November 1, 2001


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The Rediff Special/Wing Commander (retd) R V Parasnis

Twenty-five days after America started military action to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and annihilate the Taleban, the world continues to await the expected results.

No doubt, the American policymakers have learnt some lessons from history, their own experience in Vietnam, and that of the Russians in Afghanistan. They have avoided dashing headlong into disaster -- and an unmitigated disaster it would have resulted in had they attempted mass bombing of Afghanistan or immediate invasion relying on ground troops.

Also, this time around the US has declared it will not indulge in an act of revenge but bring the guilty to justice. Bombing along with airdropping of food and eventually rebuilding Afghanistan are actions very much on her agenda.

Trying to attain a consensus-based world offensive against terrorism has paid off in ways more than one. The US now knows the depth of the waters she is in: who are with her and who are not; the extent to which she can expect cooperation from friends and allies; the extent to which she can extract cooperation with arm-twisting tactics; and also the extent to which she can buy cooperation.

She has seen the reactions of the Muslims from different parts of the world. She has also seen their reactions against her for moving against the perpetrators of terror, which she had every right to do. By the by, she has had time to study the ground realities in Afghanistan in great detail, bring her spying equipment to bear upon that area, and continue her military build-up.

Today, the US also knows the extent to which the peoples of the world hate her on account of her arrogance, policy to support autocratic and oppressive rulers the world over if it suited her interests, her own support to terrorist activities in the past as also the use of force without regard to ethics and world opinion whenever it suited her.

She has learnt the power of Islam, the uniting force of that religion, and the hold of the mullahs over the peoples of Islamic faith. Looking inward as well as outward, the US is a much wiser nation today. But while the basic strategy to fight the war in Afghanistan was right, it appears to me that the tactics have gone somewhat wrong.

First, America underestimated the Taleban's tenacity. She found the movement of troops, the display of mighty ships and air power, and the threat that any nation harbouring terrorists or offering shelter and protection to terrorists would be treated as the perpetrator of terror, and as such an enemy, did not scare the Taleban into surrendering bin Laden.

Second, they should have helped the anti-Taleban forces to overthrow the Mullah Omar regime without delay so as to gain control of the Afghani airfields and an anchor to base their own forces. After all, the Northern Alliance troops are the only ground forces available in Afghanistan still battling the Taleban. In order to deny the Northern Alliance the chance to form the government or at least be an important and influential member of the ruling coalition, the US delayed attacking the Taleban forces deployed against them.

To my mind, if the US needed more time to prepare, they need not have commenced aerial bombing in Afghanistan. On the 'if and when basis', the bombing plan should have been to take on the air defence and other precise military targets such as the armour and artillery deployments in order to pave way for ground troops with particular attention to the Taleban forces facing the Northern Alliances. With the kind of weaponry, aiming devices and surveillance equipment they possess, not more than 3-4 days of 'softening' should have been needed before launching ground assaults. But I suppose when it comes to aerial bombing, the US temptations are too strong to restrict it within reasonable limits

In war, certain amount of risk has to be taken and the US will have to accept some casualties. Their aim should have been to take over major towns and the capital city, proclaim a pro-US government, preferably with the exiled King Zahir Shah at the helm, take control of the airfields and obtain a base for their ground and air forces, force the Taleban into the open by getting them to attack the allied forces and/or the airfields under American control and destroy them every time they exposed themselves.

With the kind of 24-hour surveillance, especially thermal imaging devices, all this would have been very much possible at minimal risk to the US forces. The US, of course, has no plans to undertake occupation in the manner the Russians did in Afghanistan, nor to fight the Taleban in every nook and corner of that mountainous and rugged terrain.

They only need to hold the main bases, let the Northern Alliance handle the fighting in the interior at their own choice and behest and tire out the Taleban, eventually forcing them to come out into the open for hit-and-run attacks or for supplies, or simply because they are smoked out. If nothing else, by the end of the winter they would be starved out.

That the operation was going to be a long one should have been foreseen. The bombing operation, which has a tendency to kill innocents and destroy neutrals along with the enemy shouldn't have been dragged on for so long. It is now known that either some targets were wrongly attacked or some bombs went astray destroying many a United Nations/Red Cross warehouses.

Similarly, some other offices, hospitals and the homes for aged also were damaged. There have been civilian casualties, particularly children. The US knows that the world reacts particularly angrily against sustained bombing attacks and that with the electronic media being very active even in war zones, horrifying images are instantly transmitted all over.

It was expected of the US to achieve their immediate military aim in record time with the kind of resources they have. Thereafter the 'we will smoke them out' action could have dragged on. Sadly, they have wasted days bombing the most useless targets. Destruction of the evacuated and practically empty terrorist training camps achieved nothing.

It should also not take so many days and so much of bombing by smart weapons to put out the Taleban air defence systems. All the US bombers had to do was destroy the radars and surface-to-air missiles of the 'active command guidance' variety. Really, the Taleban doesn't possess much of those and whatever they may be having in their hands is not likely to be very effective on account of the technical maintenance problems and the highly sophisticated electronic countermeasures -- popularly known as jamming -- in the US possession.

The US need not have worried so much about the Taleban's air defence systems. The shoulder-fired Stingers, of course, will remain with them and will have to be faced -- after all, it was the Americans who gave it to them.

Those who think the Americans have gone soft and can't accept casualties citing Vietnam as an example are in for a surprise. They will find that the Americans are just as brave as any in the world. In Vietnam they were fighting somebody else's war and lacked motivation. In Afghanistan it is going to be different.

They are going in there fully motivated to defend freedom and the right to free living and also, make no mistake about it, to avenge the terrible carnage wrought on their country. They will commit their ground troops very soon.

Once the ground war commences, the US troops will be used mainly for razor-sharp operations against precise targets. They will destroy all Taleban artillery and armour with aerial bombardment and missile attacks, thus clearing way for an easy victory to the anti-Taleban front. Complete annihilation of the Taleban forces and the capture or death of bin Laden is a foregone conclusion in such an event, though it will take quite some time to achieve it.

THE only delay now is the creation of a proper anti-Taleban front. American efforts to unify the Pashtuns against the Taleban received a setback after the Taleban arrested and executed the opposition leader and former mujahideen Abdul Hanan Haq, whom the US had cultivated.

(Does that also indicate that the Taleban are not as unpopular in their country on account of their harsh rule and subjugation of women as is believed by the outside world?)

Haq was said to be anti-Northern Alliance, pro-Pakistan and also working in favour of King Zahir Shah. That leaves the US only one more Pashtun leader -- Hamid Karzai. He is said to have entered with hundreds of armed supporters into the Kandahar area. America will have to turn more favourable toward the Northern Alliances.

Pakistan has played her cards well and should get most of the sops she asked for from the US. The US has certainly gone overboard here and that too at the cost of their relationship with India and their genuine strategic interests including the long-term fight against terrorism. Backing a wrong horse and opting for solutions that are worse than the problem itself are age-old American habits, almost compulsive and die-hard.

To convert the short-term gains by cooperating with the US into long-lasting benefits, Pakistan will have to genuinely change its ways, which may include giving up the hate India policy and the way they look at Kashmir. She will have to face internal trouble from the hardliners and a possible civil war, but that is still the better option. Half-hearted attempts and/or weak handling by trying to please both the sides, on the other hand, will certainly invite civil war and, worse, the fragmentation of their State, so strong and widespread has been the effect of Islamisation in their country. The least that can be said is that the process of de-Islamisation is not going to be easy. Nevertheless, they will have to tackle it sooner or later, better sooner than later, if they wish to survive.

Be as it may, Pakistan is getting irrevocably drawn into the whirlpool of the conflict and that too in a manner they would have liked to avoid. Their total strategic planning and deployment now calls for a radical change, both conceptual and tactical. Also, the drive against terrorism for Pakistan means complete replacement of her blood and bone marrow. It will be interesting to see how she goes about that task under American pressure and also keep her promise to the world community.

It will also call for closure of all madrasas in Pakistan or changing and monitoring the very nature of what they teach and that is going to be tough. Nevertheless, this is a godsend opportunity for Pakistan to reverse her course, which if not altered, is bound to take her over the precipice sooner or later.

The worldwide support to bin Laden among the people of Islamic origin, the anti-American spirit displayed by them, and the sadistic glee displayed by a few at the loss of American lives and the damage caused in the American heartland to her very symbol of dominance over world trade and economy are not healthy indications. In Pakistan too, similar glee and celebrations take place every time terrorists kill innocents and cause mayhem in India.

The second wave of terrorist attack is now in progress and not just America but almost the whole world is their target. The sci-fi scare of biological warfare is very much a reality today. Weapon-grade Anthrax powder has been received in many countries. There is the danger of crude nuclear devices having fallen into the hands of bin Laden. Think of the possibility of what he might do with it! A frightening prospect indeed!

Very much in line with the known behavioural pattern of the Islamic terrorists, even before the dust has settled where the World Trade Centre proudly stood and while unprecedented preparations were in progress to fight terrorism, they struck with a powerful blast at the seat of democracy in the Jammu and Kashmir, its very legislative assembly, causing scores of deaths and casualties among innocents.

After that blast, the world has clearly displayed different standards for judging terrorism in America and India. In fact, there are umpteen examples in history as to how the West -- Europe and US -- look at loss of lives in their countries and elsewhere. African, Asian and such other lives have no value.

It is time we ended our dependence on the West. The US may have lifted the sanctions on us, but it is no reason for us to stop our technical development and rush to the US to buy readymade technology. In fact, we should shun the same and opt for indigenous development. That goes for financial aid too. Leave that dependency to our friendly neighbour. It suits his nature a lot better.

FINALLY, while we may have offered all our help to the US in their war against terrorism, how do we tackle the terrorism within our own country?

The recent artillery shelling undertaken by the army was the correct action. It goes into the 'proactive realm'. We not only managed to kill the intruders but destroyed what facilitates intrusion too. And without getting carried away by success, we stopped there. That is the way to go. It is a good beginning at the policy level. Let us go ahead from there on the same track -- that is, proactive action but no overreaction.

Such action will serve to convince all concerned about the seriousness of our intensions. If we need to give a stern warning to Pakistan that we will hit the terrorist bases in Pakistan and possibly attack their State, this is the way to do it. Terrorism cannot survive without State support from across the border. And let us develop the will to carry out our threat and the capability to do so. There is no shortcut to that. If we value our security, dignity and freedom, then, and then alone, will the world take us seriously.

Let me pause a second. Am I not suggesting single dimensional linear fighting? No doubt, these suggested actions are the need of the day, but if conducted in the present situation, could they harm our national interests in the long run? International affairs are three-dimensional and necessitate a deeper thought. Let us take stock of the situation in Pakistan.

General Pervez Musharraf is being forced by the US to increasingly act against the fundamentalists. Pakistan is heavily infested with them, be it the man on the street, or the military, or the scientists. General Musharraf had to make changes in the top hierarchy of the army and ISI for this very reason.

Recently, two high-ranking former Pakistani nuclear scientists were arrested for helping bin Laden with nuclear material and/or advise. Pakistan is developing vertical cracks separating the fundamentalists and the moderates. Willingly or otherwise, General Musharraf is with the moderates. This is no time to weaken his hands. That might result in the fundamentalists getting the upper hand. If a coup were to take place and the fundamentalists were to come to power, there will be hell to pay for, not just us but for the whole world.

Also, right now the Pakistanis are divided among themselves. They are busy demonstrating against the Americans and fighting their own government. If we were to mount an attack in Kashmir now, suddenly all the attention would get diverted, they would forget everything else and unite again to fight against us, their favourite object of hate.

No, this is not the moment for offensive action but for patience and preparation. Let us be also fairly confident that once the US has successfully dealt with bin Laden and Taleban, they will come round to build a strategic alliance with us. The present sidelining of India is incidental. Therefore, it will not be in our long-term national interest to do anything that will hamper the present US action in Afghanistan.

The PM and the minister for foreign affairs have built a good rapport with the US over the last few years, reversing the much unpalatable past. It would be a darned waste to sabotage that good effort. Whether we like it or not, the US is the greatest military and economic power on earth and it would be a lot better to be on good terms with her than otherwise. Also, her intentions to go after the root cause of terrorism appear to be sincere. They had better be, in her own interest. That is our interest too.

While keeping the action to get at the terrorists beyond the LoC/borders pending, we can't leave our rear exposed. Let us clean up our house first.

A nationwide campaign against the anti-nationals, quick interrogations and passing of intelligence, closing down and banning all madrasas in the country or alternatively controlling and monitoring what they teach, issuing identity cards to all the legal residents of J&K and getting all legislators to support all the actions to safeguard national security must now receive priority.

Should some of the legislators or some political parties refuse to cooperate and/or act/continue to speak against the national interests as they have been doing in the past, then there may arise the need to declare 'emergency' and deal with them as sternly as we can. The policy of appeasing the minorities for the sake of their votes also can't be allowed to go too far. Anything that goes against the national interests has to be stamped down upon, hard!

Rudderless wandering has gone on long enough. It is time for hard decisions. Let us uphold our national pride.

America's War On Terrorism: The complete coverage

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