Friday, December 19, 2008

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Some Indians believe that November 26 is India’s Nine-Eleven. And, following from that, argue that India should respond just as the United States did — by making war on the country responsible for sheltering the terrorists. This sounds logical, and even reasonable, for something so horrendous as the Mumbai massacre deserves condign punishment, and hasn’t Barack Obama said that a sovereign nation like India has the right to protect itself?
The flaw in the argument is what realpolitik is all about. The US as a preponderant military power, with a blessed geography, can go half way around the world and make war on two countries, not just one, without facing any direct retribution. The wars have cost the US a great deal of money, but the loss of the lives of some 5,000 soldiers is hardly proportional to the death and destruction that has visited Iraq and Afghanistan.
India is not in that position. An air strike at a camp in Azad Kashmir is likely to be met by a retaliatory strike in Jammu & Kashmir. You bomb Muridke, and the Pakistanis are likely to hit an equivalent target in India. A ground attack on one part of the border could be met with by a counter thrust on another. In other words, there is no way in which we can give Pakistan a bloody nose without getting somewhat bloodied ourselves.
So, any war would become a slug-fest and the UN would soon step in. The international sympathy and support for India would melt away and the Mumbai massacre would mutate into an “Indo-Pakistani” problem. At this point, someone could append a clause to a UN resolution saying that not only must there be a ceasefire, but steps taken to settle the J&K dispute.


Put simply, the US has the capacity to exercise military power and block any retaliation, military or diplomatic, whereas India does not. There is little value in using the military option, unless you can be sure that it is the bad guys who get the chastisement, not the chastiser. As of now only the most foolhardy military commander will offer such an assurance vis-à-vis Pakistan.
This is uncomfortable logic, but there it is. Its primary lessons come from the 2001-2002 near-war with Pakistan. India mobilized some 700,000 troops to teach Pakistan a lesson in the wake of the attack on the Parliament House. Islamabad mobilized its own army and used the opportunity to crack down on sectarian groups, even while permitting the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba to relocate in Azad Kashmir.
Later in 2002, on May 14, there was yet another attack, this time provocatively targeting the families of military personnel at the Kaluchak cantonment near Jammu. As many as 31 people, mostly families of jawans, were killed in the massacre carried out by three terrorists who had come from Pakistan.

The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (aka Victoria Terminus) where most of the people were killed by two terrorists including Ajmal Kasab.

Despite an army ready to go to war, India did nothing. The reason was clear — there was no guarantee of a clear military outcome in our favour.
The reason why we cannot behave militarily as the Americans can is not only because we confront a nuclear-armed country, but also because India does not have the military capacity to carry out a military attack on Pakistan which will be free of the risk of retaliation.


As President Pervez Musharraf put it in an interview to the Christian Science Monitor in September 2002 after the threat of war had passed “… my military judgment was that they [Indians] would not attack us… It was based on the deterrence of our conventional forces. The force levels that we maintain, in the army, navy, air force is of a level which deters aggression. Militarily…there is a certain ratio required for an offensive force to succeed. The ratios that we maintain are far above that — far above what a defensive force requires to defend itself....”
Even taking into account the Musharrafian bluster, there is more than a grain of truth in this assertion. The only way in which India could have overcome the tyranny of numbers is to have had much greater mobility and fire-power. But that is not the case. India’s armed forces follow archaic organizational principles and doctrines that do not allow them to combine their army, air force and navy to fight a single, integrated battle where all three services combine to deliver a single punch.
As it is, the army does not have adequate mobile artillery or real-time information systems to conduct long-range precision strikes. Our Air Force disdains supporting the army, and is, in any case, not geared for deep-penetration ground attacks of the kind the US and Israel specialize in.
It is an uncomfortable fact that Pakistan has fine-tuned a strategy of hitting us using proxies, even while holding out the threat of nuclear retaliation were we to use our military to hit back. The challenge for India is to craft another kind of strategy — one that understands that political authority in Pakistan is fragmented, and that while there are many elements that wish to live in peace with India, there are some that are determined to prevent this from happening. So, there is a need for a nuanced policy that encourages the former and isolates the latter. One way to do this is to take advantage of the international climate and build a global coalition to isolate the jehadi forces in Pakistan, even while encouraging those forces in Pakistan who are for peaceful co-existence.
The prospects for building such a coalition are very good. No country in the world, probably not even China, is comfortable with what is happening in Pakistan. This is the reason why they did not stand in the way of the UN Security Council putting the Jamaat-ud-dawa and Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed on a list of people and institutions associated with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
India and the world needs to investigate and analyse the Mumbai attacks thoroughly and act in a manner that will effectively prevent another attack, as well as ensure the dismantling of the jehadi infrastructure in Pakistan. This inevitably leads to the need to do something about the corporate culture of the Pakistan Army.


The question to ask is: Who is the principal beneficiary of the Mumbai attack? It is not Asif Zardari or Geelani, or, notwithstanding the conspiracy theorists, the US, Israel or Hindu chauvinists. It is that part of the Pakistan Army which remains open to the jehadi temptation.
For the past year and more, these forces have been down in the dumps. They have been compelled to fight a deeply unpopular war against the Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Going by the 2001 book, a massive terrorist attack on Mumbai ought to have provoked India into launching a limited military strike in Pakistan.
In such circumstances, the Pakistan Army could have ended their anti-Taliban campaign and marched off to counter the Indian challenge. They would once again have become heroes in the eyes of the public, and the US would have found it difficult to question the decision. A subsidiary consequence of this would have been an end to Asif Zaradari’s peace rhetoric relating to India.
Because generals usually learn to fight the last war better, the Pakistani plot has failed. India has not reacted militarily. The Pakistan Army must continue its war in the west, and at the same time face increasing international opprobrium and pressure with regard to their proxy warriors. The game has just begun, but with patience and fortitude, we can yet prevail. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.
This article was first published in Mail Today December 18, 2008

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