The strategic conclave

Conventional role has to be supplemented by newer skills, which need to be explored
Army soldiers near a gunfight site in Kashmir. [Image for representational purpose only ]
Army soldiers near a gunfight site in Kashmir. [Image for representational purpose only ]Mir Wasim/GK File

The matrix of the army’s role in Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh has undergone tremendous change over the past three decades and it needs to be understood in this particular context as to what role this force can play in defending borders and taking care of the internal disturbances, which normally are termed as terrorism now, and in future.

This is just a matter of viewing the existing situation and visualising challenges emerging in the rapidly changing geo-political world and putting these in right perspective without any minuses and pluses to the reality as it is.

So, there is a need to have a fresh look at the role of army and its commanders in these scenarios from the plains of Jammu to the forbidding Himalayan heights in Ladakh, and never to forget its standoff with Pakistan in Siachen glacier, which is romanticised as the highest battlefield in the world that, of course, it was from 1980s to 2003.

At the moment, it is not a war zone as there has not been a single incident of exchange of fire from Indian or Pakistani side for the past nearly 19 years.

The definition of the glacier will have to be changed, and it should be converted into “mountains of peace” as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had suggested in 2005 in response to the seven-region formula of then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

But what cannot be ignored is the deployment of Chinese troops in Shaksam Valley. This is a strategic threat, given the iron clad friendship between China and Pakistan, this has to be factored in the newer strategies.

The Northern Command organised strategic conclave to prepare the military commanders for future early this month. The idea was to analyse challenges on borders and the hinterland and how to convert them into opportunities.

Scaling challenges by tapping these as opportunities is test of the leadership. Only pressing need for preparing commanders for future can take the army to look at these challenges in proper perspective.

It is the most crucial factor beyond the military requirements and responses in the evolving situations on borders and the hinterland. This should be understood from the basics of the military deployment and several roles thrust on it by the ever-changing situations. Unpredictability is the only predictability in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh theatres.

What one could make out from the release of the Northern Command circulated to media that the commanders conclave deliberated on strategies to deal with “ Gray Zone Warfare” situation in the region. It has to be comprehended what this term means and how it is relevant to the twin regions of J&K and Ladakh, or can the one region be separated from the other in understanding the whole concept and its relevance.

It was given out that the conclave strived to reinforce the strategic thinking culture and develop understanding on joint “ Response Mechanism in the diplomatic, informational, and Economic ( DIME) spheres through these deliberations.”

This was overarch of the conclave at the command which, it is reckoned as a theatre for two and a half fronts - borders with China, Pakistan and also the terrorism in Kashmir. In this context, Northern Command chief Lt. Gen. Upendra Dwivedi, while reflecting on the current and future threats, spoke of “issues of civil-military jointness in decision making, the lines of effort encompassing the entire construct of DMIE and interdisciplinary response to the threats.”

There were three major takeaways that ( a ) a whole of the nation approach is needed in countering current and future threats, ( b) future as it involves as a strategic calculation, cooperation and understanding among all stakeholders to revolve around the mantra to secure internal calm and external peace (c) Gen. Dwivedi ‘s observation that the “ Gray Zone Warfare” is an ongoing phenomena for northern command, and as such there is a need to take a relook at the technology enabled “Human Resource Management to meet these future challenges.

The Gray Zone concept has to be explained and understood. I think the definition coined by the US based research organisation Centre for International and Strategic Studies is most appropriate and relevant here too, though it was conceived in the context of America:

“The United States is being confronted with the liabilities of its strengths. Given the significant costs of engaging the United States in combat, and the growing range of indirect and non-military tools at their disposal, rivals are seeking ways to achieve relative gains without triggering escalation. From fake news and online troll farms to terrorist financing and paramilitary provocations, these approaches often lie in the contested arena somewhere between routine statecraft and open warfare - the gray zone.”

Broadly speaking, as analysed by CSIS, the components of “Gray Zone Warfare” , offer somewhat a mirror image of what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. This also refers to “hybrid threats, sharp power, political warfare, malign influence, irregular warfare, and modern deterrence.” It also stated that, “ today, the toolkit for coercion below the level of direct warfare includes information operations, political coercion, economic coercion, cyber operations, proxy support, and provocation by state-controlled forces as well as non-state actors, are increasingly turning to these strategies.”

But there are additional elements, which need to be taken into consideration for devising better and more effective strategies to overcome the challenges faced by India in this region.

The landscape in the region is multi-faceted: (a) Continued Pakistan sponsored proxy war (b) foreign and local militants ( c ) change in the size of weapons – from AK 47s to pistols (d) infiltration of armed terrorists from across the LoC (e) drones flying over borders and dropping weaponry and explosives (f) tension on borders – in particular in eastern Ladakh where China is aggressive and domineering, all denials notwithstanding, ( g ) need for deploying sophisticated war machinery on the borders (h) good connectivity and communication networks.

These are some of the randomly picked up pieces, but the overall picture is much more complex in which the mindset of the adversary across the borders and within has not been fully gauged because we read things through our glasses, suiting our narrative.

In the current times, army’s high level of professionalism needs to incorporate certain additional inputs in its training in this era of social media where comments can be twisted, misinterpreted and exploited. Therefore, it is very, very important that the observations and comments are made only when required.

The take aways from the conclave, based on what was shared with media, the lessons that J&K has delivered in the past 32 years make one wonder whether the conventional role of the commanders would be sufficient to meet challenges in future. Conventional role has to be supplemented by newer skills, which need to be explored.

Maps and unmarked lines, perceptions are just few of the tools, there is need to acquaint them with wider ramifications of minor incidents. It has been observed, especially in Kashmir , that what were dismissed as minor incidents snowballed into big controversies and much of the time was consumed it settling those.

The eastern Ladakh challenge is of unprecedented scale, because it is a result of extreme policy inertia of the past which needs to be reversed, but how, when the adversary is having strategic advantages.

The military exercises are the best way to understand the things, which reflect on preparedness in varying terrains, but now there is an extraordinary need to visualise future threats in the ever changing world and the emerging geo-political situation across the world.

Ukraine- Russia conflict may be termed as Europe’s problem, but its pitfalls have affected us too in more than one way. Closer in the neighbourhood, the developments in Pakistan and China cannot be overlooked because these have direct impact on us.

Having said this, I believe that a magnificent effort has been made to underline the challenges at the conclave. The takeaways suggest that the effort was serious and focused on result-oriented goals.

The list of participants included exceptionally well read and well cued in experts, some whose love for academics is profound and greatly pronounced., but as I understand that there are many blanks in the “ Gray Zone Warfare”, which need to be filled.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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