Why India’s Idea of a Limited War is a Delusion | Javed Husain

Inspired by the bellicose nature of his prime minister, the Indian army chief has threatened Pakistan with punitive action in the form of limited war for waging a so-called proxy war against India. Apart from his misplaced confidence in his army, the Pakistan Army’s commitment on the western front could also have encouraged him. The unprovoked firing and shelling across the Working Boundary and the Line of Control could well be the prelude to starting a limited war.

Limited war is a geographically confined conflict short of general war in which the political aim, space, time and the weapons used are limited. According to André Beaufre, a French strategist, “Limited wars are a sort of tough negotiations”.

Limited war can be categorised as insurrectional and non-insurrectional. The former, basically a guerilla war, was fought by the US in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, by the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan, is being fought by India in India-held Kashmir, its seven north–eastern states and 14 states dominated by Naxalites, by Pakistan in Fata and outside it, and by Afghanistan against the Afghan Taliban. Examples of the latter are the Indo-Pak wars and the Arab-Israel wars. However, if during the non-insurrectional war, the geographical limitation is lifted, limited war would be transformed into general war.

The other differences between the two categories are that the insurrectional war is not geographically confined, and is not conditioned by time for the guerillas. Therefore, unless the counter-guerilla forces crush the guerilla forces within a year, the war tends to drag on for years, which makes the soldiers vulnerable to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the aftermath of the 10-month standoff fiasco in 2001 the Indian army developed a limited war doctrine called Cold Start to respond to what it calls proxy war by Pakistan. The essence of this doctrine is transferring the army’s offensive power from the three strike corps to eight division-sized integrated battle groups (IBGs) who would be positioned close to the border so that three to five are launched within 72 to 96 hours after mobilisation is ordered.

Patterned on Israeli army’s concept of task forces, Cold Start envisages high-speed operations to achieve the objectives in the desired time and space framework. Therefore, since a non-insurrectional limited war is conditioned by time, the matching of physical means of mobility with the mobility of mind assumes critical importance, for, commanders whose minds are characterised by lack of enterprise, imagination, flexibility and initiative, can reduce the value of a highly mobile force to zero.

In the 1965 war, despite its overwhelming numerical superiority, the Indian strike corps (1 Corps) penetrated some 11 kilometres only in Sialkot sector in 21 days, while in 1971 the same corps, though reinforced, penetrated approximately 13 km in 14 days, that too when it was opposed by light covering troops. In both wars the Indian army was schematic in its operations. Changes in dispositions, reassigning of objectives, switching of forces not in accordance with their original plans took time.

The following comments by Indian generals also highlight the weaknesses of their army: Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, Commander Western Command in 1965, in his book War Despatches wrote “In XI Corps there was a sickening repetition of command failures”. “In 1 Corps the guiding hand of the corps commander was conspicuously absent…. leading to a dismal failure at lower levels.” Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, GOC 15 Division in 1965, sacked on Sep 7, in his captured war diary said: “There is no deep thinking in the Indian army…. there is a cheap attitude to underestimate the enemy and to show off one’s own toughness to his superiors.” Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh, DDMO in 1971, in his book Defence of the Western Border wrote: “The generals who led the Indian army [in 1971] on the western front had no concept of conducting a short war”.

The Indian war directors must question the ability of their commanders at all levels to conduct high-speed operations with flexibility, rapidity and less military routine.

Despite the weaknesses demonstrated by the Indian army in 1965 and 1971, the Pakistan Army does not underestimate their war potential. They could launch an operation in southern Pakistan to split Pakistan in two, and another operation in Ravi-Chenab corridor to acquire depth for their vulnerable line of communication that connects the Indian mainland with Jammu and Kashmir.

However, the fact is that the army here can occupy its wartime locations much earlier than the Indian army confers on it the ability to pre-empt any Indian effort. Suffice it to say that the reorganised force has multiplied its capability to devastate the Indian army’s IBGs or strike corps in their assembly areas by powerful massed fires.

If the Indian army chief still decides to start a limited war, his country would have to pay dearly for his error of judgement.

The writer is a former armour and SSG officer.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2015

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