There is something depressingly predictable about Indian responses to attacks from Pakistan. No matter what the year is, the responses remain exactly the same.
The recent gruesome beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistani forces on the Line of Control (LOC) has been greeted with the same impotent fury which the Parliament attack evoked a decade ago.
Our responses take two forms. On one side, there are the doves who counsel restraint and advise us to avoid ‘knee-jerk retaliation’. On the other are the hawks, who demand either that we attack Pakistan forthwith or that we commence diplomatic hostilities: end the dialogue process, snap sporting ties, stop issuing visas to Pakistanis, etc. Usually, the doves, who are portrayed as mature and reasonable people, win. So, several sets of talks are conducted, cricket matches are played, trade delegations are exchanged and people-to-people contacts are accelerated.
This approach is regarded as the epitome of reason – until, of course, the next attack takes place. The current border clashes, for instance, came right after a successful tour of India by the Pakistan cricket team, the signing of trade agreements, and joint India-Pakistan entertainment shows on TV. Over a decade ago, A.B. Vajpayee’s famous bus ride to Lahore was followed almost immediately by the invasion of Kargil.
The problem is that even the hawks don’t achieve very much. There was a time when decisive military action had the effect of silencing Pakistan. The 1971 war was followed by nearly two decades of peace and quiet. But now, military victories do not guarantee any lasting peace or security. In 1999, Pakistan suffered a humiliating reverse in the Kargil war and its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif begged Washington to find him a face-saver. But it took only a few months for the terrorists to retaliate with the hijacking of IC 814. And a couple of years later, they went so far as to launch an attack on the heart of India’s democracy, Parliament House.
The truth is that India is trapped in a time warp, destined to replay the same debates between hawks and doves over and over again and to rely on the same failed measures year after year. We refuse resolutely to look the future in the eye and to find new solutions.
The irony is that a third alternative, far removed from the tiresome diplomatic vs military options of old, has been staring us in the face. To handle Pakistan effectively, we need only to follow the experience of America. As Mark Bowden explains in The Finish, his study of America’s battle with Al Qaeda, when Barack Obama came to power he was faced with the same choices that India still grapples so unsuccessfully with.
As a Liberal Democract, Obama came from a tradition that opposed all wars, a consensus forged in the Sixties during the Vietnam War. As Bowden relates, one of the first things Obama did was to shrug off that knee-jerk pacifism. He believed that the old division of hawks vs doves was dead in the age of terrorism. At an anti-war rally, Obama broke with other speakers to “pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents” adding “I would willingly take up arms myself.” During his first Presidential campaign, he insisted that if the US had “intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will”.
The important distinction, Obama believed, was not between hawks and doves but between dumb wars (such as the Iraq invasion) and the smart war he planned to launch (largely in Pakistan) against terrorists. Obama recognised early on that the enemy was not the Pakistani people or even the Pakistani state. His targets were “specific individuals who had attacked America and continued to threaten it”. And he was going to eliminate them through covert action.
He began by drawing up a ‘kill list’ of terrorists who targeted America and, therefore, had to be eliminated. Many of these terrorists were killed by US Special Forces (such as the SEALS, who took out Bin Laden) and though the US will not disclose the number of secret missions its commandoes undertook in Pakistan, the man who organised the Bin Laden operation said he had planned thousands of such covert missions before.
Other terrorists were eliminated in drone strikes. When Obama first took office, drones were small, unmanned aircraft that could be guided by operators in, say, Nevada, to drop bombs or open fire on targets in Lahore or Karachi. The new generation drones are now the size of a model aircraft and carry missiles that can destroy entire buildings. In Obama’s first year in the White House, he ordered 53 drone strikes on Pakistan. By the second year that number had gone up to 117. The US will not say how many strikes took place in Pakistan last year but the figure is well over 117. Small wonder then that most top Al Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan have now been eliminated.
|"It is a sobering thought that if Hafeez Saeed had decided to attack Miami rather than Mumbai, he would be dead today, shot by US commandoes or blown up in a drone strike."
The commando operations and drone strikes have been facilitated by technology. Under Obama, the US has used computers against its enemies: it crippled Iran’s nuclear programme through cyber war. To locate terrorists, the US relied on young geeks who developed new software to collate information from millions of sources. The ‘Killer App’ was created by a Silicon Valley company called Palantir, using young software engineers fresh out of computer school. This is the software that now tells drones and commandoes where to find their targets.
The beauty of this third approach is that the US has not bothered with the military or diplomatic options. Even though American forces kill hundreds of terrorists within Pakistan each year, America is not at war with that country. Officially, Pakistan is an US ally.
The lessons for India are self-evident. The people of Pakistan are not our enemies and nor do we want a full-fledged war on our borders. Our problem is with elements in Pakistan: with Hafeez Saeed, with Dawood Ibrahim, with Lashkar and Jamaat and with jihadi Generals and former Generals. The third way developed by America offers us a chance to strike directly at these elements while bypassing the tired old diplomatic and military routes.
Nor is the third way an impossible option. For instance, while our commando capability is pathetic at present – the NSG did not reach Mumbai till the day after 26/11 and it took another two days to kill just four terrorists within the Taj – it does exist. Why can’t we develop an effective commando assault force to conduct the sort of covert operations that US forces routinely undertake? America has just 4000 men trained for these missions. Surely, India can manage to train at least 1000?
While the US guards its new tiny drones zealously, drone technology itself is hardly secret and drones are now even used by Western police forces. Currently, the US has thousands of drones in the air. How difficult can it be for India to purchase or develop at least a few hundred?
As for technology, it is astonishing that a nation whose software engineers are among the best in the world does not follow America’s lead in using computers for national security. Forget about cyber wars, we don’t even know how to process the information our intelligence agencies gather.
For instance, though R&AW provided actionable intelligence on 26/11 including radio transmissions from the dhow on which the terrorists were approaching Mumbai, this intelligence simply gathered dust on the table of the then National Security Advisor. Imagine what would have happened if India had a US-style ‘Killer App’. Within an hour the coast guard would have intercepted the dhow or the air force would have blown it out of the water.
So, why then does India refuse to learn from the US experience? Partly it is that the UPA has consistently neglected intelligence issues. Nobody in this government bothers to think too deeply about security matters. Partly it is because the US approach requires strong leadership. Each day Obama sits down to decide which terrorist to take out. Can you really see Manmohan Singh or any Indian Prime Minister, for that matter, ordering a hit on Hafeez Saeed or Dawood Ibrahim? We simply don’t have the stomach for decisive action.
But mostly, it is because of a failing in our national character. We shun action and prefer rhetoric and debates: hawks vs doves or diplomatic vs military. It is now two decades since Pakistan went beyond diplomacy and military action to find its own third way: deniable terrorist attacks. But India still has to formulate an adequate response even when a possible third option has been successfully used by the Americans.
It is a sobering thought that if Hafeez Saeed had decided to attack Miami rather than Mumbai, he would be dead today, shot by US commandoes or blown up in a drone strike. But because he launched his attack on India, he is alive and well and free to plan new terrorist assaults and to encourage the beheading of more Indian soldiers.
It is not only the right thing to do on an intuitive level but also entirely in accordance with the principles on which this nation was founded.
My point is that in a country as large as ours, a numbers game makes no sense unless you look at the larger picture.
It is tempting to see the revolt as a failure because Pawar got nothing of consequence in Delhi. But it would be a mistake to do so.
This was an unnecessary reshuffle, forced on the nation by Manmohan Singh’s unwillingness to hold on to the finance portfolio.
And the end has an emotional power that is unusual for comic book pictures. What a pity it is the last movie in this trilogy!