On Wednesday, soon after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan messaged New Delhi that his army and people were “all on the same page in wanting to establish a civilised relationship with India,” Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stated in New Delhi that India should be defensive, rather than offensive, in countering Pakistan’s ‘hybrid war’ in Jammu & Kashmir.
Rawat was speaking in the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses to elaborate India’s strategy for hybrid war — the new-age conflict in which conventional military force is amplified with the use of propaganda and rumours on social media, separatism, terrorism, fifth columnists, and cyber disruption to cause social, economic, and security chaos in a target country.
Rawat said India has two options: First, countering Pakistan’s hybrid war by India’s own hybrid offensive. Second, proactively defending against this threat.
Rawat said the offensive option “would force our enemies to look inwards… and attack their internal dynamics, conflicts, and fault lines”, without India having to wage a large-scale war. “However, India strongly believes in living in peace and harmony with its neighbours. The well-being and development of our people through sustained economic growth remain our continued focus and our core national interest. Thus, creating unrest in our neighbour’s country should not be our first choice,” declared Rawat.
The army chief also warned against the use of terrorist proxies to fight Pakistan — a threat that former defence minister Manohar Parrikar had raised in 2015.
Rawat said: “As evidenced in Pakistan, there are no good terrorists and bad terrorists. Sooner or later, such use of irregulars as a strategy destabilises the country internally. Also, it takes the focus away from development. Thus, in my opinion, we should prefer the proactive defence option against hybrid warfare, which would involve a “whole of government” approach.”
“I advocate three lines of action. Firstly, work together (which) implies inter-agency cooperation in India, and working with international friends to blunt the hybrid advantage of the terrorist states. Secondly, we must communicate the right narrative to our people. Thirdly, we must be able to harness technology and make use of it optimally. This would require both offensive and defensive technology options, especially in the cyber domain,” said Rawat.
Rawat underlined the limitations of India’s ‘surgical strikes’, in which his army commandos had retaliated against the killing of 16 Indian soldiers in Uri by striking terrorist targets across the Line of Control in 2016 before quickly, and publicly, calling a halt to operations.
“We must have the capability to hit out at the perpetrators of hybrid warfare across (the border). We do have the capabilities. But once we know we are going to employ those capabilities, we have to be prepared for an escalation. We have to very carefully prepare our escalation matrix, as to how far we are willing to go. Where will we call the end state?” asked Rawat, adding, “We have to be prepared to see if it leads onto something bigger.”
In bad news for Kashmir, Rawat indicated the high tempo of operations would continue, since he did not want militants to use a ceasefire to recuperate.
“Insurgency, which started in 1989, has had its ups and downs. We (several times) came down to a situation that we believed was hunky-dory. But when things become comfortable, we went into a kind of limbo, thinking peace has returned. Not knowing that every time peace returns, the terrorists have utilised this period to rebuild their capacity and strength. Therefore, sustained pressure is required… Let us look at tiring the other side,” said Rawat.