Follow by Email

Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2618, 10 July 2008
The Lesson from Sam Bahadur's Triumph Firdaus AhmedFreelancere-mail: firdyahmed@yahoo.com
Late 'Sam Bahadur', as India's Field Marshal Manekshaw was affectionately known, shares the honours for the famous victory in the war of 1971 with then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and Generals Aurora and Jacob of Headquarters Eastern Command. His major contribution was in resisting pressure for a late summer offensive into East Pakistan in favour of a war in the winter for strategic and operational reasons. However, an alternative narrative of the war brings out the more significant legacy for the present and future.
In the absence of an official history, a study of memoirs indicates that liberation of Bangladesh was not the aim set for the war. This version of limitation is borne out by JN Dixit. In his book Liberation and Beyond he observes that 'the primary objective was to give full operational support to the freedom fighters of Bangladesh for a decisive defeat of the Pakistan army ensuring its departure from East Pakistan and the transformation of East Pakistaninto a free republic of Bangladesh.' Manekshaw's strategy, endorsed by Aurora, did not include the capture of Dacca on the agenda. However, operational translation of the strategic objective was expansively done by key staff officers, 'Jake' Jacob and Inder Gill at Calcutta and Delhi respectively. Accordingly mission expansion for the capture of East Pakistan was made possible in the run up and during the conflict. To consider a counter factual: if Tikka Khan's offensive, being readied for launch in the West, had not been aborted - to the chagrin of younger officers as the then Major Musharraf as expressed in his In the Line of Fire - the victory would have been considerably muddied. Also, if Niazi had not been persuaded (blackmailed in Pakistani accounts) into surrender by Maj Gen Jacob after promulgation of a ceasefire on 15 Dec 71. That these did not happen indicates the magnitude of the risk run.
The corresponding triumph should not however detract from the lesson to be drawn which is the need for political control over the military. While this is an acknowledged principle, based on Clausewitz's famous dictum of 'war being politics by other means', there exists the Moltkean understanding of the same in which 'ends' are politically determined while 'means' are the military's to determine. The 1971 experience strengthened the latter perception particularly in the context of the discredited policy of 1962. In the nuclear era, the necessity for compromise is perhaps the answer. Whether this is the case today is debatable. It is doubtful if political control is being exercised adequately where it matters on two counts. The first lies in the potential problem to political control posed by the 'cold start' doctrine, and the second, in the meshing of the conventional doctrine with the nuclear doctrine. The consequential portion of Cold Start doctrine being classified, there is only the commentary of experts such as Brig. (retd.) Subhash Kapila of India and his Pakistani counterpart Sardar FS Lodi to rely on. Apparently there is a narrowing of the time window for simultaneous launch of several prongs of offensives. The only saving grace is that these are expected to be up to shallow depth. Clearly, early launch would imply stampeding of the political head into decision-making in a time-critical and crisis context. This is the equivalent of a 'Hindenburg-Ludendorf coup' in terms of the military imperatives overriding the political at a juncture when the reverse should be more apt. In this event political deliberation would invite criticism of pusillanimity. Whether this implication has been registered by the Cabinet Committee on Security and in the National Security Council is not certain for no suggestions for revising the doctrine have surfaced.
In so far as the intermeshing of the conventional and nuclear doctrines is concerned, no action has been pursued, which is likely attributable to the mistaken belief that the former is in the military realm and the latter in the political. India's nuclear doctrine explicitly states that any nuclear use against Indian territory or its forces anywhere would call for a nuclear response. Only in the case of the first strike would the retaliation be of a massive order. The levels of retaliation in the case of enemy first use, not of the order of 'first strike,' are sensibly left unspecified, leaving the political decision-maker a choice between equivalent response and escalation. It follows that there has to be a careful vetting of selection of military objectives for the Cold Start offensives. This is especially so given the dominance of the perception that Pakistan has a 'high' nuclear threshold. This has been a self-serving projection of Pakistan, and also how it has been read by some in India, such as Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan and Brig. (retd.) Gurmeet Kanwal. In effect, India's objectives would likely be more venturesome and would threaten Pakistan's nuclear reaction threshold. Forestalling this is another political exercise that is hopefully underway. The resounding character of the 1971 victory and the admittedly deserved iconic standing of the victors should not obscure the lesson that it does not lend itself to replication in the nuclear era. The tail cannot wag the dog anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment