First Person | The Road Less Travelled

Comparison of the Indian Army with others reduces its accomplishments

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

In an article on a web portal, recently retired army commander, Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda writing on counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) asserted that: ‘In the modern history of counter-insurgency (CI), if there is one success story, it is that of the Indian Army. Insurgencies in Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Punjab and Nagaland are now largely behind us. Manipur and J&K still persist but are way below their peak levels.’

This statement was made as a comparative to CI ops carried out by different armed forces in other parts of the world as the paragraph preceding the above comment emphasised. That paragraph reads: ‘America has bombed Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, but lost each of these wars. By the time the last helicopter flew out of Saigon, 50,000 soldiers had been martyred. The Soviets had lost 30,000 soldiers in a brutal, no-holds-barred campaign in Afghanistan as they limped back across the Afghan-Uzbek Bridge. There are numerous other examples — the British in Palestine and Kenya, Belgium in Congo, and the French in Algeria.’

This analysis and the conclusion that it draws is problematic on its own. But coming from a very senior army officer, it becomes worrisome, because it reflects a thinking more rhetorical than sound. To begin with, applying other templates on your own situation is an incorrect methodology to assess your success or failure; because times, circumstances, level of engagement, geography and history, everything is different.

In all the examples that the General gives to suggest failure, from the US in Vietnam to Russia in Afghanistan, there is one common thread. None of these operations/ wars was fought by the retreating powers on their own territory. They were operating away from their home bases in other people’s country, amidst largely hostile population. These by themselves were immoral acts, and that is the reason that the majority of citizens in the occupying countries (the US, Russia, UK etc) were ambivalent, if not always vocally opposed, to these military mis/adventures.

Moreover, since these were acts of intervention in sovereign nations, the commitment of the occupying forces depended upon the success of their actions. They knew all along that if the cost would become too much, they would cut their losses and leave; which is what they did.

Where do Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Punjab, Nagaland, Manipur and J&K fit on this template? Are these states not an integral part of India? Can the nation and our army ever think of cutting their losses and leaving these states to their own devices if the cost becomes too much for us? Or did the army operate here amidst largely hostile population? If it did, it surely raises questions on the nature of our nationhood!

The second problem with the above assessment is broad-brushing of all the insurgency-afflicted states with the same colour; and including Punjab in that list. Punjab never had insurgency, only terrorism; and the two are not the same. By all universally accepted definitions, insurgency is a political movement, with political objectives, which a substantial percentage of the population is sympathetic to. It may resort to acts of terrorism, guerrilla warfare or seek support from other nations; but none of these conditions are necessary qualifications for an insurgency. Terrorism, on the other hand, ‘does not require and rarely has the active support or even the sympathy of a large fraction of the population… Rarely will terrorists attempt to “control” terrain, as it ties them to identifiable locations and reduces their mobility and security.’ (

Finally, the third problem. The situation in Kashmir is not ‘way below their peak levels’. In 2016, 84 security personnel, including 70 from the Indian Army, have died fighting Kashmiri insurgents; the highest figure so far in this decade. This is not reflective of a situation which is under control. Of course, it compares favourably to the decades of the Nineties, which saw debilitating violence. But is that the benchmark after more than a quarter of a century of CI ops in Kashmir!

The ground reality in that state today is extremely grim. The people’s support to the insurgents has not waned despite Indian Army’s ‘people-friendly’ operations. If anything, the people are far more emboldened today to show who they support than they were even a few years ago. Even the government of India is conscious of the fact that people’s support to the insurgents and their disruption of CI ops is a matter of concern. This is the reason that once again there are murmurs within the government that some kind of engagement with the Separatist politicians in the state must commence.

All insurgencies go through cyclic movements. And so it did in Kashmir. The violence started to wane, especially after 9/11, when the global sentiment became intolerant of violent movements, howsoever just. Thereafter, the 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan and gradual thaw in bilateral relations further brought down both the violence and the infiltration levels. But once the talks collapsed in 2007, a new form of resistance — mass protests and stone-pelting — emerged.

What the Indian Army is doing in Kashmir — with one hand tied behind its back and at the cost of its own conventional preparedness — is unparalleled in the world. It needs to be acknowledged on its own and not in comparison to the other militaries in the world.


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