State-Sponsored Terrorism: Hit, But Stealthily – Analysis


Direct military action against a State-sponsor of terrorism waging a proxy war against us by using terrorism through surrogates as a low-cost weapon without the direct involvement of its Armed Forces would be counter-productive and messy.

While there could be no doubt about India’s ultimate success in a military conflict, the final cost of the conflict would further retard India’s economic development.

Direct military action should be a weapon of last resort when there is no other way of protecting our unity and territorial integrity.  We are far, far away from such a desperate situation.

Despite its strong anti-Castro rhetoric, the US has generally avoided any direct military action against Cuba which it has, in the past, accused of sponsorship of terrorism or insurgency  in Latin America because of concerns that such action could lead to a messy situation at its door step.  What it can afford to do to far-away Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan, it cannot to its across-the-sea neighbour.

Avoidance of direct military action against Pakistan is dictated by its being our next-door neighbour, the suspected presence of irrational elements in its military, intelligence and scientific establishment and the concerns of the international community over the nuclear factor.  India has a common interest with the rest of the world in ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear and missile arsenal does not fall into the hands of irrational elements.

Public and political opinion should refrain from creating a situation similar to the one created before 1962 when the clamour for a macho response to China’s nibbling at our territory led to unwise decisions.

To talk of limited military action in the form of hot pursuit of terrorists, hit and run raids and air strikes on their training camps in Pakistani territory is to exhibit a surprising and worrisome ignorance of ground realities and a lack of understanding of a proxy war despite India being a victim of it for nearly three decades now.

Legally, India has the right of hot pursuit, but it works only when armed groups indulge in hit and run raids from rear bases in a foreign territory across the border.  It cannot be used against suicidal squads of foreign mercenaries operating from safe sanctuaries in our territory provided by alienated elements in our own population.

Destruction of training camps would be a meaningless exercise because terrorists do not have a permanent training infrastructure like Khadakvasla or Dehra Dun or West Point. Their infrastructures are improvised and shifting and come into life whenever they manage to get a sufficient number of recruits for training.

The US bombing of the training camps in Afghanistan in August 1998 did not prevent the attack on a US naval ship in Aden in October, 2000 or the terrorist strikes of September 11,2001, in the US.

When terrorism is used by a State as a low-cost weapon to achieve its strategic objective, what works against it is the ability and the determination of the victim State to hurt the interests of the State-sponsor in order to make it a high-cost weapon for the wielder.

State-sponsored terrorism withers away when the villain State is made to realise that it will have to pay a heavy price for its sponsorship.  The US bombing of Libya in 1986 and its  economic sanctions against it produced more enduring results than its bombing of the training camps in Afghanistan in 1998 because it hit at the vital interests of the State-sponsor (Libya); whereas in Afghanistan, it hit only at the training camps without hurting the Taliban-run State.

The ideologically-oriented terrorist groups of West Europe, including many inspired by Carlos, withered away after the collapse of East Germany, the erstwhile USSR and Yugoslavia and the US pressure against Syria, Yemen and Sudan deprived them of any State-sponsor.

Egypt was able to control the activities of the Al Gama Al Islamiya and other similar groups only after the US pressure on the Sudan deprived them of sustenance from the Sudanese State.

If Pakistan-sponsored terrorism  against India is not abating, it is partly because of the reluctance of the US to exercise similar pressure on it  and partly because of our unwillingness and inability to make the State of Pakistan pay a price for its sponsorship. When a puppeteer uses puppets to hurt you, you have to disable the puppeteer; otherwise, the more the puppets you destroy the more the number that will crop up.

Other options, which need to be tried first before even contemplating the direct military option, are political, economic and  non-military covert actions.  The political option relates to intensifying our pressure on the international community in general and the US in particular to act against Pakistan.  The US is as opposed now as it was  in the past to calling Pakistan to order, but one could see from the US media that growing sections of public opinion there do not take as benign a view of Islamabad as the Administration does.  One must take advantage of this wind of change.

India has a much stronger case against Pakistan than the US has had against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  We have had difficulty in selling our case  because of the USA’s strategic interest in Pakistan and the nostalgic links of the military-intelligence establishments of the two countries.

It would, therefore, be unrealistic to expect the US to come down on Pakistan heavily. We cannot expect more than proforma admonitions addressed to Islamabad. However, this should not be an argument for not keeping up our diplomatic pressure to confine Pakistan to the dog house.

Islamabad will not give in as easily to US pressure vis-a-vis India as it did apropos Afghanistan.  In its perception, the proxy war has brought it very close to its objective of a change of status quo in J & K.  It thinks that if it relents in the proxy war in response to US pressure, it may not get for  decades a similar opportunity to change the status quo. In its eyes, keeping the Indian security forces preoccupied with internal security duties is also meant to neutralise the quantitative and qualitative advantage enjoyed by the Indian military.

The only way, short of a military conflict, of making it relent in its proxy war is by making the perceived low-cost weapon into a  high-cost one.  Economic warfare, through overt and covert means, could be one way of doing this.  However, such economic warfare would have produced better results before 9/11, but today its cash flow position has improved due to continuing flow of US money.  And yet, sustained economic warfare could neutralise the  reprieve which the Pakistani economy has gained since 9/11.

Political, diplomatic and economic actions by themselves would not make Pakistan relent unless simultaneously accompanied by hard-hitting covert actions directed at Pakistan’s neurologic spots carefully identified.  A covert action is defined as a clandestine and deniable action, armed or unarmed, not involving the use of the Armed Forces, which a State undertakes in a situation where the use of the conventional diplomatic or military option is considered as not feasible or advisable.

Successful covert actions demand the required professional capability in the intelligence community, objective allies in the targeted territory and consistency on the part of the political leadership in their implementation.

Consistency in our policy towards Pakistan has not been a hallmark of our national security management.  It must be said to the credit of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment that it has exhibited remarkable consistency in its hatred of India and in its urge to hurt us wherever and whenever it can.

Our policy of “kabi garam, kabi naram” (sometimes hard, sometimes soft) creates confusion and uncertainty in the minds of our own security bureacracy and makes our objective allies across the border hesitant to co-operate with us in covert actions.

The need of the hour is a counter proxy war doctrine incorporating its political, diplomatic, economic and covert components and its implementation in a determined and  consistent manner.  The results would not come dramatically, but slowly and almost imperceptibly.

The starting point of any exercise to work out a counter proxy war doctrine has to be the answers to two questions—- is it in our  national interest to make Pakistan pay a prohibitive price internally and externally for using terrorism against India? If so, how to do it in a manner which will be effective and deniable?

Once we have affirmative answers to these questions, many options will suggest themselves. Inaction or unwarranted generosity will be suicidal against a determined and cunning adversary such as Pakistan.

Our intelligence agencies are not strangers to covert actions. They have had instances of successes and instances of failures. 1971 was the successful culmination of a covert action initiated 20 years earlier. The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 by the US was facilitated by a covert action initiated by India some years earlier. These were not acts of terrorism. These were intelligently-conceived operations executed with stealth and consistency.

The very same political leadership, which ordered the winding-up of our covert action capability vis-a-vis Pakistan in a moment of misplaced generosity in 1997, ordered the continuance of the capability directed against the Taliban, which ultimately paid results in 2001.

If our political leadership and people bestow confidence in our agencies, give them a consistent goal and the wherewithal to achieve that goal, they are capable of producing results.

Unfortunately, the present leadership lacks in the will to prevail against a determined adversary and in self-confidence that it can stand up to pressure from the US if our leadership  takes a tough line against Pakistan. Public opinion has to assert itself. ( 23-2-10)

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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