Sunday, November 30, 2008

Military pressure is critical

INS RajputThe Indian Navy destroyer INS Rajput courtesy Bharat-Rakshak

In his testimony to the US Department of Defence Commission way back in 1983, Brian Michael Jenkins, a counter-terrorism expert of the Rand Corporation, said: " A growing number of governments themselves are using terrorist tactics, employing terrorist groups or exploiting terrorist incidents as a mode of surrogate warfare. These Governments see in terrorism a useful capability, a weapons system, a cheap means of waging war...."

This is what the Pakistan army has been doing against the people of India for the last twenty years. Groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), and many others have been trained by the Pakistan army to form the alternative "army of Islam" with which they strike repeatedly in India and Afghanistan (and possibly in West Asia and Central Asia). The Mumbai terror attacks, planned months in advance by the Pakistan army intelligence (ISI), are only the most recent of these strikes.

The Manmohan Singh government can take a lesson from what the previous Vajpayee government found out in its dealing with the Pakistan army and its foreign backers: they only respond to direct military pressure.

The December 13 2001 terror attacks on the Indian Parliament came after the US had invaded Afghanistan and forced Pakistan to provide air bases for that purpose. The Pakistan army personnel in Afghanistan, and their Arab and Taliban allies, beat a hasty retreat to their country, and their enemies the Northern Alliance entered Kabul. The attack by the "army of Islam" in India, was a continuation of the Pakistan army's war against India, and an attempt to reassure its cadre that even though their occupation of Afghanistan was over, hostilities with India could continue with US support.

World leaders condemned the attack and offered their usual platitudes; but no one took any action against the Pakistan army. No one raised the issue in the UN security council nor was any diplomatic pressure applied on the Pakistanis. When India revealed that the LET and JEM were behind the attack, the Pakistan army impishly asked for "proof". And their foreign backers kept a studied silence.

Disgusted and enraged by this reaction the Vajpayee government ordered the mobilization and forward deployment (Operation Parakram) of the Indian armed forces on December 18. It was only after this massing of a large army that the visibly nervous Bush administration blocked the assets of the LET and JEM, terming them as "foreign terrorist organizations" on December 20. And even then the White House and State Department tried to cover the Pakistan army's terrorist hand by describing the LET as "a stateless sponsor of terrorism."

When India refused to budge and continued to apply military pressure on Pakistan, the Bush administration ordered the Pakistan army to close LET and JEM camps, arrest their leaders, and freeze their financial assets. The Pakistanis made some nominal moves and ultimately refused to carry out these obligations, allowing these groups to continue operating under changed names and in new locations; and the US was unable, or unwilling, to pressure their "allies" anymore. In fact they tried to pressurize India instead. Despite such pressure the military deployment remained in place until democratic elections were successfully completed in India's J&K state, blunting Pakistan's terror campaign there.

India's military response

The lesson from 2001 is that military pressure is critical to influence the Pakistan army and the US. The US State Department always knew that the Pakistanis were rogues, but pretended to look the other way while hundreds of thousands of Indians were massacred over the past two decades. They willingly swallowed the Pakistani lie that terrorists operating in India were indigenous; just because no US citizen was being killed there. The Americans also allowed Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons, and continued arming it with conventional weapons, which it used against the people of occupied Baluchistan.

In response to the commando operation by the Pakistani terrorists from their coast, their training by the Pakistan navy, their hijacking of an Indian fishing trawler, and the naval assault on Mumbai, there must be aggressive patrolling by the Indian Navy. This patrolling must extend along the Pakistani shore and upto the Persian Gulf. And there must be search-and-seizure of ships and their cargo; any suspicious vessel heading into Pakistan must be turned back. India enjoys a clear naval superiority over the Pakistanis and any attempt by the latter to take hostile action will be crushed.

During the Kargil War of 1999, while fighting between the Indian and Pakistani armies was confined to the upper Himalayas in J&K state, the Indian Navy had forced the Pakistan Navy to stay close to its Karachi harbour. During Op Parakram in 2001-02 as well, the navy deployed over a dozen warships, including five from the Eastern Naval Command, in the Arabian Sea maintaining an offensive posture and carrying out agressive patrolling. More than 90% of Pakistan's trade, and the critical oil supply, is sea-borne.

The difference from 2001 is that the US has now fully experienced the duplicity of its ally in Afghanistan. Though we still hear the same old line from some Americans and British commentators: asking for proof, trying to limit India's military options by harping on the nuclear factor, and describing the Pakistanis as "victims of terror". There are however many western analysts who know that India is a test ground for terror actions in the west. The 9/11 hijackings were mirrored in the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet to Afghanistan. These analysts are more willing to face facts.

Among them the obvious fact that the "Marriot bombing" was not an attack on Pakistanis but on the westerners who stayed there. It was a message from the Pakistan army to the west, and the message was received loud and clear by the British. Immediately after this the British commander described the war in Afghanistan as unwinnable, and British intelligence organized "peace talks" with the Taliban (i.e. the Pakistan army). But just as the the creators of Pakistan were soon disillusioned and their descendants in the UK now live with the ugly reality of Pakistani terror centers thriving in their midst; so too the modern-day British negotiatiors have returned with empty hands.

The revivalist Islamic movements of the 19th century; call them Wahabis, Deobandis, or Salafis, only contain all that was bad in medieval Islam. Their followers do not know how to live and let live, they cannot embrace other cultures, or adapt to change. This is what that the Indians have seen in all their futile talks with Pakistan, this is what the Israelis have learnt in their peace talks, and this is what the British intelligence personnel got into their thick skulls last month.

Military pressure is critical in crushing state-terrorism and Islamic revivalism.