rites were conducted in an environment of passion, promising retribution. Earlier, every citizen had an opinion but he kept it to himself or discussed it in evening gatherings with friends and associates. There was little scope for rumour-mongering. Today, every stranger on social media is called “friend” and discussions go out of control with hundreds of different perceptions being exchanged between strangers. This is mostly considered the national mood and it changes by the minute based upon fresh bouts of fake news or flawed and ill-informed perceptions.
The national mood demands retribution, and rightly so. In 1977, Zia-ul-Haq came to power in Pakistan, overthrowing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Almost immediately, he was quietly planning retribution against India for the disaster that had struck Pakistan in 1971 and humiliated it with 93,000 prisoners falling into India’s hands. However, Zia was smart — his perceived retribution was all about bleeding India, knowing fully well that on the conventional battlefield he could never better it. He aimed at exploiting India’s faultlines, which he perceived as its major weakness.
Strangers who make up public opinion on social media today are also self-perceived strategic experts forcing the government’s hand and limiting its options. Emerging from this segment is the voice that there is no purpose served by maintaining an army of 1.3 million if it cannot go to all-out war when the nation is hit below the belt by its adversary. Strategic options from the spectrum of hybrid war, the war of today with multiple tools, rarely appeal to this segment because the optics are absent.
So when the media, the array of pseudo-analysts, strangers on social media and many other self-styled strategic experts speak and exchange messages, the projection to the adversary is clear — we are coming to get you and we will come by the frontal approach, the attritional approach so to say. The power to manoeuvre, to placing yourself in a position of advantage and securing your rear and flanks isn’t a part of the strategy this segment speaks of. That is why when I was questioned on India’s military options on television discussion, and I explained the necessity of first securing a “firm base”, I was urged to get on with the “actual” military options — the supposed romantic ones involving missiles and strikes. The power of being smart and conducting something which will pay dividends out of proportion to the effort and potential response rarely occurs to people.
When a nation virtually announces that it is going to do something in reprisal it compromises one of the basic principles of war — surprise. Either it must have the focus and prior contingency planning in place to respond within the shortest possible window to square the match or it should work quietly with no time compulsions but with a memory that does not allow time to dilute the commitment towards retribution. In the current case, Pakistan probably appreciated the time window and continues to believe that the passage of time will blunt India’s public anger and lead to a climb-down. For a nation that is surviving on financial borrowing and has just enough forex reserves to pay for a month’s imports, it is diffused, long-term military engagement which will force it to its knees.
Covert and invisible operations such as launched by Russia in Ukraine have left the US and the West hopping mad — that is the strategy to study and adapt. However, none of that will pay electoral dividends or give high-level optics, only a smart victory.
A major tactical necessity for success in offensive operations is taught at every military school: It’s called “firm base”. Operations are always conducted firm base to firm base. Upgrade that to the national strategic level and the firm base will give us three immediate connotations. First, that a peripheral political consensus will fetch no dividends — it will crack in the next few days. There has to be wholehearted political cooperation as between then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the early Nineties.
Second, if the social cohesion within Indian society is fractured, any victory at the border or anywhere else in the military realm is going to be meaningless. Third, leave the national social cohesion aside, if the Kashmiris without any labels attached to them are harmed, publicly vilified and not allowed the benefits of India’s many facilities then the army is going to be fighting at the border while looking over its shoulder. In 1965 and 1971, the army was never uncomfortable about rear-area security. Today, it will need to consider deployment of equal resources for rear area security as for the frontline. When political consensus, national social cohesion and rear areas of J&K are all stable, a strategic firm base will be established, a sure way of ensuring victory.
There is no need to discuss India’s potential air-strike options, missile targets or Pakistani bases for fresh surgical strikes. The leadership has given the armed forces the freedom to decide, plan and operate — that is precisely the need. However, with the media assisting in telling the adversary that we are coming tomorrow or the day after, and at which locations, it isn’t helping the national cause. All it needs to do is to give the armed forces a “firm base”.

The Jammu & Kashmir Horizon: A Recipe for Stabilisation

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar)
Former Military Secretary & GCTC Advisory Board Member

One of the things about J&K’s winter is that it dampens spirits and morale. Bone chilling cold reduces human efficiency and all analyses of the situation tend to be negative. Unlike what a lot of people imagine as a period of quiet in the Valley, it can many times be a period of very high turbulence as terrorists are usually holed up in hideouts at the Valley floor. That means the density of terrorist footprint is higher and if intelligence is commensurate it’s usually a high achievement period for the security forces (SF). However, the Kashmir scenario is no longer ‘only’ about SF operations and reduction of strength of terrorists. There earlier existed a strategy which took into account the terrorist presence as the only issue of challenge. It marginally altered from summer to winter and seldom went beyond a vision of more than six months to a year. This was not something unusual applicable only in India. The kinetic approach to counter terror operations was almost a worldwide phenomenon, from Colombia to West Asia and from Turkey to the Philippines, governments continued to believe that the elimination of terrorists would guarantee peace and stability little realising that terrorism or its virtual euphemism insurgency could never be subdued only by kinetic means. The existence of a system, of which violent terror activity is only a subset, makes possible the continuation, sustenance or bouncing back of such movements. Although the system bears no official terminology it’s often referred as the eco-system of terrorism. It’s what facilitates hybrid conflicts where terrorism and other sub conventional domains form the essential elements.
In the context of J&K the eco-system comprises six domains. First, there is a large array of human resources further comprising terror groups, both local and sponsored foreign (read Pakistani) ones and over ground workers (OGWs) who may be businessmen, financiers, politicians, government servants, media persons, academics, other intellectuals and ideologues. They indulge in supporting the terrorists even as they pursue their normal lives and little or nothing can be found against them from a legal angle. Arrested or detained from time to time they are released by the judiciary for want of evidence.
Second, there are networks which are involved with supply of war waging wherewithal; guns, ammunition and explosives for IEDs. Some of it comes from across the LoC through infiltrating groups. The control over infiltration has resulted in partial drying up of this source. Much of it comes from the Jammu region across the IB sector where the depth of the counter infiltration grid is far less. It is clandestinely transported by trucks across the Pir Panjal; physical check of the hundreds of vehicles being difficult this is a chink in the system of the SF. Besides all this, there is rumored to be large caches existent in the Valley collected over years of effort but there is little evidence to support this.
Third is the financial support system with black money, legitimate international transfers to OGWs which for many years escaped the government dragnets, cash from the Pakistan High Commission and some amounts from drug networks which are usually present in all such situations. Finance is the key to sustenance of the movement and facilitates even pension for families of killed terrorists, facilitation of stone throwing and LoC crossings with help of guides. The recent sting operations of the India Today media group bear testimony to the importance of finance as an essential element of the eco-system.
The fourth domain is that of ideology involving both religious belief and political inclination towards separatism. The idea of the possibility of ‘azadi’ being achievable was and perhaps remains a major driver on which Pakistan centres its campaign although it actually works towards secession of J&K to Pakistan; ‘azadi’ and self-determination being considered facilitators and a via media to ultimate secession. Religious radicalism aims to take the Valley as far possible from Sufi belief of middle path and acceptance which is believed to militate against Pakistani interest and veer towards Indian secular belief. The issue of ideology also finds another driver to facilitate the Pakistani aim and focus. This is ‘alienation’ or ensuring that no positive inclination develops towards India and its people, a state of perpetual confrontation is painted to the entire world and triggers are exploited from time to time to give it greater effect.
Fifth is the domain of information and influence which acts as the facilitator to keep alienation against India intact. Social media is a great facilitator of this as are Friday prayers and any other physical meetings. The separatists all these years ran an effective word of mouth information system and employed even loudspeakers at mosques to spread discord against India. The print media, available in the Valley in abundance has always been a major facilitator of spreading anti-India discord. Even the mainstream political community rarely ever has a positive word to say about the nation (India) to which its members belong. It was never considered politically correct to display open patriotism for the nation because that would not fetch votes.
The last of the domains is that of the common people of Kashmir. I term this the centre of gravity around whom the entire hybrid proxy conflict revolves. The side the people will tilt towards will decide the final outcome. It happened that way in Punjab too, through the Eighties and early Nineties.
It would be sacrilege to state that success has eluded the Indian government and security establishment in the last thirty years. The Army with full government backing has achieved much in the neutralisation and reduction in the residual strength of terrorists; the intelligence agencies and the police forces have admirably supported this. Yet, this success has targeted only one subset of the eco-system, the human resources and that too only the terrorist cadres. Political and strategic naïveté, imagined consequences of bold actions and inability to comprehend the full dimension of counter hybrid war has characterised Indian response to Pakistan’s proxy hybrid war. Political initiatives were long awaited but decisions were mired in perceived mayhem that would follow.
The decisions of 5 Aug 2019, to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A were bold and difficult political decisions, fully laden with risk, something reasonably unexpected, given the handling over thirty years. The Central Government took this risk, catered well for the fallout from a security point of view but now has to contend with much more to take this to a fully favourable situation. We are yet at less than half way stage. There are the security, political, economic, diplomatic, information and people’s domains which all need to be addressed continuously and imaginatively for fairly long if we wish to take the bold decisions to a successful culmination.
The security domain does not need much advice as experience plays a major role in the way the army and police handle the situation. However, infiltration needs to remain under control as much as local recruitment does. OGWs need identification and marginalisation, especially the bigger fish. Grassroots politics needs to return to rebuild confidence. Extending detention of mainstream politicians appears self-defeating as it plays against India’s positive international image. The risk taken in arriving at the bold decisions of 5 Aug 2019 needs replication here too. Efforts should be made to bring different communities of Kashmiris and people of Jammu closer to each other. Perhaps as mundane a step as mutual adoption of towns (Samba & Anantnag, Baramula & Udhampur) could contribute to reduce mutual angst over time. The finances of all suspicious elements need to be brought under surveillance to prevent terror financing and this domain must be under 24×7 focus. Diplomatically even our embassies need to be made better aware of the areas of focus which will assist their ability to cultivate and lobby opinion in the right quarters.
Currently the focus is a little skewed and lacks a professional view of Kashmir from a national security angle. The world media and concerns are all about issues people have little knowledge about. Old narratives such as plebiscite, UN resolutions and their implementation and human rights have been reinvented while we are harping on Articles 370 and 35A alone. This intrinsically connects to the information game. Both the internal and external environment have a need for further professionalisation of India’s counter information capability. Sadly, we have not exploited this domain- a recent study by an Indian think tank indicates how India should develop its information warfare capabilities1.
Last but by far the most important domain, that of the people. It needs just a mention of the concept which needs to be followed to address the people’s domain. Why the Indian state has been reluctant to do so has never been understood. There is a common saying among all avid observers of Kashmir – “everyone knows what should be done but no one knows how to do it and there is ever reluctance to take the initiative”. Conceptually what the government needs to do is to upgrade the Army’s military civic action (MCA) program, Operation Sadbhavana. It essentially means a few unrealised things. First is an acceptance that Operation Sadbhavana has been a runaway success at the tactical level for over twenty years. Second the need for adoption of this as a best practice but upgraded to the strategic level with ownership taken by the Government of India and the state government in partnership. That will hopefully translate into the proverbial ‘all of government’ approach that is often spoken about as a basic principle of counter hybrid warfare.
Delhi’s political community needs to rally to a national calling by frequenting Kashmir and speaking to different segments of society; it perhaps is not aware of the impact it can make. The electronic media needs to realize its responsibility and follow the political community in engaging and facilitating dialogue between people. Jammu needs to speak to Kashmir and vice versa. Hate needs dilution and this applies across the board if one wishes positive results. The one thing which has died in the hearts and minds of the people is hope. It is hope if it can be rekindled that will deliver Kashmir and mainstream it to rest of India. Without that sentiment nothing much will be tangibly achieved.

The Soleimani Assassination : Taking it from There

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar)
Former Military Secretary & GCTC Advisory Board Member


Since he kept a comparatively low profile as the commander of a strategic force designed to act clandestinely not many realized that Qasem Soleimani was virtually Number 2 in Iran’s effective hierarchy. That is why people are surprised by the assessment that his assassination is a major mistake on the part of the US; that it will not go unavenged. In Iran Soleimani was often called the ‘living martyr’ for the personal risk he took several times to attain Iran’s strategic and tactical intent. He may not have had universal popularity in Iran due to the high handedness of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) but his death has brought a surge of universal Iranian nationalism to the fore. What happens hereafter is assessed to be contingent upon how Iran responds to the spiritual leader’s promise of ‘forceful revenge’. An analysis is essential.
Iran is not known to be as irrational as President Trump. It tends to think things through although it also takes calculated risk. The immediately preceding set of events before the assassination of Qasem Soleimani does not confirm that belief. It’s because the risk at a time when President Trump was domestically politically cornered was perhaps beyond calculation. There is no doubt that Iran is seeking to consolidate its hold over Iraq after the defeat of ISIS; the control over the Levant is almost complete except the awkward noise emanating from Turkey’s ambitions against the Kurds on the Syrian-Turkey border zone. It has the Saudis under intense pressure in Yemen. Iran has also displayed its irritant potential in regional sea waters by detaining foreign tankers and getting away with it. However, the one area where competition for influence remains stiff is the demographically complex Iraq. There the US remains in contention and will not yield space. The Iraqi Shia militias owe allegiance to Iran but also many of them do not wish to see any foreign forces within. In the last few months, after the defeat of ISIS the space for strategic influence through proxies shifted to Southern Iraq. Iran perhaps overplayed its hand commencing with the drone attack on the Aramco oil facility in neighboring Saudi Arabia which paralyzed half of Saudi oil production facility for some time. The second mistake was the attack on the Iraqi airbase at Kirkuk hosting Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces on 27 December 2019, which left an American civilian contractor dead. It probably had no control over the events that followed, involving the attack on the US Embassy by Iraqi militiamen. Perhaps the necessity of displaying its muscle power in Iraq was perceived as necessary to obtain a psychological and tactical advantage against the US; hence the surge in activities. A sliver of over confidence and a dash of hurry appeared to have afflicted Qasem Soleimani after the US bombing of Kata’ib Hezbollah’s (the Iraqi component of Hezbollah) weapons depots and command centers in Iraq and Syria on 31 Dec 2019. Perhaps he wished to avenge that in a hurry.
The immediate and long term impact of his absence from the strategic scene of the Middle East is going to be the dilution of control over proxies and militias, the cornerstone of Iran’s core strategy. It is for this reason that Iran will probably think deep before executing any operation for the retribution that the surging nationalism demands. It is not as if Iran does not have commanders of stature within the IRGC. Yet, when a certain commander, especially of a force involved in clandestine strategic operations, adopts a much larger than life image the level of confidence in his replacement takes time to sink in. Soleimani was in charge of the Quds Force since as far back as 1998. Even if retribution is being planned, as expected, it is unlikely that Iraq will be the scene of it. This is especially so because of the repeated desire expressed by Iraqi leaders to see Iraqi soil free of proxy conflict and the public demanding the same. Public will and demand cannot be soft pedaled. Brig Gen Hossein Dehghan, the military advisor to Iran’s supreme leader has been cautious in signaling that the Iranian response will be military and against military bases. It is unlikely to involve missile attacks from Iranian soil because that would lay Iran open to much more than it can handle. Calibration in this case will have to be balanced otherwise a catastrophic escalatory spiral will be set in motion sucking the entire Middle East in its wake.
The second major effect of the assassination is the likely lease of life that the rump ISIS elements will probably get in Iraq and Syria. It should be known that the defeat of the ISIS in conventional strongholds was very largely the handiwork of Iraqi militias and the Iraqi Army; the former trained and equipped by IRGC and the latter by the US. It was one of those rare occasions where the US and Iran were ranged on the same side and its effect was very much visible. Although ISIS is defeated it is not yet out of reckoning as it exists in networked form with many of its cadres in hiding. The Quds Force with its hands on local experience and networks is by far the best organization to terminate ISIS presence in any form in the Middle East. Now with a swing in its priority and absence of the experience of Soleimani its effectiveness is going to be questionable, at least for some time. Hopefully Russian presence alongside the Iranian strategic forces will help to retain focus against the ISIS and prevent its resurgence.
There will be a temptation on the part of Iran to target Israel as indirect retribution. In anticipation Israel has already placed its forces on full alert. It would work to US advantage if its resources escape targeting. There is a high degree of disapproval for President Trump’s action, even among Republican supporters in the US. The popular perception is that by this action the President has placed lives of US troops and diplomats in greater danger without any commensurate gains. An attack on Israel and its assets would transfer the onus of further escalatory response to Israel’s lap. If Iran has to adopt this strategy the ready availability of Hezbollah and the plethora of missiles under its control in the Levant would probably form the basis of its actions. The US, however, may not be able to stand aside as an observer. A much larger escalation is almost guaranteed in most contingencies. Trump’s threat of targeting 52 cultural sites of the Iranian civilization is an unusual and unheard of threat especially coming from the world’s most advanced country with huge stakes in morals and ethics of war. Trump himself often states that America’s battle is with the regime and not with the people. Through sanctions the US has mostly targeted the people and now with this threat it is again the people, their heritage and their civilizational symbols. The US Armed Forces have displayed immense courage in targeting unethical practices within, during peace and war but this is an unheard of measure in the realm of organized warfare. How will they react to it?
Not for long have witnessed an occasion when the targeting of a single personality has left a crucial part of the world open to an indeterminate and complex spiral of escalation. It is almost comparable to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie on 28 June 1914 which triggered the First World War. Hopefully better sense will prevail and Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani will not go down in history as the man whose assassination provoked a similarly catastrophe for the world.

J & K- Less War, More Peace: An Assessment of the Year after the Decisions of 5 August 2019

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar)
Former Military Secretary & GCTC Advisory Board Member
On 5 Aug 2019 India stunned the world, and perhaps itself, with decisions regarding the constitutional exclusivity attached to the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). These were related to abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and the administrative division of J&K. To come to an analytical understanding of the decisions on the first anniversary, what has changed since then and which way the situation is likely to progress, a deep dive into J&K’s proxy hybrid war perpetrated by Pakistan over 30 years is necessary.
It needs to start with the basics and those point to the reasons why the constitutional exclusivity of J&K with Articles 370 and 35A in place, existed for so long. It may also be appropriate to state that there were occasions in the past when conditions existed for their abrogation. One among them was 1972 when a defeated and divided Pakistan was on its knees just prior to the Shimla Agreement of Jul 1972. It was not to be because India had set itself limited war objectives in 1971 and J&K somehow did not fit into these, being over shadowed by the triumph in the East. A situation with full political consensus on J&K again emerged in February 1994 even as India faced a manipulated Pakistan sponsored international ire over alleged human rights violations in J&K. Passing the Joint Resolution of the two houses of Parliament on 22 February 1994 to declare all territories of J&K as Indian, could have been followed by abrogation of the two articles. Five years (1989-94) of proxy war should have convinced India of the slow poison of separatism sponsored by Pakistan. This had reinforced the exploitation of the mindset that J&K was Muslim majority, thus distinctly different from India and deserved Azadi (Independence) with eventual integration with Pakistan; the latter being part of the Pakistani grand design.
As in 1972 India lacked confidence to face international ramifications. It felt satisfied with the kinetic option of attempting to militarily defeat Pakistan’s intent without major internal political initiatives beyond restoration of elections and mainstream politics. It was a flawed approach which failed to grab the opportunities so often presented by the Security Forces (SF) and continued only cosmetic political efforts which produced just short intervals of hope. The dynamic ups and downs continued till 2008 when a change of tack by the separatists and their masters, the deep state in Pakistan, adopted a mix of both terror and agitation. A paralysis of sorts resulted in the Indian political establishment. Clandestine official backing to the separatists also continued in the fond but misplaced hope of winning them over. By 2013 the situation started to take another dangerous turn with the rise of a new and young leadership, bold and brash with a decided ideologically radical bias. The clandestine well established over ground worker (OGW) networks which failed to be addressed by the security or political establishment despite special legal provisions in place cost India dearly. It is these networks which assisted bounce back each time the SF worsted the terrorists and their leadership.
Many claim that in 2014 the BJP came to power prepared to revoke the two Articles of the Constitution. No doubt it formed a part of its manifesto but it was the events of 2016 which convinced the political leadership about the urgency to follow up on that manifesto. A series of terror attacks conveyed that Pakistan aimed at upping the terror campaign even as a new militancy took shape. The Indian establishment’s targeting of the OGW networks commenced seriously for the first time in 2017 while Operation All Out focused on the terrorists, eliminating a large number. Pakistan tried regaining initiative with the Pulwama terror attack in February 2019 and only helped the Indian Government in its final decisions of 5 August 2019. The sense of exclusivity which gave the ‘idea of Azadi’ to the people and formed the centre of gravity of the entire proxy campaign received a jolt but should not be perceived to be over within just one year of the decisions.
Would it be fair to expect large scale transformational change in J&K within one year of the decision to abrogate the two constitutional provisions and conversion of the erstwhile state into two union territories? It is often argued that the decisions hurt J&K’s dignity as the people were not taken into confidence. The people of Jammu did not oppose it nor did a large number of people in Kashmir with pro India sentiments who were unsure of displaying their support. A 30 year proxy war can create a mix of sentiments; pro-India ones could rise only if there was strong expression of certainty from the establishment. There was also a need for boldness to correct those sentiments. A consultative process was unlikely to result in anything given the extant state of fractional politics.
One year into the process of attempting a comprehensive end to separatism should not be expected to reap full dividends. A change in sentiment has begun and will take further shape contingent upon the subsequent handling and the counter narratives in response from Pakistan. Understandably, after the 5 August 2019 decisions the remaining part of the year was spent in managing the fallout due to the expected turbulence, rather than adoption of recourse to rebuilding confidence. A severe winter took its toll and the Covid-19 pandemic hit thereafter. Reforms, however, were undertaken to the extent possible in the limited functional time and have begun to manifest results. Commerce and infrastructure sectors have found new energy.
The expected anti-corruption drive has been undertaken and will progressively take more effective shape with greater oversight and accountability exercised by the Centre and the new UT government. Taxation laws have been streamlined and the Lakhanpur toll has been abolished. Panchayats have received greater attention with more devolution of functions and funds. New laws of domicile have in no way opened floodgates for people from all over India to settle in J&K or own property. The new laws have largely found support due to setting right many of the existing laws in gender rights and rights of the weaker segments of society. This will correct the social deficit which existed all these years.
It is unfortunate that the pandemic has impacted the desired degree of efforts in direct outreach to the people, to communicate the advantages accruing to them from being a part of mainstream India. The initiative undertaken by the Centre in sending some of its prominent ministers for informal interaction with the public could not be further pursued due to the pandemic. It needs to be repeated many times over and reinforced by similar outreach by different segments of society from rest of India and from different domains such as academia, bureaucracy, industrialists and corporate heads, education counselors and medical professionals. If we wish to create positivity within Kashmiri society, we have to move beyond the Sadbhavna model that the Army has successfully followed for 23 years, and give it an ‘all of government’ and ‘all of people’ approach in outreach.
Prevention of resurgence of efforts by Pakistan and separatist capability means that the robust campaign to limit the numbers of foreign and local terrorists must remain on course. This year, over 150 terrorists have been neutralized. Only 26 could infiltrate from PoK in 2020 and the local recruitment is down by 40 percent. Even that limited recruitment has accrued no advantage to the adversaries since a very large number of them have either been killed or have surrendered.
While internal security and governance remains under full control since it lies within our domain, it is the external factors which pose a different challenge. By and large the issue of abrogation of the two constitutional provisions has been treated as an internal affair of India by the majority of the world. Even the Islamic world has been supportive of India’s stance. With progressive stability this stance of the international community will continue. It can potentially change only if internal turbulence and human rights start becoming issues all over again, manipulated or otherwise.
This is the reason why the government has had to move carefully in identified domains such as restoration of 4G mobile communication. An early full restoration of 4G was not possible nor expected. It would have been met squarely by Pakistan’s Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) Wing with a splurge of information warfare in intent to create mayhem in J&K. Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts are also not flagging. This means that India’s efforts must project greater credibility with an early opening of J&K to travel by foreign visitors and a strong information campaign which must counter the Pakistani narratives.
Finally, it cannot be overlooked that J&K’s geostrategic location and India’s strongly stated intent of re-integrating Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK with the rest of J&K has worried both Pakistan and China whose collusive efforts to deter India’s intent are taking greater shape. Besides the threats being posed at the borders the collusion will include the prevention of India’s efforts to fully integrate even the existing territories of J&K under its control. Thus a bold political decision must be seen as work in progress and not in binary terms of having settled a long festering issue. Instead of triumphalism that some within the country indulge in, it is sensitive handling and unerring focus on the intent of full and final integration of J&K, that must receive attention. The challenges may have actually increased as does happen when difficult decisions are finally taken with good intent.

Combatting Terrorism: The Soldier And The Society

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

The aftermath of the incident in South Kashmir, tying a civilian in front of the Army jeep, to protect the polling staff from a large stone-throwing crowd has been discussed threadbare, and is being continually attended to by an over-enthusiastic media. The rationale as stated by the officer leading the Army detachment exhibited innovation and initiative in a dire situation, despite its oblique connotations, though the obvious alternatives to extract out of that situation may have been worse and heart-rending.  Rules of engagement too are not handcuffs, but handrails, guidelines that allow for zero-hour initiatives, within the laid down realms of use of minimal force, safety to lives and avoidance of collateral damage, and larger response to Human Rights considerations. Having been much-abused in discussion, the issue is not deliberated further.  Understandably, the situation and the response must not be replicable or template-able.
The animated chatter that has emanated on the declared response to the stone-pelters at the location of a terrorist incident needs mention.   Indeed responding to the call of inimical parties, the stone-pelters deny room for maneuver and ad-lib counter-terrorist operations. Obvious equivalence of these stone-pelterscomes in asaccessories or accomplices .Accomplies, are often present at the location of a terrorist-crime site and may participate in a disruptive manner. As accessorieslike the stone-pelters, they have knowledge that crime is being committed and by their actions help and encourage the terrorists.Naturally, the accessories are resorting to a different form of disruption, than the principals or the terrorists themselves, the accessories need to be considered the same as principals for action by the security forces. (In many a spoken norm, the accessories are termed Over-Ground-Workers.)In discharge of their decreed onerous tasks in countering terrorism, the security forces cannot construe the nature of protest of the stone-pelters as equal to a political agitation, say at JantarMantar!  The examination of the larger issue and the political nature of the situation, and the actual confrontation of targeted fire from terrorists and multi-directional stone-pelting, are two absolutely diverse realms.  Understandably, mindful of the overall considerations of the situation and human rights, attempts initially must be made to remove, and ensure the stone-pelters are not in harm’s way.  However, within the norms, rules and commandments, accessories to terror are as indicated, and need to be seen similarly.  The principals and their accessories, are hence partners in conspiracy, voicing political discontent through radicalisation and through use of force, which can only be contestible by use of force – firm yet minimal.
Experts, analysts, commentators, academics, veterans and politicians, national and international, all have of late, created a cacophony siding with one or another viewpoint, couched in diplomatese or stridency.  The optics of media channels and parallel social-media also affect the society at large and the serving security community.
Armies world over always choose to combat adversary armies, than terrorists enmeshed among semi-radicalised civilian population.Closing-in, dislocating and destroying adversaries is their raison d’etre – as is with the Indian Army. Any engagement where traditional borders do not exist, where every operation has the likelihood of involving civilian population, how so much small, is a total aversion in a democratic dispensation.  In a counter-terrorist environment, the imperative is to isolate the terrorists, as a means of assuring an encounter that segregates the populace and protects them.  This leads to interaction between the society and the soldier, and societal pressures on the polity.
The sedate and dignified debate post Manchester and London Bridge/ Borough Market, and critique also in measured tones, must have strengthened the hands of those involved incessantly in combating terrorism.  In India this situation is not akin to the insurgencies of the sixties and the seventies, where paucity of information in the drawing rooms, denied societal pressures of the democracy on the polity.  In combating terrorism abetted by a proxy war, as in on in Kashmir, where control in use of force is of paramount consideration, there can be but no victors.
The soldier and his leader is NOT divorced from reality, is also in touch with the society through friends, family and social media.  For the security forces part and parcel of the democratic dispensation and the society at large, the recognition of their thankless, life threatening ventures is oxygen.  With concurrent journalistic probing, the disharmony of loud and brash electronic media incessantly debating operations, the polarization of public opinion, the radicalization evident, strain the state agencies.  The arm-chair televised debates witnessed the nation-over, also affect the soldier, and his ilk, as many of the ‘analysts’ and ‘commentators’ use pejorative language and mannerisms.
The counter-productiveness of sensationalism has dire consequences.   It may well carry forward to next day’s operations, when the post-script at prime time same night imagined flash-forward, may lead to hesitancies at the brink.  Any hesitancy at zero-time in combat, anxious about the acrimony an action will generate, will only embolden the terrorist organizations and their kin – always on the lookout for signs of weakness. The internal dissensions and the hesitancies are not missed out by the inimical elements, who will seek these and inflict higher casualties on the security force, to further detriment to performance of duty.  In time, this may affect  initiative, motivation, morale and inculcate defensive mindset.
The above addresses only the ambit of operations by the security forces in the existing charged environment, leaving the political handling as exclusive preserve.  The task of the security forces is as given by the State, and is undertaken within the rules.   The state, the society and the soldier (contextually also the policeman) are intertwined inexorably. The soldier deserves the support and consideration.  For to do their task, the soldiers draw strength from the society and the state.On their part the security forces, with a wealth of experience behind them, must rely on time-tested methodologies – innovations if any will be explicable as exceptions, and not a rule.  The security forces must also learn the nuances of the electronically charged environment, and adjust to the occasional critiquefrom the serving or the veterans – without any hyper-reaction!


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

A recent trail on social media extolled a statement of General Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff for the US Army in May 2017, with a stunning comment about the order and discipline of the institution – that soldiers can and probably even should disobey orders.  In a statement reported by the US Army News Service, he suggested the goal of the commanding officer needs to be a priority for his soldiers, rather than the specific instructions.  To quote the statement, “we’re the military, so you’re supposed to say, ‘Obey your order’.  That’s kind of fundamental to being in the military. We want to keep doing that. But a subordinate needs to understand that they have the freedom and they are empowered to disobey a specific order, a specified task, in order to accomplish the purpose. It takes a lot of judgment.”
A serious matter, indeed!  For the traditional militaries, this is but heresy, a kind of profanity! Cut to home, the Armed forces are bound by the respective Acts, like the Army Act Section 41, that unequivocally and strongly proscribes willful defiance of authority of any lawful command given personally by a superior officer. Of course, lawfulness of command and superiority of the officer exercising it are separate, material issues.   Even the US Code of Military Justice Article 92 has similar provisions, which the new call of the Chief may be countering or expanding his vision.  Easiest way is to bury the proclamation of the US Army Chief as much ahead of its time, as irrelevant or not implementable in Indian context – citing the active combat profile of the army units, the education levels, the need to exercise effective command and control on operations, the differing culture of the two forces, or simply proverbial zero-error syndrome in a steep pyramidical ladder.  Thus rightly in the Indian Armed Forces, this debate should be a dead end, not susceptible to any acrimonious contestation.
Fact is, that the laws that facilitate behaviour in the armed forces are not as if etched in stone, and are indeed evolving.  The pace of evolution of military jurisprudence post the establishment of the Armed Forces Tribunals and increased litigation in the Apex Court is to say the least, dramatic.  With continual change in civil domain, like the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 or the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, there is concurrent effect on the armed forces.  The Armed Forces Acts hence have to remain live to the transition that takes place nationally and effect similar changes, lest a litigant contests the implementation of the Acts, being not in conformity, with national jurisprudence.
Taking a step away from the legal/ quasi legal aspects of the declaration of the US Army Chief of Staff, the connotation is that a subordinate may have better judgment or analytical capability to assess the best methodology for completion of a given task, and by disobeying orders, or modifying the command, would achieve the higher commanders’ objective in more befitting a manner,.  If ‘disobey’ is to be accepted, then every junior soldier-analyst, could take the task in his own hands, in the manner he or she considers best, and may succeed, or even fail!  If the exhortation of the General is contested, then there would be curbs to initiative, ingenuity and imagination.  In the US Army, there exists a very high degree of situational awareness, that could facilitate even-handed decision making by a subordinate, one that our own Army is still working towards, and is likely in some distant future. However, a few independent performers like the Special Forces or infantry long range patrols, under the overall laid down aim and broad modus operandi, have a fair degree of independence in execution.
‘Nothing succeeds like success’ stated in Realmah in 1868, later become title of many a treatise, and is apt in the context. Then, again, victory has many fathers (even commander who may have misjudged, would rush to take credit), defeat is an orphan (certainly the fault will befall on the initiator subordinate)!    To say the least, the issue is problematic, for a decision has many correlations, and just a change, that comes in from disobeying without knowing the complete plan, may even jeopardize the larger mission. However, interaction with the youth of today gives a kind of hope, freshness, novelty and imagination that has not been subsumed by extensive drilling in the Academies.  The younger lot seems to challenge status quo, continually.
It could be easiest to brush away the remarks of the US Chief of Staff, with plethora of reasons. Or it can be retorted on imperatives of legal underpinnings of implicit obedience. Truly, stated in the form it was, the subordinate being empowered to disobey a specific order for a specified task, even with caveats, is too dramatic to be accepted ad-lib.   The responsibility to complete the mission devolves on the command chain, and that is gospel and sacrosanct. However, having stated that, the converse cannot be brushed away in the din of strong voice of hierarchical command structure in the futuristic environment.  The conceptology of war fighting is in transition and the technological prowess of the younger generation and increasing access to it makes significant changes in command and control environment.   In no time follies of an inferior plan thrust down or inaction in the face of demand of action, can become folklore, thanks to the proliferating social media. Even well-regimented organizations like the uniformed forces, have to accept that voices of dissent or categoric pointed questioning, and alternatives placed forth by subordinates as inevitable. A learned senior had once prophesized of a style of leadership which denoted democratic, decentralized, dictatorship – in that order, with larger emphasis on the first two! A consensual team-based approach, involving the subordinates too, in evolving answers to intransigent and vexed issues, may find many an out of the box and forward looking solution.  The Indian Army hence needs to crystal gaze the serious transition to the oncoming command and control systemic, and prepare so.
The US Army Chief is on the right lines in prognosticating the future of command.


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

As a corollary to the above apt quote, as the prospective Generals’ would ‘bottle up’, they would have similar expectations from the lower rung officers to contain or suppress their ideas, in effect causing the entire organisation to remain so.  Is that the rationale why Armies persist ardently with status quo?  For the very junior levels, it is symptomatic to be told ‘…to be seen and not heard!’  In effect, hence, ideas and thoughts, if any, that lead to change, emanate from the hierarchical apex.    Nurturing of relentless curiosity, by gathering newer sources of information, expanding of knowledge base, and envisioning the ‘next big thing’, even in the form of innovative processes and systems, become absent, or effectively shot down. The difference between first and second rate organisations is this, the constant generation of fresh thought, its analysis and implementation, albeit in a non-parochial manner.  We need introspection and examination of impetus to visionary and creative growth in the Army, and the modalities for the inculcation of guidance and exhortation of development ideas.
In an IDSA Issue Brief in 2010, the subject of professional military education (PME) was initiated, arguing for creating a professional advisory board, a multi-disciplinary faculty, and a fair mix of military and civilian professorship that induces richness and rigour in Indian military thinking of the future.[i]  A simplistic analysis of the current environs sheds little light on any significant transition to focussed PME, retaining the classic fervour of military training as against education.   The academic rigour and research that is imperative in producing thought leaders in the Army, is noticeably absent, including at the highest institutions of learning.  The production line hence churns out military leaders proficient in brushing and cleaning the status quo, or inspectors of lower formations and commanders, and micro-managers of some calibre proficient in honing and perfecting routine.  The depth evident in military leaders restricts itself to the organisations, locations and tactics (or maximally at operational level).  Undoubtedly the invention of power point and the availability of plethora of past dissertations and papers in soft copy deter fresh thought.  Incessant involvement in counter terrorism decries birth of fresh military thought.  In pursuance of larger aims of the organisation and deliberations at Governmental levels, academia and policy makers, paucity of trained analysts, thought leaders, fall short in influencing decisions.
Thought Leadership
Thought Leader surely sounds an extremely pompous and haughty term, one that is suitable for think tanks or among academics, and many a military-man would opine it as outside the realm of military practitioners.  Ideating in uniform forces is retained as an exclusive preserve of hierarchical seniors, and limited platforms exist to receive, contemplate, conceptualise and execute, based on freshly minted ideas.  Out of box is a much touted cliché, yet underutilized facet.  Corporate management, which originated from military leadership, has with focus on bottom-lines; expansion, novelty and entrepreneurship propelled itself in rewarding ideation, leaving militaries way behind.
Indeed, thought leaders do not have any special gene, nor are born with great expertise to analyse, ideate and have the capacities to put it across.  Surely even a thought leader or analyst could many a time have persisting reservations on ideas.  However, it would be great to sift through plethora of innovative ideas for a positive change and build in blocks to revitalise the organisation.  In time the organisation may witness evolution, by creating new methodologies, processes or practices.  Ideating is the bread and butter for all living organisations, and accordingly they endeavour to create, locate and nurture ideators, engage with them – in the Army, officers who can question the status quo, and bring about freshness, innovativeness and improvement in all spheres of Army life. To achieve it, the organisation has to be receptive too, and create systems to absorb the ideas that may flow.
Professional Military Education
Professional Military Education (PME) covers a wide range of activities. In one sense it refers to a plethora of training, continuing education, and other activities designed to provide development to members of the military at various points in their career and to prepare them for the next level of responsibilities.[ii] In a White Paper on Joint Education in 2012, General Martin Dempsey of the US Army had argued that the purpose of PME is “…to develop leaders by conveying a broad body of professional knowledge and developing the habits of mind central to the profession.” In addition to critical thinking, he listed the ability to understand the security environment, respond to uncertainty, anticipate and lead transitions through change, and operate with trust, understanding, and empathy as important skills for future military leaders.[iii]
For officers in the Army, the inculcation of systematic objective analysis and evaluation of any important issue to reach a course of action, commences at a stage of preparation for competitive examination like the Defence Studies Staff College (DSSC), and while undergoing the Course.   The military education prior to it, including the Junior Command Course aims to bring officers by learning to a universal platform to undertake varied lower levels of command and staff.  This training (more training than education) correctly focuses on disciplined thinking, as against open-minded alternative or fresh opinionated format.   The preparatory phase of the DSSC and the course itself does facilitate some search for alternatives, though it cannot be stated as deep expertise in appropriate and promising areas of interest. As has been oft stated this all important course is also largely silo-ed in respective Service syllabi, as against a joint Services curriculum.
In a similar manner the all important Higher Command Course (HC) lacks the academic rigour that students of Masters of Science and Philosophy in Defence Studies have to undergo.  In counterpart institutions, for example in the Pune University, a sampling of the syllabus states subjects as diverse as, Peace and Conflict Studies, Strategic Studies, Geopolitics and Military Geography, International Relations, National Security, Defence Economics, Strategic Studies, Evolution of Strategic Thought, Theories and Causes of War Deterrence, Concepts of Nuclear Deterrence and Current Relevance, Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, among many others.   The basic syllabus in the University system denotes scores of professional books as must read, to provide the student the rigours of academic degree, the much valued depth and create analytic capabilities.   Of course there is significant hard work that the students have to apply in the DSSC and the HC Course, yet the focus remains on conformity, and significantly related to current plans largely at tactical level.  There is but no search for thought leaders or ideators and exhortation towards that end, in many ways also due to the operational committal of the mid profile officers, which allows posting of routine directing staff.
It is, hence, contended that in the HC course, the focus must change to academic rigour, strategy, critical thinking, writing and communication, diversity, and various skill sets in a manner corresponding to a civilian post-graduate degree. The aim of PME is NOT to produce conformists and followers, but to inculcate a systemic push towards analysis.  The course content must seek out freshness of thought, ideators, and also denote so in their assessments.  The syllabus hence needs open-endness as against regimented firmness and discipline. Project based research, as is the capstone of College of Defence Management, with projects provided to by the establishment on need basis, and must form the major ideation platform in HC Course.  That necessitates a faculty of the kind which has been through the academic rigour to debate, hone talent and guide research.  The basis of the HC Course is not to teach or revise existing plans; it is to formulate new ones, as any good research oriented institution would do so.  Consequently, tasked to work in at higher headquarters that deliberate on future thought, HC qualified officers would possess sound knowledge base in the national security establishment to effectively exhibit the depth imperative at a Director and higher levels.  At the National Defence College (NDC), the content must be essentially towards critical thinking and research, and seek out thought leaders who will bring about a material change to status quo.
Time hence is to revamp PME, especially in terms of academic rigour, critical thinking, and creating thought leaders.  Understandably, as imparting academic rigour is a professorial assignment, portions of curriculum would have to be outsourced to academic professionals.  Such transformation would require less regimented syllabii and more autonomy and challenge, bring in depth in thinking, risk taking, innovation and analytic work. In time, PME itself will throw up officers adept at imparting academic rigour, and creating thought leaders, who can be for much longer tenures deputed in institutions of higher learning, and at creative work.  The DSSC, the Army War College and the NDC should inculcate habits of honing intellectual agility and related skills.  The emerging challenges to India’s National Security and to the Army dictate and demand so.   Innovators and thought leaders are the call of the day, and if we want material change in the next fifteen years, the PME has to addressed soonest.

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