Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s decision not to allow Indian forces to cross the Line of Control during the Kargil conflict was another example of political clarity that led to the occupation of a high ground by India that demonstrated that it could balance the application of force with restraint(HT Photo)
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s decision not to allow Indian forces to cross the Line of Control during the Kargil conflict was another example of political clarity that led to the occupation of a high ground by India that demonstrated that it could balance the application of force with restraint(HT Photo)

From India’s wars, five lessons for the present

As India matures as a democracy and its aspirations to emerge as a leading power gains momentum, all these stakeholders must understand the conduct of war and the utility of force as an instrument of statecraft
By Arjun Subramaniam
UPDATED ON NOV 30, 2020 11:25 PM IST

Having spent eight years researching and writing in a focused manner on war and conflict in independent India, it is time to distil five big lessons for a diverse constituency of stakeholders in India’s national security matrix. These range from the policymaker and the practitioner to the academic and the common citizen. As India matures as a democracy and its aspirations to emerge as a leading power gains momentum, all these stakeholders must understand the conduct of war and the utility of force as an instrument of statecraft.

The first lesson is that contrary to the largely peaceful trajectory of growth envisaged by the drafters of the Constitution, India has been a “reluctantly warring democracy” to protect its sovereignty and internal fabric. It has fought four major wars and one high-intensity but limited conflict with its principal adversaries, Pakistan and China. It has quelled four insurgencies (Mizoram, Tripura, Punjab and Assam), in which the latter two also displayed shades of terrorism. It continues to search for a solution to the longest insurgency in the post-World War-II era (the Naga insurgency) that has merged with another violent expression of ethnic angst in Manipur. Left-wing extremism has shown signs of fatigue, but security forces continue to search for conflict termination before the phase of conflict resolution offers some light at the end of what has been an intense struggle of ideas. In what has been a mother of all struggles, the Indian State continues to grapple with a waxing and waning proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) that has shown chameleon-like shades of insurgency, terrorism and hybrid war.

The second lesson is that India has not been averse to the application and demonstration of force outside its geographical boundaries in response to a call for help from neighbours and the global community. The Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) intervention in Sri Lanka; the foiling of the 1988 coup in Maldives; the sustained contribution to United Nations peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations, many of which have led to violent armed confrontations and resulted in casualties; and the resolute action in Doklam, are all examples of India’s willingness to stand up as a responsible international player.

The third lesson is a corollary of the first and a consequence of both moral and developmental dilemmas in the Indian strategic DNA. In its quest to emerge as a responsible and restrained power that strives to uphold the ideals of its pioneering leaders, India has often been surprised by assertive and relatively clear-headed adversaries, both at the state and non-state levels. While moral dilemmas have often delayed military responses, developmental dilemmas have resulted in the creation of suboptimal military capabilities.

A fourth lesson of realpolitik and umbilical linkages between politics, policy and war in contemporary India emerges from the propositions laid out by Kautilya, the ancient Indian strategist and Clausewitz, the Prussian military thinker of the early 19th century. While the former suggested “hard” and seemingly “amoral” decisions in pursuit of power for the common good, the latter advocated close coordination between political entities, policymakers and practitioners of war as the only way to ensure the successful conduct of war as an instrument of statecraft.

These have been clearly validated in India’s experience over the last 74 years. The orchestration of the 1971 War and the occupation of the Saltoro Ridge that overlooks the Siachen Glacier were examples of hard-nosed decisions that went against the grain of conventional Indian statecraft. Similarly, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s decision not to allow Indian forces to cross the Line of Control during the Kargil conflict was another example of political clarity that led to the occupation of a high ground by India that demonstrated that it could balance the application of force with restraint.

The fifth and last lesson, based on recent events in the security domain, highlight India’s attempts to shape new policies, strategies and structures to meet contemporary national security challenges. There is clearly a reduced threshold to absorb “first blows” and an articulated aspiration to migrate from diffidence and excessive restraint to a more assertive and proactive response mechanism. India’s recent cross-border strikes on its eastern and western frontiers, its response at Doklam and the firm, albeit delayed, reaction to transgressions by the People’s Liberation Army in eastern Ladakh have demonstrated this clearly. What emerges is that for any significant shift in strategy to be effective, there needs to be a strong bridge that connects politics, policy, strategy, doctrine, structures and capability, much like the Strategy Bridge suggested by the renowned English scholar, Colin Gray. Clearly, it is this bridge that needs significant bolstering at every level.

Recent initiatives indicate that this process has commenced in right earnest with a top-down approach; there will be hits and misses along the way as India seeks a “new normal” in its national security and warfighting discourse. Lessons from the past will always offer instructive guidance.

Arjun Subramaniam is a retired Air Vice Marshal from the Indian Air Force and the author of India’s Wars: A Military History 1947-1971 & Full Spectrum: India’s Wars 1972-2020
The views expressed are personal

.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
While social media has the ability to democratise politics, it can also silence voices. This is troubling (AFP)
While social media has the ability to democratise politics, it can also silence voices. This is troubling (AFP)

The democratic dilemma posed by social media

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:20 AM IST
The banning of Trump and others from Twitter and Facebook, and the shutdown of Parler made clear that the power to silence voices, whether of the one or of millions, lies with just three men on the planet – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. No wonder defending democracy will be a huge and unenviable task for President Biden’s team.
Close
The Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression while adding that any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression while adding that any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Putting the consumer at the centre of Digital India

By Lloyd Mathias
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:21 AM IST
One way to empower consumers is by creating mechanisms to ensure inter-operability, by making it easier to switch services from one platform to another. In telecom, interoperability is implemented. However, in the internet space, and more prominently in the app space, consumers do not have this choice.
Close
Project finance economies have different imperatives from working capital economies. They need investment to fill the gaps in their infrastructure and lack the resources to do so (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Project finance economies have different imperatives from working capital economies. They need investment to fill the gaps in their infrastructure and lack the resources to do so (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)

The working of a ‘project finance economy’

By Janmejaya Sinha
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:19 AM IST
It is time to question neo-classical economic precepts on deficit and inflation for an economy of India’s nature
Close
Their success highlights the depth and strength of talent in the country (PTI)
Their success highlights the depth and strength of talent in the country (PTI)

Courage, calibre, character: India’s greatest series win

By Ayaz Memon
PUBLISHED ON JAN 20, 2021 08:07 PM IST
The experienced pros and newcomers combined to prove a point to themselves, the opponents and the world. And created history
Close
The Centre ensured the supply of drugs with equitable and integrated access (REUTERS)
The Centre ensured the supply of drugs with equitable and integrated access (REUTERS)

Managing drug security effectively in times of a pandemic

By Sudhansh Pant
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:19 PM IST
The Centre’s strategy to ensure sufficient access, monitor stocks and distribution, issue approvals, maintain seamless supply chain of drugs, effectively communicate with stakeholders, and evolve a dynamic Clinical Management Protocol (CMP) has contributed significantly to India’s Covid-19 management success
Close
A new report by Chatham House describes India as UK’s ‘rival’ or ‘at best, an awkward counterpart’ on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It also weighs in against the idea of expanding G7 to include India (Getty Images)
A new report by Chatham House describes India as UK’s ‘rival’ or ‘at best, an awkward counterpart’ on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It also weighs in against the idea of expanding G7 to include India (Getty Images)

Is ‘Global Britain’ inimical to India?

By Syed Akbaruddin
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:10 PM IST
There are disturbing signals from both segments of British polity and civil society. India will need to assess the UK’s position carefully
Close
Pakistan's opposition parties had united last year under the aegis of Pakistan Democratic Movement to launch coordinated attacks on Prime Minister Imran Khan(AFP)
Pakistan's opposition parties had united last year under the aegis of Pakistan Democratic Movement to launch coordinated attacks on Prime Minister Imran Khan(AFP)

Imran Khan gets squeezed between shrinking economy and proactive opposition

UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 05:48 PM IST
  • Differences between China and Pakistan over funding of CPEC's biggest railway project spotlights the growing pressures on PM Imran Khan on the economy front
Close
There is evidence to indicate that the PLA's work and engineering force deployed to upgrade infrastructure in occupied Aksai Chin moved back after completion of work last month
There is evidence to indicate that the PLA's work and engineering force deployed to upgrade infrastructure in occupied Aksai Chin moved back after completion of work last month

India should be wary of Chinese mind games

UPDATED ON JAN 13, 2021 12:31 PM IST
  • Withdrawal from the vast Tibetan and Xinjiang military region means little in an era of stand-off weapons and long-range missiles. The Chinese PLA has capacity to deploy troop divisions within a week with metalled roads and optical fibre cables up to the last military post and advanced landing grounds (ALGs) all along the LAC.
Close
President Xi Jinping, unconcerned about China's isolation, is expected to take steps that raise tensions ahead of the 100th anniversary of the communist party
President Xi Jinping, unconcerned about China's isolation, is expected to take steps that raise tensions ahead of the 100th anniversary of the communist party

Xi Jinping is preparing for a special birthday party. It has repercussions

UPDATED ON JAN 10, 2021 02:26 PM IST
  • The 100th-anniversary celebrations of the Chinese communist party would be projected as a strong counter to the so-called ‘century of humiliation’ that the Chinese empire and the Republic of China faced between 1839 and 1949 at the hands of western powers, Russia and Japan.
Close
Oli has been emboldened to stick to power even by breaking the party. In the process, the shallowness of Oli’s opportunistic and politically driven anti-Indian nationalism has been exposed(AFP)
Oli has been emboldened to stick to power even by breaking the party. In the process, the shallowness of Oli’s opportunistic and politically driven anti-Indian nationalism has been exposed(AFP)

What India should, and shouldn’t, do in Nepal

By SD Muni
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:59 PM IST
Irrespective of whether Nepal has elections or witnesses the restoration of Parliament, a prudent course for India would be to let Nepal cope with its internal political mess
Close
India is currently the world’s third largest consumer of oil with growing demand and limited domestic supplies. Import in 2019-20 was 1.6 billion barrels and will increase as its economy expands.(REUTERS)
India is currently the world’s third largest consumer of oil with growing demand and limited domestic supplies. Import in 2019-20 was 1.6 billion barrels and will increase as its economy expands.(REUTERS)

To secure India’s energy future, create a sovereign wealth fund and invest

By Amit Bhandari
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:43 PM IST
Norway is an example of prudent management of the windfall from high oil prices of the past, with which it set up a rainy day fund — now one of the most powerful and successful in the world. India is witnessing a similar windfall, in reverse, due to low oil prices — and needs to plan for the time when prices will be higher. That time is now.
Close
Health workers conduct a dry run of Covid-19 vaccination programme, New Delhi, January 6, 2021(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
Health workers conduct a dry run of Covid-19 vaccination programme, New Delhi, January 6, 2021(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Devising a vaccine strategy for India

By Reuben Abraham and Anup Malani
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:43 PM IST
Focus on allocation, distribution, financing, communication and certification
Close
The white supremacist disregard for the sanctity of law has been on the increase during the Trump presidency and the contrast with how Washington dealt with peaceful protests by African-Americans in recent months is illustrative of the deep racial fissures that still fester in US society.(AP)
The white supremacist disregard for the sanctity of law has been on the increase during the Trump presidency and the contrast with how Washington dealt with peaceful protests by African-Americans in recent months is illustrative of the deep racial fissures that still fester in US society.(AP)

January 6: A black day for US democracy

By C Uday Bhaskar
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:41 PM IST
The erosion of democracy in the US, led by a defeated president, emboldened by his white supremacist base, will have both domestic and geopolitical consequences
Close
The shutdown of courts across India provided an opportunity to adapt to digital modes of working(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
The shutdown of courts across India provided an opportunity to adapt to digital modes of working(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Ensure access to justice in a post-Covid world

By Leah Verghese
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:20 AM IST
Any move towards the online functioning of courts must account for the digital divide in India
Close
The tribunal reasoned that India’s decision to retroactively apply the law, without a specific justification, created a new tax burden on a transaction that was not taxable at the time it was carried out, ie. in 2006(Shutterstock)
The tribunal reasoned that India’s decision to retroactively apply the law, without a specific justification, created a new tax burden on a transaction that was not taxable at the time it was carried out, ie. in 2006(Shutterstock)

India’s retrospective taxation blunder is still extracting heavy costs

By Prabhash Ranjan
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:20 AM IST
In endeavouring to extract revenue through retroactive taxation that damages investor sentiment in the long run, India is being penny-wise and pound-foolish
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP