Small Wars Journal

Countering Insurgency In South Asia: Three Approaches

Fri, 09/23/2011 - 7:19am

The challenge of counter-insurgency (COIN) is urgent for the security and stability in South Asia. Pakistan, Afghanistan and India have been grappling with insurgency with mixed and gradual success. This paper offers three different approaches to the study of COIN in South Asia, contrasting ISAF-led efforts to tackle the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the Pakistani and Indian experiences to deal with local insurgencies, including in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Jammu and Kashmir. These three approaches are evaluated across eight different dimensions, including the doctrine, experience and scope of COIN activities; operational preferences and traditions; paramilitary organizational innovations; use of supportive force such as air power, artillery and technology; the political dimensions and civil-military relations; and strategies of reconstruction and reconciliation. The findings suggest that while non-institutionalized and diffuse, the Indian experience is not only in line with, but also holds valuable lessons for U.S. COIN objectives in Afghanistan and perhaps also Pakistan.


This paper focuses on three “live” cases in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (which has had more than one ongoing insurgency). The name given to the operations to counter the variants of insurgency differs from Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) in Pakistan and India, who tend to follow the British nomenclature, to Counter-Insurgency (COIN) a term of American origin. Regardless of the name or term applied, the importance of the strategic and political context and the operational strategy of these “small wars” are reflected upon, as is the nature of the insurgents and the internal and external support they receive.

The U.S. is currently focused on assisting Afghanistan in establishing a form of governance that is stable, thereby denying terror groups a base to operate from. In India the focus of the government is to provide governance, which fosters economic growth and livelihood to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, along with pacifying the lingering insurgencies of the Northeastern region or in the Naxalite heartland along a belt in Eastern India. Pakistan is involved in an internal struggle to tame multifaceted terror unleashed by years of providing support to proxy insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan and India. The three different approaches to COIN reflect wide variation, but also the potential of commonalities and lessons for the future.

This paper analyses three different approaches to COIN in South Asia, contrasting the ISAF-led efforts to tackle the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the Pakistani and Indian experiences to deal with local insurgencies, including in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in Jammu and Kashmir. These three approaches are evaluated across eight different dimensions, including the doctrine, experience and scope of COIN activities; operational preferences and traditions; paramilitary organizational innovations; use of supportive force such as air power, artillery and technology; the political dimensions and civil-military relations; and strategies of reconstruction and reconciliation.

The findings suggest that while non-institutionalized and diffuse, the historical Indian experience holds valuable lessons for  U.S. COIN objectives in Afghanistan, and perhaps also in Pakistan.

1. Thought: Background, Doctrine and Strategy

a) The Indian experience

It is impossible to look at Indian COIN without taking the pre-Independence experience of the British Raj into account. The British Indian Army conducted military operations in the Naga Hills as early as 1875 to confront tribal revolts. The British also conducted operations in frontier areas of British India, most of which are now part of Pakistan. The operations there were mainly directed to contain the influence of the various Pashtun tribes and to create a buffer zone between India and Afghanistan. Conventional expeditionary forces usually moved into the rebellious area to suppress the tribes through swift actions and then depart immediately. Unlike post-Independence operations by Indian regiments, which reflected the objectives of minimum use of force, and of respect for local customs and traditions, the British imperial authorities tended to be punitive and left behind a legacy of colonial abuse.[1]

In the Initial years after independence, following partition and the emergence of the low-intensity conflict (LIC) in Kashmir, India responded to insurgencies with the rather primitive view that they were caused by the formation of new political states or by “misguided youth”. However, over time, efforts to control the insurgency led to a gradual increase in deployment of the army by the central government, not only in Kashmir, but also in many of the Northeastern states, where the armed and paramilitary forces were often perceived as occupiers. The army functioned under strict orders for preservation of the human rights and respectful treatment of innocents. An early diktat on the minimum use of force has probably been inspired by Jawaharlal Nehru’s opposition to use of force against his own countrymen.

Beyond its strict military functions, the army often also operated under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), thus replacing inexistent or insufficient local police and law and order machineries. Since then, the Indian army has been increasingly deployed in the early stages of militancy to control the spread of violence and terror. India had to deal with insurgencies in the Northeastern states (mainly in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur) and in Punjab, mainly in the 1970s and 80s, where it achieved success. India has faced rebellions and secessionist movements since its inception as a nation and has as a matter of record still managed to keep the level of violence limited and low along with restoring a degree of normalcy in the affected regions.

The COIN experience in India has evolved around common threads of principles and objectives: domination of the affected areas by strong military presence, isolation of the militants, use of minimum force, efforts to restore normalcy to the areas and finally assist and hand over administration to the state government. A conventional war bias often noted in the Indian Army’s COIN operations is that of reluctance to innovate in doctrine. The numerous insurgencies have never won against the state – a notable feather in India’s cap considering that common wisdom espouses that insurgencies can never be won. Starting from the early insurgencies in Nagaland and Mizoram the Indian strategy has been focused on the use of minimum force. This guiding principle has governed the employment philosophy of the army and is the cornerstone of the army doctrine on sub conventional operations.

However, despite being involved in COIN for over 60 years, there has been no single synthesis of the experiences of the Indian Army. A rare codification of the accumulated experience has resulted in The Doctrine on Sub Conventional Operations promulgated in 2006. The categorization of operations it offers encompasses the range of conflicts from armed conflicts that are above the level of peaceful coexistence to those below the threshold of war.

The civilian side in India has not shown signs of systematic thought on COIN and the document is seen by certain experts as an attempt to nudge them into conceptualization by providing a rational, harmonized and centralized doctrinal guidance on COIN.[2] The doctrine states the need for management of conflicts by a multi-pronged thrust by all elements of national power. The security forces are used in the initial stages to provide a secure environment for the government agencies whose activities were disrupted by violent acts of the militants. The doctrine enunciates the clear limits to use of force and the centrality of efficient civil–military cooperation. It also prioritizes the resource allocation, acquisition and training initiatives in the form of specific guidelines.

b) The ISAF experience in Afghanistan

The “trilemma” of Lorenzo Zambernardi underlined the implicit tradeoffs involved in any counterinsurgency operation.[3] The three goals of force protection, differentiation between enemy combatants and non-combatants, and elimination of insurgents, are not simultaneously achievable and it is precisely this “trilemma” that the ISAF leadership now faces in Afghanistan. The choice has been to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants in a foreign land, amongst tribals and wide ethnic complexity, which poses as a great risk to the safety of the ISAF troops involved in operations to eliminate insurgents. The extension of the COIN strategy of “clear-hold-build-transfer” from the Iraq experience to Afghanistan is a conscious choice that acknowledges this tradeoff. The protection of the population and the elimination of insurgents have increased the exposure of the combat forces to risk and sacrifice thereby raising casualties and leading to increased scrutiny by the administration and a gradual drop in public support to the war effort.

The destruction in the early phases of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) has given way to the hold and build phase. The change in approach to the war in Afghanistan from the characteristic American intent of uncompromising destruction of enemy forces to one of a more finely tuned harnessing of military effect, also to serve political means, has evolved through the operational and strategic lessons of Iraq which were critical in finalizing the COIN doctrine as employed Afghanistan. The present strategy aims to assist the Afghan government in denying terrorists the use of the country as a base.

The strategy of clear and hold is proving to be a difficult one to execute on the ground, especially given the ability of terrorists to infiltrate, intimidate fence sitters and regroup constantly. The bread and butter operations have therefore been the cordon and search operations at battalion and unit level, intensified by aggressive employment of Special Forces operations for intelligence-guided precision actions. With the battle in Afghanistan extending to the South of the country, ISAF forces are also increasingly conducting road opening and convoy protection operations.

The surge of 2010 has had mixed support in the political landscape of the United States. What the increased military presence offers is the ability to organize a concerted effort towards moving the various Afghan factions in the conflict towards the negotiating table. According to Bernard Finel, the best option for the U.S. is to use the approximately 100,000 troops presently deployed in Afghanistan to bludgeon, cajole and coerce the insurgent forces and use the deployment to best effect from a position where maximum strength may not have yet been achieved but as strength and control of areas increases relatively.[4] He calls this strategy as a “Talk and Fight” strategy that increases pressure on insurgents by tailored military operations to support negotiations. This kind of use of military force calls for a careful calibration of application of force to induce insurgents to negotiate, for example by making one faction or another face the brunt of operations to cause fissure in the insurgent coalition and provide the Afghan government the negotiation capability.

The primacy of military force as the central pillar of COIN allows for additional diplomatic leverage to be applied in addition to other softer modes of employment of power, including people-centric operations. This multi-level approach is emerging as the consensual COIN doctrine in South Asia, and is actually confirmed by the Indian and Pakistan COIN experience in the subcontinent.

c) Pakistan: where it all started

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan became the reason for the move of Taliban and Al-Qaida leaders into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. This region was created by the British as a buffer zone between British India and the then kingdom of Afghanistan, and extended from Peshawar in the North to Baluchistan in the South. Since then, the area has been inhabited by local tribes which survived in the rugged terrain that essentially persisted as a no-man’s-land. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to large refugee camps being established across the porous borders and it was from these camps that the Mujahedeen were recruited for the U.S.-backed effort against Soviet forces. The support for the religious leaders in an Islamic war against the Soviet invaders was the basis for the rise of the religious schools – madrassas – that served as breeding grounds for the holy warriors of Islam. The tribes provided all support to the Mujahedeen fighters – first against the Soviets and then against their ethnic kin – to achieve control over Kabul. Arab fighters joined the anti-Soviet effort and the rise of the Taliban after the Soviet withdrawal enabled the emergence of the pan-Islamic movement that was later explored by Al-Qaida.

The post-9/11 invasion by the U.S., with Pakistan as the main partner in what was then referred to as the Global War on Terror, led Pakistan’s army to deploy its troops to secure the border with Afghanistan. The forces deployed were strike formations from the Eastern border with India and not trained for, nor having any operational experience in this new context. Terrain knowledge or intelligence about local population was scarce. The short time available to deploy precluded any possibility to raise new or reorient existing Pakhtun regiments with local knowledge and ability to speak the language. The rugged terrain, a long border, shortage of troops to man innumerous border posts, coupled with little knowledge of the local customs and language, led to an ineffective control of the areas.[5] The isolated posts in tribal-dominated areas often resorted to deals to guarantee their sustainability and thus largely compromised the military objectives to deny insurgents the possibility to use FATA as their safe haven.

The traditional focus of the Pakistan army has been India, which is perceived as the “real” threat and led to the glorification of the army as the protectors against India. This bias is the likely cause of the importance assigned to armor and infantry in conventional roles. Frontier warfare – a term coined by British – remains a neglected aspect in the Pakistani army curriculum. The army was ill equipped for COIN and also lacked mobility on the few narrow frontier roads, all the while insurgents operated four wheel drive trucks and converged on isolated posts to subdue them. The early operations by the army were not sufficiently aggressive and attempted to dominate areas by its sheer passive presence. This space-domination tactic, as well as sidelining of tribal elders caused alienation of the population, which in turn led to further recruitment possibilities for the Taliban and Al-Qaida. The inadequately trained and equipped army was thus forced to get involved in deals with the local commanders of the tribal militia in Waziristan and in the NWFP region.

Pakistan has tackled COIN more by coercion and only sometimes with limited degrees of political reconciliation after military operations. The initial operations by the Pakistan army were a mix of area domination and occupation of areas. Later attacks like the one in Bajaur were fierce, with attacks by artillery and even air strikes, reducing large areas to rubble. The insurgents’ use of suicide bombings, IEDs and small group attacks soon inflicted heavy losses and increased the violence. The Pakistan Army initially followed a policy of clearing an area of insurgents and handing the areas to local governments and police.[6] This reluctance to hold cleared areas, outsource governance and not focusing on development initiatives such as roads, schools, security and jobs, eventually led to the capitulation of the weak local authorities. The fierce pressure generated by the insurgents caused the local authorities to enter into deals with the insurgents and they allowed them to establish bases, eliminate collaborators and carry out recruitment.

A particular variant of the “separate-fish-from-the-water” approach was repeatedly used by the Pakistani army in Bajaur, in 2008. Large areas were cleared of civilians by moving them out of towns and villages and then attacking the area with air and artillery assaults in something akin to the scorched earth technique - only that this was applied on home ground. The resultant displacement of population and reconstruction efforts posed another humanitarian crisis in the wake of army operations. The spinoff though was a wave of victories and surrender of key Taliban warlords leading to the establishment of writ of the government. In 2009 the situation in Swat flared up when the Taliban broke the peace agreement, but this time the local and political consensus was with the army, which conducted operations and implemented the lessons learned from Bajaur. A more people-centric approach and recognition of the Taliban as the existential threat paid dividends operationally and also recovered the image of the army as a respected national agency.

The COIN-FOIN paradox: Haider Mullick suggests that Fomenting Insurgency (FOIN) along with Countering Insurgency (COIN) are both part of Pakistan’s national security calculus.[7] FOIN in the 1980s was directed against the Soviet occupation and was a creation of U.S. and Pakistani intelligence and security assets to bolster the Afghan mujahedeen. Over a period of time in the late 1990s, as Pakistan’s proxy, the Taliban had control over Afghanistan and the FOIN operations extended to Kashmir and Punjab in India. This support has engulfed the region in constant conflict and given rise to radical non-state actors which Pakistan admits have been responsible for the 2008 Mumbai and 2001 Parliament attacks in India.

A dual policy wherein it treats the Afghan Taliban as leverage and Pakistan Taliban as enemies of the state has thus given rise to the “good” and “bad” Taliban differentiation within the Pakistani establishment. This effectively implies that the Afghan Taliban, who are seen as patrons of Al Qaida, are patronized and provided asylum in Pakistan and that only the Pakistani Taliban, comprising of terrorists and Punjabi militants, are targeted by the army. The paradox of both FOIN and COIN within the Pakistan policy creates a disconnect between the U.S. and Pakistani operational objectives in the region. As U.S. forces struggle with a weak ANA to reduce the influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pakistan army has had reasonable success - at least in military operations - in Swat and Waziristan against the Pakistan Taliban.

2. Scope: In and out of Country

As highlighted with U.S. forces that are deployed in Afghanistan, the conduct of operations in a foreign land imposes severe logistic and manpower constraints. The armies of Pakistan and India are operating in their own country and face these problems to a much lesser degree. The greater distance not only imposes greater logistic costs but also limits the number of effective troops available for the conduct of actual day-to-day COIN. The U.S. experience in such overseas deployments post-World War II, for example in Korea and Vietnam, imposed such severe strain on the deployment, leading to results or outcomes that were far from decisive. The ongoing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, where 150,000 troops of the 1.5 million active duty personnel are deployed, is a challenge in maintaining an effective of combat support versus combat ratio.[8] The hindrances of overseas operations are logistic, strategic and tactical in nature. The shortage of numbers due to logistic impediments is compounded by the core weakness of tactical intelligence against an enemy who exploits the advantage of terrain and local knowledge. American strategy of defining a mission and clarity on termination of intervention faces severe challenges when persecuting operations overseas.

The Indian COIN experience ranges from the Northeastern states, Punjab and Kashmir to overseas theaters such as in Sri Lanka, after 1987. The long presence of the army in the affected areas has led to a degree of permanent infrastructure and logistic efficiency as operations have unfolded. The deployment of the army is generally in all states with a bias towards the Western and Eastern borders, given the tenuous relations with the neighboring countries in the region. The army deployments thus have evolved to a configuration of combining COIN with standard rotation of units in conventional duties from one sector to another. Since most headquarters and logistic installations are permanent or semi- permanent the teeth-to-tail ratio is kept positive.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has had little or no experience with COIN until after 2001. The East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) experience and the sporadic insurgency in Baluchistan of 1973 did not do much in terms of providing vital experience or operational knowledge regarding generation of an advantage in logistic, training or tactical operations. The Soviet experience in which jihad was exported from Pakistan, and the later diversion of jihad to Kashmir, did not contribute to operational learning from COIN due to control of those operations mostly by the I.S.I. with U.S. support. Prior to 9/11 the only troops in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) region were under a paramilitary force called the Frontier Corps (FC), officered by the Pakistan Army.

The movement and deployment of troops to SWAT, which culminated in operations in 2008, was a new and hastily imposed deployment to areas where the army had no detailed presence till then. The army faced a wave of resentment and was branded as alien when it moved in after 9/11 and was perceived by the locals to be doing the bidding of the U.S.. The logistics of deployment all along the frontier abutting Afghanistan with limited mobility on ground due to the terrain and limited air resources resulted in a rather porous and ineffective sealing of the border.

The efficacy of control especially political control over outcomes in COIN in a foreign country is a major consideration to measure effectiveness. The advantage Indian COIN efforts enjoy with a consistent political policy towards the resolution of conflict contrasts starkly with the efforts of the U.S. which has to contend with the nascent government in Kabul which contributes with sporadic control of the National effort. Pakistan on the other hand is handicapped by the ineffective nature of the control that the government has in the FATA and other border areas which leads to tribal and other Taliban groups challenging the writ of the state.

3. Action: Operations and Deployment

a) Evolution of Indian COIN operations

Insurgency in India has its origins right after the 1947 partition, when the Naga rebellion in the Northeastern state of Nagaland led to the employment of the army. The predominantly British experiences have had an influence on the army’s professional view of COIN and have tended to influence early operations, such as in the Naga case in the 1950s. However, the British Malaya model of village resettlement proved to be less than successful when applied by the Indian army. Two factors - external support to the insurgents and the distinctive difference between Malaya of the British and Nagaland, Mizoram of India - proved to the Indian army that the British model was not applicable to the Northeast. The nascent civilian administrative authorities also gained experience and of the role in of COIN and a strategy of political accommodation, instead of outright military victory, emerged from this rebellion and the subsequent Mizo rebellion of 1966. Reflecting this experience, current Indian COIN thinking firmly reflects the conviction that insurgencies are primarily political problems that need a political solution and military operations can only assist in setting the stage for the final political resolution. Operations by the army also reflect the assimilation of the attitude of minimum use of force and conduct of operations with immense limitations regarding employment of heavy equipment such as artillery and air support.

An important element of COIN by the Indian Army has been the reliance on dominance of the areas by concentration of troops. The army has been in the lead role in controlling operations of the central police forces and paramilitary forces such as the Assam Rifles and Border Security Force battalions assigned by the central government to the insurgency affected areas. The lack of heavy firepower has always been made up by asserting control by blanketing the area of operations. The central idea of the use of large-scale deployments has smothered notions of success nurtured by the insurgents and psychologically dented them by the sheer magnitude of the force. Operations are generally conducted in large numbers of manpower, as opposed to the general notion of small unit operations which has now been gradually adopted. Cordon and search operations involving more than one battalion of infantry have been a common practice.

This approach to COIN probably displays a conventional bias of the Indian army that is still dominant in the psyche of the army’s thinkers, mainly due to the rotational nature of the army’s deployments of its battalions from conventional role to a COIN role. The weapons and equipment primarily are designed for conventional operations and units have over a period of time acquired specialist equipment when employed in COIN. Operational learning over repeated deployments has got institutionalized into the doctrine for sub-conventional operations.

Operations by the security forces focus on sealing of borders to stop trans-border movement of militants and their supplies, establishment of a comprehensive counter terror grid in the hinterland, denial of population centers to militants securing military lines of communications with protection of vulnerable areas. The mere deployment of the security forces is a signal towards zero tolerance of violence and concerted tactical operations towards isolating and neutralizing the militants. At times the security forces have struck openly and hard against the militants to convey the determination of the government. However, such actions are perpetuated strictly in consonance with the laws of the land with full opportunity for the militants to surrender. Operations aim to induce support for civil governance within the ranks of the vast majority of fence sitters within the local population.

The use of intimidation and coercion by the militants is a recurring phenomenon and is taken advantage of by rogue and criminal elements – sometimes hand in glove with corrupt administration, politicians and police officials. The criminal-political- insurgent nexus is a live issue and calls for an understanding of the nuanced realities in Kashmir where COIN for some is now an industry, a means to coerce the system with the threat of resurgence of violence.

In the field, as any Indian Army company commander will testify, the drill of getting ready for a day or night in the Kashmir Valley starts with a weapon check and the quick final briefing. In between looking after the safety of his small team, a patrol leader also checks communications and works out contingencies and reinforcement plans for every foray into the Area of Responsibility (AOR). The ultimate desire of a junior leader is for a clean contact and ability to ensure fire discipline during contact. He also hopes for relative peace on the radio as he conducts the firefight ­- a situation not always guaranteed when headquarters at various levels get involved in micromanaging operations. The aim of neutralizing the militants by elimination or capture alone is not a measure of overall success of operations as the dangers of becoming a “strategic corporal” are clear and present in everyday actions. The officers today understand that factors such as generation of actionable intelligence, degree of groundswell of public support for civic projects and minimization of seditious media reports in the AOR all go towards crediting the establishment of governance by the state government’s institutions.

b) Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)

The ISAF operations in Afghanistan have undergone four stages of transition from the early phase of 2001 which ended in the December 2001 complete victory by the small Special Forces- CIA contingent and Army teams that dominated operations for the four months after September 12, 2001. The second stage of operations was from January 2002 with a modest footprint of 4000 troops that gradually grew to a 20000 strong force. Operations were sporadic and sometimes intense as the escalation that took place in 2006 (when as the bombs dropped steeply increased from a mere 82 in 2004 to 3500 in 2006) displayed. The U.S. tried to disengage from leadership in Afghanistan in December 2006 and operational command was assumed by NATO. This new stage saw no increase in troop levels but was characterized by a lack of effective command of operations with far too many hands on the steering wheel as remarked by Lieutenant General David W. Barno who once commanded the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan. It is likely that the commitments in Iraq had put a severe constraint on the facilities and troops available in this war. From early 2008 the U.S. assumed command of COIN with a gradual increase of force levels which led upto the surge of the summer of 2010 when the troop levels went to approximately 10000. Another consequence of the constant shift in command was gathering a unity of effort in operations and in the non- military sphere. The frequent changes of commanders as the military structure evolved unevenly and the different chains of command of the military commanders and civilian ambassadors - 10 military commanders and six ambassadors have changed in the 10 years of the operations – had adverse second and third level effects caused on operational effectiveness.[9]

Operations by the coalition forces against the Taliban can also be broadly classified into two distinct phases based on the type of operations being executed. Phase one of operations commenced with an air campaign on October 7, 2001 with massive air strikes against ground forces. The Taliban were organized as military units and deployed conventionally against the Northern alliance with tank and some artillery support. The air campaign supported later by special operations teams inserted on the ground caused serious attrition to the Taliban which was disposed in traditional fighting positions. The ground war saw the conventional superiority of the coalition forces overrun Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul in quick coordinated operations with the support of some Afghan tribes.

This conventional bias of an otherwise asymmetric organization led to its rout. The subsequent operations in the Tora Bora caves were a coordinated and concerted effort in which large casualties were suffered by the Taliban, however, a clear victory did not emerge and the Taliban switched to dispersed fighting and used the inhospitable terrain and porous border with Pakistan to melt away to fight another day. The Coalition also included the Pakistani army, which had a stake in the Taliban: here lay the clash of interest and probable cause for the “melting away” across the border to Pakistan.

Phase two of OEF confronted the coalition with a drastically altered operational setting with a diluted and dispersed Taliban forced to use the population due to their earlier disintegration. This was the actual COIN phase, after the swift conventional first phase. The destruction of the conventional structure of the Taliban did not achieve the goal of denial of sanctuary to Al-Qaida and its associates. The large and disproportionate build up of forces that were the source of earlier victories now inhibited the successful conduct of operations. The primary reliance on attrition also alienated the very target of operations – the Afghan people. The Taliban dispersed after phase one, and on the contrary the coalition began a build up and became larger and concentrated leading to protracted chains of command with resultant delays in tactical application of force.

The singular reliance on use of technology to gather intelligence produced limited results as compared to human intelligence, even while the Taliban had an advantage by being dispersed within the population. The limitations of standard communication equipment and air support in the mountains were another operational learning that led to modification and innovation during operations. The deployment of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) had limited success in the early days and faced opposition from aid agencies and NGOs working in the areas as it became difficult to differentiate between military operations and aid work thus inviting insurgent attacks on aid workers. The Taliban has avoided seeking contact and only chose contact on its own terms and in areas of choosing with dispersed combat and a networked organizational structure.

c) Pakistan Army and the War on Terror

The attacks of 9/11 caused Pakistan – which had officially recognized the Taliban - to quickly shift sides to supporting the U.S. Operations were initially undertaken by the FC along with regular army formations sent to the region and border-sealing operations were started. The army conducted operations from 2001 to 2010 in varying scales and has had mixed results in that they suffered casualties to ambushes and some soldiers surrendered.

Operations initially were more by inducting troops into tribal areas to dominate the area by sheer presence but the army suffered a series of losses and authorities signed deals with local militant leaders, which left militant groups in control. Control of operations was left to the Governor of FATA and the local superior military corps commander. Operation Sherdil (Lion Heart) in Bajaur in 2007 and Operation Rah-e- Haq (The True Path) in Malakand and Swat in 2008 were innovative in terms of learning COIN on the fly and gave the Pakistan Army initial learning and also led to some extreme application of principles when whole swathes of area were evacuated and cleared by reducing militant villages to rubble. The situation in FATA and erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) being under Taliban control after the army moved back into camps became unacceptable to the people of Pakistan. With the popular backing of the public, the army conducted Operation Rah-e-Rast (The Correct Path) in Swat with 52,000 troops and two wings of FC supported by special forces.[10]

The Pakistan army, with control primarily under the 11 Corps, is presently engaged in COIN operations in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The force with up to three divisions and police paramilitary and intelligence services are involved in operations along the Afghan border. The Frontier Corps, with a strength of 80,000, is now conducting the bulk of the fighting and the Special Services Group (SSG) – Pakistan’s special forces – are performing search and destroy missions against Al Qaida and other high value targets. The use of special forces in an analogous method like the U.S. of enemy-centric COIN, along with targeting of Taliban by drones, does clash with the people-centric attempts by the army and civil authorities in a renewed integrated deradicalization and disarmament program. Pakistan also faces the impact of the scaling down of jihad for Kashmir ordered by President Pervez Musharraf in 2002, which has led to the redistribution of the militants into domestic terror networks that now also threaten Pakistan domestically.

4. Innovation: Paramilitary Forces

In order to correct the entrenched bias of conventional army structures, both in terms of doctrine and operational traditions, South Asia has witnessed the emergence of several organizational innovations in COIN, notably the creation of specialized paramilitary or proto-military forces with the specific function of dealing with domestic threats, including insurgencies. Three cases stand out.

a) India: Rashtriya Rifles

The deployment in the vast regions of J&K required additional troops and the army increased the raising of its fledgling counterinsurgency force called the Rashtriya Rifles (RR). Rashtriya means “national” and conveyed the sense of a force created to bind the nation. The force was initially inducted in to operations in Punjab during the period of the Sikh militancy in the 1980s. The force comprised of soldiers from all arms and services and was trained and specially equipped to counter insurgencies. Battalions are organized to be able to operate independently or under intermediate coordinating headquarters and have a mix of weapons specially found to be effective and versatile for fighting in built up areas and close quarter engagements. The sub units again are self sufficient and deploy in a grid to gain domination of the AOR.

The original purpose of creating a new paramilitary force was to relieve the army of its counterinsurgency burden to enable it to concentrate on the more conventional border protection tasks. The Indian paramilitary forces are much larger than the army and are large police-based, not trained or armed well enough to tackle insurgencies. When it was finally established, the RR became a completely army-based force once formal approval was granted in 1990. The 60 plus battalions of the RR have marginally offset the army’s manpower commitment to counterinsurgency.[11] These battalions which were initially deployed to counter the insurgency in Punjab were effective due to their training, small logistical needs and area specific intelligence grids.

In Kashmir the RR battalions by virtue of being permanently committed to an affected area of insurgency in an effective counter insurgency grid have over the years provided valuable assistance in dominating the area and executing operations to supplement the COIN efforts of the army. The battalions have established themselves with a sound intelligence network and are the main stay of implementing the civic action programs in the battle to win hearts and minds.

b) Pakistan: Frontier Corps

In 2001, the Frontier Corps (FC) was deployed in the FATA region. The force was raised as a paramilitary force to be officered and staffed by the army. The force was organized along tribal groupings and based in the local tribal areas. The FC was poorly trained and inadequately equipped with antiquated weapons. The incentive to train and develop tactical acumen did not exist as the force conducted mainly policing and law and order duties and which was seen as lesser in status to the regular army in Pakistan.

The tribal militias in the area had connections with their Afghan relatives and provided shelter and hospitality as per local customs to them when the invasion of Afghanistan drove them and the Taliban and Al-Qaida cadres into the border areas. The FC at this stage had no COIN capability and was not of much help to the army when it rolled in to the area. The FC were by some accounts entrusted with the task of facilitating the cross border movement of the Taliban into safe tribal areas of Pakistan during the 1980s and took time to adjust to the reversal of its role to that of a border sealing force.

The slow rejuvenation of the FC involved measures to improve service conditions, send in and promote officers, and equip the force with requisite weapons for the task. In 2007, the FC conducted operations in the Bajaur Agency for nearly eight months and regained some local tribal support. U.S. assistance to the improved FC included training and basic equipment. Under a strong military leadership the FC in 2010 is credited with engaging the insurgents in the five agencies of Mohmand, Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur and Khyber.[12]

c) The Afghan National Army

In 2009 the reported strength of the Afghan National Army (ANA) was 80,00 and it is organized into five corps. Recruitment of the force with a balanced ethnic profile was initially a challenge as the Taliban paid locals more than the ISAF for service in their ranks. The gradual cohesion building within an ethnically diverse force and their training for combat roles is being achieved under the USFOR-A. The training with embedded training teams advising in four vital fields of communications, intelligence, fire support and infantry and logistic support is focused towards developing a soldier and NCO base. Equipping the ANA remains a concern and retention of equipment and accountability remain a challenge. The ANA is increasingly taking on a larger role in the conduct of operations with assistance from the U.S. and allies in Afghanistan. The deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has cited a positive instance of active and increased participation of the ANA in areas of Helmand where a deployment of two battalions of marines has been reduced to only one company deployed as the ability of the Afghan security forces to provide the same level of security has improved.

5. Support: Employing Air Power and Technology

A notable feature of the Indian approach to COIN is that air power has not been used to strike at militants. This seemingly unremarkable facet of the strategy seems to stand out in contrast to the almost standard and integral element used by the United States in Afghanistan and by Pakistan in their frontier COIN campaigns. U.S. forces rely intensively on the use of air strikes and the now ubiquitous drone strikes in operations against the Taliban, though with varied degrees of success and sometimes resulting in collateral damage that also damages the relationship with the Afghan population and the increasingly vocal government in Kabul.

In contrast, Indian COIN campaigns have been more calibrated, with an almost absolute restriction on use of heavy firepower such as artillery and air strikes. The ultimate aim of creating space for political negotiations and reconciliation dictate the elimination of any political obstacles such application of force could potentially cause. India’s reluctance regarding the use of excessive force stems from the early Naga insurgency, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru denied the army’s request to call in airpower support. The Indian Air Force has only been used in a support role for troop and logistic transportation and has not been eager to be involved in active COIN in the same logic of restraint that both the army has adopted. There have been instances in COIN in India, most recently in the case of the Naxalite insurgency, when popular opinion has actively called for this restraint, which often translated into asking the army to fight with one hand tied to its back. However, the army has overall accepted the political limits imposed on its operational alternatives.

The U.S., on the other hand, is faced with the reliance on technology for reasons of force protection, avoidance of casualties to ground troops by minimizing direct contact and to make up for a shortage of manpower on the ground. Compensation for manpower and local tactical intelligence by technology such as space-based reconnaissance, communications and air power, paradoxically further decreases the “fighting” element of the force and diverts manpower from ground operations. Manpower is thus consumed in large maintenance and logistic detachments for keeping the helicopters, drones and other equipments in action. The local enemy thus fights with minimal technology and abundant local tactical intelligence, which forces U.S. troops to face them with minimal intelligence and excessive reliance on technology to compensate for it, which, in turn, ironically reduces the size of combat contingents. In addition to the popular outrage against technical errors in targeting of innocents, and collateral damage in operations, the use of standoff weapons has tended to alienate the public from the military and make winning the hearts and minds so much more difficult.

6. Politics: The extra-military dimensions

a) India

In India, law and order is a “state” subject and is thus the responsibility of state governments. Their resources cater adequately for the normal crime and enforcement duties but fall short when faced with militant activities that challenge the state machinery. The central government assists the states in such cases and has paramilitary forces and counterterrorism forces, which are deployed in a graduated response. The success of COIN in democracies is demonstrated amply in the various instances in the Indian context where the democratic government has had political and popular support in its COIN efforts. The long term deployments of the armed forces in COIN is possible due to this consistent government policy emanating from this support  which provides for the people to have numerous channels of communication and to voice their opinions.

Experience has shown that the police forces do not have the capacity to deal with insurgencies due to inexperienced combat leadership in insurgency and lack of weapons and equipment. The proxy natures of conflicts in Kashmir and the Northeast, the use of sophisticated weapons and equipment by the militants and the sheer violence unleashed have necessitated the deployment of the army in large numbers. The army is normally assisted by state forces to combat insurgencies and the police, and paramilitary forces come under command of the army during operations. For example, the task of organizing a coordinating the political and military campaign by the army and intelligence agencies to support the COIN grid in Kashmir was crucial to obviate the effects of stove piping. The Kashmir Monitoring Group focused on strategy and policy at the national level to be followed in Kashmir and has had mixed results. The Unified Headquarters, meant to coordinate political and military efforts, were established in J&K based on the Northeastern experience to synergize operations. The learning curve in this undertaking was long and sometimes disjointed due to lack of understanding of the purpose of the instituted coordination mechanism.

The political – military chord has at times faced tests when politicians have felt that the army operated without political sensitivity. The army tends to hold the political and bureaucratic class responsible for the shortsighted politics and poor governance that give rise to discord and violence leading up to insurgencies. On the other hand, the government has been consistent through most of the insurgencies with a primarily political approach towards resolving insurgency and rebellions. The use of the military is limited and always in a supportive role, although the use has been frequent and in large numbers. An inherent understanding however, has prevailed in the political and military leadership that the solutions to the disputes were political in nature, with restoration of normalcy from violence as the primary military role. The state has been —to engage in political dialogue towards a resolution of the local demands, often even leading to creation of new states within the federal structure. A fairly large number of rebels have been accommodated and become regional political leaders. Some of the salient political parameters guiding Indian COIN operations are:

  • The integrity of the union is first and foremost and no breakup is acceptable.
  •  An anti-terror legislation and suitable laws to protect security forces is vital to the COIN effort.
  • Political interests and criminal-political nexus are a force to reckon with.
  • Control violence by joint COIN operations by the army, paramilitary and police.
  • Intelligence of actionable nature is vital for surgical operations against militants.
  • Respect for the religious and tribal sentiments of the local population and suitable psychological operations in advance of any intrusive operations to reduce alienation of the population.

Ideally, the regimentally motivated soldier prepared for conventional battle will have to be trained to carry out extremely delicate tasks with severe tactical restraint and light of these COIN imperatives above. Freedom to junior leaders is balanced against a conscious effort to curb the tendency to have too many tactical engagements as it meets the militant strategy of having a “sea of conflict”.

The need is for calculated and deft tactical, psychological and political level of sophistication in daily operations such as ambushes, searches and interrogation of hostiles, civilians and identified over- ground supporters of the militants. For example, it is the political and human dimensions of unconventional warfare that has required a different approach in Kashmir from that in the Northeastern states. The main effort has been the unification of all efforts under a unified command structure comprising the political, military, police and moderates parties. The security forces after stabilizing the situation provide the secure environment for the political authorities to provide governance.

b) The Politics of the Afghan War in America

President Obama’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan is unquestionable and demonstrated by his tripling the strength of combat forces. The current strategy in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghan government to prevent the territory from being used as a safe haven for terrorists. It is perceived that a reengineering of Afghanistan is being attempted with an impressive infrastructure construction effort. However, the expectation of the U.S. to settle for the main aim of prevention of terror is probably more pragmatic. The establishment of a permanent military base in Afghanistan to keep a check on the insurgency and to bring stability to Afghanistan is not a declared objective and the other projects being attempted within the COIN effort are in support of the main objective.

To avoid the risk of continued U.S. commitment, the political acceptability of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is a factor to be considered. Though moves towards negotiations with the “moderates” are being attempted through the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, its credibility will only be established when America seeks consensus within the country. To achieve a political consensus for a negotiated settlement at home is a major political step that the Administration will need to take in terms of giving the idea acceptability. The complex Afghan political structure and its traditional tribal loyalties and other complexities indicate that there has to be a settlement that may not be fully democratic in the way the Western world often wishes for. That such an arrangement may probably work in Afghanistan is not a certainty given the propensity of tribal affiliations to secure their parochial interest above that of the country. The effort to reach a loose political settlement by negotiating with the tribes is pragmatic and can be achieved by U.S. influence on the outcome and is also possible, at least now that the surge has brought factions closer to negotiations. The clear focus on employment of the military as a tool to further political settlements and thereby usher stability and peace demonstrates the strong link between the political authority and the military. The surge will likely lead to the creation a durable political order by use of military strategy to deal with the primary U.S. concern of denial of sanctuary to transnational threats.

On the other hand, the “civilian surge” in the wake of the military one has not materialized as anticipated. This undermines the Afghan government’s ability to take control of the situation and may lead to extension of America’s presence, which can cause drop in political support at home. The civilian surge was launched as part of an increased U.S. focus on building government and economic institutions at the provincial level. The present governance being provided by civil-military teams was to be dismantled in 80 priority districts but security concerns have restricted the movement of civilian advisors to districts away from Kabul. Delays have adversely affected the District Delivery Program, created to evaluate and staff local branches of government ministries. This delay in improving local governments in districts which the Taliban has targeted could impact the envisaged withdrawal of combat troops. Shortage of funds to those districts that have been evaluated has further exacerbated the existing shortage of capable civilian experts who can mentor Afghans in the field on basic civic tasks.

Civilian Casualties are one of the major causes for political discomfort. A report from the U.N.'s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed a rise in number of Afghan civilian deaths to insurgent actions such as IEDs and even assassination, and a decrease in deaths due to less collateral damage from ISAF actions.[13] Despite the fact that insurgents are responsible for an increase in killings, civilian casualties from coalition operations are a major source of strain in the already difficult relationship between President Hamid Karzai's government and the United States, and they generate widespread outrage among the population. The political dimensions of COIN seem to show, at least in this case, the complex relationship between the military, local government and the governments of foreign countries involved in restoration efforts.

Support of NATO partners is another consideration that vexes planners and decision makers in Washington. The U.S. feels that the partners are more focused on relocation and withdrawal of troops rather than on what needs to be done for the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan. The transition to ANA from the ISAF is a matter of coordination between nations and the Afghan government and disjointed withdrawals have potential to cede security gains made to individual national politics of partner countries.

c) Pakistan’s political inaction

Political involvement in Pakistan has been either nonexistent or reluctant at best; not surprising considering that the military has ruled the country for more than fifty years. The lack of political interest in FATA stems from the days of British rule and creation of a buffer zone. The entire region was left to operate under tribal laws and no political party operated there. The area was often governed remotely by civil servants or political agents. The occasional unrest by the tribes against the civil government were met with government handouts to tribal leaders and led to rampant corruption and nepotism.

The sudden influx of the army into the area after 2001 saw the tribal leaders and local civil representatives relegated to the background of the operations in the areas. The army which was used to being in control did not consult and fortify itself with knowledge to leverage local affiliations and underestimated the ability of the tribal militia to fight on home turf. The resulting reverses suffered by the army led to it signing deals with local militants without consulting tribal elders and civil administrators. This further reduced the sway of these representatives of civil rule. This absence of a total coordinated approach with involvement of the local population and civil administration was clearly perceptible and led to ineffective outcomes of early COIN operations by the army in Malakand, Swat and North Waziristan up to as late as 2008.

The political configuration of governance of FATA and the border areas was radically altered by Al Qaida and the Taliban. They eliminated the local elected leaders (maliks) and replaced the consultative body (jirga) with councils (shura) that had no appeal process and garnered local support in the name of a holy war against foreigners. A slow regaining of the faith of local leaders and tribal elders was initiated during the Bajaur operations by the military. The army tried to build national consensus towards COIN but collaboration between the political class, and more recently the civil government, and the military was inadequate despite a perceptible connection between COIN and counterterrorism operations. The spate of terror attacks in Pakistan in 2009 reflected the lack of serious civil – military interaction so badly needed to promulgate new laws for protection of the population. The Taliban’s declaration of the constitution of the country as un-Islamic and its insistence on providing shelter to the Al Qaida leadership has served as a catalyst for a political consensus building process that has since then brought religious moderates on board for further COIN efforts.

7. Reconstruction: Winning hearts and minds

a) Indian Army’s Operation Sadhbhavana

Operation Sadhbhavana (“goodwill”) was initiated in 1998 in Jammu and Kashmir, when the army launched its civic action program. This initiative illustrates how the Indian Army has innovated from its conventional war fighting bias to a more nuanced approach which is people–centric. The fundamental principles of use of minimum force and the people as a centre of gravity have evolved into the conduct of welfare-oriented army projects. Guided by the objectives to win hearts and minds, the army focused on three major activities: elections, revival of tourism and countering of subversive propaganda. The army, on its watch has overseen the conduct of two elections and provided a stable and safe atmosphere conducive to development.  It was in the third action of countering militant propaganda that the projects to integrate the population were initiated by the army and were immensely well received. The main focus of such actions is “to help people to help themselves”. The initiative, was conceptualized as one of the lines of operation as part of the overall counterinsurgency strategy. It was aimed at achieving the two goals of wresting the initiative from the terrorists and to reintegrate the population into the national mainstream.

A set of guiding principles dictates the selection and execution of projects under Sadhbavana. These are:

  • Projects must must be based on popular demand to have a high impact
  • Planning must be centralised and execution decentralised
  • Projects must be iniated mainly at the village level
  • Projects must be aimed at self empowerment of people
  • Projects must be sustainable
  • Integration of civic activities with state administration and community development plans

The role of the government in the reestablishment of governance is seen as the most difficult one. Ideally, the civilian local administration and the state government should initiate activities in the cleared areas under the watch of the security forces. There is a perceptible reluctance of government workers to return to disturbed areas where militant actions and harassment, extortion by the local mafia on trucks and other means of transportation are serious deterrents. This, however, is sometimes used by the administration as an excuse to cover up for lack of institutional capacity of the state machinery and to prolong employment of the military. This problem is usually solved by urging the Army to take on the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation. The simplicity of the solution and the political expediency in exercising of the chain of command of the Unified HQ is so tempting and usually the preferred choice of the civil administration. Such extension of the army from basic Sadhbhavna tasks to full-fledged reconstruction activities along with security to the movement of reconstruction material leads to a dilution of the pure military role of the army and morphs into an onerous responsibility for the local unit or formation commander.

The Indian Army is now emphasizing the theme “My heart is my weapon”. 2011 has been declared as the year of education, health and economic progress, objectives that are forwarded as the hallmarks of a return to normalcy. While it may be premature to point towards tangible successes, the Awam (people) – Jawan (soldier) cooperation has been given a positive momentum by the army with its latest campaign of Awam aur Jawan – Aman hai Muqam (“people and the soldier strive for peace together”). Measures include a revision of convoy size and timings, with an aim to have minimum disturbance to the civilian population. At the same time, a whole new approach to being effective and dominating the disturbed areas without displaying aggressive intent is being attempted with education on more nuanced behavior towards women, the elderly, children and the normal civilian. The change of attitude is what is most important to achieve to win the battle of “hearts and minds”. The sudden transition to an attitude in COIN is one of the aims of the various counterinsurgency schools that orient newly inducted battalions and turned-over troops to nuances of the “velvet glove on the iron fist”.

b) Afghanistan and the Success of the PRTs

The effort put into “The three Rs” (Regain-Rebuild-Resolve) by PRTs in Afghanistan is now looked upon as a key to the ISAF strategy. The 26 PRTs are involved in extending the central government’s authority throughout the country by providing area security and supporting reconstruction and development activities of all agencies. Some of the teams consist of military and civilian members from a single ISAF country and some are multinational. A wide variety of projects such as rebuilding of schools, irrigation schemes with pipelines, wells and reservoirs are being undertaken alongside reconstruction of infrastructure like bridges and roads and medical attention to the locals.

The money and strength of the U.S. is driving a hearts and minds campaign in the showpiece town of Marja in Helmand province of Afghanistan. The program of development of roads, street lighting and goodies such as grants and enrollment of able-bodied men into defense militias is at work in the district. The setting up of Interim Security for Critical Infrastructure (ISCI) teams by the U.S. army formed of local fighters from the region as a militia is both a means of security as it is of empowerment and thus winning the hearts of the locals by the largesse of cash and goodies. This build up of local forces is not going down well with the government in Kabul, which fears a slippage into warlordism. The lavish effort to create local governance and security is likely to face the wrath of the Taliban in the summer when the fighting is expected to erupt.

The creation of an organization from within the locals is seen by the U.S. as a turnabout and a step towards establishment of some sort of formal governance by the locals – an essential prerequisite for the withdrawal of U.S. forces eventually. The fear of retribution by the Taliban is slowly eroding away and more volunteers are forthcoming in this effort. The conduct of elections in September 2010 is considered as the turning point by many when the Afghan army and police forces put together a plan to defend the polling stations. The hope of putting up more schools and electricity also drives the local support, which sees cooperation with the Marines as mutually beneficial. The next step is forming a bond with the government of the country, which is not a common historical given in Afghanistan.

c) Pakistan Army: Hold and build

The Swat operations have brought a realization to the Pakistan military that population support and their protection and development are primary to achieve the de-radicalization of the youth and locals. As soon as operations to clear the Taliban reached culmination the operation to win the populations support commenced. The first steps were the relocation of the locals and rebuilding and reconstruction by army teams without reliance on the provincial government or the almost defunct bureaucracy. Projects that rebuilt or created schools, restored damaged mosques, conducted forestation and repair to private homes damaged in the army operations have been successfully received. Restoration of infrastructure such as roads and bridges very critical for communication and movement of the population have had a positive impact as well as new medical camps and supplies. The training of local youth for employment opportunities has been done in an attempt to win back the youth. The army has also been involved in training of community police and the enrollment of police officers in Malakand and Swat.

In the operations in Bajaur in 2008, the first attempts to garner local support albeit for operational gains were attempted. The local tribal leaders and tribal militias were co-opted to divide the pro-Taliban and pro-government elements. The strategy was used to further success in 2009, in Swat, when the population protection approach was adopted by patrolling and supporting local militias to identify radical Taliban who refused to reconcile. The economic condition of the locals was assessed to be reliant on tourism that was nonexistent since the war. With more than half the population between the ages of 18 and 24, the only and probably best paymaster was the Taliban that paid youth to kill the foreigners – and the Pakistani army was considered foreign to this areas. This led to assessments of the local projects to develop the area’s infrastructure and provide jobs to locals at the same time. The army has spent almost 515 million rupees (approximately US$ 12 million) in such efforts.[14]

8. Reconciliation: Peace as a Process

a) J&K: The need for Reconciliation

The present situation in J&K is one in which insurgency related violence and terror has noticed a steady drop since it first began two decades ago. The history of the rise of militancy can be traced to the 90s when the army was deployed to curb the rising violence in the state. By the mid nineties the army had seized the initiative from the militants and established a COIN grid in tiers within the state to both check infiltration across the LOC and also to ensure dominance in the rest of the state. A second cycle of rise in militancy was noticed after the Kargil invasion by Pakistan and the military operations thereafter to evict the intruders. The COIN grid was disrupted and militants took advantage by upping the ante to fedeyeen attacks. It took up to 2003 for the army to regain dominance and in 2003 a ceasefire was declared which allowed the completion of the border fence project along the line of the LOC. The effective border management posture and the establishment of two tiers of COIN grid by the army has drastically brought down militancy and violence to a state of near normalcy. The army has enabled conduct of two elections in which the voter turnout was a stunning revelation of the population’s desire for peace and the denouncement of terror and violence. Over the present decade a sound political strategy of keeping a humane approach to the concerns of the population has resulted in a juncture where the state government has functioned to provide governance and development.

A growing recognition in India that the control of insurgency is not an event but rather a process has produced a policy which is an amalgam of use of the military, respect for human rights of the population and effective governance by an elected government. The government of India has announced an eight point plan to go about the process of resolving tensions that erupted in late 2010. The plan envisages the appointment of a interlocutor for negotiations between various groups and release of a majority of demonstrators especially students. The imposing military presence and visible bunkers of security personnel in the cities and towns are to be redeployed in an effort to achieve a semblance of normalcy.  The list of government declared disturbed areas is being reviewed with a view to reduce the influence of the AFSPA – a long standing demand of the protestors. The measures aim at assuaging the prevalent feelings of a heavy handed COIN strategy applied by the central government. A combination of giving a voice to the population and control of violence by the security forces is expected to give peace a chance in the embattled state.

b) Outlook in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The summer of 2011 in Afghanistan presents a changed landscape both to the insurgents and the ISAF. A concerted campaign of elimination of the local support bases of the Taliban has put into place local bodies of governance and defense comprised of Afghan officials and tribal defense groups. The operations by special forces and local contingents to eliminate supporters of the Taliban have reduced effective areas where the Taliban returning in the summer can expect sustenance. The level of violence has usually dipped in the winters but a Taliban resurgence in the spring is likely to be aimed at taking back former strongholds, particularly the areas where the insurgents raised money through opium trafficking. It is expected that the Taliban will mount a spring campaign to regain ground lost to U.S. troops last year and use suicide bombing teams to strike at those associated with the Afghan government or coalition forces. In the erstwhile insurgent strongholds in the south and east, it is believed that the operations in the past have now made troops better positioned than they were last year to fend off the insurgency, now that they have 70,000 new Afghan forces and have seized control of some Taliban sanctuaries.

Safe havens in Pakistan protect the Taliban leadership and allow its ranks to regenerate and the return by the Taliban has been stronger after the winter rest with greater reach and newer tactics. The expected tactic of choice this time is assassination of local leaders and attacking soft targets. The precursor of this strategy can be seen in the recent suicide bombings targeting public places, banks and hotels. Rampant government corruption and frustration of the people with the presence of foreign forces could undermine public support. There is a growing realization amongst the military leadership in Afghanistan that the insurgency can never be totally eliminated.  The need for building strong support for the Afghan people to increase their participation in their own governance has set a goal to provide a level of security that would allow Afghans to resume their normal lives.

While it is in Afghanistan where the U.S. and the coalition are engaged in COIN, it is however more important for a stable South Asia that COIN succeeds in Pakistan. COIN in Pakistan is handicapped and military successes are wasted by the absence of a strong civil government. There are parties in Pakistan who look upon U.S. financial and military support in the region as a handy leverage to exert in return for Pakistan’s commitment to COIN. The anti-India position of Pakistan manifests itself in the equation in Afghanistan, a country which Pakistan sees as providing strategic depth to its interests. Despite Pakistan’s COIN campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaida within the country it needs to reorient its strategic calculus. The U.S. effort in Afghanistan toward the establishment of a stable Afghan government that can neutralize the terror groups presently backed from across the border in Pakistan can facilitate that reorientation.

The U.S. success in Afghanistan is likely to be a turning point in the present conundrum of Pakistan and terrorism. As of now, the growing instability in Pakistan, its connections to terror groups through the ISI and the military and existence of safe havens are challenges acknowledged by U.S. Pentagon  planners and policy makers alike. The terrorists groups operating from Pakistan are a cause of serious concern. ISAF forces can counter them in Afghanistan; but to handle them in Pakistan, especially after the limitations that Islamabad imposes on operations on Pakistani soil, the U.S. will have to rely on Pakistan. The U.S. will need to build an effective partnership that advances both U.S. and Pakistani interests, while also demonstrating that it remains a strong supporter of their security and prosperity over the long term – a fear not without precedent in Pakistan. It is only when the denial of safe havens to terror groups is made a central aligning factor of U.S. and Pakistani relations that a long term relationship can emerge and bring tranquility to the region.

Conclusion: Lessons from South Asia

The learning curve is almost invariably flat when armies first get involved in COIN operations. The proverbial “reinventing the wheel” seems to occur with unfailing regularity - one COIN experience may bring lessons to the fore, but these hard-won lessons are then abandoned and have to be relearned subsequently. As exemplified in the case of South Asia, militaries of most countries tend to develop a conventional bias based on their organization and evolution, which obfuscates lessons learnt from dealing with earlier insurgencies. This lack of “COIN memory” is a major obstacle, especially in a region so diverse as South Asia, in which insurgencies have proliferated. Training and preparation for COIN at all levels will help coordinate an integrated approach. But even more urgent is the institutionalization of the “lessons learned” at the political, military and administrative levels of COIN. What follows are some of the main imperatives to a successful COIN strategy, at least as reflected in the common thread of the three approaches analyzed in this paper.

First, the overall benefits of integrating political and military strategies to gain maximum impact amplifies the need for involvement of local political governments to allow COIN to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the population. As a corollary, to give credit to the local government for success in initiatives reduces the militants’ seditious propaganda effect. In Afghanistan, as in Pakistan and India, the essential emergence of a strong civilian government will erode the fear of the insurgents and deny them sanctuary. The Indian experience is particularly relevant, in that it focuses on the restoration of the credibility of local administration and on winning over the support of the population. The development of under-governed and remote areas is thus the turning point in COIN and it is this – not superior manpower and technology – that defeats insurgents.

Second, democracies do seem able to guarantee better popular support in a tough war. The support the Indian Government gets due to its political legitimacy, despite serious mishandling in some instances, is longstanding proof of this. In Pakistan, the COIN campaigns during the autocratic military rule of Musharraf did not get as much backing of the people and even by some sections of the army. On the other, hand the democratic government of Asif Ali Zardari earned the wholehearted backing of the people during the 2009 operations in Swat and Malakand. The U.S. effort to bestow credit on Hamid Karzai for increased governance and its handing over of control to the Afghan Army and Police also relies on the primacy of democratic government.

Third, COIN in a foreign country is far more difficult and drains resources exponentially as compared to operations within the borders of the nation. The wide political support for the army within its own country when it is engaged in COIN makes the effort easier in terms of achieving restoration and governance. The Indian experience of not losing in COIN within its boundaries, contrasting with its negative experience abroad in Sri Lanka, proves this. In contrast, the U.S, and also to an extent Pakistan at the beginning of its campaign, were in conditions more likely to be seen as occupation forces and against the will of people of differing ethnic, political and cultural backgrounds. Here lies the relevance of building local forces by training, developing interoperability and ultimately transferring responsibilities to them.

Fourth, intelligence is paramount in COIN operations as it helps avoid wasteful deployment of scarce resources and destroys the insurgent’s local tactical advantage. At the strategic level the awareness of alliances and linkages between socially networked insurgent and terror groups allows for preemption in planning operations and to achieve disintegration amongst insurgent groups to benefit towards a negotiated settlement.

Fifth, given that insurgents and separatists rely primarily on external sources and actors for strength, resources, training and intelligence, COIN needs to have an enlarged scope of action that transcends territorial borders. The case of Pakistan’s influence in Punjab in India, Chinese support to the insurgencies in the Northeastern states of India, the Taliban in FATA and Afghanistan, are examples of external players’ influence in already complex situations. Any successful COIN campaign has to cut off such external support.

Sixth, the creation of specialist COIN forces does help in keeping COIN knowledge current and relevant to new operational contexts, however different. The Rashtriya Rifles in India have been effectively deployed in COIN in Kashmir for nearly two decades and, despite its internal rotation of troops, retention of institutional knowledge has been tremendous. The Pakistani experience with the FC was initially poor but over constant engagement the FC is now in the forefront of operations. The U.S. rotation every nine months makes relearning COIN much more challenging to the newly arrived troops.

In conclusion, the comparison of COIN in South Asia suggests that devising a one-solution-fits-all-problems approach has not worked in the three cases. The case of Iraq for the U.S., the differences between Kashmir and the Northeastern insurgencies in India, and the contingent and deal-oriented COIN in Pakistan, all gave rise to important lessons learnt at extremely high costs over repeated deployment. The governments involved have also applied an integrated approach in fits and starts thus taking a “sometimes-on, sometimes-off” perspective that confused and diverted the COIN effort at the military level. The conventional armies have reconciled to the political nature of COIN and increased their political flexibility in seeking solutions to tackle insurgency. The Indian success to defeat insurgencies by conduct of elections and transfer of governance to local actors is being confirmed by the U.S. persistence in dealing with the democratic government in Afghanistan in order to reconstruct and restore civilian control over the country.

[1] Maj-Gen. (retd) Dipankar Banerjee, ‘The Indian Army’s counter insurgency doctrine‘ in India and Counter Insurgency, Sumit Ganguly and David P Fidler (eds.); Routledge, 2009; p. 190.

[2] David P. Fidler, ‘The Indian Doctrine for Sub-conventional Operations’, in India and Counter Insurgency, Sumit Ganguly and David P. Fidler (eds.); Routledge, 2009; p. 211.

[3] Zambernardi, Lorenzo, "Counterinsurgency's Impossible Trilemma", The Washington Quarterly, 33:3, July 2010, pp. 21-34

[4] Bernard I Finel, ‘ Planning a Military Campaign to Support Negotiations in Afghanistan’,, October 2010

[5] Shuja Nawaz, ‘Learning by Doing-The Pakistan Army’s Experience with Counterinsurgency’, Atlantic Council, February 2011, p-7.

[6] Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, ‘Lions and Jackals-Pakistan’s Emerging Counterinsurgency Strategy’, Foreign Affairs, July 15, 2009.

[7] Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, ‘Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies’, JSOU Report 09-9, December 2009, U.S. Joint Special Operations University,

[8]  George Friedman , ‘Never Fight a Land War in Asia’,   URL:

[9] Lieutenant General David W. Barno, ‘Fighting the Other War – Counter Insurgency Strategy in Afghanistan 2003- 2005’, Military Review- September-October 2007.

[10] Shuja Nawaz, ‘Learning by Doing-The Pakistan Army’s Experience with Counterinsurgency’, Atlantic Council, February 2011, p 9-12.

[11] Rajesh Rajagopalan, ‘Insurgency and counterinsurgency’,

[12] Shuja Nawaz, ‘Learning by Doing-The Pakistan Army’s Experience with Counterinsurgency’, Atlantic Council, February 2011, p- 13.

[13] Ernesto Londono, ‘U.N. alarmed by surge in civilian casualties in Afghanistan’, Washington Post, 9 March 2011.

[14] Shuja Nawaz, ‘Learning by Doing- the Pakistan army’s Experience with Counterinsurgency’ , Atlantic Council, p. 12.

The views and opinions expressed herein are purely those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Indian Army or any other organization.

The Research for the paper was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Stephen P. Cohen, Brookings Institution who mentored the author and provided valuable insights and suggestions. A draft version was also discussed by a panel during an event hosted in May 2011 by the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. Thanks to Constantino Xavier of Brookings institution who painstakingly edited the work.  The author also wishes to thank Lieutenant General (ret.) David Barno for his invaluable inputs of the ISAF experiences in Afghanistan. A special thanks to Peter Singer who sponsored the event.

About the Author(s)

Brigadier General Amrit Pal Singh is a serving Indian military officer pursuing an Executive Masters degree in Intelligence Analysis at the University of Maryland. His wide-ranging 30-year long service in the Indian Army included responsibilities as a peacekeeper with the United Nations in Liberia and as a director in the Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, New Delhi. He has been awarded two Masters degrees, one in Political Science from Osmania University, Hyderabad, and another one in Defense and Strategic Studies from The University of Madras, Chennai. He has published insights and comments in various defense and security journals.



Sun, 09/25/2011 - 12:30pm

This is an excellent article and could be used by US COIN instructors, in the COIN Operations Module to add clarity, comparison and contrast to the various nuances, not just semantics, to the different nuances of the operations. This article is extremely comprehensive and offers many lessons learned. Thank you!

Sir,my one comment is that it is a "Western" impression that when the Military Leadership was fired and replaced in Sri Lanka in 2006, and the Sri-Lankan Administration adopted the new COIN Principle of the, "Go-to-Hell" Principle, that after 30 years of insurgency, the Tigers were defeated in 2010.

What is your opinion on this?


Sat, 09/24/2011 - 9:24am

This article is extremely comprehensive and there is so much information covered. Thank you for taking the great amount of time to produce this for us all to understand things better.

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