“Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!” exclaims Mark Antony at the funeral of Julius Caesar in an attempt to rouse feelings against the assassins and incite violence across Italy. While anguish over the loss of 18 jawans killed in the Uri terror strike was understandable, the sub-continental “dogs of war” were surely straining at their leashes in its aftermath, as our TV studios aired shrill, blood-curdling and often maniacal tirades, demanding instant revenge for the dawn attack on the Indian army camp.
The cacophony having subsided somewhat, one can hear oneself think. While participants in TV talk-shows speak in their individual capacities and carry no responsibility, even prominent public functionaries did not pause before making utterances which can only be described as provocative and “war-mongering”. At the risk of inviting the ire of “super nationalist” patriots baying for Pakistani blood, the author would like to highlight a few harsh military realities of the present situation.
Firstly, the euphemism cross-border terrorism, coined by Indian national security establishment to describe what were clearly acts of war by Pakistan has repeatedly come back to haunt. Following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, President Bush had declared that the terrorists’ actions were acts of war and gave the US the right to act in self-defence under the UN Charter. While dubbing these acts cross-border terrorism may have given India an excuse to exercise strategic restraint, we compounded this folly by describing the perpetrators as non-state actors, providing a cast-iron alibi for Pakistan, which went a step further and claimed they were Kashmiri freedom fighters.
Secondly, the attack having taken place at dawn on September 18, the window for retaliation against Pakistan had shut firmly by sundown that day. While an “instant response” has a certain justification, especially in the face of such provocation, a strike “at a time and place of one’s choosing” has an entirely different connotation as far as world opinion is concerned. However, it must also be borne in mind that the Indian system — in its present form — is not geared to deliver “bolt from the blue” retribution. Non-availability of up-to-date intelligence and accurate targeting data are just two of the many impediments.
Thirdly, our “hawks”, while demanding a “jaw for a tooth”, need to be clear that the Pakistan armed forces are no pushovers. They have a huge advantage that a major proportion of their hardware, spares and ammunition come from a single, reliable source: China. The Indian military, on the other hand, relies on 6-7 different countries — many of them notoriously unreliable. With China providing material, moral and even military support, our planners need to proceed with deliberation. While we may hope for a limited exchange, before placing our foot on the first step on the escalator, we must be prepared for full-scale hostilities.
Lastly, we must make a careful assessment of the Pakistani “deep state”, that unholy nexus of the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which calls the shots. The Pakistanis, while vigorously pursuing their low cost and deniable strategy of terror strikes on India, would like us to believe that their nuclear arsenal is in the custody of a bunch of “mad generals”. The threat held out is that these putative lunatics are liable to nuke a conventional Indian riposte which is seen to be crossing any of their self-designated “red lines”.
We must reject this thesis, knowing full well that every Pak general loves his life and would hate being vapourised in an Indian second strike. However, we also need to bear in mind that four Indo-Pak conflicts have shown the Pakistani military leadership to be intellectually mediocre. It has been their brash overconfidence and arrogance, coupled with poor staff work that has produced successive military disasters. It was also their savage and dishonourable conduct in erstwhile East Pakistan, that brought ignominy and disaster upon their nation in 1971.
Let us be quite clear that exaggerated posturing and jingoistic loud talk are unworthy of the great-power status that India aspires to; they only serve to erode our credibility. While a politico-diplomatic offensive has already been mounted and economic measures are being contemplated, it is the military “Brahm-astra” which will bring this rogue nation to heel. I list out a set of five actions that the government must initiate with the utmost urgency to equip the nation for the difficult days that lie ahead.
One, promulgate a security doctrine which will clearly define the nation’s vital interests, aims and objectives. Whether it is kidnappings, hijackings, terrorist strikes or any other assault on India’s sovereignty, we have been found wanting for a plan of action because there are no standard operating procedures. A doctrine will help formulation of strategies and also define the “red lines”. No notice will be required for punitive or retaliatory action for infringement of these red lines.
Two, replenish our depleted arsenal urgently. The armed forces are required to maintain a War Wastage Reserve (WWR) of weapons, ammunition, spares and fuel that enables them to wage war for a period specified by the government. As pointed out repeatedly by the Comptroller & Auditor General as well as the standing committee on defence of Parliament, the divergent pulls of capital and revenue expenditure have prevented the topping up of our war reserves. Let us recall that in 1971, it took nine months for the armed forces to build up WWR before operations could commence.
Three, implement long overdue reforms in the higher management of defence. The most important of these is the integration of the armed forces HQ with the MoD which will eliminate the friction that has delayed decision-making and stalled the modernisation of our military. The other is to put in place the most vital component of a 21st century higher defence management structure: A chief of defence staff or a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee. This will create a “single point source of military advice” so badly required by our political leadership.
Four, we must squarely face the imperative need for re-structuring of our laggard military-industrial complex. The “holy grail” of indigenisation can be attained only if the vast resources of the DRDO and DPSUs are disaggregated and re-cast on the lines of successful models elsewhere in the world. Continued reliance on imported military hardware constitutes an Achilles heel for India’s national security.
Finally, situations such as these call for all components of India’s national security; military, intelligence, bureaucracy, Central and state police forces to work in the closest synergy and coordination. Regrettably, civil-military relations have, of late, been vitiated and the resultant dissonance could have adverse consequences for the nation’s security. This needs urgent attention of the government.