Defence and Security

Forgotten challenges of a ‘full-scale’ war

Jan 7, 2017
By Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (retd)
 
For the political and military leadership in India and Pakistan without the experience of a full-scale war like 1971, it’s a paradigm shift. There is an urgent need to counter the jingoism and rabid religious undercurrents that are stoking conflict. What is required is political maturity and not grandstanding.
 
Politically and militarily, the India-Pakistan leadership across both the sides of the Line of Control is bereft of the experience and imperatives of a conventional “full-scale” war. The Indian Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat was commissioned in December 1978, whereas, the Pakistani army chief, General Qamar Bajwa was commissioned much later in October 1980. Though both the Generals are highly experienced in insurgencies and border management, however generationally, they are both from the post-1971 era. The 1971 war was the last "full-scale" war in the region. Interestingly, neither of them was directly involved in the Kargil war, either (although, unlike a "full-scale" war, the Kargil war was confined to a specific theatre).
 
Politically, the current leadership in both Delhi and Islamabad had not yet debuted in the electoral sense as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was still only a pracharak for the RSS around 1971 and the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was gainfully employed in pushing his commercial interests veering around his family steel business. The former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the then national president of the erstwhile Jana Sangh in 1971 and the former Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf, as a company commander of a SSG commando unit, can claim to be the last active participants in their relevant domains during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was still a Professor of international trade in 1971. 
 
The tonality and texture of this pre-1971 political leadership carried the exact opposite instincts on both sides of the LoC. The Indian leadership carried the magnanimity and maturity of a victor, from the Agra initiative of a Vajpayee to the pacifist "Gujral Doctrine" of Inder Kumar Gujral. The festering wounds of 1971 humiliation ensured a bitter revenge-seeking and "score-settling" vengeance in Islamabad — from Zia-ul-Haq's hawkish designs to Pervez Musharraf's infamy as the architect of the ill-conceived Kargil misadventure. So earlier, the set pieces of national aspirations and governance toed a consistent line of known differences.
 
Even though "war experience" is no guarantee of either prudent politics or soldering — history shows that a nation (and especially institutions like the military) that undergo the "recency" of war are more versed with the implications and are more adept at nuancing their policies, requirements and conduct. India and Pakistan first bloodied their wares in the immediate aftermath of their birth in 1947-48 in Kashmir, though the 15 months of battling was restricted to the Jammu and Kashmir theatre only. Post that, a relative lull and laze on the borders and an accompanying socio-economic frenzy overtook the Indian narrative towards more lofty and international statesmanship of Nehru and the collateral sidelining of the Indian Army. 
 
This period from the 1948 to the rude wake-up call in 1962 was arguably the era of the golden “cantonment soldering” — the Army messes regaled with gimlet-soaked drawls and war heroics of senior leadership who were done with their bit of serious soldering in World War II and the 1947-48 conflict. In parallel, the institution of the armed forces was unknowingly getting corroded with political interference, indifference and insufficient wherewithal. The Indian armed forces were voiceless in the corridors of power and the politico-bureaucracy combine was propounding utopian concepts like "Hindi-Cheeni-Bhai-Bhai" or conversely, the equally half-baked "forward policy". The governmental arms like the Intelligence Bureau, diplomats of the foreign services, military top brass and the political establishment were operating in silos with inadequate interlinkages. Not surprisingly, India was to pay the price for the disintegrated and muddled structure of the Indian security framework in the Sino-India war of 1962. 
 
Excerpts from the officially unreleased, (though with the limited access of the leaked pages) “Henderson Brooks-Bhagat” report, point to the guilty men of the 1962 fiasco — from the irascible Defence Minister VK Menon, Director Intelligence Bureau BM Mullick (for sleeping through Chinese preparedness), Foreign Secretary MJ Desai (for underestimating the Chinese reaction towards 'Forward Policy') and certain Army officers like Lt Gen BM Kaul (a political favourite) for operational lapses and over-commitments. An entire governmental machinery of the political-diplomatic-intelligence-military combine, was suddenly baptised into the uncomfortable reality and inevitability of a "full-scale" war that shook the foundations of the nation with dismay.
 
The hurtful experience of 1962 was to be a perverse blessing in disguise in the 1965 war. Now, the political establishment and the military were speaking in unison with the Indian armed forces and reacting in a manner that showed that the necessary amends and soldering imperatives were taken note of, in the preceding three years. The 1971 war was a glorious chapter for the Indian armed forces that reflected the battle-hardened experience and assertive military leadership across all levels of command. It did not happen accidentally. It took a visionary war veteran in the Indian COAS, Gen Manekshaw (later Field Marshal) to plan the entirety of the war in the minutest details, by considering various angularities, spade-work and scenarios. 
 
He did not fall for the political temptation and public pressures of the restive opinions to launch into a premature battle — he stood up and put forth the unambiguous requirements of the armed forces that were acceded to by the astute Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Wars are serious business that necessitates decision-making that is devoid of any electoral considerations, public passions and in today's day and age, meeting the expectations of the "newsroom warriors," who bay for immediate blood.
 
Anything from a failed "surgical strike", Baluchistan, to the take-over of Pakistani nuclear facilities by rogue elements can inflame the tinderbox of the region towards a full-scale war. This could potentially entail the launch of all elements of the war machinery, including all the three defence services. Besides the unavoidable geopolitical churning in the region, jingoistic passions and rabid religious undercurrents are stoking the fire. What is needed is the political maturity and not impulsiveness owing to political considerations. It requires detailed military preparations and not the tendency to toe the line blindly. Most importantly, we need a genuinely empowered security framework to plan for various contingencies that go way beyond the familiar and more recent considerations in "limited" wars like Kargil or the ongoing insurgencies.
 
The Tribune, January 7, 2016

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