Recently, as things have heated up on the Line of Control (LoC), we have had a spate of surprising statements regarding peace talks from some serving generals. Contrary to what the army chief has been saying, they seem to have rediscovered the virtues of peace talks with Pakistan. But isn’t that what we have been engaged in for nearly the past 70 years? Einstein said madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Would it not be better to leave peace talks to the diplomats who are paid to do so? Generals are expected to generate some viable military or quasi-military options against Pakistan. General Syed Ata Hasnain (‘New shades of an old conflict’, IE, February 22) had rightly highlighted the perils of our prolonged passivity in Jammu and Kashmir. He had spoken about how, in the months and years ahead, India would increasingly get bogged down defending its rear.
The worst thing any military force can do is to surrender the entire strategic and tactical initiative to its enemy. The worst situation for military morale is one in which the enemy chooses when, where and what to attack and our own troops are consigned to a purely defensive and reactive role. Such passivity induces far greater psychological stress and strain upon the troops. It is downright criminal for any political or military leadership to consign their forces to such a state of helplessness, to tie them down and make them punching bags for the terrorists. That has been a fatal Indian failing — our abject failure to be proactive.
Even a child knows that no fight can ever be won with just a shield. You also need the sword to hit back at your foe. Peace talks with Pakistan cannot be India’s only option. How can India put an end to Pakistan’s asymmetric adventurism that has now continued non-stop for over 30 years? A highly exaggerated threat of escalation beyond the nuclear threshold has tied our political leadership in knots. The Pakistani nuclear threat has been highly overrated and has self-deterred India into impotence. Kargil had highlighted that two nuclear-armed nations can fight for nearly three months without a single nuke being used on Delhi or Islamabad. A tragic failure has been the inability of the Indian armed forces to generate credible and viable response options to counter Pakistan’s asymmetric adventurism. Saying peace talks are the sole option is to echo Mehbooba Mufti. That is not what the nation pays its generals to do. Let us not stray into the turf of the foreign ministry and focus more on generating military response options.
We have a series of options short of a full-scale nuclear war. These can be visualised as an escalation ladder with several steps. Our response can be graduated or calibrated up and down this ladder. These steps would include: One, surgical strikes, raids and local fire assaults using small arms, mortars and I-tanks. Two, vertical and horizontal escalation on the LoC in the form of an artillery war using Bofors and other medium guns and multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) for sustained fire assaults in depth areas and to interdict lines of communications. This had been successfully done in 2003 and had forced Pakistan to accept a ceasefire that lasted 13 years.
Three, to carry out air and naval strikes on terror camps, high-value targets, Pakistan army terror infrastructure, bridges, gun areas, supply depots, etc, that support terrorism directly or indirectly. This would also involve the use of MBRLs and cruise missiles with conventional warheads. Four, limited air-land assaults across the LoC with airpower paving the way to seize posts and tactical targets of high value and seize routes and launch pads for infiltration. Five, depending upon Pakistani responses, we could escalate to cold-start style armoured assaults across the international border (IB). Once again, the way would be paved by concerted air attacks. The Navy could blockade the Makran coast.
This is a graduated, flexible and viable escalation ladder designed specifically for the nuclear backdrop in South Asia. This will consecutively increase the pressure on Pakistan and substantially raise the costs and consequences of its proxy war. Amongst all these options, airpower and artillery firepower would be the key to massing effects. We need to drastically speed up the acquisition of fighter aircraft and medium artillery. The good news is that the DRDO, in concert with our private sector, has finally delivered an excellent 155/52 cal medium gun (ATAGS). These would be ideal for the artillery war option. We need to rapidly acquire it in large numbers.
The simple fact is that whatever we have done so far against Pakistan has not been adequate. This includes the highly publicised surgical strike. Indian military veterans thought that these strikes and fire assaults would be the new normal and for every attack from across the LoC, there would be four to five such retaliatory raids. The pity is that we put a full stop after the first such strike. The Pakistani army is the primary culprit that has a stake in continued conflictual relations with India. To achieve deterrence we will have to tame it.
This lack of follow-up strikes only embolden Pakistan to up the ante and, once more, we find ourselves confined to a purely reactive stance in our own territory that is restricted to consequence management. Military history tells us that it is criminal folly to cede the strategic and tactical initiative to the enemy. We have done it supinely for 30 years. It is now time to change course and force the enemy to defend his targets. Peace talks hardly serve the purpose of deterrence. Costs and consequences will have to be enhanced significantly if we wish to change the behaviour of the Pakistani state.