Risk all to win all

Bidanda Chengappa | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 15, 2015

Straight shooting: Will get the required results - Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar   -  Business Line

Trans-border covert action is one sure way of bringing insurgents to the negotiating table. India must strike to be effective

For the first time the Indian Army has officially publicised a trans-border commando raid into Myanmar, a clear shift from a zero-information policy to one of information overload. Otherwise, details of Indian military operations, especially those of a covert nature, remained unknown to the country at large, and only perpetuated military ‘illiteracy’.

However, the US military effort to neutralise Osama Bin Laden enhanced the glamour factor about commando operations in the popular media.

The Indian Army has, over the years, conducted covert operations to retaliate against enemy action and avenge the honour of a combat unit time and again. This is evident from the fact that there have been beheadings of soldiers along the India-Pakistan border.

The risk factor

To that extent, the army’s infantry (foot soldiers) units are known to have crossed national borders on the orders of their commanding officers (CO) or brigade commanders whenever their brothers-in-arms were killed or their weapons captured by hostile elements.

These trans-border covert actions were conducted solely on an individual basis, depending on how much of a risk-taker a particular CO of an infantry battalion was. As a result, trans-border commando raids are conducted at a tactical level with border intelligence. It is all about the individual initiative of a commanding officer.

Only the CO is aware of the covert action which, sometimes, is not necessarily reflected in the daily or weekly situation reports. Even the brigade commander (one-star general) or division commander (two-star general) are sometimes not kept in the loop only because the CO believes his superior officers do not need to know.

The risk in such cases is if a soldier gets killed or his body goes missing — then there would be hell to pay and a commanding officer could get into serious trouble with the military system.

In short, his career in terms of upward mobility would be affected adversely. However, if the covert operation goes well, a CO is neither rewarded nor reprimanded by his senior officers.

Positive action

The latest commando action carried out in Myanmar proved different in many respects to the covert actions conducted thus far. I

t was a national effort with a top-down rather than bottom-up model. The defence minister, the national security adviser, the army chief and intelligence heads confabulated with each other to pool their resources to ensure operational success.

This commando operation characterised inter-agency channels which operated with synergy between the intelligence agencies, the army and the air force. Importantly, the trans-border operation highlights that the political leadership was able to use the military as an instrument to promote national security interests.

The fact that the political leadership was decisive and responsive to emerging developments rather than turning a blind eye to the deterioration in the security environment is a positive signal to citizens.

The trans-border commando operation into Myanmar proved successful because, among other reasons, the territory literally amounts to no man’s land, with no standing Myanmar army to secure its borders. Also, the Indian Army is generally familiar with the terrain and several such trans-border operations have taken place earlier in these areas. Moreover, there is no territorial dispute between the two neighbours.

What about POK?

While the north-eastern region remains rife with externally fostered insurgency that threatens the country’s territorial integrity, the real challenge lies in Jammu & Kashmir.

The capability of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force to tackle the threat of cross-border terrorism — that emanates from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir through covert action — is something that the political and military leaderships need to seriously address.

Would a deep penetration trans-border Indian commando raid into POK to neutralise terrorist camps lead to the outbreak of war between the troubled neighbours?

The assumption is that it would result in a ‘hot’ or shooting war. Yet, it is well worth the military endeavour to do so, rather than only worry about a nuclear armed neighbour and not act at all.

While the nuclear question cannot be underplayed, it has been overplayed for far too long and paralysed an aggressive posture against Pakistan.

Covert action would serve as a reasonable deterrent to cross-border terrorism. Perhaps the latest Indian covert operation will make Pakistan more circumspect in future.

Another way would be for New Delhi to convey to Islamabad that it would launch a surgical strike if cross-border terrorism did not cease — although this approach would dilute the element of surprise, so critical to commando operations.

New Delhi has followed a soft approach for too long to win the hearts and minds of people, which has failed time and again. It is now time to adopt an iron fist approach and strike hard and consistently. This will compel the insurgents to come to the negotiation table.

Till now, the Indian military has only reacted to the enemy. Even this raid into Myanmar was a reaction. It is high time the Indian military acted and let the adversaries react to these moves.

(The writer is an associate professor of international relations and strategic studies at Christ University, Bengaluru)

Published on June 15, 2015
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