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Military Change in India: An Appraisal of the Evolving Strategy Towards Pakistan

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  • January 17, 2014
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Lt Gen HS Lidder (Retd)
    External Discussants: Vice Adm Anup Singh (Retd), Lt Gen Prakash Menon (Retd) and Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan
    Internal Discussant: Col PK Gautam (Retd)

    This paper primarily made an attempt to understand India’s evolving military strategy towards Pakistan. It analyzes this evolution using the theoretical framework of mlitary change, which can be conceived of as occurring at three levels: the goals of a military organisation, its organisational structure, and the strategy it adopts. The cause of military change can be traced to three sources: a voluntary or externally induced change in the cultural norms of a military organisation; changes in a state’s domestic political orientation or in its national security scenario; and the introduction of new technology.

    The paper seeks to examine whether military change has occurred in India at any of the three levels identified above and, if yes, then what has been the source of that change. With these objectives, the paper focuses upon the third level of change, namely strategy. Specifically, it examines the strategies adopted by the Indian armed forces for the Pakistan front and the changes effected therein over the course of the last six decades. This examination highlights two principal trends. At the operational level of war, India’s military strategy towards Pakistan changed from attrition to manoeuvre and back to attrition. And the objective of India’s strategy has changed from victory until the 1980s to punishing Pakistan since the 1990s. The paper argues that these changes were caused by India’s evolving security scenario vis-à-vis Pakistan and in particular by the introduction of nuclear weapons, which have inhibited India’s response to the challenge posed by Pakistan.

    The paper concludes that civil-military coordination is essential for bringing in sync the military and political objectives within a larger strategic narrative. While such coordination was indeed a consistent feature between independence and the 1999 Kargil conflict, a divergence has emerged between the political and military leaderships during the last 10 years. This fraying of politico-military coordination is clearly evident in the army’s failure to win political approval for the Cold Start strategy and indeed in its attempt through such a strategy to compel the political leadership into following its timetable for military action. For its part, the political leadership has also failed to engage with the services to ensure the crafting of a strategy that is both appropriate for a nuclear environment and is dovetailed with broader policy objectives.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • It was pointed out that more than lack of trust or anything else, the civil-military disconnect in India is the result of lack of expertise on military matters among the civilian leadership. This state of affairs can be attributed to the near absence of public discourse on hardcore military subjects. This scenario is, however, fast changing with an increasing number of retired military professionals beginning to write and generating a public debate on military issues.
    • Military strategy in war is different from pre-war planning. The paper needs to spell out clearly which level of strategy is its focus.
    • There is a need to unbundle and elaborate upon the argument about the change in Indian strategy from victory to punishment. It was argued that India’s objective has been to deter Pakistan and the method adopted for that purpose has been punishment and not victory per se. Further, for India, victory has not always entailed the defeat of Pakistan or the occupation of its territory. Victory has to be judged in terms of the goals set with punishment also having been a part of victory.
    • With respect to the nuclear factor, it was pointed out that India has been repeatedly subjected to nuclear blackmail. At the same time, India’s propensity to up the ante against Pakistan has been severely constrained. The Cold Start has been seen as a viable option in the nuclear backdrop but the ambiguity that surrounds it has outweighed its utility as a strategy.
    • While formulating any strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan, India cannot ignore China. It implies that a two front war scenario is a very distinct possibility and India must retool its strategy to meet such challenge.
    • The paper needs to incorporate the role played by the Mukti Bahini in the 1971 war, a role that was crucial in terms of providing valuable intelligence and reconnaissance support.
    • It was argued that Pakistan’s strategy toward India is one of offensive-defensive, whereas India’s has been defensive-offensive. This has been reflected time and again in Pakistan’s misadventures against India in the past.
    • Regarding Cold Start, it was pointed out that lessons are learnt from war and that goes into doctrines. Therefore, the Cold Start, which is primarily a mobilizational effort, does not hold much doctrinal value.
    • It was argued that attrition is a safe option. Contrary to attrition, manoeuvre involves high risk and high gain. Any strategy, therefore, should be a combination of both attrition and manoeuvre and it cannot be a case of either or.
    • It was suggested that the paper should focus on political strategy rather than military strategy as everything else flows from the former. It is the political leadership that decides on war and peace after taking into account several factors ranging from domestic to external.
    • The paper would be enriched if it includes Pakistan’s military strategy and objectives vis-à-vis India.

    Report prepared by Amit Kumar, Research Assistant, IDSA