As the Indian Army celebrates Army Day 2008, it is the opportune moment to appreciate its expanded tasks that cover the entire spectrum of war from Low Intensity Conflict Operations (LICO) to combating a high intensity conventional war against the nuclear weapons backdrop. This is not all. With India’s rising stature, the army will need to develop force projection capabilities for out-of-area joint and amphibious operations with the other two defence services, the air force and the navy, to protect India’s interests, and also with friendly foreign armies for peace and stability in the region. Moreover, the army’s traditional peacekeeping operations under the United Nations would increase rather than diminish into the future. All this implies two things: there will be little operational justification for downsizing the 1.3 million (13 lakh) strong army, and that the funding for the army will continue to see dramatic and sustained increases over the next Five Year Plans till 2023 (2007-2012, 2013-2017, and 2018- 2023). Irrespective of India’s growing air force and maritime capabilities over the next two decades, the fundamental security situation dictates that land-centric warfare will continue to dominate India’s security calculus as long as border disputes with Pakistan and China remain unresolved. The big challenge for India and the army will be to balance the requirements for the two disputed land borders, especially when supported by excellent border management — the People’s Liberation Army since the 1999 Kargil war continues to resort to regular incursions and transgressions on the 4.056km Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The spectre of a ‘two and a half front’ war is real.
Ironically, the so-called half front war or LICO are enervating the army’s resources and stamina so much that it has been forced to accept it as its main task. The LICO comprises counter-insurgency operations (in the Northeastern states), the proxy war (in Jammu and Kashmir), and skirmishes on the LC (halted since the November 2003 ceasefire) that were regularly undertaken to improve defensive posture, attain moral ascendancy, and by the Pakistan Army to assist infiltration. Even as over one-third of the army remains in J&K for countering terrorism in the hinterland and checking infiltration across the LC, it finds itself defensive and apologetic. There are many reasons for this. At the very fundamental level, New Delhi says that Kashmir has terrorism supported by Pakistan (called proxy war by the army). Nothing is further from the truth. The Valley has an insurgency where people remain alienated. Amongst these people are Over Ground Workers (those who provide infrastructure and sustenance to terrorists) with political connections. This nexus is partly responsible for exaggerating Human Rights’ violations by security forces (mostly Rashtriya Rifles) and making the case for RR’s withdrawal from the state that will have adverse implications for India’s security. It is not realised that the RR is doing a dual task: in addition to fighting terrorism, it has secured good intelligence grids that should remain strong until insurgency is wiped out completely from the state. Experience of Operation Vijay (the 1999 Kargil war) showed that should the balloon go up, Pakistan will use terrorists in a big way to thwart Indian Army’s internal lines of communications in the state.