While traditionalists might argue that India must remain prepared for another conventional war with an increasingly aggressive China or a Jihadi linked Pakistani army, but that cannot wish away the reality of an India battling unconventional conflicts within. And the very pillars on which military lives have revolved around, will perhaps be the biggest casualties: the world of ceremonials and drill ‘ustaads’. Instead, soldiers in today’s battlefields will look more like militias, wearing bandanas instead of berets with a scruffy look more in keeping with their life in jungles, like those that operate in the Kashmir Valley. Some will even don the look of robots, as most US soldiers appear in Afghanistan. There is clearly little room for the spit and polish world of the past. In fact, the harsh reality of soldiering in low intensity conflicts is that even badges of rank may have to sometimes abandoned by officers (as India’s army did in Sri Lanka in 1989).
Soldiers will have to fight in the shadows, seeing little and hearing even less. Soldiers must therefore prepare in larger and larger numbers to fight – not quite with fool’s courage as many did in the past, but – by training to fight with stealth, the terrorist like a terrorist, by stalking in shadows and not by swagger alone. While India’s armed forces have, albeit reluctantly, accepted to prepare and equip themselves for the changing environment – though many moaned the loss of the good old days where the enemy and the battlefield was defined – much more needs to be done by India’s police forces, of whom expectations run high if we must prepare for a Mumbai-II (or another attack like 26/11). The answer in short is: there’s an urgent need for more technology and a lot more training across the board, not just for the police but for the army, as well.
Over the past decade since 1999, India’s Ministry of Defence has initiated a number of defence deals to modernise India’s armed forces, to the tune of about $50billion; and some are still due, like new fighters for the Indian Air Force and ships and subs for the Navy. But this decade must be devoted to preparing our troops even more effectively to battle threats from within, in the spectrum of Homeland Security. And though some steps have been taken to equip the special forces in the three services ( the Army’s Para- SF units, the Navy’s Marcos and the IAF’s Garud) by giving them the 5.56 Tavor and 7.62 Galil rifles, the M4A1 carbines, MUV’s, GPS systems, laser range finders , high frequency sets, et al, but in the absence of a tri-services Special Forces Command, India’s special forces will continue to be seen as adjunct to the regular troops.
And that is a mistake that armies often make: to use of special forces as superior infantry, or expect good infantrymen to operate like the special forces. That must be avoided. Instead, what India needs is many more highly trained Infantry units equipped, trained and modified specially for Irregular/ Low-Intensity Conflicts (a Corps like Armoured Corps and of similar size) that can do, what we are currently using some Special Forces units for (in J&K and the North East), and raise the bar for our Special Forces units to specialize only in battling attacks on urban centres (like Defence/ Command headquarters, airfields, nuclear plants, etc.) since the NSG is now stretched for resources. Likewise, at least some police units if not all, will need to be trained to reach the levels of India’s infantrymen.
This will require a completely new orientation that can only be achieved by setting up training schools and the use of simulators – such as the SAAB live tactical simulator, now in use in over a dozen western countries – that will help our policemen, faced with a sharp learning curve and for whom time has clearly been telescoped. Above all, India must undertake an urgent strategic review of what must be done, so that the entire gamut of our forces, work in synergy and not at cross purposes.
— Maroof Raza is author of India’s ‘Low-Intensity Conflicts’ and has edited a book on ‘Confronting Terrorism’ (for Penguin Books). He is also the Mentor of Security Watch India; visit : www.securitywatchindia.org.in