Pakistan Has Tested Our Patience – But War Is Not the Answer

(Retd) Brig Kuldip Singh says that the cost of war is too great for both sides, for us to even consider it.

5 min read
Feb. 27, 2019. Indian Army soldiers arrive at the wreckage of an an Indian helicopter after it crashed in Budgam area. Image used for representation.

As a nation, India has no idea as to what a full-scale war, particularly one fought with modern weapons, would be like.

On March 1 2019, Foreign Policy published an article entitled “India’s Media Is War-Crazy”, that illustrates this point. It commented on how “India’s television news networks have been baying for blood, as have ordinary citizens on social media”, adding that “it’s usually those with no experience of war who are most enthusiastic about it. It’s been a long time since India actually fought a full-on war, instead of dealing with insurgencies and terrorist strikes, and the lack of experience seems to have left a generation of Indians with dangerously misplaced ideas about the glories of battle and victory”.

What a War Is Not

The soldiers who had fought in the World Wars I and II are no longer around in numbers or cerebral attentiveness, to caution us on the extreme horrors of war. The current hierarchy of the Indian Army is of a post-1971 commissioning, and hasn’t participated in any full-scale war. Besides, the Indian Army has been fighting terrorism, militancy and insurgency for the last 30 years, which is almost the full span of a soldier’s career.

Consequently, as is evident from many statements, including the reasons cited for the selection of some apex-level Army officers, counter-terrorist (CT) and counter-insurgency (CI) operations are perhaps being assumed as the “new normal” for war.

There appears to be sparse understanding, that inside sovereign Indian territory, where we have the ability to muster anything between a section to a division, along with air power and the ability to move freely, and possessing an unlimited supply of ammunition, the fighting against two-to-eight terrorists, who, with a limited amount of weapons, ammunition and sustenance, no means of re-supply and nowhere to run to, is definitely not war.

War Is Not a Video Game

Most citizens too perceive war as a variation of Battlefield-I or Call of Duty or PUBG, with a referee ensuring fair play. This is because our populace, particularly the youth, have neither seen a full-scale war up close, nor has war ‘visited’ them. The Partition and the ensuing conflict, and the 1965 and 1971 wars largely affected those who were living in the border states. The 1962 War and the 1999 Kargil conflict were sectoral-restricted conflict, and most people did not even feel that there were bloody battles being waged.

There is just no idea of how ferociously violent, brutal, cruel, terrifying and inhuman war is, and that soldiers are acutely focused on dismembering an adversary before the latter can kill them.

That a war can terrorise entire towns and cities manifold, and that we are not the US or Israel, and Pakistan is neither Afghanistan nor Palestine – and that we do not enjoy a conventional forces edge of several orders over Pakistan (imperative for escalation control), and that there is near conventional forces symmetry between the India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbours.

“Logical Purpose of War is to Oppress Enemy”

During war, developed nations suffer more than lesser developed ones. It is for this reason that experts opine that wars between contiguous nations with nearly matched conventional forces, are not winnable by either side.

Prussian general and military theorist Clausewitz had opined that “the logical purpose of war is to make the opponent comply with one’s will... a state must place its adversary in a position that is more oppressive...”.

Pakistan, a linear-shaped nation with low strategic depth, is vulnerable to thrusts by mechanised forces. Consequently, its nuclear thresholds / redlines, which it has clearly defined, are linked to events that would pose an existential threat to Pakistan. Therefore, we would like to operate below these ‘redlines’ and not pose an existential threat to Pakistan, and thus, not give it sufficient cause to resort to nuclear weapons. So, if we cannot place Pakistan in an oppressive position, then, is the game of war worth the candle it is being played for?

Industrial Nature of Modern Warfare & Targeting of Civilians

Towards the middle of World War I, warfare had turned industrial in nature, with large factories, plants and depots commencing mass production of weapons, ammunition and logistical support to sustain the battlefield efforts of large armies.

Further, in order to facilitate efficient production, the trend was to group factories along with plants manufacturing ancillary parts, and workers’ habitats in cities.

At this stage, air power strategists like Italian Giulio Douhet, US General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell and Britain's Hugh Trenchard began advocating massed aerial bombing to annihilate entire cities as a means of winning a full-scale war – they argued that such strategic bombing would not only destroy an adversary’s industrial plants (war-waging capacity), but may also turn the suffering populace against the government.

This idea conformed to the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, who had famously outlined that the key to winning a war was to attack the center of gravity of the enemy's capacity to wage war.

Blurring the Lines Between Soldier & Civilian

By World War II, the center of gravity was no longer the mere destruction of an army, but was the factories and the workers which produced the engines of war. It is therefore no surprise that during World War II, one of the means of countering large armies was focused on efforts to destroy factories and industrial plants mass-producing the means of war, as also the killing of the people working in them – factories could be re-built, but finding skilled workers would be difficult.

This also led to the dissolution of the distinction between soldier and civilian, critical to all modern notions of military ethics and morality. This thus, was the ‘total war’ that Carl von Clausewitz had espoused in his major work ‘Vom Kriege’ (‘On War’).

Further, in keeping with the maxim, ‘wars are started by politicians, fought by soldiers and sustained through public support’, civilian populations are invariably targeted “inadvertently”, the Geneva Convention notwithstanding. Additionally, it needs to be noted that insurance does not cover damage in a war – and just one 155mm shell can finish a mall worth Rs 200-500 crores, partly with the blast, and partly with fire.

The Cost of a War

While undoubtedly the Indian public is exasperated with Pakistan and the terrorism that emanates from it, it is worth pondering what a civil population would do when its lives and property are thus targeted. Will they bravely pay the price of the war that they so ardently espoused? Or, will they, like the relatives of the passengers of the ill-fated Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999, ask the government to end the war prematurely?

Besides, Pakistan too has a target degradation list, which includes Indian power generation and electricity grids, critical infrastructure, water and sewage pumping systems, bridges, choke points, etc in border towns. So, for how many days can the population of say, Jammu or Gurdaspur or Amritsar or Firozepur or Fazilka or Ganganagar, go without water and sanitation facilities, and fuel, etc?

And where will large chunks of the populations of our numerous border villages, towns and cities flee to, in the event of a full-scale war? Given the volumes of populations involved, our poor social infrastructure and unpreparedness for disasters of such scale, we will have an adversity of epic scale on our hands.

Would – God forbid – a full-scale war teach the armchair warmongers a lesson? Perhaps not. To quote Pakistani musician Haroon who wrote in his tweet, a thought echoed by others too:

(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.)

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