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is there a Middle (...)

Mainstream, VOL LI, No 6, January 26, 2013 - Republic Day Special

India and Pakistan: Between Hawks and Peaceniks
is there a Middle Path?

Saturday 2 February 2013, by S G Vombatkere

The beheading and mutilation of the bodies of L/Nk Hemraj and L/Nk Sudarshan Singh by Pakistani soldiers on January 8, 2013, is yet another barbaric act by Pakistan’s Army, following several earlier ones. [Ref. 1, Note 1] It is not unlike the acts of medieval armies or armed raiders, whose aim was to strike terror into the hearts of people. However, if such is the intention of the Pakistani Army, their latest barbaric act, far from striking terror or fear, is enraging the Indian public. This public anger and outrage is directed at both the Pakistani Army and Pakistani Government on the one hand and on the other, at the Indian Government perceived as not reacting strongly enough.

Ex-Servicemen, who, of all Indians, are familiar with the actual ground conditions on the LoC (Line of Control), are livid, some demanding that India should respond with sharp military action short of war. There is a growing body of opinion, mostly held by veteran military officers and others with nationalist (Hindutva) pretensions, that the military action has to be strong. That this may escalate into a full-fledged war with the possibility of nuclear exchange does not cause this group any great trepidation. The Indian electronic media channels appear to be shaping public opinion towards very strong response by the Indian Government.

In this situation, Headlines Today TV channel hosted a programme at 8 pm on January 10, 2013, which was a debate moderated by Shashi Tharoor (Union Minister, no less), jointly sponsored by the Indian Debating Society and the Pakistani Debating Society, with the motion that civil society (as against government) was the most important player in bringing about peace between India and Pakistan. Arguing for the motion were (Indians) Kabir Bedi and Salman Haidar, and (Pakistanis) Salman Raja and Zulfikar Khan, while arguing against the motion were (Indians) Mani Shankar Aiyar and Shoma Chaudhuri and (Pakistanis) Javed Jabbar and Najam Sethi. It was all very nice and genteel, all the speakers clearly making the point that both sides wanted peace, but steering clear of ground situations. The opinion of the ‘house’, comprising members of the upper-crust, genteel society, was that arguments against the motion won the debate; that is, governments are the important players in peace-making.

The Pakistani response to a warning by the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, that India may exercise “other options”, was that Pakistan knows how to defend itself. The response was predictable, but its delivery by a relatively junior Pakistani military officer is a calculated slap on the face of the Indian military.

There is a “peacenik” or “aman-ki-asha” point of view—which is not at all recent—that appears to sponsor a peace-at-any-cost solution. This solution appears to fit the traditional weak-kneed posture of the Indian establishment when it comes to facing threats from external forces. (Threats from inferior internal forces are readily dealt with using the wiles of a compromised bureaucracy, and the physical force of a politicised police and an “obedient servant” military, to hammer the stuffing out of dissidents, opponents and militants.) It is necessary to emphasise that the traditional weak-kneed posture is not peculiar to the present Union Government nor to any particular political party which has guided, if that is the right word, the destiny of independent India these past decades.

The Pakistani establishment is strongly denying all accusations made from the Indian side, and in interviews held by Indian TV channels, Pakistan’s retired military officers and retired diplomats have successfully countered (by unconvincing bluster to Indian viewers but convincing to the international viewership) the programme anchors’ attempts to demonise Pakistan. They have succeeded in conveying that since both the Indian and Pakistani sides are holding fast to their respective arguments and accusations, a “neutral” third party should investigate, thus internationalising the Kashmir issue through the recent LoC violation. The belated Pakistani agreement for a flag meeting at the Brigadier level is almost like making a concession.

The purpose of the present article is to examine whether, for India, there can be a middle path between the demand for a hairy-chested military response and the traditional and ongoing weak-kneed approach of the Government of India. Also, whether the Govern-ment of India can really get a sense of ground military situations without single-point advice from its military, especially in the light of the Pakistani establishment being in full knowledge of successive Union governments systematically disincentivising and demotivating the Indian military, and that the National Security Advisor is a bureaucrat. The point is, in what manner can negotiations proceed between India and Pakistan, when India is a democratic state with necessary control over its military, and Pakistan is a military regime that directly or indirectly controls the state establishment.

Pakistani Mindset

OVER the decades, generations of Pakistani people have been fed an educational and information “diet” of blatant and subtle anti-India rhetoric along with aggressive interpretations of the Holy Quran to define jehad. The Pakistani establishment, whether overtly civilian or military, has two characteristics, namely, that the military always had the lead-role in national policy, and the clerical community always had the authority of dictating what was “right” or “wrong” according to its interpretation of the Holy Quran. Further, whether the establishment was civilian (though always under the military shadow) or military, it was plainly anti-India, with special focus on Kashmir. Indeed, India was and is seen as the “enemy”, especially after 1971 when East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh and West Pakistan became simply Pakistan. [Note 2]

The Pakistani establishment has been under military rule for 33 of its 65 years of existence, with Presidents brought in by military coups ruling in the years 1958-1971, 1977-1988 and 1999-2008. Today, Pakistan’s military is that country’s largest landowner, it owns and runs a Bank that has economic clout, and has serving and retired military officers in many key positions of power and authority in Pakistan’s civilian world.

But rather than being merely anti-India, the Pakistani establishment, well aware of Indian problems of running a coalition government with looming general elections, appears sure of India not taking a strong stand on ceasefire violations, and of India’s subservient junior partnership with the USA, and is assuming diplomatically and militarily an aggressive stance.

Recently (April 2012) when the Pakistan Army Chief, General A.P. Kayani, spoke of “peaceful coexistence” with India in the context of his call to demilitarise Siachen, the Government of India took up the matter of demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier with unseemly alacrity. Especially when India’s military has for long held that demilitarisation of Siachen would be a strategic folly, the fact that the GoI appears to be clandes-tinely pushing it along, has raised suspicions that there may be a Nobel Peace Prize nomination being dangled before it. This is surely known to Pakistan’s military, and strengthens its conviction that India’s political leadership can be manipulated by the stick of an aggressive stance and the carrot of worldwide acclaim of being peaceful.

A book—titled The Quranic Concept of Warfare—by Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik, with a foreword by Pakistani General M. Zia-ul-Haq (later the Pakistan President by his Islamic coup d’etat), is mandatory reading for the Pakistan Army. It was originally published in Lahore in 1979 and the English version republished in India in 1992. In what follows, the quotes are from the electronic version available on internet.

According to General Zia-ul-Haq in his foreword, the book amplifies “the Quranic philosophy on the application of military force, within the context of the totality that is JEHAD”. This interpretation of the Quranic philosophy by the author, endorsed by the General and President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, includes the considerations of war and peace. Page 27 of the book advises: “The considerations of peace come to human mind only when the choice is between ‘suicide’ and ‘coexistence’. They are the bye-products of exigency, not of a recognised or consistent policy or philosophy. They failed to stand the test of time in the past, nor are they resulting in durable global peace at present. Indeed, they have no worthwhile role to play even in the future.”. The word “they” can only mean “the considerations of peace”. Further, page 35 of the book reads: “... in the Quranic perspective, the object of war is to obtain conditions of peace, justice and faith.” Clearly, for those indoctrinated to this mindset, war supervenes over peace, which can only be the outcome of (a holy) war. Thus, for an Islamic Pakistan, essentially controlled by its military, war is its raison d’etre, whereas for democratic India, with its military under civilian control, war is the last option. And Pakistan’s Army Chief General A.P. Kayani’s call for “peaceful coexistence” with India flies in the face of the undoubted Islamisation of Pakistan’s military.

Pakistan’s Internal Politics

PAKISTAN’S internal security situation is precarious. Apart from the historic tensions due to resistance by the suppressed Pashtun population, the Shia minorities of Afghani and Pakistani origin, hitherto apart, are joining together against the organised killings of the Shia people, and are demanding protection from the Pakistani Army. This has the potential of tearing apart the fabric of the Pakistani military itself.

The people have been indoctrinated over decades to believe that India wants to overrun Pakistan, and only the Pakistani Army prevents this. Peace with India will sharply reduce the Army’s pre-eminent position in Pakistan’s power structure, hence keeping conflicts between India and Pakistan going is always on the Pakistani Army’s agenda.

The entry of a dark horse in the form of “Mohammad Tahirul Qadri – a lawyer, Islamic scholar, prolific author and fiery orator, whose claim to fame is that his outfit, the Minaj-ul-Quran … promotes a benign vision of an Islamic state” [Ref. 2], can be a game-changer, as he demands dissolution of Parliament and praises the military.

Today, with the Pakistan military unable to stop the USA’s drone attacks inside Pakistani territory, and smarting under the secret surgical strike by the USA to take out Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad, its standing and image within the country are declining. Hence, its violations of the LoC with India could well be a strategy to divert public attention to the Indian enemy, thus enhancing its flagging public image and its control over the establishment. This is parti-cularly so since the forthcoming May elections in Pakistan are expected to disturb the civil-military power asymmetry adversely for the military.

War or Peace

CERTAINLY, the vast majority of ordinary people of Pakistan, as of India, only want peace. But they have little or no influence on policy, especially foreign policy, in their respective countries, because they are immersed in simply surviving—on less than Rs 20 a day in India and goodness knows how little in Pakistan. Besides this, in both countries they are either uninformed or fed motivated information regarding the goings-on between India and Pakistan. In keeping with the debate of January 10, 2013, since civil society is merely the educated and socio-economically upper crust (not more than 10 per cent of the population), it is the Government of India, with the military under its control, and the Pakistani establishment, dominated by the Pakistan military with an agenda for armed conflict, that can influence India-Pakistan relations one way or another.

In modern times, especially with India and Pakistan being nuclear-capable, relations between them cannot be viewed as a choice between war and peace, even though the Pakistani Army labouring under the Quranic concept may see it that way. The current position is the ceasefire agreement of 2003. This agreement has not only been repeatedly violated, but this time around, Pakistani troops have upped the ante by beheading and mutilating the bodies of Indian soldiers. This barbaric act is strong provocation for enlarging the conflict, and Pakistan’s interest in this is discussed below.

Pakistan’s military has failed to comprehend its misadventures of 1965, 1971 and 1999 against India. On the other hand, Pakistani Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto’s words to the effect that Pakistan would bleed India through a thousand cuts as retaliation against the dismemberment of Pakistan, seems to have been internalised by the Pakistani military because of its repeated humi-liation. India having treated 97,000 Pakistani prisoners of war (who surrendered at Dhaka in 1971) with soldierly respect and returned them to Pakistan, without having even bargained to get back a handful of Indian soldiers held prisoner in Pakistan, appears to have been considered as India’s weakness.

It is well to recall that Pakistan has warned of nuclear response to Indian conventional attack beyond a certain point, as happened in 1999 after the Indian Army evicted the Pakistani incursions in the Kargil sector at great cost of officers and soldiers killed and wounded; Indian forces were ordered not to cross the LoC.

Indian Strategic Planning

THE National Security Council (NSC) with the Prime Minister as its Chairman, formed in November 1998 by the BJP-led NDA Union Government, is the apex agency for national security. It was formed to address the need to systematise higher defence management, particularly following India’s dramatic entry into the nuclear club with Pokhran-II six
months earlier. The functions of the NSC were earlier being carried out by the Principal Secretary to the PM and, since the formation of the NSC, a senior bureaucrat is the National Security Advisor (NSA). Thus earlier and also currently, the advisor to the Prime Minister on national security is a bureaucrat. The decision-making members of the NSC include the NSA, Ministers of Defence, External Affairs, Home and Finance, and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The three defence services chiefs are not a part of the NSC; their advice to the NSC is inputted from the immediate lower rung, that is, the Strategic Policy Group.

In the context of the present military-diplomatic low in Indo-Pak relations, the NSC would call for advice from the rotational Chairman of the CoSC (Chiefs of Staff Committee), at present the Air Chief, ACM N.A.K. Browne. He would seek information from the Army Chief before he advises the NSC. That would happen even if the Chairman of the CoSC happened to be the Naval Chief. But in view of the present matter solely pertaining to the Army, the NSC would also call the Army Chief to obtain his views and seek his advice, based upon the Army perspective of the strategy and tactics involved in the present situation. Should the matter get upscaled to a wider conflict with Pakistan, the Air Force and Navy would necessarily have to be involved, and only the Army Chief’s advice would not be sufficient. The advice of the CoSC Chairman, whichever service he belongs to, would not be really useful to the NSC since he would have only scanty knowledge of the other two services. Also in question is whether the other two service chiefs would abide by the advice rendered by the CoSC Chairman (who also heads his own service), since it can lead to decisions impinging on the operational capability, functioning or logistics of their respective services. [Ref. 3]

National strategic planning should include all possible situations including the outside possibility of the present sectoral stand-off snowballing into a wider zonal conflict or even a full-fledged war with nuclear ramifications. Planning for that outlying possible contingency would be on the table of any responsible government. But from the fact that in the last 15 years of the NSC’s existence, no national strategic guideline document has been produced, it is clear to even a casual observer of military-political matters (and Pakistan’s ISI is certainly not casual) that the Indian establishment is practically rudderless inasmuch as national defence strategy is concerned. The absence of statements by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister even after a week, and equivocating statements by Salman Khurshid are indicative of a kind of strategic paralysis stemming from the fact that there are no strategic guidelines. Again, it is necessary to emphasise that these critical comments are not directed at the present political dispensation, but at the Indian political-bureaucratic set-up over the decades, which suffers from endemic strategic “illiteracy” coupled with ignorance in defence matters.

It is the knowledge of the Indian establishment’s lack of strategic understanding in defence matters, and the knowledge that the Indian establishment cares little for its own military, that emboldens a military-led Pakistani establishment to cock a snook at the Indian establishment even in a matter as serious as the 26/11 attack. It is no wonder that Pakistan is assuming such an aggressive stance in the current stand-off.

The Middle Path

IN the Indian public arena today, there appear to be two options, namely, (1) strong military response, taking the risk that it could widen or escalate, and give the Pakistani Army the break it badly needs at home, or (2) continue with the present mild, don’t-rock-the-boat approach, and confirm Pakistan’s assessment that it can get away with mutilating and beheading Indian soldiers. Either of these options would have negative effects on the Indian military. Thus, there has to be a middle path between these two extremes, consisting of a combination of different measures that will deny the Pakistani military the “pleasure” of a war that can help it consolidate its domestic power, and at the same time will deal Pakistan economic blows that will hurt.

The options for India include a combination of the following:
• give a free hand to make strong sectoral military (including air power) response to Pakistani violations of ceasefire,

• take demilitarisation of Siachen off the table,

• take the Army out of IS duties to the maximum extent possible, to return troops to their primary role,

• coordinate and step up military and civilian (RAW) intelligence gathering inside Pakistan,

• cease cricket matches and other sporting events with Pakistan since these events only monetarily benefit the organisers in both countries and do not help the general public, except to provide a false bonhomie,

• restrict trade with Pakistan to those sectors that will hurt Pakistan’s economy,

• engage in aggressive diplomacy at the inter-national level without internationalising the issue of the LoC or Kashmir,

• continue issuing visas to Pakistani civilians for cultural or personal visits to India even if Pakistan does not reciprocate, to show the Pakistani public the true face of their own establishment and at the same time display India’s openness and tolerance,

• continue to encourage Indian films for Pakistani viewership,

• plan psychological warfare directed at Pakistan’s civilian population and its military personnel, including specially designed radio and TV transmissions directed at Pakistan.

Apart from the above measures, the most important measures would be for the Govern-ment of India to

(1) Immediately include within the NSC a military officer superior to the three defence services chiefs as the NSA for “Defence” or “External Security” to render single-point advice on defence to the NSC, in tandem with the civilian NSA who would deal with “Home” or “Internal Security”,

(2) Take immediate steps to formulate, formalise and declare a national security strategy, taking into account all regional and continental powers, on a time-bound basis, and

(3) Urgently set up the Indian National Defence University (the recommendations of the Committee convened for the purpose are already with the government) “to provide synergy between academic research in the field of security and the government’s requirements in security policy formulation” [Ref. 4] and create a centre for strategic thinking and updating.

Only these three measures can yield long-term security dividends to convince any powers, which may contemplate interfering with India’s strategic interests, that India cannot be trifled with. India’s demand to be included as a permanent member of the UN Security Council without its own strategic guidelines in place and without military representation in its NSC, is slightly farcical, and may not be taken seriously.


1. Lt Gen S.K. Sinha, “Offering the other cheek”, Defence Watch, Vol. XII, No. 5, January 2013, pp. 5-7.

2.  Dileep Padgaonkar, “Pakistan on the edge”, http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/talking-terms/entry/pakistan-on-the-edge, January 13, 2013.

3. Maj Gen S.G. Vombatkere, “Rational National Security”, Indian Defence Review, Vol. 27(3), July-September 2012, pp. 96-101.

4.  Air Marshal B.D. Jayal, “Security in the Balance—There is a Great Need for a National Defence University”, Defence Watch, Vol. XII, No. 5, January 2013, pp. 25-27.

Note 1

Extracted from Ref. 1:

• 1947. When Indian troops fought their way into Baramulla, Maqbool Sherwani was found nailed to a cross (crucified) and large numbers of men were killed and buried in mass graves while women in large numbers were raped.

• 1948. The Skardu Fort in Baltistan (now in Pakistani control) was surrounded by Pakistani forces, but was bravely defended by a detachment under Lt Col Shamsher Jung Thapa. Hindu and Sikh civilians had taken refuge inside the fort. Indian troops could not reach the beleaguered garrison due to snow, and Lt Col Thapa was forced to surrender to Pakistani forces when supplies ran out. The Indian Army intercepted a success signal sent by the Pakistani troops to their higher headquarters that read, “All Hindus and Sikhs killed and women raped.”

• 1971. The Pakistani troops in East Pakistan killed around one million Bengali civilians and raped large numbers of women.

• 1999. Lt Saurabh Kalia and members of his patrol were captured by Pakistan. When their bodies were returned after much negotiation, it was found that they had been tortured, their eyes gouged out and their genitals mutilated.

• 2000. Illyas Kashmiri captured and beheaded Indian Sepoy Talaker (of 17 Maratha Light Infantry) and presented his head to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf as a war trophy, to receive a reward of Rs 1 lakh. Photographs of this were published in Lahore newspapers.

• 2011. In Kupwara, Pakistani troops captured and beheaded two soldiers of 20 Kumaon Regiment.

Note 2

• This is not to say that a reciprocal anti-Pakistan view is not held in India, but it is with a small minority both within and outside the Indian establishment, and in any case India has been a democracy for 65 continuous years, with its military always under civilian control. Further, while the population segment in India that opposes peace-with-Pakistan is small, the Pakistani segment that even dares to speak of peace-with-India is smaller.

• Regarding indoctrination of Pakistanis against India, this author’s experience in the Sialkot sector during the 1965 conflict with Pakistan comes to mind; Pakistani civilians taking refuge inside a bunker were surrounded by Indian forces, but refused to come out and surrender because they “did not want to set eyes on kafirs”.

S.G. Vombatkere served in the Indian Army and retired in 1996 with the rank of Major General from the post of Additional DG in charge of Discipline and Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. The President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered over five years in Ladakh. He writes on strategic and development-related issues. He can be contacted at E-mail: sg9kere@live.com

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