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November 2011: Limited Wars in South Asia – Against a Nuclear Backdrop

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As a part of its second anniversary celebrations, the DSA magazine organised a seminar on the theme “Limited Wars in South Asia”. The seminar was held on the 4th of November 2011 at the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi. A highlight of the function was the presence of three former Service chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, each of whom had contributed in a significant way to this genre of war. General Malik and Admiral Sushil Kumar had been Chiefs of the army and navy during the Kargil war. Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major had been the Air Chief at the time of Mumbai 26/11. There was Air Cmde Jasjit Singh who is regarded as the chief theorist on limited war in India. A most interesting and insightful civilian perspective was provided by Dr Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary. General Malik and Admiral Sushil Kumar highlighted interesting accounts of their experiences at the helm of decision making during Op Vijay. Admiral Sushil Kumar highlighted how he had received the political instructions for Op Parakram in 2001. And his reactions thereto. Op Parakram, he felt had been a huge and punishing mistake. A large contingent of serving and retired service officers, members of Delhi’s think tank community were there in strength to participate in these exciting deliberations to chart out response options and viable escalation ladders in response to mass casualty asymmetric provocations by our adversaries. The issue of a Limited war with China was also discussed in detail. There is an urgent need for wide ranging debate and discussion on this vital subject, which this timely seminar sought to fulfill. The aim was to kick-start a debate on this vital issue and crystallise a doctrine for Limited wars in the South Asian context.

The seminar was organised with the following objectives in mind:

  • Post nuclearisation, what Chris Gagne calls the Stability-Instability Paradox has enabled Pakistan to launch repeated asymmetric attacks against India with impunity. How do we overcome this instability?
  • Aim of this Seminar was to determine whether space exists for a conventional war in South Asia between the spectral ends of all-out nuclear war and sub-conventional conflict.
  • If so, do we need to articulate a declaratory doctrine for Limited war against a nuclear backdrop? What should be the aims or desired end states of such a conflict? How should these be prosecuted? What measures need to be put in place to ensure Escalation Control / Dominance?

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