Same old story; another terrorist attack albeit this time more heinous in Uri using incendiaries to burn the wounded, and higher number of casualties. There events have been dissected, conferences held, prime minister warned the perpetrators, home minister cancelled his US trip, DGMO talked about Jaish-e-Mohammad JeM involvement on national TV, there was a flurry of officials sent to Jammu and Kashmir (JK), TV debates, proclamations about what needs to be done, Raheel Sharif brought out his ‘nuclear’ approach, so on and so forth. Could we have consigned bodies of the four terrorists to flames (they burned our soldiers, didn’t they?), televised it and showed live to the world — have you not been harping terrorists have no religion? But this apart, are we going to do anything beyond ‘Artomacy’ (artillery bombardment and diplomacy)? If that is all then our civilian areas will also be targeted by Pakistani artillery and mortars. And, while you may be happy about the diplomatic isolation of Pakistan, there will be more cautionary remarks by the US (sanctions – you must be kidding!) to go after terrorists organisations, China will hug Pakistan more tightly — end of the story. The Hurriyat separatists would be mighty amused, as would the ISI and their terrorist protégés.
When will we learn that we have to fight our own war? The global powers, themselves using proxy forces, will go by their own national interests. Have we not understood why foreign intelligence related to Pakistan is coming to us piecemeal, as and when it suits the interests of the country providing it? Following the January terrorist attack on the IAF base at Pathankot, the editorial of Washington Times of 6 January titled ‘Islamic terrorists open a new front’ said, “Just what the civilised world needs, a new front in the war against radical Islamic terrorism: Two terrorists were killed this week in an attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force Base.”
Of the 1,67,221 terrorist related fatalities in period 2001-2015, only 2.2 percent were suffered by US and Western Europe which included 11 September 2001 attacks; which is a is happy situation, while 75 percent of those killed were in 25 Muslim-majority countries. Significantly, Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment had said in 2012, “India being continuously subjected to terror actually suits many … India is a sponge that absorbs global terror.” Also, post the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, Tellis recommended to a Senate panel that US must go for the evisceration of the LeT and allied terrorist groups with or without the cooperation of Pakistan. But there is hardly any pressure on Pakistan. Pakistan was as big a country with nuclear weapons in 2001 when Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State threatened Pakistan to join the global war on terror (GWOT) or they would be “bombed into stone age”.
Late MK Dhar, former Joint Director IB wrote in his book Open Secrets – India’s intelligence unveiled published in 2005, “I continued to advocate for an aggressive and proactive counter and forward intelligence thrust against Pakistan. My voice was rarely heard and mostly ignored. The Pakistani establishment is a geopolitical bully. The best response to blunt such a bully is to take the war inside his home. India has allowed itself to be blackmailed by Pakistan even before it went nuclear. The sabre rattling of ‘coercive diplomacy’, which is nothing but sterile military power, cannot convince the Islamist Pakistani Establishment that India can take the border skirmishes inside their homes and hit at the very roots of the jaundiced Islamist groups.” Dhar was obviously referring these recommendations while he was in service, much before he wrote the book post retirement.
Similarly, Jaswant Singh, former Foreign Minister and Defence Minister wrote in his book A Call to Honour, “Terrorism in India – as an aspect of our current history, now virtually an ideology, a new tool of coercion in the conduct of internal and external relations — has redefined both internal and international relations — has redefined both inter-state and intrastate dynamism. There are issues here that we have, sadly, neither sufficiently grasped nor addressed. Whatever we have done has been ad hoc. This is a sure recipe for ultimate failure”. If any more proof was needed we are a soft state, Army’s sub-conventional warfare doctrine, preamble of which was signed by Defence Minister AK Anthony, is confined to its own side of the border.
So, how should India respond? Sure the diplomatic pressure must be accelerated including at the UN to isolate Pakistan. Conventional PGM strike at carefully selected target(s) too is an option that would also call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff once for all. The two-way porosity of the LoC should also be exploited to hit the enemy hard. But the most important issue is to understand that conventional response is no match to asymmetric and irregular war. Diplomatic efforts sure should be accelerated to get Pakistan declared terrorist state, terror organisations blacklisted and getting their leaders isolated and declared terrorists. But such measures do not suffice by themselves. You cannot protect your house without effective policing in streets. We need to take control of Pakistan’s fault-lines, which are so many one can actually pick and choose. Special forces have been employed in conjunction national intelligence agencies to good effect by USA, UK, France, Israel, Germany and China, but despite being subjected to terror for decades and continuing voids in strategic intelligence this has not happened in India. We have a host of special forces that must be used in conjunction intelligence agencies to control Pakistani fault-lines since these forces operate without or with ambiguous signatures. Their tasks no more focus solely on direct action but span continuous strategic intelligence and shaping the environment in own national interest, in addition to politico-military actions at the strategic level. Unless this is acknowledged and put in motion, we will never be able to respond to asymmetric threats appropriately. Concurrently there is need to synchronise global political, intelligence, military, cyber and diplomatic efforts towards identifying, isolating and stemming the specific sources of financial and armed support to terrorist organisations.
When Zia-ul-Haq ushered in Wahabism, he set Pakistan on the trail to consume itself through Islamic radicalisation. Raheel Sharif will be remembered for letting in the PLA, setting Pakistan in the path of US-China strategic competition on land, similar to what’s happening on the waters of South China Sea. But while that takes its own time, we should be prepared to fight the sub-conventional on our own steam.
The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army