• 22 April, 2024
Geopolitics & National Security
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MILITARY IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN : HOW FAR SHOULD WE GO IN OUR TRANSPARENCY ?

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd) Fri, 23 Feb 2024   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

Some good and professional sounding analyses on the Indian Army’s organization and capability have recently found their way into the public domain; one could also consider some of these a little too professionally done, with obvious military advice of course. They are transparent and reveal the order of battle, areas of responsibility and broad areas of deployment. I am referring specifically to the recent excellent explanation about the conversion of Headquarters (HQ) Uttar Bharat Area at Bareilly to a HQ of an operational Corps. While appreciating the effort to garner credible explanations for the move and understand the strategic significance of the ‘Middle Sector’ there is the troubling question of putting out all such information in the public domain as transparently as has been done. Some of us remain ‘old world’ in thinking but yet not sufficiently dated to be able not to appreciate the implications of revealing so much. Although one must not be judgmental on this because many things are changing in the fast-transforming world of the Indian military, a healthy debate is always in order. Many argue that all the information used in this educative episode is already well known to adversaries. We tend to agree. However, anyone who has worked in any intelligence set up will tell you that just like in our case the adversary’s organizations responsible to monitor us would keep our order of battle under a question mark at most times until we ourselves give more confirmatory and definitive indicators which can be taken as assured information and processed to higher grade intelligence. The putting out of such information by a reputed source is like confirming a piece of information. Let alone the order of battle (orbat as it’s called), the rationale behind it, obviously picked from a credible military mind, tends to help the processing of information into intelligence. The explanation may conform to the appreciation of the adversary and actually enhance his confidence and even reveal the line of thinking of our senior commanders or even the government.

How much information to deny and how much should be allowed to flow freely can never be expressed in black and white terms; it will always remain in the grey zone. The finer understanding is arrived at with each piece of information. There is an irrational rationale in place which seems to claim that what the adversary already knows need not be kept under wraps. I counter that by stating that we need not act as the confirmatory agents for the adversary. If there is an information revolution underway and situational awareness is of a higher order because of the penetration of what once were iron curtains, the counters to that too are available. Traditionally the Indian Armed Forces frowned upon any public discourse on matters military particularly when it came to intelligence and all aspects of operational and tactical planning. In fact, till 2002, when Operation Parakram got underway against Pakistan after the 13/12 terrorist attack on Parliament, mention of the ‘O’ word, as it was called, was anathema and even sacrilege. The ‘O’ word meant ‘offensive operations’ which were never to be discussed and at almost all times treated on a need-to-know basis. Even operational discussions rarely included these; they were mostly limited to defensive operations. Operation Parakram changed things in quite a revolutionary way just like the Surgical Strikes of 2016 and the Balakot air strike 2019 changed the way India handled response to ‘over the top’ proxy war activities of Pakistan. Post Parakram India’s basic concept shifted from ‘response-based strategy’ to ‘pro-active strategy’ loosely termed by many as ‘Cold War Strategy’. Offensive operations started to become a way of life. All settings for operational discussions changed from defensive to offensive. The famous ‘K’ word which denoted the day of counter offensive after stabilization, was then replaced completely by ‘D’ , as related to ‘I’ Day (or the day of the incident which triggers immediate response); D Day was the day for the offensive to be launched after the incident, if any. Yet no one wrote on this transparently, no one discussed it publicly either. All discussion on the so-called Cold Start Strategy was dispelled by a denial that no such thing existed in our lexicon and Proactive Strategy was yet in the making and therefore not worth discussing.

Two things seem to have changed the concept of keeping all such information away from the public domain. First the social media revolution which has made it extremely difficult to determine how much to place for public consumption and what to hold back. Second, is a sudden rise of interest in matters military among the public. We in the Indian military often rue the lack of strategic culture in India and the absence of any public interest in matters of national security. With the transforming change knowledge on geopolitics is fine but on the thus far classified domains none can be certain. The argument that various eyes in the sky and the advent of drone technologies have rendered holding back information almost redundant, is viciously short sighted and devoid of the correct rationale. There are national deception plans based upon the identity of large military formations and information from the skies rarely gets an adversary confirmation of identifications. Giving these on a platter by first explaining rationale of deployment and then the intricacies of command and control, simply contributes to creating the picture that adversary intelligence organizations seek to create.

The concept of intelligence gathering, and assessment has always been about collecting small pieces of information, piecing those together with fresh bits and synthesizing them with some other existing information to enable an analysis and arrive at deductions which could be considered as a holistic picture. The same principle applies to counterintelligence; prevent whatever bits and pieces of information can be stopped from reaching the adversary such that a cogent picture of confirmatory proportions is always denied. Going by this logic, parting with any information on orbat, identification of deployment of formations, operational roles, personality cards of senior commanders and the like, should invariably remain areas of denial such that the adversary is made to strive for these and make major mistakes in his piecing together the jigsaw that intelligence organizations always seek to create.

This is an issue always open to debate and there is no last word on it. What has transpired on Indian social media about the newly raised HQ 18 Corps is no great act of misdemeanor. However, if this be ignored, we are going to soon find operational discussions of military plans on YouTube. We only need to take a call and issue cautionaries to avoid such transparency but must continue educating the public on matters military, with a discretionary approach.


Author
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM* former Commander of Indian Army’s Srinagar Corps, focuses on trans-national and internal conflicts in Asia and the Middle East with particular emphasis on issues revolving around radical Islam.  He is the Chancellor of Central University of Kashmir and speaks extensively at Indian and international institutions on a wide variety of subjects revolving around strategic affairs and leadership. He is presently a Member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

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