General KJ Singh, commanding general of Western Command, brought the curtain down on the half year long celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 War in just the way he began the commemoration, by attending a seminar at a university. In February he spoke at Punjabi University in Patiala and this month again at the Punjab University, Chandigarh.
While the kick off in Patiala was done with a degree of sobriety, as we know much water has since flown under the bridge. In the interim, at least one amateur historian, who is known to be a cheerleader of the defence minister, has declared India a winner. His revisionist history has perhaps impressed the general.
That perhaps explains the general playing to the gallery in his Chandigarh address: “It (Pakistan) does something silly in ’47 with Razakars and which it repeats in ’65 and wants to do it again in Kargil, despite the famous saying that doing the same thing again and again and expecting results is the hallmark of being idiotic. Yet it is a country which we have to face.”
Superficially, it would appear that use of the term ‘idiotic’ does not behove the general, who, as his bio informs, is a bronze medalist in academics from the National Defence Academy, and thirty years on won the prize for best dissertation at the National Defence College. Nevertheless, as this article shows, while the adjective may be partially right for Pakistan, it could, counter-intuitively, also be considered as valid for India.
As far as the military is concerned the water that has flown past the bridge includes considerable amount of exchange of ordnance across the Line of Control. The general’s own Command’s exercise, Brahmashira, apparently failed to impress General Raheel Sharif across the border, who growled that whatever the type of war, ‘cold start or hot start’ the price exacted would be ‘unbearable damage’.
Diplomatically, there has been a hold up in possible talks with Pakistan, with a pow-wow between NSAs being called off and consequent suspension of follow-up talks between the military operations heads. The situation is such that there is an active discussion now in strategic circles on limited war and limited nuclear war possibilities, with Americans in the lead as prospective peace brokers in case of the latter.
While under the circumstance it is reassuring to hear the general say, ‘Western Command is prepared’, it does not preclude the question whether the general’s words can plausibly be turned around to read: ‘India has fought four wars over Kashmir and one internal war in Kashmir and is yet again prepared for another war, despite the famous saying that doing the same thing again and again and expecting results is the hallmark of being idiotic.’
It is easy to dismiss Pakistani military’s (mis)handling of its country. The general is partially right in observing that, ‘despite our desire, despite our wish that Pakistan is a failed state, Pakistan will crumble, it is a country which is going to remain a problem for us.’
Pakistan has indeed been tottering at the edge of being a failed state and on that score can be expected to remain a problem in the region. However, where the general errs is in his belief that India, with only best wishes for Pakistan, has had nothing to do with the situation coming to such a pass.
Reaction to action
The cliché ‘you can’t clap with one hand’ is apt for interstate strategic relationships. In the national narratives of both countries, the other is always depicted as aggressive and one’s own actions as reactive and reasonably so. The truth, as the saying goes, falls between two stools.
In the 1947 War, Pakistan, taking cue from India’s actions in Junagadh that came to a head between mid-September and late October, jumped the gun for the bigger prize, Kashmir. Since there were no wholly Muslim units in the British Indian army after the 1857 rebellion, it did not have regular forces to force the Maharaja’s hand. It therefore employed demobilised soldiers from World War II to lead the tribal invasion.
Its hand in the 1965 War was forced by India’s moves to normalize its relationship with Kashmir. Assessing that keeping its stake alive required military action, it mistook Shastri’s sense of resolve. The least expensive option was adopted, irregular warfare with induction of infiltrators. Interesting, the Pakistan army web-pages make no mention of this episode in its history.
The first moves of the 1971 War were made by India when it clipped off Pakistan’s access to East Pakistan by banning over-flights after the eminently questionable hijacking episode of an Indian Airlines plane, Ganga, to Lahore. A vulnerable Pakistan overreacted through a crackdown in East Pakistan, which was capitalized on with unseemly alacrity by India.
Retrospect suggests that the Indian aim was to cut Pakistan and it’s military to size in order to force a decision on Kashmir on it. If the manner of observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 War is a guide, six years hence military history will undoubtedly edit out India’s culpability in arming the militants and its implications for the Pakistani genocide out of the frame.
The Kargil War was essentially an extension of the ongoing fight along the Line of Control. An energetic General Musharraf, who had signed his military record with his inability to take back Bana peak in Siachen, went about doing a ‘reverse Siachen’ to India. One advantage at some cost to Pakistan was to heighten and lengthen the fighting in Kashmir by the induction of ‘fidayeen’.
Between these military trysts, both states were equally proactive. After the 1971 War, India switched from its military doctrine of defensive defence to a counter offensive doctrine, predicated on a replay of East Pakistan on mainland Pakistan. In the eighties, its profligate military spending enabled this capability and by the nineties it had three strike corps, one more than Pakistan, giving it an ability to prevail. No wonder Pakistan attempted to actively tie down India’s army in Kashmir.
In the 2000s, India moved to an explicitly offensive doctrine, Cold Start, which in the 2010s is relatively well practiced. As a measure of its capability, it is set to hold the largest exercise of the decade – currently unnamed - this month. This despite the knowledge that Pakistan’s foreign secretary put across unmistakably in September, to the effect that Pakistan is pledged to ‘go nuclear’ in response.
This brief strategic history reveals that wars and militarisation have failed to impress Pakistan. Therefore, for India to persist down the military path, it would do better to avoid the term ‘idiotic’. This would also mean that the general is only half right in restricting the description to Pakistan.
If, as the general says, ‘it (Pakistan) is a country which is going to remain a problem for us’, we have had a hand in it. Our current hard nosed military stance, plausibly deniable intelligence operations and diplomatic chill are what ensure that Pakistan will remain a problem for us. Indeed, acknowledging that we have done no better may be the first step to recovering strategic sanity in the nuclear age.