Posted online: Wed Dec 18 2013, 02:07 hrs
H S Panag
Military strategy is contingent on political direction, which has been sorely missing in Kashmir.
There has been a volatile reaction within the strategic community both for and against Shekhar Gupta’s views in his article ‘Disarming Kashmir’ (National Interest, IE, December 7). The article focuses on the need for change in political and military strategy to break the current impasse in Jammu and Kashmir; politically through proactive engagement, emotional healing and empowerment of the people, and militarily by the removal of the AFSPA and reduction of military presence in the hinterland. Interestingly, Gupta makes change in the political strategy and commencement of the political process contingent upon a change in military strategy. But the armed forces cannot be blamed for the failure of the political process and poor governance. It is to their credit that they have performed despite the government never having defined strategic political aims and contingent strategic military objectives, and in so doing may, by default, have partly assumed the role of the government, leading to fears of status quo ante in the event of a “pullout” or major redeployment.
In this context, Clausewitz’s quote on the relationship between political aims and military means is pertinent: “War is simply the continuation of political intercourse with addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase, ‘with the addition of other means’ because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs. The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace.” Thus it is the government that must formulate the political strategy on which military strategy is contingent, and commit and de-commit its armed forces to war or counter-insurgency (CI).The absence of this process is the bane of strategic decision-making in India. The government never clearly defines its political objectives or approves contingent military objectives, leading to a situation of continuous strategic drift.
This is also true for J&K. Forget formal direction, there is not even a periodic dialogue between the armed forces and the prime minister, national security advisor, defence minister or home minister regarding the conduct of the CI campaign. The unified command at the state level has never functioned, except during president’s rule. With the Central and state governments abdicating their strategic responsibility, the armed forces or the Northern Command are left to pursue the perceived military goals of eliminating terrorists, countering infiltration and creating conditions for the political process to take over. Four governments have functioned since 1996, and the number of active terrorists has been reduced to two figures. The violence is at its lowest. Yet the political goals have neither been formally defined nor achieved. People are sullen and alienated and little development is seen on the ground. By default, the military has also assumed the responsibility of winning hearts and minds and even, to some extent, development — a mission for which it is ill-equipped. It is the politicians who have to get their act together and effect a radical change in political strategy. A change in military strategy will facilitate this process, but it is political strategy that must drive military strategy, not vice versa. The military’s recommendation for status quo based on the perception that the insurgency may resume and its unfinished, assumed quasi-political role must not be used as a shield for strategic indecision. Far from exercising a “veto power”, this is a desperate — albeit ill-conceived — attempt by the military to prevent a return to 1990. So, the media and the public must force the government to fulfil its strategic responsibility.