Thursday, 19 July 2007

Dysfunctional Defense

by Ajai Shukla
The Wall Street Journal, Asia: 19th July 2007

Last week a detachment of sophisticated Indian Air Force Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter planes, having flown halfway around the world, conducted joint exercises at a British airbase with the Royal Air Force — a multimillion-dollar, cutting-edge preparation for a battle that may never come. Meanwhile, every day half a million Indian soldiers and paramilitary troopers across the country face off against terrorists who are better armed and equipped than the soldiers are. This contrast —between the wars for which India is planning and the wars it is actually fighting — is a serious national security problem that will only get worse the longer it persists.

Like the pre-Iraq Pentagon and Whitehall, India’s establishment still believes that if the military has credible state-versus-state war-fighting capability, everything else will follow. Most weapons purchases in the pipeline are platforms needed for all-out war: an aircraft carrier, a submarine line, amphibious assault ships and heavy battleships for the navy; multi-role combat aircraft, mid-air refuellers and airborne cruise missiles for the air force; and tanks, air defense guns, medium artillery and intermediate range strategic missiles for the army. You’d think that India’s last two decades of counterterrorism operations have been a brief interregnum before the military gets on with its primary task of invading a medium-sized country. 

Yet in bloody theatres like Jammu and Kashmir, you wouldn’t guess that India is the developing world’s largest buyer of weaponry. If its forces are prevailing in the struggle against separatist, left-wing and jihadist movements, this has less to do with equipment and training than with the sheer manpower that the Indian state can deploy: some 1.2 million soldiers and 750,000 paramilitary troops today. 

This deluge has contained ethnic insurgencies in India’s northeast, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Punjab, the ongoing jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, a terrorist movement in Assam and now, potentially most worrying, a Maoist “people’s war” that is unfolding across vast swathes of India’s eastern and central states. Equally useful for New Delhi has been the Indian public’s tolerance for high casualties. The low-tech war on terror has killed 10,000 soldiers and policemen since Jammu and Kashmir flared up in 1989. 

One might expect such an experience to orient a country’s security forces toward counterterrorism, as in the case of Israel. Not so in India, a rising power deeply uncomfortable with acknowledging disaffection and alienation among its own people. Instead, New Delhi deflects the blame and holds external forces responsible for internal violence. It has blamed China, Burma and Bangladesh for separatism in the northeast; Pakistan for terrorism in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir; and now, incredibly, Nepal for the Maoist “naxalite” movement. 

Strategy has followed the “foreign-hand” rhetoric. India’s military has directed its energies towards the external rather than the internal threat. Of two million men in uniform, barely 5,000 are counterterrorism specialists. The rest, except for some counter-insurgency battalions, remain equipped and trained for full-scale war. Effectively, India uses makeshift means to deal with terrorism up to a point. If that doesn’t work, it threatens war with its neighbours. When Pakistan-sponsored terrorists attacked the parliament building in New Delhi in 2001, India’s enormous military moved into battle positions and readied to invade Pakistan. Then, as now, the only lever in India’s counterterrorism tool shed was full-scale war. 

This attitude stems, ironically, from India’s success in defusing several ethno-religious separatist movements in its northeastern states by using regular military forces without specialized equipment. Success rested on the prolonged use of military force over years, offering negotiations when separatist stamina was running low and then buying their leaders over with the promise of power in a post-conflict polity. 

New Delhi seems to think this old strategy is viable against the new globalized structures of ethnic and religious separatism. But it hasn’t worked in Jammu and Kashmir because terrorists can replenish, materially and ideologically, by plugging into the structures of global Islamist jihad. Kashmiri separatists today piggyback their struggle on linkages with Pakistani intelligence, radical groups from as far as Afghanistan and, through the internet, even with al Qaeda.

India’s counterterrorism strategy also suffers from misdirected intelligence gathering. India’s intelligence agencies have successfully infiltrated the decision-making elites of each one of its neighbours. When Pakistan denied sending its soldiers into India’s Kargil district in 1999, Indian intelligence proved otherwise by producing recordings of incriminating conversations between Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Beijing and his chief of staff in Islamabad. But there has been little infiltration, either through human sources or electronically, of today’s terrorist cells run by radicalized educated professionals. 

India was taken completely by surprise when Kafeel Ahmed, a doctor from Bangalore, was alleged to have manufactured the bombs used in last month’s failed U.K. terror plot. Indian intelligence has failed to even identify those responsible for six major terrorist bombings that have taken the lives of hundreds of Indian citizens over the last two years. Instead of the “multi-agency intelligence centre” that was recommended five years ago by a Group of Ministers (the country’s highest version of a cabinet committee), India’s myriad intelligence agencies function at cross purposes. 

There are indications of change. At the sixth Asia Security Conference in Singapore in June, Defense Minister A.K. Antony signalled an important shift in India’s security perceptions from external threats to the internal issues that breed terrorism: communal confrontation, sub-nationalism and lack of governance. In an unusually forthright admission, Mr. Antony stated that India’s greatest security threat is not Pakistan, China, or nuclear weapons, but the difficulties of meeting the aspirations of all of India’s citizens at a time of rapid modernization. 

It remains to be seen how far India’s defense establishment will re-shape itself to respond to terrorism. One problem is that, despite the defense minister’s frank talk, the Ministry of Home Affairs remains primarily responsible for tackling terrorism. It has been too easy for the defense establishment to claim that terrorism is someone else’s problem, although historically MoHA’s ineffectiveness has quickly sucked the military into any crisis anyway. 

The sheer scale of India’s terrorism problem means that the military itself will remain involved and needs to realign its structure and weaponry. The defense minister has identified the problem. Now he and the rest of the defense establishment must create a solution.

13 comments:

Rakam said...

The recent government has shown a remarkable blindspot to domestic threats. Its blase treatment of the Bombay bomb victims vs. its concern for Pakistanis in England is illustrative.

Sadly the Congress Party may feel that it can only win elections if a million mutinies are simmering (see AP where Congress coziness with the Naxals was almost treasonous).

Rather than up-gunning the counter-insurgency forces, the government could tackle this problem with good social development policies, a robust foreign policy stance, stronger policing and judiciary systems, and more responsive governing structures. As the 15 percent growth of the cities difuses into the country side, alot of grievances will disipate.

Given the penchant for the army to return crores each year as unspent, it is not even clear that more funds would help them. Let them spend what they have first.

Broadsword said...

Some responses to rakam...

Just to clarify, the article did not make a case for giving the army more funds, as rakam's last para seemed to conclude. The basic argument made is that the emphasis of the military and the intelligence agencies must shift, from warfighting to tackling internal security in India.

And while there is no arguing with the remedies suggested by rakam --- good social development policies, a robust foreign policy stance, stronger policing and judiciary systems, and more responsive governing structures --- all these must go hand in hand with the police, intelligence and military structures that underpin the benign face of the state.

After all, even rakam's article (para 2) implicity says that the naxalites cannot be cosied up with. They need to be convinced of the state's ability to enforce the rule of law.

And finally, it's not just the UPA government that has shown a blind spot to domestic threats. The NDA government before it was equally unable to convincingly deal with even one of the internal security problems it came face to face with. Start lining up the list: from IC-814, to the parliament attacks, to Kaluchak, to Akshardham, to Raghunath Temple... the list stretches on depressingly. All the NDA did was talk... and yes, in Gujarat, it created another hotbed of resentment that we will deal with for years.

cheers!

Abhiman said...

Mr. Shukla as you rightly mentioned, the govt. must ensure that our soldiers are equipped with the latest equipment. The reason for that not happening may be due to corruption within the army.

India has sufficient resources to arm all of the soldiers of the army with latest equipment; thus, its non-occurrence may be due to poor governance.

Thank you.

Rakam said...

Touche on the incompetence of the NDA.

While some may feel that the external security threat as diminished, which would allow a refocus on the domestic threat, I disagree. For example, Ayesha Siddiqui, in her recent book, noted that Pakistan's stance to India has not changed. For Musharaff, the peace process is a tactical pause, that allows Pakistan to regain its breadth. This is of course the man who said that even if Kashmir was resolved between the two countries, the Indo-Pak competition would still continue. As for China, given their build-up, how long are the Armed Forces going to be able to rely on the Himalayas to protect the country.

The fact that the armed forces are being called into domestic disturbances is symptomatic of the failure of the coercive elements of the domestic state, such as the political system, judiciary and police apparatus. Probably the best bang for the buck could be found through working in those areas. How long are the politicians going to continue relying on the Army to clean up their messes, either caused by malfeasence or incompetence?

Atlantean said...

Ajai,

There need not be a shift in emphasis of the military and intelligence agencies from war to internal security. Conventional war hasnt become extinct. A conflict in the distant future with China (or Pakistan any time) cannot be ruled out. You'll do well to remember that the Kargil War was fought longer and took more Indian lives for numerous shortcomings in our conventional warfare capabilities - one of which was the lack of high altitude helicopter gunships to provide close air support to our troops and shortage of large-calibre guns. We should vastly improve our conventional warfare capabilities. There's no doubt about that.

You have a point - that we need to devote more resources to internal security. But the solution lies not in diverting funding from the military to internal security but to increase the existing funding to improve internal security.

The National Security Guard has about 7500 personnel with the latest weapons and tactics required to neutralize terror attacks. However, the NSG's role is quite limited - its capabilities end with combat. A counterterrorism body has to do much more - have a vast intelligence gathering network, produce advanced warning of terror strikes etc. But our NSG commandos spend more time lifting weights in the gym than fighting terrorism.

We can either setup a new counterterrorism force specialised to tackle internal security problems like jihadi terrorism, Maoism and insurgencies in the NE - with the right men and relevant training, equipment and tactics.

OR

Widen the role and capabilities of the NSG to include intelligence gathering and advanced warning i.e., make the NSG a complete counterterrorism force and not just a guns and bombs combat force.

Regards

sudeep said...

FYI

http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2007/07/24/why-oh-why-cant-we-have-better-defence-reporters/

Ajai said...

Let me paste the article that Sudeep has provided a link to... here it is below:

Why oh why can’t we have better defence reporters? Deterring external threats and combating domestic insurgents are two equally important tasks

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Ajai Shukla, NDTV’s defence correspondent and a former Indian army colonel, argues that Indian defence is dysfunctional. That’s because, he says, the armed forces are geared towards ‘invading a medium sized country’ while the real threat to India’s security comes from terrorism and insurgencies. So he applauds a recent speech by Defence Minister A K Antony, who “stated that India’s greatest security threat is not Pakistan, China, or nuclear weapons, but the difficulties of meeting the aspirations of all of India’s citizens at a time of rapid modernization.”

Quote from Shukla: "Like the pre-Iraq Pentagon and Whitehall, India’s establishment still believes that if the military has credible state-versus-state war-fighting capability, everything else will follow. Most weapons purchases in the pipeline are platforms needed for all-out war…You’d think that India’s last two decades of counterterrorism operations have been a brief interregnum before the military gets on with its primary task of invading a medium-sized country. [WSJ/Broadsword]

The amount of confusion in Shukla’s article is astounding, for he misses the fundamental reason why the Indian armed forces must always be prepared to fight conventional wars—deterrence. It is naive to think that the age of conventional state to state wars are over, just seven years after Kargil. If a conventional state to state war is ‘inconceivable’ today, it is because the military balance is stable. But the balance of power is dynamic and changes over time. It is necessary, therefore, to invest in maintaining this balance. So purchasing modern aircraft, missiles, ships and submarines is not misdirected at all. Rather, it is essential to ensure strategic stability along India’s borders and in the Indian Ocean region. It is unfathomable how Shukla could make such an argument when China’s military modernisation is worrying defence planners as far away as in Washington.

Quote from Shukla: "One might expect such an experience to orient a country’s security forces toward counterterrorism, as in the case of Israel. Not so in India, a rising power deeply uncomfortable with acknowledging disaffection and alienation among its own people…Strategy has followed the “foreign-hand” rhetoric. India’s military has directed its energies towards the external rather than the internal threat. Of two million men in uniform, barely 5,000 are counterterrorism specialists." End quote

The argument that Indian armed forces must be refocused towards counter-insurgencies at home is faulty. There is no question that terrorism and insurgencies are major threats to national security. But Shukla’s argument—that the armed forces must focus more on domestic battles rather than deter external aggression—is absurd. India needs to do both.

More importantly, as The Acorn has consistently argued, the Indian armed forces must not be called upon to fight their own, albeit disaffected compatriots. It is for good reason that many central paramilitary forces are housed under the home ministry, and not the defence ministry.

(In any case, the UPA government’s approach towards this is confused: on the one hand it wants to abolish the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that empowers the army to fight armed separatists and insurgents. On the other it wants to involve them in more such operations.)

Quote from Shukla: "If its forces are prevailing in the struggle against separatist, left-wing and jihadist movements, this has less to do with equipment and training than with the sheer manpower that the Indian state can deploy: some 1.2 million soldiers and 750,000 paramilitary troops today." End quote

While Indian forces fighting terrorists and insurgents could do with upgrades in equipment and technology, it does not change the underlying fact that counterinsurgency is largely a numbers game. As America’s unhappy experience in Iraq shows, defeating insurgents requires boots on the ground and sound heads over shoulders.

Moreover, in India’s economic context, labour is relatively more abundant than capital. So it is reasonable that the armed forces will be manpower-intensive. If India is prevailing in its battle against terrorists and insurgents due to the “sheer manpower” it can deploy, then that’s in the nature of things.

Quote from Shukla: "India’s counterterrorism strategy also suffers from misdirected intelligence gathering. India’s intelligence agencies have successfully infiltrated the decision-making elites of each one of its neighbours. But there has been little infiltration, either through human sources or electronically, of today’s terrorist cells run by radicalized educated professionals."

Shukla blames this external focus for being caught by surprise on the London/Glasgow botched bombings as an example. He also claims that Indian intelligence has failed to apprehend the culprits behind any of the recent terrorist attacks in Indian cities. Here Shukla is clearly attempting to adjust facts to fit his thesis. It is becoming clear that the London/Glasgow plot was the handiwork of a self-radicalised group, with very loose links to major jihadi outfits. That’s why everyone missed them. And that’s probably why they missed their targets too. And as for failure to apprehend the culprits behind the Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and other bombings, surely, Shukla can’t be unaware that the UPA government deliberately reined in police and intelligence agencies out of a concern that arresting Muslims would hurt its votebank.

Quote from Shukla: "Defence Minister A.K. Antony signalled an important shift in India’s security perceptions from external threats to the internal issues that breed terrorism: communal confrontation, sub-nationalism and lack of governance." End quote.

Finally, there is nothing to cheer about in Defence Minister’s A K Antony’s speech that India’s greatest security threat is the “difficulties of meeting the aspirations of all of India’s citizens at a time of rapid modernization.” Those are challenges of governance, public policy and maintenance of law & order. While those are no doubt challenges for the Indian government, it would be imprudent for the defence ministry to go about trying to solve those problems. A K Antony should not try to do the incompetent Shivraj Patil’s job.

The task for the armed forces, and by extension the defence ministry is cut out: to ensure that Indian military power creates a stable and peaceful environment without which there can be no development.

Ajai said...

The article is entitled: Why oh why don't we have better defence reporters?

Let that be for now!

Do go back to the article and read it again. This time remember that there is such a thing on the planet as nuance.

Amidst all the ranting, the author of that comment comes close to a sensible debate in only one paragraph. Let me paste it below:

"The argument that Indian armed forces must be refocused towards counter-insurgencies at home is faulty. There is no question that terrorism and insurgencies are major threats to national security. But Shukla’s argument—that the armed forces must focus more on domestic battles rather than deter external aggression—is absurd. India needs to do both."

I agree with the author's last sentence: India needs to do both. A re-reading of my article without the spectacles of prejudice will reveal that nowhere do I say that the warfighting role of the army should be scrapped. It absolutely does need to be kept state-of-the-art.

Where I do disagree with him is on the focus. India does need to refocus from the contingency that could happen to the contingency that is actually happening.

That's the debate... not bemoaning the lack of "better defence reporters". Also, the author (anonymous as always) might like to illuminate himself about the difference between a columnist and a reporter.

interestedonlooker said...

Col. Shukla,

When you call for a shift in the Indian Armed Forces' focus from conventional warfare to internal security management, you are ignoring the following points:

1. The IA/IAF/IN are the only three arms of the Indian state that can meet an external aggression. Central and State police forces are or should be made capable of handling internal security issues. Therefore, the answer to India's increasing Maoist problems and insurgencies is not to throw the Army at them, but to gear up the first line of defence viz. State and District administration and an effective police force that will remain in the area for good.

2. A depletion in conventional force strength takes more time to make up than a lack of manpower geared towards COIN. Indeed, it can be argued that the IA is a victim of it's own success at COIN, having spent the past 10 years training and equipping for this role to the detriment of it's primary responsibility.

3. Joint exercises with the US and UK have more than military benefits. They signal a shift in political alignments that have not gone un-noticed in Islamabad and Beijing. Is it a coincidence that the miliary-mullah nexus is under increasing strain in Islamabad and that Indo-China trade is rising in double digit percentages?

4. Boosting artillery and armor is erroneously identified with purely offensive intent, which you claim is out of tune with present sub-continental reality. If a certain frontage has to be covered in a certain terrain against an opponent of a certain capability, some basic military realities cannot be lost sight of. The basic premise of a well-equipped army is that it doesn’t have any glaring deficiencies – infantry, artillery, armor or logistics. The same holds for the IAF and the IN, particularly with the PLAN's "string of pearls" strategy.

Ajai said...

Great points made, Interestedonlooker! Thanks very much for that.

I agree entirely with the need for building up local police and paramilitary capabilities to deal with the spectrum from law and order to full-scale insurgency. But, hey! We're dealing with a reality here, not with an ideal situation. We know what to expect of police improvement and in what time-frame to expect it.

And then, there is the fact that even with the best of police capabilities, there comes a time when the situation spirals out of their control and the army has to be brought in. I can't, for example, see any way out in dealing with the naxal threat. The army will inevitably come in at some point.

It's your second point that I take issue with. The army has NOT spent 10 years training and equipping for COIN. It has spent 17 years training and equipping for warfighting... and doing COIN operations with that! That's why it does COIN so badly by its own exalted standards. If the army were to make even a slight effort towards training and equipping itself for COIN, it would probably be the best in the world at that.

I don't agree with your implicit premise that the military-mullah nexus is being strained because of our growing relations with western militaries. There's an entirely different set of dynamics at work there. The same is true for the economic relationship with China. I've never heard anyone say that China is so worried by our growing relationship with the west that it is increasing trade with us. Trade in a largely privatised economy like ours grows or ebbs mainly because of economic causes.

And finally, the need for balanced forces is unquestionable. My logic is for balance... in an environment where so much of the military is engaged in COIN, I believe we are severely disbalanced in favour of full-scale war. My argument is not to dispense entirely with warfighting capability; it is to strengthen COIN capabilities suitably.

best,

ajai

interestedonlooker said...

Col. Shukla,

Thank you for your considered response to my objections. As you might have guessed, I am a civilian commenting on military matters, so I do not have the benefit of real life experience. Having stated that, let me try to defend my claims:

1. You state that the IA has spent the last 17 years equipping itself for general war and not COIN. Yet, the only big-ticket items added in the last 17 years have been the T-90S tanks (a pressing requirement due to the phasing out of the Vijayantas and of which less than half the order has been delivered) and various indigenously developed radars (which are critical in today’s battlefield). To the point that the artillery up-gradation plan has been hanging fire (no pun intended) for nearly two decades.

In contrast, every photograph of either a patrol or a sand-bagged sentry post in J&K shows jawans with BPJ, there are reports of image intensifiers being inducted at least at platoon, if not section level, electrification of the fence along the LoC has been undertaken, induction of man-portable BFSR, SAATHI terminals for data transfer, GPS, mine protector vehicles for road-opening parties, use of canines for mine detection and tracking, and the ANTPQ-37 artillery locator which will come in handy in case Pak breaks the current ceasefire. The manpower burden on the infantry has been reduced with all other arms contributing personnel to COIN, which has interrupted unit level training schedules in those arms (which has been tried to be compensated for by large scale combined arms exercises that suffer from an inadequate referee system) and all infantrymen undergo COIN training from what I gathered in discussions with a retired flag officer of the IA. That’s as far as effort and re-orientation is concerned. What, in your opinion is missing?

As far as results are concerned, the only comparable situations are the British’s Malayan experience and the Northern Ireland experience and neither one faced an adversary as well entrenched politically (in terms of the flak we get for alleged human rights violations) and socially and financially as the IA faces in J&K – and both those insurgencies lasted more than a decade. By what standards are you judging that the IA has failed at COIN? If it is per the IA's standard, that doesn't hold either because with the exception of 1971, the IA hasn't been able to deliver the k-o in conventional war either.

2. My claim about shifting political alignments being felt in Islamabad and Beijing is harder to substantiate, but let me try anyway. As I understand it, Musharraf can hold on to the pro-West officer corps’ support as long as he can show something in return for dismantling the jihadi network. If that support is not visible in terms of Western arms donations or political support for terrorism in J&K, he loses support among the pro-West officers to those with a pro-China tilt, who also happen to be pro-jihadi. Now, American compulsions are met by arms donation to Pak, but the three pillars that balance that are the American willingness to supply nuclear reactors to India, a complete silence on the internationalization of J&K, and increasing military-military co-operation in terms of naval refueling agreements, DACT exercises (though obviously, they are eyeing the MRCA order) and joint infantry training. The less benefits of a front-line state compared to the hey-day of the anti-Soviet jihad that are visible to the PA, the less willingness to toe Musharraf’s line and hold the jihadis in check – hence the fallout. As for increasing trade with China, I believe that the Chinese strategy is to buy time as they develop the Myanmar route for trade and get natural gas from Iran via Pakistan. They do this by engaging in trade with India, so that we are less likely to play the encirclement game. This strategy has served them well in the past – notice how much closer South Korea and ASEAN, in general is, to the Chinese position in the last decade than to the US one. This has come primarily through increasing trade at attractive terms to the smaller states and downplaying political differences. The sharp Chinese reaction at our recent naval exercises with Japan and the US in the South China sea as well as their continuing opposition to the US-India nuclear deal is a reminder that they are very aware of shifting sands in the political arena.

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

there is findamental and a extemely blatant omission on the article. while the article is very well written, it conveniently omits that the Indian army has constantly maitained the it is meant for external threats and not itnernal ones. there are specific units which deal with internal security issues. that has been something that the army has been continuously pushing back on. it has always maintained the organizations like the police, the BSF and the CRPF should take the onus and not them. this has been a bone onf contention and the army has been very reluctant to take this job. the problem of why we cant handle internal security well is becasue these very instituions I mentioned were not trained for the job at hand. However, of late there are changes but tehy still have a lot to go.

On the better equipped front - I have serious doubts on this. all terrorists seldom don any weapon other than the AK 47s. the kashmiri insurgents sometimes have GPSs with them (courtesy pak army) so that they can infiltrate through inhabited terrains without losing their way. I think this argument is a very sweeping one with little accuracy. One has to lay side by side the insfantry equipments that the army uses vs. the ones used by the insurgents. I wont be surprised if the superioroty claims come up to be a gross exaggeration

Ajai said...

Anonymous, your not quite correct in your assessment about military equipment being better than militant equipment. The Night Vision Devices the militants carry are often better and the radio sets (commercially available) are better too. So are their boots, their socks, their haversacks and, probably, even their underwear!

I've spent enough time there doing COIN, so why don't you just take my word for that.

Secondly, and more importantly, SURELY you're not arguing that because the army maintains that it is meant for external threats and not internal ones, it should not focus on the real task at hand. In this country, unlike in Pakistan, the military does not decide what its role is; the political leadership does. And the army obeys, regardless of how "reluctant" it is about it.

I couldn't agree more with your point that the state and central police need to get moving. But we're dealing with a real and present danger and the ones in the firing line are the army and they need to be trained and equipped to do the job that they are actually doing. Not what they think they should be doing, not what they would like to be doing, not what the ideal structure of the ideal state dictates that they should be doing, but WHAT THEY ARE ACTUALLY DOING.

Thx!