An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 27 April 2003

This piece is sparked by General Ashok Mehta’s diary of the Anglo–US war on Iraq in Pioneer’s edit page on 23rd April. The general depicts the Iraq war as a cake walk, which it was in military terms because of the US and UK’s overwhelming technological superiority, but the background of the massive planning over one year has to be traversed, before any sweeping judgments are made. The logistical planning was achieved through total computerisation and the build-up took one year.

Mehta was in Birmingham last week at a conference where Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan were discussed. In that same week PM Vajpayee declared in Srinagar that war was not a solution. India he declared was ready to talk to Pakistan, if that nation stops cross border terrorism.

Notwithstanding the simplification of Iraq war by Mehta, there are lessons India should learn, the paramount one being that war brings about devastation and derails the economy. It would appear PM Vajpayee appreciates that and he has not equated Pakistan with Iraq, like his Ministers have done, because a full scale war with Pakistan at this juncture of India’s development, which is far ahead of Pakistan, will retard all the economic progress India has achieved. It will throw open the nation to a nuclear attack, unless President Musharraf is bluffing, and India wishes to call his bluff supported by India’s external intelligence agency RAW. The risks are many, even if we are capable of a massive retaliatory strike, which many professionals are skeptical about. Only military leaders can assure the nation of a second strike capability, not politicians. It must be made known to Pakistan.

The second lesson is that it will not be easy to make territorial gains in the context of our mountainous and populous geography. In Punjab, Pakistan has constructed bunds and canals whose crossings will be difficult, like it was even for the powerful US divisions when crossing the Tigris and Euphrates bridges. They suffered causalities. The Indian and Pakistani Infantries appear matched in terms of quality of “foot soldier fighting” which will be essential for any result. That is the truth India’s strategists must weigh, before making threats of war. A military likes precise orders, and can get demoralized if it is alerted too often. Fighting in Built Up Areas (FIBUA), is fraught with challenges and the Indian army’s experiences in Kashmir and North East have been many. Despite bulletproof vests that Indian soldiers now possess, casualties can be high, as experienced in the Kargil war. Modern grenade launchers are lethal. US soldiers moved in armoured carriers.

The third lesson is, that to achieve victory in today’s war there has to be meticulous politico- military advance planning, a very high degree of jointness and interoperability of the three Armed Forces. Command of the airspace and technological advantage over the enemy are essential. The Indian politico-military structure for the prosecution of war is still evolving, despite the lessons of Op Pawan and Kargil. The three Service Chiefs are operational commanders who have their own turf to safe guard, stand equal in status and will have to be guided by the Cabinet control as per article 74 of the Constitution. The Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee is the Navy Chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh. He may not easily enjoy the powers Field Marshal S F Manekshaw usurped in 1971 because of his closeness to Mrs Gandhi, unless they are conferred upon him.

In the India-Pakistan context as in the Iraq war, the final arbiter to hold ground is the Army and in India it is the largest and senior service. The Navy and Air Force can at best contribute to cripple the enemy.

The CEO in the Parliamentary system is the PM, and he is the de facto Commander in Chief as Tony Blair was for UK Forces even though they reported to Gen Tommy Franks. PM Vajpayee will have to bear the responsibility of approving operational orders at the macro level, as President Bush and PM Blair did. The National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra will have to facilitate as Condelezza Rice did, now that his position has been made official via the Nuclear Command and Control doctrine. The UN Charter and Geneva Conventions will need to be heeded and if India goes to war, it will have to justify it on the principle of self defence (Chapter 7 Article 51) even if it echoes USA’s pre-emptive defence philosophy.

If India decides to got to war, the PM and Cabinet will also have to weigh the chances of success with the three Chiefs. In any case Operational Orders must always be ready for issue preferably to Joint Force Commanders, to prevent blue on blue, friendly fire. This Joint concept, like we witnessed Gen Tommy Franks execute from Qatar, is still to evolve in India. It is only being attempted administratively in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Joint Force Commanders will need to train for jointness, which exercise is still to begin at the top, as the Armed Forces await the appointment of a watered down first amongst equals CDS. Military structures take time to evolve, and Jointness is now a principle of war.

From the foregoing the larger military lessons of preparation, command and control, flexibility and technological advantage need to be addressed very seriously. Yet the nation can take solace in the fact the Indian soldier will do his duty and die for his country.

The Armed Forces are still the best followers of the highest traditions. The nation and our politicians needs study and think about the lessons of the Iraq war seriously.

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