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Our inward looking policy has cost us dearly

January 04, 2016 16:36 IST

'What India has failed to acknowledge is that sub-conventional war is the name of the game and irregular forces have emerged with greater strategic value over conventional and even nuclear forces, and reliance purely on conventional force and diplomacy is grossly inadequate,' says Special Forces veteran Lieutenant General Prakash Katoch (retd).

Indian Army soldiers

Having suffered Pakistan's proxy war for the past several decades, it was unlikely that the Pakistani military would not respond with alacrity to the display of Modi-Nawaz bonhomie at Lahore recently.

We should heed Ayesha Siddiqa on the military's stranglehold on Pakistan both for the enormous money it makes through corporate-private business ($20.7 billion in 2007) and the power it wields in every segment including defining the foreign and defence policies of Pakistan.

After the Taliban strike at the Army School Peshawar on December 16, 2014, Siddiqa maintained that India remains enemy number one. In order to retain the power and money, the Pakistan army must remain in confrontation with India and Afghanistan.

The Pakistan military is getting more and more radicalised, some even calling themselves 'Allah's Army' in private conversation rather than the Pakistani army. Steeped in teachings of Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf, there is little chance of change -- remember Musharraf saying, 'Even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, jihad against India will continue.'

That is why you find little progress in punishing the 26/11 perpetrators, Zaki-ur Rehman getting royal treatment, Hafiz Saeed acting chief advisor to the ISI and observed in areas across the LoC, and Sartaj Aziz making public statement that 'Pakistan should not engage in war with those terrorists whose target is not attacking Pakistan.'

Moreover, the recruiting base for both the military and terrorist organisations are common and many sections of the Pakistani administration are aligned with terrorist organisations, many politicians also having won elections with terrorist support.

The Pakistan military is also buoyed with the continuous support it receives from both the US and China despite her generating terror. The latter has actually become an asset in an era where big powers are using proxies to further their own national interests.

China is happy as long as the Pakistan-Taliban links protect her commercial and strategic interests in South Asia while Xinjiang remains manageable. The brief capture of Kunduz by the Taliban and the continued Taliban presence in the Badakshan region has forced Russia to increase her military presence in Badakshan.

The ISIS that captured seven districts in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan (west of Peshawar) and spread to other regions have all gone from Pakistan. So is the re-establishment of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with Musharraf recently chanting, 'We trained the Taliban and sent them to fight against Russia. The Taliban, (the) Haqqani (network), Osama bin Laden and (Ayman al)-Zawahiri were our heroes.'

The US that forced Pakistan to join the GWOT (the Global War On Terror) under threat of otherwise being 'bombed into the stone age' could well threaten Pakistan similarly to shut her proxy wars, but is not doing so because Pakistan is an important link in America's Great Game in South Asia.

Ironically, Pakistan is of similar value to China. The near free hand that Pakistan has got in Afghanistan has made the Pakistani army bolder in expanding her strategic depth.

Against the above backdrop, the terrorist strike at the Pathankot IAF base was no sundry action. It was in all probability planned by the ISI in minute detail as were the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes.

The infiltration routes perhaps are repeatedly used considering the massive infusion of narcotics in rural Punjab as prelude to the ISI bid to revive militancy in Punjab. This has been ongoing for the past few years with obvious conduits within our own side of the border.

It may be recalled that when a question was raised how a dhow could travel from Karachi to Mumbai for the 26/11 strike, M J Akbar wrote that this was happening almost every week -- bringing in narcotics and duly linked to the nexus in Mumbai.

The same situation prevails in Punjab. So the infiltration was perhaps through a well oiled route and the ease with which a Toyota Innova was summoned on the telephone from Pakistan for the party to be picked up after crossing the International Border speaks volumes.

Subsequent telephone intercepts of the conversations of the terrorist with their handlers in Bahawalpur is similar to what happened during 26/11. While the 26/11 terrorists were trained by Pakistani marines under the Karachi Project, the Pathankot terrorists were most likely trained by Pakistan's Special Services Group at a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Bahawalpur.

The IAF base was a good target to be chosen because of its expanse, the periphery of which cannot be manned at all times physically, there being some permanent pickets with balance covered through patrols.

It is easy to cut the perimeter fence at any unattended point, dig under the fence or even shortcircuit an electrified fence.

With the manner in which the operations are continuing even on the third day, the possibility of Pakistani regulars being part of the group cannot be ruled out. During 2012-2013, Pakistan trained 20 Mujahid battalions to operate as Taliban/terrorists.

The involvement of Pakistani regulars in terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, has been established by the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan. In India, Pakistan used Northern Light Infantry battalions disguised as civilians during the Kargil conflict of 1999.

As for our response to the Pathankot terror strike, it certainly was inadequate given the advance warning received, as reported. The hijacking of the superintendent of police itself should have raised the alarm and movement of the vehicle tracked/assessed.

Was the move of reserves timely, was their deployment requisite, and can Defence Security Corps personnel be better equipped are perhaps issues that must be examined.

The message from the Pakistani military is explicit; you can continue with India-Pakistan talks, but we will continue with our proxy war while the Foreign Office can continue to say we condemn terrorism and Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism.

It does not matter that the frustration of the Pakistani army never having won a single war is part of the motivation. The fact is that terrorism is the cheapest option to keep India on the boil and keep her security forces stretched. This is not a new narrative, but has been on for past three decades plus.

What India has failed to acknowledge is that sub-conventional war is the name of the game and irregular forces have emerged with greater strategic value over conventional and even nuclear forces, and reliance purely on conventional force and diplomacy is grossly inadequate.

Our inward looking policy has cost us much more dearly. We need to speedily build credible deterrence to Pakistan's proxy war, getting the handle on Pakistan's fault-lines.

Lieutenant General Prakash Katoch (retd), PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC is a former Special Forces officer. He is a third generation army officer and has participated in the 1971 India-Pakistan War and in Operation Bluestar. He commanded a Special Forces Battalion in Sri Lanka, a Brigade on the Siachen Glacier, a Division in Ladakh and a Strike Corps in the South Western Theatre.

Lieutenant General Prakash Katoch (retd)