The report that the US is contemplating unilateral strikes should an attack on its homeland be traced to Pakistan, should not occasion surprise. US Secretary of State more or less said this in the wake of the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to set off an improvised explosive device (IED) in Times Square early this month.
According to The Washington Post that broke the story, the US options for such a strike could include air and missile strikes, as well as the use of US Special Operations forces for raids inside Pakistan.
Currently, the US strike capability for Pakistan focuses on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. They are used in a very restricted fashion with just about 40 or so strikes attributed to them this year concentrating mainly on the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan. These use single or a salvo of several missiles at one time and clearly what the US is contemplating is something larger.
The US is now confronting a dilemma that India has faced ever since the Khalistani terrorists began creating mayhem in Punjab and Delhi in the 1980s. Many of these used sanctuaries and assistance from Pakistani operatives. In the early 1990s, Pakistan gave sanctuary to thousands of Kashmiris, trained and armed them and sent them to fight India in Kashmir. But New Delhi forebore any action across the Line of Control. That has been the pattern of the Indian retaliation since then — it has chosen to defuse the Pakistani terror threat on Indian soil, without getting involved in any cross-border action. This message was most clearly visible when Pakistan used its forces to occupy Indian territory in Kargil as well.
But the event that really strained Indian patience was the Mumbai blasts of 1993 that the Pakistani ISI organised with the help of the Mumbai underworld dons like Dawood Ibrahim and Mushtaq (Tiger) Memon. This was arguably the worst act of terrorism till Nine-Eleven came along. 250 people died and 700 were injured in the 13 near-simultaneous bomb blasts across the city. The police quickly gathered enough evidence to show that a number of people of the Mumbai underworld had travelled to Pakistan via Dubai, and had received training in the use of IEDs and AK-47s. In 1994, Tiger Memon’s brother inexplicably returned and surrendered to Indian authorities with more proof of official Pakistani complicity in the terrible event.
Despite all this, the Clinton administration worked overtime to prevent any Indian retaliation for the terrorist act. Indeed, in 1992, the last year of the senior George Bush administration, the US had threatened to put Pakistan on a list of nations who were state sponsors of terrorism. But the Clinton team took that off the agenda in the very year that Pakistan’s complicity in a massive act of terrorism became apparent.
This is the pattern of US behaviour since. In 2001, when India massed its forces on the border in response to the terror strike on Parliament, the Americans cautioned restraint. Though, a case can be made out to say that President George W. Bush actually waited nearly 10 days for the Indians to act before pleading for restraint. The Indian side was not ready, and so, playing the world leader, Bush called New Delhi and Islamabad.
In the wake of the 2008 Mumbai
strike, too, the US went into a diplomatic overdrive, but it did not have to try
too hard as New Delhi did not seriously contemplate any military retaliation. The problem was that its army expressed its unwillingness to act immediately.
In retrospect, the planned Indian action could have led to full-scale war with unforeseen consequences. The US action that the Post is talking about is likely to be in a lesser scale. Washington does not have the manpower or the stomach for anything major. In any case it is very much there in Afghanistan across the FATA region and is not likely to take a step that could precipitate an upheaval in Pakistan where it is probably disliked even more than the Indians.
This appeared in Mail Today May 30, 2010