What now after Baramulla?

The Pakistan army’s being more agile and faster on the draw and initiative means that India will always be wrongfooted. Apparently, the targeted state is far from comatose as defence minister Manohar Parrikar prematurely declared it as anesthetized — a strange metaphor to use. While the Modi government and much of the country was celebrating what media and official circles continue to mislabel as “surgical strikes” when the Sept 28 night attacks were, as I have indicated, in the genre of the normal Special Forces actions the Northern Command occasionally undertakes on the Line of Control where “hit teams” amble out across the line to shoot up-blow up things on the Pakistani side, amble back to safety behind own lines. There’s mutual deniability. Whence Pakis denied any SF operation had taken place. Hearing the media commentariat go bonkers and our politicians ballistic — besides Parrikar, Home Minister Rajnath Singh self-satisfyingly saying India had given — this being UP political lingo — a “muh tod jawab”, what will all these parties do now that the attack by suspected LeT/JeM jihadis on the Rashtriya Rifles camp in Baramulla did not fetch any kills of the intruders? They need to shut up and think of what next to do.

It seems likely that ISI activated a sleeper cell already inside the Srinagar valley, because the alternative explanation that the Pakis risked another infiltration so soon after the last one suggests that the army and BSF, despite being on heightened alert, still did not police the LoC with sufficient diligence.

It is doubtful GOI had prepared to deal with an attack so close in time after the one that created so much ruckus. But that’s doing the unexpected and Indian forces, predictably, mostly reactive by habit are trying now to quell the disturbance, rather than, jointly with the BSF and armed J&K Police and with local intelligence handy, sanitize the border zone with door-to-door searches and, grid-wise, combing operations in areas close to LoC with a history of being hospitable to cross-LoC jihadis. In the absence of such measures, we have the present situation of GOI, apparently, once again caught unawares. And a Hindi TV program rightly wondered whether India would be engaged in “serial surgical strikes” on PoK targets in response to serial terrorist attacks on Indian military targets?

It emphasizes the need for a permanent system of automatic and instantaneous retaliation I have previously mooted, and which should — two decades after Hizbul Mujahideen under Salahuddin (who decamped for PoK) after New Delhi clumsily rigged state elections and he was declared a loser — have been in good functioning order, had someone thought of so basic a set-up.

Should such an organization for coordinated intelligence assessment, operational planning, and prompt action be established as is desperately required to be done, it will have to wrestle with precisely such situation as unfolded in Baramulla.

There has to be punitive action — there cannot now be a break in the action-reaction sequence initiated by the Indian counter-strike. There’s no doubt about this. Not responding will convince Pak army and ISI that India has no stomach for a sustained fight. This cannot be allowed to happen. Instantaneous anything seems beyond the ken of the government and the armed forces. What’s the second best option? A genuine “surgical strike” on targets deeper in PoK rather than on the LoC where targets will now be hard to find as the Pak army, per news reports, have moved the terrorist training camps, etc to hinterland areas, such as Nowshera and Jhelum.

While readying the armour and mechanized fleets, as is supposedly happening to dissuade possible Paki reactions is fine, the fact is Pak GHQR will not do anything as foolish as to get into a general war with India and start a conventional military affray south of Gurdaspur (and across the international border), meaning it will not respond to an Indian punitive strike by crossing the delineated India-Pak boundary. Even less will Raheel Sharif consider even remotely the nuclear option — something more people — with no idea of what they are talking about — are doing here than on the other side, Khwaja Asif and that lot of foolish Paki pols excepted.

But whatever else they do, the Indian media and politicians need to pipe down, not indulge in escalatory rhetoric, which is almost as bad as the real thing in mucking up matters. Kuttayuddha is necessarily silently prosecuted without all the Sturm and Drang. Part of covert warfare is the absolute necessity for greater surveillance of the Kashmiri population, whether it likes it or not, to identify those families/households potentially giving comfort to the LeT/JeM fighters as prelude to weeding them out.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Israel, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, Special Forces, United States, US. | 12 Comments

Let the lesser state know

(The basic argument made in the previous post (Hindustan Times) is fleshed out with brief analyses of the diplomatic initiatives in the past ten days in this piece published in the ‘Open’ magazine, 30 September 2016 at http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/comment/let-the-lesser-state-know. Incidentally the Uri Brigade commander, Brig K. Somashankar, has been removed from his post.)
The midnight attack on terror camps in PoK alone won’t bring Pakistan to heel. We have a lot more to do

A WEEK AFTER the terrorist attack on the Uri Brigade encampments by four jihadi-terrorists that killed 18 troops and wounded some fifty others of the Bihar and Dogra Regiments, and the spiralling of public expectations about imminent and singular retaliation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Bharatiya Janata Party conclave in Kozhikode on 24 September called, anti-climactically, for “a thousand year war” with Pakistan on poverty, disease and illiteracy (albeit, in a thundering tone), sounding verily like a pumped-up political Mother Teresa—all sinew, grace and forgiveness. Not exactly the dislocating measure the BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav had promised when he signalled a “Pakistani jaw” for an Indian “tooth”.

Modi recognised that when the policy cupboard is bare of options, it is best to do nothing, and in this, emulate Atal Bihari Vajpayee (after the 13 December 2001 attack on Parliament) and Manmohan Singh (post-26 November 2008 strike on Mumbai). So he has reacted as a leader of a ‘responsible’ nation with excessive restraint—the hallmark of Indian policy, launched a diplomatic campaign to ‘isolate’ Pakistan, and otherwise red-flagged India’s impotence. The fact that the Prime Minister has been brought this to pass owes centrally to the Indian military’s characteristic laxity and complacency that allowed the terrorist penetration and precipitated the crisis in the first place, bringing the perennial problems of unpreparedness and incapacity to mount a hard- hitting counter once again into the public eye.

Also, evident was the not-so-subtle pressure from the United States, the country’s preferred ‘strategic partner’ in the new century, to be reasonable in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, which it does not tolerate itself. Recall the September 2001 visit by the US Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage to Islamabad in the wake of the 9/11 outrage when he warned General Pervez Musharraf to support the war America was going to unleash on the Taliban in Afghanistan, failing which, to face a Pakistan bombed back to the ‘stone age’. Musharraf duly complied.

But to be fair to previous prime ministers, they decided on doing nothing only after finding out from the Indian military that it could do nothing. Even as the terrorist intruders were being mopped up on Parliament grounds, an emergency meeting was called by Vajpayee to explore retaliation. In his inimitable way, he asked the then Army chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Sundararajan Padmanabhan: “Aap kuchh kar sakte hain? (Can you do something?)” There was studied silence accompanied by a slow shaking of his head from side-to-side by Padmanabhan. I have often wondered how this response was ‘minuted’ by the Cabinet Secretary. Seven years later, with Kasab and Company storming five-star hotels on the Mumbai shoreline, the Indian military was, as on the earlier occasion, all at sea. Manmohan Singh questioned the Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major about launching sorties against the Pakistan army-run Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad training camps and logistics hubs in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK), only to be told that the Indian Air-Force did not—just then— have the target coordinates for surgical strikes.

Eight years on, come the attacks on the Pathankot air base this January, and several months later, the attack on the Uri camp, we see the same actors reprising their familiar roles. The Government seemed surprised and acted flustered, the armed services revealed their by-now-patent incapacity to prevent jihadis from sauntering into the Uri camp and shooting Indian soldiers or to retaliate meaningfully. And Modi talked soberly of mobilising international public opinion to pressure Islamabad. India, however, has yet to come to grips with Pakistan’s ongoing asymmetric warfare. With small-scale conflicts seen as diverting it from preparing for ‘proper’ wars, preferably only with Pakistan and then with imported armaments, and resource scarcity hindering the procurement of exorbitantly-priced foreign hardware to fight this war with, the Indian military finds itself unable to prosecute any type of war well, whether it is asymmetric-covert, conventional, or ‘hybrid’ with nuclear overtones.

Moreover, because the Government does not believe in integrating the military or its efforts, there is no centralised authority such as chief of defence staff, nor a single comprehensive operational plan, leaving the three armed services free to tackle terrorism in their separate, lackadaisical, ways. Thus, Army units, time and again, do basic things wrong, like not establishing an impermeable perimeter security to protect their own camps for a start, and the Air Force is always operationally unready, at the point of decision, to launch instantaneous retaliatory raids (even as retired IAF grandees write op-eds extolling aerial strikes as the best means of punitive action against Pakistan).

Post-Uri, one thing is clear: it is Pakistan that is focused, has proved itself adept at conducting a low cost covert war that, to use a tired phrase, ‘bleeds India by a thousand cuts’, and that India has no counter. And it pre-empts Indian retaliation by putting frontline Army divisions on alert, closes off the air space in northern Pakistan and PoK for exclusive military use, sequesters long sections of the Lahore-Islamabad super highway for emergency combat aircraft operations and, aware that New Delhi is easily rattled by nuclear threats, openly flaunts the possibility of using its short-range nuclear missiles in case India sends its armour trundling across the border. In fact, the situation is so unbalanced and favouring the lesser state, Pakistan enjoys both the psychological and seemingly also the material edge. Whence, the spectacle of politicians and ex-soldiers on Pakistan TV programmes jeering at the Indian military’s risk-averse attitude and taunting Indian soldiers for “fearing death”.

The Indian Government, as always, is as confused as the Indian military about how to handle Pakistan’s relentless needling and equally uncertain about how to react. There is apparently no understanding of the nature of the conflict Pakistan has imposed on India. The evidence of this is in the usual harrumphing from official quarters about retribution being visited on Pakistan at a time and place of New Delhi’s choosing. Or, in the ideas mooted by retired military brass, such as former Army Chief General Bikram Singh, who has damned “our traditional laissez faire policy of inaction and passivity”, called for a “befitting response”, and recommended that an appropriate retaliatory scheme be chosen from among a number of “comprehensive plans for all possible contingencies” he claims the military has drafted. But, he calls for the punitive military action to take place only after the “precautionary defensive measures” adopted by the Pakistan military to thwart Indian retaliation are removed. In other words, he advises waiting out the Pakistanis!

Considering that the Pakistan military is more organisationally nimble and in a higher state of readiness and can be fielded faster than its Indian counterpart, this is useless counsel and, in any case, misses the point. Unless retaliation for terrorist acts is immediate and automatic, it loses its value. The standard operating procedure (SOP) should be that such actions are launched on first information of a terrorist strike followed by an official statement declaring that this action is limited and strictly in response to the preceding terrorist provocation, and that any military riposte to it would be escalatory for which Pakistan would bear the burden. This would offer justification, be a warning, and inhibit Pakistan from taking steps that could lead to spiralling of conflict. Such a clearly articulated Indian policy will be acceptable to the international community as well. However, if India waits for the mythical ‘right time’ to react, it may be a long wait, and the advantage of hitting back instantly would evaporate because, in the intervening time, the causality link between the terrorist incident and the retaliatory action will be lost.

It is precisely the absence of ready capability for a reflexive response, predicated on—and this is important—strike platforms at the ready and geared for instantaneous action and clued by continually updated operational plans and information regarding prioritised target sets and target coordinates, that is at the heart of India’s troubles and, visibly, Pakistan’s success. Such a system of instant and certain retribution kicking in automatically and every time there’s a terrorist provocation would at once establish the norm. Is such a system hard to obtain? Not at all, but curiously nobody in the Indian Government and military has thought of setting it up. So, each terrorist event is a revelation, treated de novo, requires the same bureaucratic head-banging to conceive and plan options, all of which take time. Soon it becomes yesterday’s concern, with the whole process petering out due to the flagging concern of all the parties involved, until the next terrorist event when this rigmarole is repeated.

Most of these terrorist moves would be ‘throttled in the cradle’ as it were if the intelligence agencies and the armed services did their jobs. The 26/11 attack happened in Mumbai because of loose maritime security; Pathankot occurred owing to base security being reduced to a joke, and now Uri because there was no policing of the approaches to the camp. In each case, it is the lack of perimeter security that facilitated the terrorist mayhem.

Let’s consider the Uri episode in slight detail. Uri is a salient, bordered on its three sides by the Line of Control (LoC)—some 6 km at the shortest distance, which is preferred by jihadis for infiltration purposes, and around 14 km in the other two directions. The 27 km of front in this sector is manned by a single Indian Army battalion with two Border Security Force (BSF) battalions in support. The Army and BSF camps are supposedly in adjoining locations. But the institutional tension between the Army and the paramilitary and their desire to minimise interaction led to a virtual ‘no man’s land’ being created between the Army and BSF camps. It is this vacant, unpoliced seam stretching to the LoC that the four terrorists exploited on 18 September to reach the Mess serving the Dogra and Bihari troops. It is the same seam two other jihadis used a few days after the Uri attack, but were apprehended because this time there was proper patrolling. There is, however, no explanation why, despite the awareness of the vulnerabilities of the Uri camp sites, the Army and BSF unit commanders failed to take the elementary precaution of providing overlapping coverage, why no armed watch was mounted in this space, and why the outer tier had no monitoring with raised sand-bagged positions, prefab posts, and roving patrols 24/7, given that Jammu and Kashmir, and especially the areas along the LoC, constitute an active (covert) war zone.

A former Kashmir-based Corps commander blames the Army’s flawed practice of concentrating the technical means for detecting irregular movements such as thermal imagers, on the LoC rather than deploying some of them rearwards to protect military facilities and installations. There’s also the fact that a good proportion of these imagers are, at any given moment in time, offline because they are broken down or undergoing servicing and repairs. Further, as a recent official report has observed, advanced technology surveillance sensors, like thermal imagers and ‘laser walls’ installed on the LoC to spot violations on the border in real time, do not always work as advertised, owing to the difficult terrain. In other words, for fail-proof physical security against terrorists, there’s no alternative to alert manpower, perimeter policing, and attentive patrolling on land and water. But such security regimen will work only when unit commanders are held accountable for lapses rather than, as happened in Pathankot, where the commander of the air base was merely transferred, not cashiered. But imaginative moves to fight terrorists, such as the placement in the mid-1990s of a unit of the powerful Marine Commando on the Wular Lake by the Navy Chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat that deterred jihadis from crossing this water body to reach the Srinagar Valley, are missing.

A good solution to sharpen the military instincts and lift spirits may be to empower and incentivise (with proper career-furthering rewards) the commanders of forward deployed units to react to terrorist bedlam by planning and executing reciprocal actions across the LoC with deliberate speed and lethality. This works. On 28 July 2011, in response to Pakistani troops sneaking into a prefab LoC post in the 15 Corps sector and beheading two Indian jawans, a revenge operation was planned, timed for the Eid holidays. Aware that large numbers of Pakistani army officers and men go on leave on this festive occasion, a 20-strong team of five officers, several JCOs, and a bunch of jawans, crossed the LoC and ambushed a truck carrying these Pakistani military-men to their homes. Five enemy heads were taken as trophy. It created a hubbub on the Pakistani side with the Pakistan DGMO (Director General Military Operations) calling his Indian opposite number to complain but meeting with a denial because the Indian DGMO was not in the loop. The message, however, struck home. Pakistanis have not repeated such an atrocity since.

Even though effective, this is still success only at the tactical level. For more enduring impact a two-pronged strategy needs to be pursued. One prong is to put the country’s Special Forces (SF)—which are penny-packeted as Northern Army reserve and wasted in small time missions across the LoC to blow up a bridge here, a culvert there—to more strategic uses deep inside PoK (to hinder progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, for instance). Indeed, it was a typical shallow (2 km) cross-LoC Indian SF operation to take out a couple of terrorist camps that was staged by the Army on the night of 28 September, perhaps as a face-saving gesture. It killed some 38 jihadis but did not address the core concern of a capability void.

For telling effect, SF actions need to be integrated with RAW’s activities inside Pakistan, as part of a sustained covert war or kuttayuddha . In fact, I have long maintained that as shared legatees of Chanakya’s philosophy and the Arthashastra, it is ironic that Pakistan is a better practitioner of kuttayuddha than India. The other prong is full-court diplomatic pressure in regional and international forums. This two-pronged strategy is premised on the belief that (1) responding to terrorism by ordering field armies into action (as happened with Operation Parakram in 2001) is inapt and a wasteful use of the military, and is to be avoided at all cost, and (2) no matter what, Pakistan will persist with its policy of waging asymmetric warfare against India, the best antidote to which may be to pay Islamabad back in the same coin.

Fortunately, there’s no dearth of faultlines to exploit— Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan in PoK being the most obvious, the discontented Muhajir community, Sindhi nationalism, and support for Kabul’s territorial claims by de-recognising the Durand Line as the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, being the other possibilities. The CPEC is an obvious economic target also strategically to discomfit China. Reviving the disbanded CITX (Counter Intelligence Team-X) inside the external intelligence agency, RAW, to more effectively use the resources cultivated within Pakistan, fits in with such strategy. The above covert strategy should hereafter remain the constant in India-Pakistan relations, its talons partially drawn in during periods when Islamabad moderates its policies.

The fact is, diplomatic and other responses hove into view this time around once it became plain the BJP Government had no credible military response-options. But attempts to isolate Pakistan, or to declare it as a state sponsoring terrorism aren’t working because it is not in the US’s and China’s interests to do so. That has left New Delhi scraping the barrel. Ditching SAARC and replacing it with a SAARC-minus Pakistan organisation has some merit. But it will signal a move away from South Asian solidarity. The ramifications of this move will be felt in the long term as China will increasingly dominate Pakistan’s space, which, strategically speaking, will end up hurting Indian interests by consolidating the Chinese presence more fully on this country’s western flank as well. Modi should have thought of what this will end up meaning for India.

Withdrawal of the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status likewise is a gesture that may cost India more. India enjoys a balance of payments edge in the minuscule bilateral trade of some $3 billion plus with Pakistan. But it will lose twice as much with the loss of the so-called ‘switch trade’ involving all manner of goods from tyres to cosmetics that happens with ships bound for Dubai anchoring off Karachi and offloading some of their cargo.

The other punitive measure being contemplated is not to abrogate the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT), which Washington will not countenance, but to implement its provisions that permit India to more fully harvest the river system, westwards, something Pakistan has feared will reduce the water flow available to it.

The IWT allows India to use 1.34 million acre-feet (MAF) of the Indus waters for irrigation purposes, of which only some 0.792 MAF are presently utilised. India is also permitted to build hydropower projects and ‘run of the river’ storage facilities for 3.6 MAF on the Chenab River, whose main waters are otherwise for exclusive Pakistani use. Further, India has so far not majorly exploited the waters of the three eastern rivers IWT allotted to India (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej) for agriculture, and as much as 3 MAF of water flows into Pakistan and, absent infrastructure there, is completely wasted as a run-off to the sea. Should India, operating within the ambit of the IWT, speed the construction of the requisite infrastructure—big dams, smaller storage facilities, and hydropower stations on the Chenab, and on the eastern rivers, to meet India’s burgeoning energy and water needs—it will psychologically subdue Pakistan. The Indus is Pakistan’s lifeline, and any perceived loss of this water may render Islamabad more amenable than any threat from ‘Cold Start’, intervention in Balochistan, loss of SAARC, or rattling of nuclear sabres.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian para-military forces, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US. | 14 Comments

Surgical strikes: A face-saving move or planned retaliation?

Amid the self-congratulatory noises emanating from the BJP government and the satisfied snorting of the media commentators in the aftermath of the “surgical strikes” on jihadi targets 2-3 kms across the Line of Control (LoC), several contentious issues have come to the fore.

In the context of a ramped-up Hammurabi Code voiced by the BJP general secretary Ram Madhav who promised “jaw” for “tooth”, the strikes by heli-lifted special forces on seven staging areas in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) were fairly tame, retributive, actions of the kind routinely undertaken by frontline units of the Indian Army in response to some Pakistani provocation or the other. The present strike seems like a scaled up version, for instance, of the shallow penetration and ambush on July 28, 2011, in the 15 Corps sector of a transport carrying Pakistani troops proceeding home on Eid leave, culminating in five heads being taken as trophy. This was retaliation in kind to a Pakistani attack in the previous days on an Indian post and the beheadings of two Indian soldiers.

Such tactical level actions often involving regimental izzat and inconclusive artillery and small arms duels are par for the course. So there was nothing particularly novel or new about the attack this time around by Indian para-commando. What was innovative, however, was the follow-up move by the Director General, Military Operations, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh to apprise his Pakistani counterpart of the successful Indian operation and to request Pakistan army’s cooperation in eliminating the jihadis. It, in effect, has prevented Pakistan from escalating. But the lapse in time between the Uri attack and the riposte suggests that the commando action was more an after-thought and a face-saver for the government than a thoroughly prepared action.

This is because of absence of an in-place system facilitating instant, automatic and, depending on the situation, proportionate or deterrent response to Pakistan army-driven terrorist events. The evolving international norm is for punitive, anti-terrorist actions, to be launched in the immediate wake of an egregious terrorist incident accompanied by official assurance (such as by Ranbir Singh) about such strikes being limited response to specific provocation, while indicating readiness to deal with any military reaction and possible escalation.

This requires that India, embroiled in an asymmetric conflict prosecuted by an adversarial Pakistan, have strike platforms at the ready at all times, primed by continuously updated intelligence and information about prioritised targets and target coordinates, and Pakistan’s military preparedness, etc, so no time is lost for the punishment to get underway. Lacking such a system, each terrorist incident is treated anew and initiates the same rigmarole of bureaucratised consultations up and down the government and the laborious process of conceiving and fleshing out options, this despite two decades of experience of fighting the jihadi-terrorists, who constitute an irregular arm of the Pakistan army.

The system of automaticity of proportional and punitive retaliation linked to anti-terrorist intent will do two things: Compel Pakistan to carefully think through the kind of terrorist event it may, at any given time, be planning. If it tips over, inadvertently or otherwise, into something big, General Headquarters, Rawalpindi (GHQR), would inadvertently face a situation spiraling out of its control — something it doesn’t want.

Second, with major provocations and escalation thus pre-empted, the situation will stabilise at low, mutually tolerable, levels of insurgency-counter-insurgency operations. This is not an ideal situation, but India and Pakistan could live with it until fatigue of the Kashmiris combines with good sense in GHQR to end the turmoil in the Srinagar valley and a compromise is implemented with Pakistan along the lines agreed upon by President Pervez Musharraf in the mid-2000s.

A more worrying aspect pertains to the Indian armed services’ characteristic unpreparedness for immediate retaliatory action. It forced AB Vajpayee after the December 2001 attack on Parliament to order the more wasteful “general mobilisation for war” once the Army chief General S Padmanabhan intimated him that the military was not in a position to take immediate action, and left Manmohan Singh in 2008 with the alternative of doing nothing after he was informed by the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major that IAF did not, just then, have target coordinates of terrorist camps in PoK.

It is also the military’s complacency and, apparently, habitual laxity about perimeter security that have permitted terrorist intrusions and incidents to happen in the first place. The attack on Mumbai in 2008 occurred because the loose, in theory multi-tiered, maritime security allowed the seaborne attackers to slip through. Pathankot happened in January owing to base security being reduced to a joke. And now the Uri event obtained because the jihadis sauntered to the Army camp by taking the un-policed path between the Army and Border Security Force camps that stretches to the LoC.

While it is well to criticise the government and the political class for their terminal indecisiveness, it is time the Indian armed services are held accountable for inexcusable lapses in preparedness and security. To continue to treat the armed services as holy cow is to fundamentally undermine national defence.
Published in the Hindustan Times, October 1, 2016, in the Net edition, at http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/surgical-strikes-a-face-saving-move-or-planned-retaliation/story-cdFJHE4KYpAcXFuOOm6ZCN.html, and in the print edition as “Let’s call a spade a spade”.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism | 23 Comments

Efficacy of India’s diplomatic response to Uri — Rajya Sabha TV

There was a panel discussion, involving Lt Gen Mohammad Ata Hasnain (Retd), former GOC 15 Corps, ex-Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal and myself in the Rajya Sabha TV programme ‘India’s World’ on “How effective is India’s diplomatic response to Pakistan” recorded on September 24, 2016, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz-spo9s9Yw&list=PLVOgwA_DiGzpWrMV__M9_rHINn7PzABlM

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Maldives, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., West Asia | 1 Comment

The Surgical Attacks Will Change the Rules of India-Pakistan Game

The Director-General of Military Operations, Indian Army, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh’s announcement that India had launched a series of strikes on the night of 28 September against seven different “launch pads” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that jihadi terrorists used for attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) has come as a relief.

Especially, no doubt, to the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that had raised expectations of a disproportionately harsh response to the terrorist strikes on 18 September that resulted in the death of 19 jawans of the Bihar and Dogra regiments, but had stayed its hand until now.

In fact, these may have been the second set of cross-LoC strikes; the first lot of attacks going in on the night of 21 September, as first reported by The Quint. (Read: Army Confirms PoK Surgical Ops: 1st Strike Reported by The Quint)

Setting a Precedent for Proportional Retaliation

This is the first time that India has reacted with military action to a terrorist event. It obviously surprised the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence which, based on India’s past record of not responding to even significant political and economic provocations, such as the attack on Parliament on 13 December, 2001, followed seven years later by the attack on the commercial capital, Mumbai on 26 November, 2008, must have assumed that no Indian retaliation would be forthcoming.

This may be deduced from the large number of jihadi fatalities, as many as 70-odd if the Indian army’s estimate of each pad having ten terrorists and two ISI minders holds up. Had the Pakistan Army anticipated these counter-strikes they would have been prepared to meet them and engaged in fire-fights and attempted to shoot down the helicopters engaged in lifting the Special Forces to their target sites.

Such retaliation is fully justified both in terms of raising the cost to the Pakistan Army and setting a precedent for proportional retaliation in the future. General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, had so far assumed that their choice of asymmetric warfare was cost free and hence carried on with them without compunction.

India’s response in kind is also condoned by international law under the rubric of “self defence”. Article 51 of the UN Charter, for instance, states clearly that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”.

The ramifications of India’s retaliatory measure, albeit belated, are many. In the main, New Delhi has changed the rules of the game that Pakistan was playing by. India has now asserted its right to punish Pakistan, manifestly a state sponsor of terrorism, for its sustained campaign to destabilise Jammu & Kashmir and keep India unsettled, in a manner that will pass muster with the international community.

The Indian reaction has been localised and keyed to eliminating the threat from only those who posed a terrorist threat to the country.

The other equally significant aspect is that it has proved that the Modi government will shrug off the pressure from friendly Western states with the United States in the lead, that India observe restraint as it has done in the past, and that a non-response accompanied with a lot of “Don’t do it again” warnings and teeth-gnashing by the Indian government would be sufficient to deter Pakistan from again playing the terrorist card.

It did not ever work, but previous Indian governments were too eager to please Washington to do what’s good and right by India. This may be as important a change in India’s foreign policy mindset as the determination to strike at Pakistan — the linchpin of terrorism in southern Asia, whose baleful effects are being felt in ever-widening circles.

And finally, this anti-terrorist action suggests the Modi government has gone over the hump of hesitation and inaction that had marked its attitude after the terrorist jihadi attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January this year, and is now resolved hereafter to deal with the LeT and JeM outlaws and their minders as they deserve to be treated — with extreme prejudice.
Published in the Quint, September 29, 2016, at https://www.thequint.com/politics/2016/09/29/the-surgical-attacks-will-change-the-rules-of-india-pakistan-game-after-cross-border-loc-strike-after-uri-attack

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, United States, US. | 15 Comments

Utilizing phased-out fighter aircraft for educational purposes

There’s little the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi and the Ministry of Defence under Manohar Parrikar, under a cloud after their studied non-response to the latest Pakistan-supported terrorist provocation (in Uri), can do, considering the Indian military has been criminally negligent in doing the basic things right, like having strong perimeter security even around their own encampments and depots in the extended Kashmir “covert war” zone (which includes Pathankot) and left them with no choice worth the name.

May be Parrikar, who has allowed himself time and again to be railroaded into wrong decisions usually by Modi and his PMO (LEMOA, Rafale, prospectively EMALS), can do something imaginative and good for the country for a change! Here’s a suggestion that takes him far from the immediate concerns but which would have tremendous consequences in terms of seeding a huge aerospace engineering base in the country and propelling not, “Make in India” effort which will merely reinforce the licensed manufacture tendency in the indigenous defence industry in both public and private sectors, but a genuine design-to-delivery capability for all manner of combat aviation platforms, from fighter planes to fighting drones.

It will simply require Parrikar, an IIT alumunus, to instruct his Ministry that, hereafter, no phased out aircraft — combat or transport, will be sold as scrap but rather transferred with its full complement of avionics and communications suites to the aerospace engineering departments functioning in the numerous Indian Institutes of Technology, the National Institutes of Technology and, foremost in this group, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. It will enable undergrad and graduate students in these departments to gain familiarity with just deactivated/near-operational combat and transport platforms, and gain knowledge of diverse technologies through intense laboratory study as a means, down the line, of reverse engineering every part and component, sub-assembly, so that in time and as part of their course work for their advanced degrees they are capable of innovating the machine designs they have dissected and put together on a series of MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27 aircraft. Imagine the high quality skills engineers and designers will have acquired along with their degrees, instead of just being armed with bookish knowledge. This manpower could step right into high-pressure jobs and begin producing for DRDO labs and DPSUs in the government sector, and increasingly, for private sector defence industrial ventures, which, hopefully, will have a larger role in the future.

This endowing by the government of advanced technology and platforms is normal in the more advanced societies where universities are the intellectual seedbeds for nursing and generating skilled manpower for the national aerospace/aviation sector. The Aerospace Depts at Caltech, Pasadena, and Purdue University, specializing in engineering sciences, which produced Neill Armstrong — first man on the moon who, after his astronaut career returned to his alma mater as professor of aerospace engineering, are famous for their achievements. Purdue, for instance, has its own aircraft and even an air strip!

Of course, babus up and down the chain in MOD who have long benefited from the selling of demobilized aircraft as scrap will be angry and upset. But, perhaps, Parrikar will risk their ire and take the decision to dispatch the decommissioned MiG fighter aircraft to the educational institutions, for the greater good of the country.

Posted in corruption, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, United States, US. | 48 Comments

Rafales, India’s secret nuclear weapons city(?)

There’s little left to say which’s not already been said. So we await the signing at the MOD tomorrow (Aug 23) in the presence of the Indian and French defence ministers Manohar Parrikar and Jean Yves le Drian respectively of the 7.9 billion Euro deal for the French Rafale fighter aircraft along with the full ordnance loads of unproved (in real live battle conditions against, not Libya for God’s sake, but a proficient foe) “smart” missiles and stuff, such as the Meteor AAM.

Much is made by the Modi government about saving 750 million Euros. Considering the deal for 36 Rafales will cost upward of US$ 30 billion eventually, when the final bill is totted up, this “saving” is small change, and one the French, having finally succeeded in baiting and reeling in India, can well afford. This manifestly bad deal will only reinforce India’s reputation as a country with government displaying little strategic sense but with a spendthrift’s way with the hard-earned Indian people’s monies where military hardware is concerned — an attitude arms peddlers and supplier states rejoice in.

So, let’s take our mind off this vexatious topic and on to another equally important one relating to the partly underground “vertically integrated” secret nuclear weapons “city” — such as the Russian Arazmas 16 complex, revolving around new, more numerous, centrifuge cascades to enrich uranium to bomb grade for weapons and as fuel for the Indian SSBNs, being built in hinterland Karnataka. Al-Jazeera is hardly a disinterested TV company, being Arab-owned. But it is the first to air a programme on this subject, albeit with the familiar tilts. This programme on ‘India’s Top Secret Nuclear City’ was broadcast August 31, 2016, and is accessible on youtube.com at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTF0tuGEup4.

Whether this N-weapons complex will be used for genuine strategic impact in terms of designing advanced thermonuclear weapons with various yield-to-weight ratios, including very high yield weapons, and experimenting with developing miniaturized fifth-generation clean fusion armaments will, however, remain a matter of hope, prayer, and speculation. But what chances of this last with the generic “government’ in New Delhi institutionally unwilling to risk resumption of nuclear explosive testing because devoid of strategic sensibility?

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Weapons, Western militaries | 34 Comments