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Sunday, 2 October 2016


Get real, get smarter The Army's Sept 28-29 surgical strikes inside Pakistan mark a watershed in our strategy to combat terrorists and their sponsors. Not that such strikes had never happened; this time, a convincing response was well acknowledged. Covert ops are seldom publicized and these have an in-built element of deterrence. Our larger and more significant strategy would be a deeper understanding of the enemy and an ever-vigilant security apparatus. Almost 17 years ago and just six months after the Kargil War, the Indian Army on January 22, 2000, killed 16 Pakistani soldiers after over-running a Pakistani post across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Chhamb sector. The bodies of five Pakistani soldiers were reportedly dragged back by Indian troops and later handed over to the Pakistani Army. This was one of many such attacks carried out from time-to-time by the Indian Army consequent to Islamabad's continuing proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistani Army, too, has been carrying out similar attacks on Indian positions after crossing the LoC along with enjoying the advantage of having an army of terrorists to whom it routinely outsources terror attacks as it did most recently in Uri. These trans-LoC attacks by both armies stopped for a while after the November 2003 ceasefire came into effect along both the LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). But there have been occasions when, even during the current 'ceasefire', India has been conducting retaliatory attacks across the LoC such as, for example, in response to the decapitation of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistani Army in January 2013. Indian Army soldiers are reported to have then beheaded between five and ten Pakistani soldiers in response. So what is new about the shallow-distance 'surgical' strike carried out in the wee hours of September 29? One, that New Delhi has officially acknowledged what the Indian Army has been doing for many years now. Second, the Army carried out simultaneously coordinated surgical strikes across the LoC at seven launch pads located over an arc of 250 km spread across both the Jammu and the Valley sectors. Third, the attacks were directed specifically against terrorists in their launch pads rather than against the Pakistani Army. In doing so, India has made it publicly known that it has the resolve and capability of crossing the LoC to strike at terrorists who Pakistan officially denies supporting. Some questions Last Thursday's action gives rise to three questions. First and foremost, how qualitatively and quantitatively effective were the Army's strikes against terrorists in PoK? The government has indicated it will furnish evidence and some details about the effectiveness of the strikes. Until then, we only have the government's word for it. Sooner or later questions are bound to rise. Second, and most important, will this deter Islamabad from continuing to support terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country? Third, will surgical strikes of high intensity and quality henceforth become state policy to be repeated as and when thus truly marking a paradigm shift in India's response to Pakistan's support to terrorism? Or, will this be a one-off strike aimed at quelling public anger over the terror attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri? Furthermore, will this action be milked for political gains by the ruling party, especially during campaigning in the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab? Such strikes cannot and must not be an end in itself. The aim of such action has to be to make it expensive for Pakistan to support terrorists and also for the terrorists themselves if not altogether stop Islamabad from making terrorism an instrument of state policy. Leave aside ceasing to support terrorists, Pakistan is expected to become more hostile towards India in response to which New Delhi will need to be ever vigilant and prepared. The Army's limited 'surgical' strike on is so far a reactive measure - a response to the September 18 terror attack in Uri. It was not, truly speaking, a pro-active measure initiated without an immediate provocation. Besides, a solitary military action of this nature is never enough. For, this cannot be a number game where the killing of 19 Indian soldiers must be matched by an equal or higher figure after which India waits for the next terror attack to occur before again responding. Draw a policy Rather, New Delhi needs to consider making it a policy to conduct pre-emptive surgical strikes on Pakistani terror factories on a relentlessly continuous basis in order to truly making it expensive for the terrorists and its Pakistani patrons. Prevention, rather than cure, is ideally the answer. But for this, Indian intelligence agencies will need to develop an intelligence gathering network par excellence comprising human intelligence (HUMINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) sources to obtain real time actionable information; Well-equipped special forces will have to be on permanent stand-by and work in conjunction with intelligence agencies. The political executive irrespective of the political alliance in power will need to maintain a steely resolve and keep the nerve to 'go for it' each time. Both the Indian intelligence and military establishments will need to develop capabilities to overcome Pakistani measures to prevent such attacks; and India will have to be in a 'state in being', i.e. in a perpetual state of alertness and preparedness including for setbacks as does happen in this long drawn out game. Only then would India have truly 'arrived' such as like Israel, which some Indian commentators love to quote. Dangerous game The question is whether India has the stomach, resolve and capability for this kind of a response? Then again, the September 29 strike was across a shallow distance of up to between 2 and 3 km. How deep will India be prepared to go should Pakistan relocate its launch pads well inside Occupied Jammu and Kashmir? Is India prepared for an escalation, and to what extent? Soon after the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major told the government that the Indian Air Force was unable to conduct air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan since they did not have specific coordinates. In other words, there existed no actionable intelligence despite supposed reforms in intelligence gathering carried out after the May-July 1999 Kargil War. Covertly overt? The Army's trans-LoC action has been greeted with and commented on with much jingoism and chest thumping by some in India, especially by some sections of the ruling party, as had occurred when India exploded nuclear devices in May 1998. Covert operations and surgical strikes are more effective when not publicised. While overt announcements are good for the domestic audience and gives the ruling dispensation political mileage, it does not serve its true purpose; certainly not at such an early stage. Ideally, covert operations should strike hard and remain covert. It should be left on officers to refer to it in passing in their memoirs written well after their retirement. If at all it must be made public by the government, it is best done when Pakistan's terror factory is sufficiently degraded. Until then maturity lies in silent but relentless continuous action. A tool in the box During the height of militancy in Punjab when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) engaged in a series of covert operations in Pakistan which was partial cause for some dent in Islamabad's support to terrorism in the state. In 1989 killings by terrorists declined to 1,188 from 1,949 in 1988 only to escalate after the VP Singh government came to power. With RAW's operations then ceasing and the VP Singh government adopting a 'liberal' outlook, terrorism escalated and in just two years (1990 and 1991), terrorists killed 5,059 people in the state (2,467 in 1990 and 2,591 in 1991). This was equivalent to the figure of a total 5,070 people killed in the preceding 12 years (1978 to 1989) before terrorism in the Punjab began tapering off following a regime change in New Delhi and the formation of an elected government in Chandigarh. Strategy is the employment of all means for an end. Surgical strikes have to be viewed as a tool in the box. It cannot be the sole instrument. Equally important, the 29th September action must never be a one-off. It should mark the beginning of pro-active measures to end Pakistan's long standing roguish game of using terror against India. The journey has just begun and India has a long way to go. It is for successive governments in New Delhi to complete this journey

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