Photo of Clausewitz - Courtesy Wikipedia
An oft quoted maxim in students of the study of war is that nature of wars is constant that is “violence”, while character of war changes and is dictated by the Clausewitzian Trinity – Passion, Reason and Chance. This in turn impacts the secondary triad again enumerated by the master Doctrinaire – People, Government and the military. The constantly changing character of war and non-wars [conflicts where violence is not a component to achieve political objectives but the threat of use maybe] renders it incumbent on practitioners of war to follow trends and not be surprised with novel practice of operational art and tactics within the overall ambit of strategy.
In recent years at least two “wars,” in the Indian Sub Continent in Afghanistan and Myanmar have denoted varied character unique in own way and one that was not anticipated by the conventional militaries operating on the ground.
While the “war,” in Afghanistan led to the Taliban securing the Afghan capital Kabul in a sweep that was measured in weeks but one that had been under preparation for months, in Myanmar a new form of guerrilla warfare is being waged by newly anointed “civilian,” warriors many of whom are taking to violence for the first time and the Tatmadaw is clearly on the backfoot for now.
A common factor in both these “wars” is failure of the highest political leadership to prevent violence despite opportunity to do so. Thus just as former President Ashraf Ghani could well have avoided having to leave secretly in a group of helicopters hours before the Taliban arrived in Kabul on August 15th, in Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing refused to accept the reality of a sweeping electoral victory by the National League for Democracy led by Aung Suu Kyi in the November 2020 elections.
Underlying this was also the fact that the two leaders failed to appreciate the potential of the opposing forces ideologically determined to achieve their objectives and having tools of today from the bomb and the gun as well as information and media. While the political heavies particularly Afghan President Ashraf Ghani cannot be blamed directly in the sense that though a highly learned scholar he had perhaps not followed wars to the level of intensity he did economics, their military command failed to convince them to adopt the right course
But coming on to the character of war per se that was the central theme, the Taliban waged a mix of maneouvres - information, penetration, encirclement and extermination using lines of least resistance to reach Kabul as the deserted Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) who had been incapacitated due to operational and motivational factors failed to give stiff resistance despite being armed and trained by the foremost military alliance in the World – North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO]. The United States which led the raising of the ANDSF focused on the process of organization of a conventional military on the Western model which was unsuited for the – character of war that the Taliban proposed to fight. The Taliban’s war impacted all the three – People, Leadership and the Military leading to the rapid fall of Kabul which has perhaps surprised the group’s leaders as well.
In Myanmar the Tatmadaw with decades of experience in fighting the Ethnic Armed Organisations [EAO] who waged a long campaign of what can be called as an intense insurgency have so far not come to grips with the use of a mix of bombs, IEDs, ambushes, armed assaults and assassinations that has been unleashed by multiple People Defence Force (PDF) spread across States and Regions.
The ones on the periphery Sagaing, Chin, Kachin, Kayin and Kayah have been the most violent and has led the Myanmar Army to disperse in diverse directions. The response of the Army brutal, air and fire assault led campaign following a scorched earth policy, burning villages that support the PDF and raise the level of threat has failed to impact resistance of the militant groups. While it is nobody’s case that the PDF is likely to be successful, but unless the Tatmadaw rapidly adjusts to the new character of war they are fighting, there is a likelihood that they will.
On the non war front – China’s aggression on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh denoted another change in character. Abandonment of agreements which have been accepted over the years and endorsed by the leadership and build trust led to adoption of a forward posture by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and now the two sides are locked in a standoff in the harshest of altitudes and climes to sustain political objectives. Indeed character of war and non-wars needs constant study by the military beyond the charm of technologies and the allure of glitzy armaments. Read on!