India Focusing on Measures That are ‘Below Threshold of All-Out War’

DESPARDES — The Indian military establishment faces a ‘David vs Goliath’ like situation and a dilemma if its Army Chief’s latest talking points are to be read while sipping a warm cup of cinnamon coffee on a Manhattan street shop.

“He (Indian army chief Gen M M Naravane) admits equivalence of non equals: India, Pakistan,” says a Pakistani defense expert on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to comment officially.

“An Indian taxpayer should question him: if this his way of warfare then why spend huge amounts of money of worlds third largest military”.

Addressing a seminar on land warfare in New Delhi, the top Indian brass admitted that “victory needs to be formulated and achieved in a more nuanced way” and delved into 2500-yr-old Chinese military strategist’s doctrine of war relevant in 21st Century — to hang his hat on.

Victory no longer rests on the ability to inflict massive destruction but on the ability to wrestle popular support from one’s opponent, he said.

“Popular support” the general inducted in his talk alludes to developing internal and international nod via perception management thru social media and local actions. Some observers think Modi government’s recent Hindutva (Hindu-nation) move to garner support could be one of them.

But that seems to have backfired with foreign media shaming it and renowned activists including Arundhati Roy damning the moves.

India’s northern border is aligned with China and the western border with Pakistan. It considers the “iron brothers’ its arch rivals.

“Apart from strengthening our conventional prowess, we are also focusing on dynamic response — actions below the threshold of an all-out war –- and are refining our plans and capacities in this regard both, along the western and northern borders,” the Army chief said.

The general alluded to Sun Tzu’s philosophy (Tzu wrote the famous ‘Art of War’). “The Chinese way of war, epitomized by thinkers such as Sun Tzu, has given a new lease and life to the concept of “non-contact or grey zone warfare”, where one sheds the binary approach to conflict”, the general said while admitting that the form, substance and character of conflict and peace in emerging multipolar world are changing and poses a dilemma of size and strength construct on one side and the super value construct on the other side.

“On our part, that of the Indian Army, we have analyzed carefully the changing character of war within the overall framework of conflict, as relevant to the Indian context,” Gen Naravane said, adding, “The ‘grey zone’ and its varied nuances are receiving our concerted attention.”

The Indian Army chief said the airstrikes on Balakot demonstrated that if one was skillful, escalation does not always lead to war. The observation holds ground for the other side as much, observers say. According to them, Pakistan’s response was with two arsenals of surprise which for many were unexpected: Counter-strike in daylight (breakfast time) and dispatching the captured Indian pilot to demonstrate its membership in peace community.

The situation he said has led India to also focus on a dynamic response along its western and northern borders that is below the threshold of an all-out war, the Indian general said on Wednesday.

Talking about a new phenomenon of showing military prowess below the threshold of an all-out conflict, he referred to the Houthi rebels attack on Riyadh airport and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and closer home. According to him, the attack (as well as the Balakot airstrike) “saw short, intense and escalatory cycles of military activity in full media glare where sophisticated information narratives played an equally important role.”

The general termed it a “technological irony” though, that a smaller force can be far more adept in using social media for devastating effects as compared to larger armies such as the 21st century armies of the US and the UK.

“The military leveraging of emerging, disruptive domains is also receiving our concerted attention. Capacities in space, cyber and electronic warfare, similarly, are being given a boost. We are also looking at tapping blockchain technologies, lasers and directed energy weapons for possible military use,” he said.

“…if you play the escalatory game with skill, military ascendancy can be established in short cycles of conflict that do not necessarily lead to war,” he said.

The Pakistani defense expert said back in December that another Balakot-type act may not be far-flung.

The February 27 incursion last year led to a Pakistani response with “strategic restraint” and “strategic patience”.

Naravane referred to ‘contested equality’, wherein technology will make unequals, equal. “We have possibly entered the era of ‘contested equality’, wherein technology will make unequals, equal. Perhaps that is already happening — the battle wining factor in future combat may not be numerical equivalence but technological superiority.”

“Should be a source of satisfaction for Pakistan; we are following a correct and cost effective approach to tackle a much larger adversary; 27 Feb demonstrated that,” said the Pakistani expert.

According to Naravane, “Brick and mortar military structures and capacities, will perhaps matter less; technological capacities in enabling domains like AI (artificial intelligence) and cyber will decisively tip the military balance”.