In the last week of February 2023, reports emerged that the Union government, in consultation with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence, the armed forces, and J&K Police, was contemplating withdrawal of the Indian Army from Kashmir’s hinterland.
Such a withdrawal, which reportedly has been under discussion since long, will be a sensible, long overdue move.
Waning of Threat – Pakistan
It’s well-known that the sponsoring of terrorism is an extremely low-cost option vis-à-vis waging of a war. Yet, even that requires some funding. Importantly, it also requires an armed forces that can pose a significant deterrence if the country targeted by that terrorism decides to hit back militarily.
Since modern wars are industrial in nature, militaries require a steady influx of funds to raise units and formations, equip and train them, and maintain adequate inventories of war stores in order to pose a threat-in-being. All this requires a functional economy. However, Pakistan’s economy has tanked. Its rupee is trading at a low of PR284 per US$, and food and fuel prices are at an historic high.
Pakistan is instituting strict austerity measures as it negotiates the third tranche of US$1 billion (out of the total deal of US$6.5 billion) with the IMF, with Pakistani PM Shahbaz Sharif saying the IMF conditions were “beyond imagination” but Islamabad had no choice but to agree.
There are also reports of Pakistan appealing to India through back channels for opening trade and rendering assistance, and India seeking assurances on terrorism from Pakistan.
In other words, Pakistan’s crippled economy has not only severely degraded its capability to fund its armed forces and defend itself against conventional warfare, but also its ability to foment terrorism and trouble in Kashmir – and with that, the focus of the Indian Armed Forces should logically gravitate to the larger threat we face – China.
Increase in Threat – Eastern Border
In early January 2023, the Chief of the Indian Army, General Manoj Pande pointed out that the situation along the border with China is stable but unpredictable, and India was maintaining adequate force deployment as also building substantial infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The 2017 Sino-India military stand-off at Doklam, the Chinese incursions into Sub-Sector North, Ladakh, and the Galwan fighting in 2020, and subsequent attempts in Demchok, Chumar, Barahoti, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, the deployment of additional forces by China across the LAC, etc, all point at a well-planned, coordinated, strategic effort to gain control of disputed border, areas as also to pressurise India on the QUAD.
While India has a large army, it’s also finite. Thus, in order to upgrade the operational posture on the eastern border, there is need to divert troops from lesser threat(s). This diversion will also assist in rotation of troops from field (LAC) to peace.
Handling CT Tasks in the Valley
The Indian Army is performing two major roles in the UT of J&K, ie, manning the LoC and the Counter-Infiltration Grid.
The latter, established between the LoC and the hinterland, is organised to neutralise militants who are able to sneak across the LoC’s Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System into the hinterland.
Presently, for these roles, the army has two divisions in Kashmir, three in the Jammu region, along with the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) (about 60,000 personnel). The RR were specifically raised in the 1990s in order to free the army’s defensive and offensive formations which had got progressively tied down with counter-infiltration/counter-terrorism (CI/CT) tasks.
And over time, with growth and professional evolution of the expanded J&K Police and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), many of the CI/CT tasks are being handled either jointly by the RR-J&K Police-CAPF combine, or by the J&K Police and the CAPF alone.
The CRPF, with 246 battalions, has fair experience in CI/CT – the Tripura insurgency, Punjab militancy, anti-Naxal operations, and in Kashmir. Thus, the J&K Police, in conjunction with the intelligence grid, and backed by the CAPF including the augmented CRPF presence, should be able to handle the CI/CT tasks well.
However, the CRPF is also the force that the central government heavily banks upon to ensure free and fair elections. So, the question on its continual availability, remains unless clarified. Nevertheless, overall, it’s a good step and two profound studies by RAND tend to validate it.
In 'How Terrorist Groups End', RAND analysed 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 (including in India-Pakistan), and then examined how they ended. Its findings support what the central government is contemplating.
1. 43% of terrorist groups ended through a political process, as most groups seek narrow policy goals. (It needs to be noted that the Indian Army, in conjunction with other security and intelligence services, have brought terrorism down to threshold levels a number of times - but the political process has always proved elusive.)
2. 40% were ended through well-trained policing combined with intelligence services, as local police and intelligence agencies, usually with permanent presence in the affected zone, have a better understanding of the threat environment, and are better knit into the populace.
3. 10% ended because their goals were achieved.
4. Importantly, military force led to the end of terrorist groups in a mere 7% of the cases.
In the study entitled 'How Insurgencies End', RAND opines:
Withdrawal of state sponsorship, wholly or partially, cripples an insurgency and typically leads to its defeat. (Note: Pakistan’s eviscerated economy contributes to this).
Anocracies (pseudo-democracies) do not often succeed against insurgencies.
Importantly, the study reinforces that the security forces must follow good practices CI/CT practices, and instead of punishing entire populations, must focus on indirect tactics and strategies that separate the militants from population.
This decision, if implemented, is expected to assist the Indian Army in two ways, viz, allow it to focus on the emergent threat (China), and refocus on honing its main role, ie, warfighting.
The current hierarchy of the Indian Army, of post-1980 commissioning, hasn’t participated in any full-scale war. Thus, some of the bitter lessons of World Wars I and II, of the 1962 Indo-China war, and Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 stand departed with the Indian veterans who fought in those wars.
Further, with the Indian Army involved in CI/CT tasks since 1988, many had presumed that CI/CT operations are perhaps the “new normal” for war. This is evident from many statements, including the reasons cited for the selection of some apex-level army officers, including a chief.
The Russo-Ukraine war has provided a very rude but timely reality check – that the era of conventional wars is not over, and about what present day wars are like – far more intense, violent, fast-paced, extremely destructive, with great matters likely to be decided in matter of hours and days. Equipping and training therefore is not a pastime, but requires acute focus.
However, such a withdrawal will bear fruit only if it’s accompanied by a principled political outreach and the initiation of a coherent political process in all the UTs which were part of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir, whose special status was revoked in August 2019.
Unfortunately, a quest for illegal political gains was one of the reasons that landed us in this mess – and the same continues, with no elections being held there since 2014. Now, add to it the gerrymandering.
(Kuldip Singh is a retired Brigadier from the Indian Army. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)