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Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations: A Critique

In late 2006, the Indian army released its first ever doctrine on sub-conventional operations, i e, internal operations. This article critiques the document.

Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations: A Critique


Economic and Political WeeklyApril 7, 20071243which is a variant of the same, says that“all insurgencies, even today’s highlyadaptable strains (ie, Al Qaida) remainwars amongst the people”.3In order to appreciate the significanceof the above let us recall that this warfarealways stretches over a long period and,therefore, it is of utmost importance togarner public support for the war. Thus itaims to assuage public concern about theconduct of war. Nevertheless, the doctrineis meant primarily for the personnel of thearmed forces (AF) as well as the paramili-tary formations being trained by the armypersonnel. They are the ones who fight“one’s own people” where the distinctionbetween front and rear and between com-batants and non-combatants is unclear andwhere tactical errors can upset strategiccalculations. In this sense it also seeks toaddress the problems highlighted by vari-ous studies including those on the mentalhealth of the soldiers and officers.A study in 20034 noted that “(t) he mentalstrain of having to fight one’s own peopleis infinitely greater than fighting theenemy”. It further says that the “(d)ilemmain being able to resolve the contradictionsbetween general war and low intensityconflict, particularly concepts of ‘enemy’,‘objectives’ and ‘minimum force’…” isone set of problems. The other being that“whereas in general war the nation looksupon the soldier as a saviour, out here heis at the receiving end of public hostility.Unable to understand these conflictingrelations, the soldier is desensitised”.Another study from 20055 lends cre-dence to this operational experience of thepersonnel by identifying “operational stres-sors”. According to them “feeling of anger/frustration at fighting with ‘one arm tiedbehind the back’ (88 per cent)”; “anger atpublic admonition (84 per cent)”; “bitter-ness at not being able to deal with theun-armed but vicious ideologues/motivators/financers of militants, the ‘jamayatis’ whowere blatantly misusing religious institu-tions such as ‘madrasas’ in their anti-national activities (64 per cent)”; “ambi-guity with regard to aim (30 per cent)”;“feeling of uncertainty (26 per cent);feelingof fighting a futile war with nobenefits to the country (25 per cent)”, and“fear of ever present danger/attack fromunexpected quarters (18 per cent)”. Thestudy goes on to point out that since thereis no enemy and the task is to “win heartsand minds” and yet “some killing is stillrequired”, all these compound the dilemmafor the soldier.It would not be wrong to affirm fromthe above that anger and resentment out-weigh fear and doubt among the person-nel. Because of this, the soldiers feel con-strained and hounded by criticism whereasthe population feels helpless against thesecurity forces. So the real issue is howto transcend the difference on paper andthe actual practice of warfare because“popular support is crucial for the successof both insurgency and the counter-insur-gency operations.” Indeed it insists that“popular support is the final determinantof any movement for the success of acounter-insurgency campaign” (p 13). Sohow does one go about engineering “popu-lation support”? “To achieve this it isimperative that military operations, be-sides being undertaken with a humaneapproach, must also be supplemented bydevelopmental activity coupled with imagi-native public information and perceptionmanagement initiatives” (p 44).War, Developmentand Civil AuthorityThe doctrine speaks of the responsibilityof the “(m)ilitary leaders….(to) cater forthe upkeep of all civic action projects andensure these are maintained in good shapetill taken over by the local governmentagencies…(I)t may be prudent to under-take projects that target youth, in terms ofaddressing their needs for education andfor generating jobs” (p 46).6This brings the security forces into thesocial and economic sectors. The problemis not whether it is good or bad to use thisforce for social service. The trouble is thatthis expansion of their role in a “disturbedarea” requires a-priori possession of econo-mic assets, which result in the armed forcesacquiring a “vested interest”. Does not thepresence of military forces, for instance,mean acquisition of land, an economicasset, for their camps? Take a concreteexample from J and K. So widespread isthe concern in J and K over land underoccupation of the armed forces that eventhe Peoples Democratic Party in a resolu-tion adopted on February 11, 2007 states“with distress…that over the last 15 yearsthousands of acres of orchards and agri-cultural land have been acquired in thestate particularly in Kashmir valley, dis-tricts of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda by thearmed forces”. The resolution also saysthat “many institutional buildings includ-ing hospitals and schools have been occu-pied by the armed forces”. An estimated35,000 ha of such land is known to beunder the control of the army alone. Thuseven if actual operations remain clean or“development” takes place, the context ofcounter-insurgency and its execution actas a big negative. In the Uri sector, on theLoC, there are seven brigades of the army.(Each brigade has anywhere between 3,500-5,000 security personnel and 600-700localsemployed as porters, sweepers, etc.)On the surface the Gurkha Regiment isdoing a great job. They provide employ-ment, promote and run schools, medicalcentres, and provide power from micro-hydel projects managed by them. But evenhere there is no palpable “enthusiasm” forthe continued presence of security forces.This is one part of the problem. The otheris the objective behind military suppres-sion. The “role of the armed forces in sucha conflict is to act as a facilitator to bringdown the level of violence so that a po-litical process can be initiated. It is for thisreason that the military operations aim atenhancing the ‘control’ of civil authorityin the conflict zone rather than applyingmilitary force for causing ‘destruction’”(p16). Earlier the doctrine said that ArmedForces Special Powers Act “does notdisplace the civil power of the state by thearmed forces…all actions of the AF mustcontribute to strengthening of the stateauthorities” (p 15). But according to thedoctrine, quoting from the paragraph 4.64of the “Recommendations of the Group ofMinisters on Internal Security”, that “wherethe army is involved, the senior most officershould have the clear responsibility andauthority for all operational planning andexecution” (p 24). Since in reality, themilitary forces are present in more placesthan the civil administration in areas de-clared as “disturbed” and since the lowercivil administration forms part of the samepeople who are being monitored, the su-premacy of the orders/instructions of theAF is established on the ground. Undersuch circumstance how do armed person-nel go about “Winning over the Hearts andMinds” (WHAM) of the people?Winning over Hearts and MindsAccording to the doctrine “(t)his reiter-ates the importance of people friendly op-erations. In addition sincere efforts mustbemade to address aspirations of the localsbyundertakingcivic action programmes likeresuscitation of schools, medical facilities,communication network and projects thatgenerate self-employment opportunities.
Economic and Political WeeklyApril 7, 20071244Civic action programme should be pref-erably identified by the locals…. (But) theupkeep of these projects must be ensuredtill these are handed over to the localgovernment authorities” (p37). Is it in-correct then to say that WHAM means toconvert aspirations of the people fromlargerpolitical goals to the immediate taskof participation in local programmes allunder the watchful eyes of the armedforces?Therefore, in a brusque tone, the doc-trine says that “…the military operationsshould aim firstly, at neutralising all hostileelements in the conflict zone that opposeor retard the peace initiatives and secondly,at transforming the will and attitudes ofthe people…The endeavour should be tobring about a realisation that fighting thegovernment is a ‘no win’ situation and thattheir anti-government stance will onlydelaythe return of peace and normalcy.Therefore, distancing from the terroristsis in their own interest and the onlyplausible course of action. However, themanifestation of such a realisation can takefrom a couple of years to decades as at-titudes take time to form and to change”(pp 21-22). There is nothing amiable about“neutralising hostile elements” or “trans-forming the will and attitudes of thepeople”. In fact the latter quite clearlyimplies breaking the will of the people.Unlike the Indian doctrine the US doc-trine is forthright when it says that “insur-gency is described as an organised, pro-tracted politico-military struggle designedto weaken government control and legiti-macy while increasing insurgent control”(COIN, p 93). Since legitimacy involvesboth coercion and consent how one goesabout acquiring that becomes critical.Obviously, coercion is the preferred meanssince “attitudes” can take decade to change.What does this imply?The actual conduct of internal war,therefore, becomes important. The Indianarmy is coy about using terms like “popula-tion control measures” as the US doctrinedoes.7 But the approaches are not toodissimilar. Of foremost importance in theIndian case is “to isolate the conflict zonefrom external material assistance for op-timal utilisation of army resources. It is,therefore, essential that any external sup-port is intercepted and neutralised alongthe borders” (p 31). In the hinterland,operations “include patrolling, ambushes,raids, cordon and search. Search anddestroy, establishment of vehicle andpersonnel check posts, road opening,convoy protection and security of variousstatic installations, that includes variousoperating bases” (p 32). It states that “(t)henumber of terrorists killed or captured alonecannot help military commanders gaugeoverall success of their operations. Thismust also be measured by the enthusiasmor groundswell for peace that operationsgenerate within the populace” (p 38).This leaves an impression that militaryoperations are not as lethal as in conven-tional wars, even in some sense benign incomparison. Whatever the intent the actualconduct of war targets people in generalto ensure that they do not lend help to thearmed groups. For instance, both sealingof the border and operations in the “hin-terland” require deployment of troops.Although each combat zone differs fromone another, they all conform to certaincharacteristics. Thus, if the minimum useof lethal force is required in such opera-tions it requires a correspondingly higherforce deployment to compensate for theloss in firepower through manpower. Thisis precisely the case in Jammu and
Economic and Political WeeklyApril 7, 20071245Kashmir.Let me illustrate this from de-ployment data from one tehsil in J and K.8Pattan tehsil falls in Baramulla districtof Kashmir division of J and K. There arefive tehsils in total in Baramulla. Thistehsil has 92 villages. Amongst these 92villages, there are four army brigade hqs:Heiderbeig, Khaymbyar, Hamray andTapper. There are 12 checkposts: Mirgund(CRPF); Yakmanpora, Malnah, Zangam,Srwarpora, Wangam Payech, Tapperbala,Tapper Pyein, Hamray, Yadipora (Armyand/or RR). Pattan plus Babateng hostscamps of CRPF, BSF and the STF. Thereare three police stations in the tehsil, i e,at Pattan, Mirgund and Kreeri. Each checkpost has anywhere between 100 and 150soldiers although there are few which havenumbers in excess of 300. Thus, roughlya cluster of nine villages come under onecheck post. And one brigade is availablefor operations covering 23 villages whereasone police station caters to 30-31 villages.Thus all movement to and from the villageto fields, market, town is monitored andaccompanied by regular patrolling. Thus,however much the armed forces claim thatthey are targeting militants, the very natureof this warfare affects all the inhabitants.And the margin for normal human “errors”,such as stepping out for a smoke after darkor a stroll, can result in death.The doctrine claims that “one of theareas where the insurgents/terrorists havetaken advantage of prevailing circum-stances is exploitation of the law”. Howhave they done this when it is the Indiansecurity forces that enjoy extraordinarypowers is not explained. The regime ofextraordinary laws curbs even legitimateactivities. And in the name of fightingKashmiri insurgents, Muslims of J and Kare hounded outside their territory whentravelling within the country. The argu-ment, however, is meant to instruct theofficers that “all important aspects relatingto arrest, filing of FIR and maintenance ofdocuments should be taught to inductingunits” (p 49).In the five cases of the custodial killingsthat have surfaced in J and K since January28, 2007 non-combatants were picked upunder various pretexts. They were tortured,killed, faces disfigured, photographs taken,story of an encounter was written, recov-eries of weapons were shown, FIR filed,and then bodies buried. Those being buriedwere not known to the local inhabitants.Since the formalities were completed, thelaw was seen to have been followed. Theserecent cases raise many questions. Whatis the relationship between the military andcivil administration when encounters,cross-fire deaths, etc, are not independentlyexamined by the civil authorities to ensurethat war crimes do not occur? And whatenables the security forces to indulge insuch acts? It is then astounding to read thatthe “armed cadres of almost all contem-porary insurgency movements are increas-ingly showing scant regard for the securityof civilians…and witnessing a high profileof criminal terrorist activity that aims tocause paralysis and disorder in civil soci-ety” (p 6). Does this not apply to their ownpersonnel as well?‘National Policy and Strategy’This brings me to the “national policyand strategy”. Who prepares this strategy?Who has oversight? What mechanism ofpublic accountability operates to ensurethat war crimes do not occur? Above all,how can suppression of one’s people everbe considered a noble task?What if instead of succeeding, the wargoes a notch higher? Will not frequent andprolonged use of AF in wars against “ourown people” undermine the democraticcredential of the Indian Constitution be-cause it allows for its virtual suspensionin areas declared “disturbed”. It enlargesthe role of the AF and the security expertsand increases their sway over key instru-ments of governance that impinges on thedaily life of the republic.The obvious lack of parliamentary over-sight implies that the security apparatus isneither accountable to the public nor toparliament but only to itself. The executivewhich authorises such wars is the authoritythat is supposed to ensure oversight. Lestwe forget, the central and state govern-ments not only regard custodial killings as“aberrations” but have tried, for instancein J and K, to defuse public outrage byordering an inquiry by the police into “all”cases of those “missing”. The catch is thataccording to the chief minister of J andK the number of such cases is merely 700,not 3,931 mentioned by the Mufti Sayeed-led government in June 2003, or close tothe 10,000 mentioned by the Associationof Parents of Disappeared Persons.However, the armed forces cannot es-cape blame by saying it is all in the serviceof the nation. “Indian army”, the doctrinesays, “draws its strength from its ethos,traditions and culture that have shaped theorganisation’s thinking over centuries”(p38). And yet this history is a mixed bagof some heroic and some downrightshamefulacts such as the first war of in-dependence 1857, involvement in the threeAfghan wars, the suppression of the BoxerRebellion (1848) and Iraq (1929)…So whatlessons were drawn about its role as a forceto suppress people’s aspirations over twocenturies? Should not the history of 50years point to the incongruity of fightingyour own people?It is worth noting what the army chieftold the students of Sainik School inThiruvananthapuram on February 17, 2007.According to him, the army’s fight is againstthe “divisive forces” and our “cause is justand we fight to win”. Win in this contextmeans to suppress people. If, for instance,the movement in J and K is “divisive”,because it is secessionist then how doesone explain that their demand for respect-ing the right of self-determination is in-clusive because it is a right which all statesubjects of erstwhile J and K are entitledto? And it is the outcome of such an exercisein self-determination which will determinewhether it will be accession or secession.Indeed why is it not considered “divisive”when the armed forces divide people “(t)odiscern supporters, as well as hostile andneutral sections of the populace”? (p 27).Besides, if those whom the armed forcesfight are “divisive” forces then by whatcriterion does one gloss over the divisiveanddegrading role of Hindu communalfascistswho possess the largest private army,Bajrang Dal, who enjoy governments’patronage and have become a law untothemselves in large parts of the country?A one-to-one correspondence betweenthe government and the “national policyand strategy” on the one hand, and on theother the armed forces, is a cause forconcern. However, while disobedience ofthe civilian government is unacceptablethe army has multiple ways in which it canmake its discomfort known, if it actuallyentertains misgivings. The best course isto push for public scrutiny of its warfare.It could also show a commitment to fight-ing a “humane and people-centric ap-proach” by inclusion of Protocol III ofGeneva Convention which relates to “non-international” conflicts as part of its Do’sand Don’ts.9 Nevertheless, the onus forpolicy change rests on the policymakerswho cause the conditions to mature untilsuch time that the only options appears tobe a policy of suppression. Thus a doctrinecan only educate the armed forces person-nel how to conduct themselves. And thiscan be further fine-tuned. But in order to

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