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Home > India > News > Columnists > Gurmeet Kanwal

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Military options are never easy

December 29, 2008

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One month ago dastardly terror attacks in Mumbai led to the death of almost 200 people, including 30 foreigners and 17 security forces personnel, while hundreds others were injured.

However, precious little has been done by the government to assuage outraged public opinion and hurt national pride. The fact that well-armed and well-trained terrorists of Pakistani origin can strike targets in India at the will of their ISI handlers while the Government of India wrings its hands in helpless rage has damaged the covenant between the government and the people.

Beyond issuing a demarche demanding the extradition of the leadership of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba [Images] and the Jaish-e-Mohammad to India and a demonstrable end to terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil -- a promise that had been made in the past by General Musharraf but only half-heartedly implemented -- and making ominous-sounding noises that 'all options are on the table,' the Government of India has no significant achievements to its credit.

India appears to be have opted for diplomacy as its only option even though it has not succeeded in the past in persuading the Pakistan army [Images] and the ISI to stop their perfidious campaign to bleed India through a thousand cuts and there is no coherent reason to believe that it will work in future.

India is a soft State that follows an ostrich-like approach to national security: the government digs its head into the sand and hopes and prays that the threat will eventually disappear.

National security threats and challenges do not go away; these manifest themselves in even more diabolical terms if these are ignored. As India is surrounded by inimical neighbours, the country needs to graduate to a pro-active strategic culture, invest at least 3.5 per cent of its GDP per annum for enhancing its defence and national security preparedness, so as to create deterrent forces, and develop the political will to strike first when attacked and then ask questions -- much like the United States and Israel have done successfully for so long.

India has to fight terrorism on all fronts with an inter-ministerial, inter-departmental and inter-agency approach that is cohesive, comprehensive, and methodically coordinated. Declaring war on Pakistan will only add to the complexity of the problem without in any way helping to resolve it.

Yet, overt military measures and covert intelligence operations must be considered so as to impose some costs on the Pakistan army and ISI for their continuing proxy war against India. Some immediate punishment must be inflicted on the real perpetrators of the proxy war.

Unless this is done, they cannot be persuaded to put an end to their low risk-high payoff venture to destabilise and weaken India and 'bleed it through a thousand cuts.'

If Pakistan fails to ban, dismantle and destroy the terrorist outfits and infrastructure operating against India from its soil, then India must take up the challenge to do so itself.

Calibrated military strikes must be launched against the known locations of the terrorist outfits and their handlers, the Pakistan army and the ISI, taking care to minimise collateral damage.

However, military strikes provide only short-term benefits -- the effect lasts as long as the action is in progress. Hence, these must be combined with covert intelligence operations against the targeted terrorist outfits deep within Pakistan on a sustained basis.

The military measures that are adopted have to be carefully calibrated to ensure that escalation can be controlled short of all out war. The aim of Indian retaliation should not be to target the people of Pakistan but to punish the perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, that is the Pakistan army, the ISI and the terrorist organisations like Lashkar and Jaish.

A good place to begin will be to select targets on and across the LoC in PoK so as not to threaten Pakistan's strategic assets and run the risk of large-scale conventional conflict with attendant nuclear dangers. Military options are never easy -- international repercussions will be inevitable. However, if national security is to be safeguarded, calculated risks have to be taken.

The Mumbai attacks have served as a wake-up call and our political leaders appear to have stirred themselves out of their stupor to review the national security threats and challenges that the country faces.

The UAPA Amendment Bill and the creation of a National Investigation Agency are good first steps. Enhancing intelligence acquisition should now be the foremost priority. The solution lies in upgrading humint (human intelligence) capabilities by an order of magnitude, creating a suitable organisation to make intelligence assessments and fine-tuning India's counter-terrorism response to react quickly and effectively.

Simultaneously, counter-terrorism cooperation with friendly powers should be enhanced so as to benefit from a larger pool of knowledge and resources.

The intelligence agencies are cognisant of the existence of many sleeper cells across the country. A few of these terror modules have been eliminated in encounters in recent years. It is only by stepping up the deployment of humint resources and penetrating the control HQ of the sleeper modules -- a very complex intelligence operation -- that sufficient information about them can be acquired.

Thousands of well-qualified ex-servicemen retire at a young age (35 to 40 years) and go back to their villages every year. Many of them would be willing and eager to take up the challenge to be trained as agents of the Intelligence Bureau. The people of the country can also contribute to this national effort by maintaining vigilance and reporting all unusual activities to the authorities.

New police personnel and intelligence agents need to be recruited, armed, equipped, trained, housed and fed before they can join the work force. Surveillance devices like CCTVs and infrared monitors also need to be purchased and installed.

The ones that are already available need to be made serviceable. Coastal and border surveillance must be carefully coordinated. Meanwhile, the security of vulnerable areas must be ensured by calling for help from the central police and paramilitary forces, bearing in mind that some of these are also overstretched.

One action that all state governments can take right away is to withdraw the thousands of security personnel detailed for VIP security duties and re-deploy them at key locations that are more vulnerable than VIPs so that they can act as a deterrent.

On a larger plane, the Indian leadership must stop pretending that all of India's national security challenges are of external origin. Most of India's law and order problems like communal riots and agitations for increased reservations and quotas have been caused by vote bank politics and the extant politician-bureaucrat-police-criminal nexus.

The time has come to re-examine the merits and demerits of India's parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model in which both the executive branch and the legislature are manned by the same people.

India's political leaders have failed to rise above self interest -- that is centred on elections and secret funds to win them -- and have therefore failed to provide good governance. They have failed both the Constitution and the people and it is time for change.

India needs its own Obama [Images] moment if the present rot that lies within is to be stemmed. If the Mumbai terror attacks [Images] serve to cause some introspection and act as a catalyst for change, the sacrifice of the lives of 200 innocent people and security forces personnel will not have been in vain.

Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi [Images]


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