COMMENT: Post-modern conflict —Shahzad Chaudhry - Monday, March 28, 2011

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COMMENT: Post-modern conflict —Shahzad Chaudhry
When we have a restructured military, we will have a relevant military. A relevant military will have the right emphasis on preparedness for the relevant targets, not to fight the war of the mid-20th century. This might spare us resources to provision the essentials of socio-economic survival with greater relevance to the global trends

In this penultimate article seeking to define conflict in the here and now world — which I term as the post-modern world — and establish whether states, especially Pakistan and India where post-modern conflict is pervasive, are equipped and even more importantly conscious of the need to retool mental dispositions to the new war. As I stated in my previous two articles (Daily Times, ‘States and conflict’, March 14, 2011 and ‘Conflict in the modern era’, March 21, 2011) unfortunately both states slip badly on the matrix of both awareness and readiness to re-equip on different lines even for the neo-modern conflict, rather be prepared to change course for a post-modern conflict. Such entrenched structures, ways of war and the resulting mindset makes it impossible for them to move away from the traditional conception of both threat and war. Their structures then push them back in time forcing them to view both the threat and war within traditional paradigms, leading to familiar patterns of employment and hence entrenchment in the resident mould of perceiving each other the enemy. Preparation and additions to the way of fighting the traditional enemy thus continue unabated with the newer threats — the post-modern threats — merrily slipping into the threat-matrix unattended and unchallenged. The cycle continues.

9/11 posted the arrival of the non-traditional threat. Not that there had not been insurgencies before, but to give terrorism a philosophy of existence, mechanisms of functioning and the operative methodologies far different than the previously known independence struggles, or revolutions within states, meant that there were entities that were ready to operate in all domains of parallel functioning to the heretofore known states system. These had ideological planks, territorial aspirations seeking bases for both existence and development, and disciplined armies which, despite remaining amorphous, brought together effects that challenged a state and its organs. The effects of such engagement remain extremely hazardous to any state; the state’s credibility in the eyes of its subjects becomes the first casualty; a state’s inability to either restrain or effectively identify and then neutralise such agents of destruction becomes almost impossible because of their shadowy existence and patterns of functioning. A state gradually loses both its writ as well as physical ground and hence bolsters the success of such a group, giving it hope and promise. People can perceive a winner, and driven by the simple dynamic of survival, tend to side with the victor. An innate decay whittles away the structures and institutions of existence and eats into the state’s foundations. That defines the vulnerability in crass terms of a post-modern conflict. Keep in mind the inter-state conflict in its neo-modern variation continues to slip along still very much as a possibility borne out of the traditional pattern of conflict between states seeking competitive interests, especially if those have not been mitigated by any smart diplomacy to seek the most important liberty of action to focus on the more threatening and toxic post-modern concoctions.

Consider the ongoing war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s FATA region. After having conceded FATA to the local contraption of the Taliban and their Afghan and al Qaeda cohorts, it is taking countless lives and resources to wrest the ceded space back; US/NATO troops have conveniently coined the need to secure the cities as a strategic measure but essentially remain driven to conserve resources and manpower, in turn handing over the remaining 70 percent of the uncontrolled Afghan territory to the Taliban. This despite the American forces being relatively more specialised in combating the grey adversary. What has been conceded is unlikely to be ever won back simply because the US/NATO conglomerate is now receding off the Afghanistan scene.

Compare India, equally vacillating in capacity and incongruence of both doctrine and structures to take on what rages as a live and unravelling insurgency in its eastern and north-eastern states — a post-modern conflict. Hear the Indian military leadership making tall claims of a capability-based force structure and counting China as its primary threat; for added pleasure they will renounce Pakistan as an irritant but an insignificant threat. And yet, their existent structures and future force development plans have none but Pakistan in their sight. What would for example the $ 10-15 billion induction of the 126 fighter aircraft serve to achieve? The SU-37s may have made better sense with their range and payload to cause offence to China, but the F-16/18 or a compatible induction will serve its role in India’s western sector. The Indian army is loaded onto the Pakistani border with heavy tank and infantry components, its mechanised column are unlikely ever to scale through the northern Himalayan ranges to mount a threat to China, ditto their tank and infantry complexes. Any innovation still centres on Pakistan whether it is Cold Start or otherwise. What can such mindset advise its political masters except what remains anchored in their known zones of comfort — read that as the familiar territory of Indo-Pak conflict and hence their mutual enemy status for each other, making it impossible for the political masters to even consider a new paradigm.

What will it take to change the legacy mindsets of military establishments on both sides? Consider: there are three constituencies of enemy ‘mindset’ on both sides. These are the military establishments that we need to push to change their anchored thinking; there are the political and bureaucratic establishments that follow what the militaries on both sides enunciate as their primary foci, and calibrate their security and foreign policies to that end; and finally, there are the people who can potentially be more objective since they remain removed from any closed-loop effort of both establishments against fed conceptions and therefore more likely to break the logjam of entrenched thinking, but in a greater paradox are also susceptible to what gets thrown at them as political hubris reflected in the media, reinforcing the net paradigm of enmity. Since the people are the most dependent of the three constituencies, it may be possible to influence them through frequent interaction through mutual visits, media exposure, cultural and academic interaction to determine their own basis of judgement. It is likely that they will find much greater similarity in common challenges and opportunities rather than what gets fed to them in what divides them. If somehow the people swell can change the mindset, the first to follow will be the political establishment most sensitive to public opinion, and under more benign operating conditions amenable to respond to their own call of conscience. If two of these constituencies of enmity can change, the third will have no option but to follow suit.

Wishful? Worth a try, especially when what we have needs to be desperately altered to the needs of a 21st century military force in each of the two countries, and especially when it is critical for them to take the other off their respective gun sights. When we have a restructured military, we will have a relevant military. A relevant military will have the right emphasis on preparedness for the relevant targets, not to fight the war of the mid-20th century. This might spare us resources to provision the essentials of socio-economic survival with greater relevance to the global trends. Clausewitz will still be important but we will need to read him differently.

The writer is a defence and political analyst

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