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Home > India > News > Columnists > Bharat Verma

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The obvious battlefield is Pakistan

December 03, 2008

The British nearly gave up war in Afghanistan recently and instead wanted dialogue with Al Qaeda [Images]. Washington termed it defeatist and subsequently London [Images] rescinded the suggestion. The stalemate in the war on terrorism continued.

The breed of Inherently Helpless Indians tells me repeatedly that "even the West led by America could not smash the terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq -- how can a country like India win?"

Untrue. With the right strategy this war can be won decisively.

Frankly, Al Qaeda and the Taliban [Images] combine cannot win the war. They don't have the means. The jihad groups have no naval or air forces. No missile force either. They do have a slackly held guerrilla army that boasts of weapons with limited range and some quantities of explosives. Their satellite phones and other modest wireless systems are susceptible to interception, consequently a big constraint. These outfits do not boast of surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities through satellites or UAVs.

In practical terms they have no reach. Al Qaeda, the Taliban or similar groups can only cause damage or destruction to contact targets and its immediate periphery which is woefully inadequate to topple a regime -- a prerequisite for victory. Kabul remains with Karzai, though at a cost, while Washington, Paris, and London continue to conduct international business unaffected.

Yet, Al Qaeda and the Taliban for years have managed to create a deadlock against the best equipped and trained forces of the first world on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Why?

On multiple counts the war waged by the Bush administration was borne out of unsound principles. First, fighting on two fronts simultaneously created division of resources between Iraq and Afghanistan. It resulted in shortage of the necessary numbers of boots on ground, so vital while fighting a guerrilla force in the Afghan-Pakistan region.

Second, if the alliances that forge preponderance in the international affairs are broken, victory will elude. The Western alliance, which is the statement of the American might, was rebuffed in Iraq. Washington in its unilateral stubbornness opened the second front, throwing to winds the sane strategic advice of its partners. The invasion of Iraq, if ever necessary, should have taken place after consolidation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan front. The victory in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area in any case would be sufficient to put other players in the region on notice.

Washington disregarded its Western alliance partners in invading Iraq, considered an unjust war by rest of the world. It in effect united the various jihad outfits in different parts of the world. Most of these groups that lacked potency till then, appeared formidable by coming together. Thus, in the last eight years, the sum of parts of the radical Islam lent an appearance of more than the total.

Third, the extraordinary rise in the oil prices not only boosted the old adversary but also added new rivals soaked in the wealth of petro-dollars. Also billions of dollars wasted in the Iraq war is significantly responsible for the current economic misery.

Last, the biggest folly was to trust Islamabad [Images]. At the time of invasion of Iraq, I cautioned the former American ambassador in a gathering at New Delhi [Images] that the "United States and its allies cannot win in Afghanistan since they have the lock (Afghanistan) but cannot unlock it as they do not have the key (Pakistan) under their control."

Even today many with the Cold War mindset in the international media wrongly advocate that Kashmir should be resolved -- implying India should resolve it in favour of Pakistan. I would say it is a misplaced approach with counter-productive ramifications. With Asia becoming more and more authoritarian, with Communist China rapidly expanding its influence, with Islamic fundamentalists all over and rearing their heads in Malaysia, with Maoists in control of Kathmandu, and with military dictatorship emerging in Bangladesh, the only option is to expand the influence of the democracies.

Instead of trying to sap New Delhi's will by such proposals, the other democracies should stand by to support spread of democratic set up in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Handing over Kashmir on the platter to Pakistan will definitely result in another Talibanised and brutal adversary in the neighborhood. Such a step is neither in the interest of multi-cultural India or other democracies.

It is time for Washington to shift gears to win the war!

A few years ago, a Democrat when told in a private conversation that "America cannot win on both fronts," wanted to know the way out. I said: "Since the objective is to decisively defeat radical Islam and not Islamic nations or populations, the Iraq front should be wound up rapidly despite the likely disintegration. Quickly redeploy and concentrate these surplus forces in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. That is the laboratory of radical Islam and its destruction is central to winning this war."

If the epicentre is busted, the various parts in temporary and weak unity are bound to lose teeth and fall apart. This will reduce terrorism to a localised law and order problem.

The next terrorist attack against the United States or the European Union will be planned and executed in all likelihood from the Afghanistan-Pakistan. region.

Similarly, if ever a nuclear attack through a dirty bomb becomes a reality in the West, it will be handiwork of Pakistan. The West needs to look at the radicalisation inside the Pakistan army [Images] and the ISI and work out methods to defang them. For a decisive victory, America will require the unqualified support of its alliance partners. India's support in addition will play a critical role too.

It is also time for New Delhi to rapidly shift gears. Pacifist philosophies may be good for the individual's soul, but are suicidal for nation's security. New Delhi should learn to fight its own wars instead of expecting others to do its dirty work.

To win the war is more crucial for us than the West as the very survival of the Union of India depends on it. While the United States is geographically insulated and located in safe haven, India is not. Pakistan and Bangladesh export radical Islam to India in an effort to destabilise it. China funds movements like Gorkhaland and instigates its proxies. The borders are kept on the boil between China and its proxies while Bangladesh and Pakistan continue to implode India through terrorist acts with impunity. India remains under siege.

New Delhi needs to work out its long-term option with clarity, objectivity and decisiveness in view of the extremely hostile 14,000 kilometres of borders. The other critical element is the substantial Islamic population in India that certain external forces want radicalised to create civil strife. Honestly speaking, given the internal and external security imperatives, non-governance is not an option for New Delhi.

It is often said that nations do not have permanent friends, only permanent interests. In reality, all nations are adversarial to each other. The degree may vary. If national interests demand synergy, they may combine resources for mutual benefit to an optimum period. The synergy to destabilise India by covert means is evident in the collusion between authoritarian regimes of China, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Radical Islam wants to establish a Caliphate while Beijing [Images] is determined to tie down New Delhi to ensure its unrivalled top dog status in Asia.

Since they are neighbours, India needs to engage them as constructively as possible, even as they remain inimical to India's interests in many ways. However, they can be dealt from a position of strength alone. This is only possible if we acquire the requisite diplomatic, economic and military prowess.

Therefore, grand strategy dictates that since multiple adversaries on our borders are in collusion with each other and pose a combined threat, we should form an alliance with lesser adversary who believes in democracy and are not our neighbours. Today with radical Islam threatening all democracies, there is implicit synergy and commonality of purpose between the West and us that can help each other in variety of ways. Thus, India can gain a larger say in international affairs and develop sufficient economic and military clout to deal confidently with the near abroad.

But in creating alliances, New Delhi must watch its flanks. The recent campaign in the media to jettison Kashmir appears to be orchestrated by external powers to weaken the Union. These games will always be played as the existing hierarchy never wants too many crowding the high table.

In the past eight years, poor generalship in Washington, Brussels and New Delhi is responsible for the resurgence of Al Qaeda and Taliban. However, this war is decisively winnable if the battlefield is correctly identified. The obvious battlefield is Pakistan. It is time, democracies face this simple reality.

Bharat Verma is the Editor, Indian Defence Review


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