In the post-independence era South Asia has remained witnessed to number of conflicts, and it still does. Be it wars between states, and intrastate conflicts the role of militaries has been central as primary protagonists. In twentieth wars between India and Pakistan in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999, and in some instances conflicts such as the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, and involvement of Indian military in quelling insurrection in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir in late 80s and early 90s. Later, post 9/11 changed the dynamics of conflicts and importance of militaries in countering terrorism in Afghanistan and Northern parts of Pakistan. Moreover, in India the violent movement of the Naxalite against the Union government and Indian state saw the Indian military engaged in protracted internal conflict. All the conflicts discussed above in one way or the other have the role of professional militaries in an area of conflict.

Given the role and centrality of militaries in such conflicts, their involvement in centre of conflicts exposes them to over-use of power and also to psychological vulnerabilities. Hypothetically, both of these could lead to issues of trauma, depression, bipolar and host of anxiety disorders, including affects on the overall psychological wellbeing, and discipline of militaries. In this context, in Pakistan, its armed forces have fought terrorism for fifteen enduring years since 2003 particularly in its Northern parts and across Pakistan. Its armed forces both in officer and non-commissioned ranks have rendered sacrifices and thousands have been wounded. A report titled “Update on the Human Costs of War for Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001 to mid-2016” claimed that approximately 8,216 security forces fell in fight against terrorism. And while many thousands suffered physical and psychological injuries including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, however, despite this vulnerability, the military leadership responded to this challenge by catering to the wellbeing and rehabilitation of such soldiers. Acknowledgement of this critical issue allowed tackling it heads-on and creating an environment to facilitate care and rehabilitation of affected soldiers and officers.  And so far, there is no documented report of self-harm or indiscipline among soldiers and officers that have served in operational areas. Moreover, other than having successfully fight against terrorism, Pakistani military has not fell for the temptation to overuse its power particularly in areas such as Azad Jammu and Kashmir – where it faces its traditional rival India on the LoC and including former tribal areas. For its discipline and support from Pakistan’s people, it has always refrained from exercising force against its very people. This stands true particularly how it chose to respond to some of the provocative posturing by members and leadership of Pashtun-Tahafuz Movement. This credit remains to military’s leadership, its officers and soldiers in maintaining the higher moral ground.

While another major actor in South Asia, India whose military also inherited its structure and organisational philosophy from the British Indian military is experiencing serious issues in addressing issues related to psychological wellbeing and discipline among its soldiers and officers. Until 2017, it was observed by Indian parliament that since 2014 nearly 310 personnel of Indian Army committed suicide, and 11 personnel committed acts of fratricide and in another report between 2001 and 2011, there were 1056 incidents of suicide in the Indian Army alone out of 1330 cases among the tri-services of the Indian military. Under the same duration there were overwhelming 72 cases of fratricide in the Indian Army. According to the Indian government, Defence Institute of Psychological Research have studied the issue at hand, however, there is little known about the remedial measures recommended by the study. And despite, the undertaking of awareness campaigns on stress by psychiatrists at major army stations, little is known by the efficacy of such interventions. Reasons for aggravated levels of stress among personnel, particularly those belonging to rural parts are attributed to presence of large land disputes back home, undue treatment of soldiers at the hands of officers, and lack of attention paid to the psychological wellbeing personnel by officers. Notwithstanding, the state of affairs as it stands certainly impacts the discipline and the institution’s ability to cope with this serious challenge. Considering these conditions in absence of other variables, including role of operational areas for enabling the stress levels of personnel, it’s hard to understand additional causes. However, aggravated stress can affect the discipline of military in operational areas. And absence of empirical evidence also makes it harder to appreciate dynamics such as political situations, insurgencies and delegation of powers that develops set of expectations that could be harder to execute. It also makes it difficult to study, whether the application of military force remains the answer to situations that are purely political in nature. Particularly in situations where political dissent is at odds with physical force. And also, when overbearing physical force is exercised under law giving impunity against any consequences while exercising highhanded powers. In India’s case the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1990 in Indian held Kashmir also reflects the same. With little known on how use of physical force by those delegated to suppress political dissent has on their psychological stress and discipline of the Indian Army in Indian held Kashmir. The political and strategic wisdom that “military means cannot be deployed in pursuit of indeterminate ends” prevails in plight of Indian held Jammu & Kashmir as well, and also when same means are used to scuttle the right to self-determination in the very valley. The answer, thus, lies in dialogue over domination.


The author is a Consultant at Islamabad Policy Research Institute.