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By Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere

In the context of what has come to be known as Mumbai 26/11, in an article "Take
the war to the enemy" by Capt. Bharat Verma, Editor of Indian Defence Review, in
IDR of 08 December, he recommends that we must "take this war to Pakistan and make
them pay the price". It may be understood that he recommends that India take
military action against Pakistan, though it is not at all clear what is meant by
making "them" pay the price, nor what is the price to be paid to whom. Would the
killing of Pakistani civilians in military operations exact that price? The first
thing any military does is to identify the enemy. Are the people of Pakistan
enemies of Indian people?

Dealing with terrorism

Notwithstanding these initial questions, we need to examine the issue of dealing
with terrorism. Perhaps there are only two options, but Capt.Verma's option can be
examined as a third. First, we can be proactive by pepping up and coordinating
our intelligence services so that attacks are defused or diffused by early warning
and/or small-scale pre-emptive action. This would eliminate or at least minimize
damage. Second, we can keep more or larger commando forces at metros and large
cities to counter-attack terrorists as done recently at Mumbai. It must be noted
that these commandos actions will always be reactive as the initiative is with the
terrorists, who would have already caused damage before the commandos get going.
And third, as Capt.Verma suggests, we can send our Defence Services in a mission
mode to strike at Pakistan. However, whether it will be possible to limit action
to "surgical strikes" on terrorist harbours and training camps is to be

Three options
But before examining these three options in some detail, let us be clear that none
of them and no combination of them can stop terrorism, which is quite another
kettle of fish. Having stated that, let us discuss the options:

First option, that of pepping up and coordinating our intelligence services. This
is absolutely essential because it is far cheaper in terms of lives and economic
damage to prevent an attack or force its scaling down than to react to it after it
has occurred.. The Mumbai attack was possible because of various deficiencies of
action, coordination and, very importantly, lack of trust and respect between the
various civilian, para-military and military agencies in our intelligence set-up
at Centre and State levels. This can be remedied by re-integrating and
strengthening the existing intelligence machine without major re-structuring,
along with introducing an element of public accountability to the extent possible
in intelligence work. This can be done by the Prime Minister taking a one-time
initiative to order and oversee its effective and non-partisan re-organization,
and carry out a one-time check of its functioning with consultation of all the
civilian, para-military and military intelligence agencies involved. This will
have negligible financial cost but will offer the richest security dividends.

The second option is to increase the strength of commando forces under Central
government control and also in the States under their own control. This is an
expensive option that would play merry hell with central and state budgets and
inevitably be at the cost of development. But far worse, it is playing into the
hands of terrorists, because it is precisely what the terrorists would like us to
do. India spending money with "a commando on every street corner", and daily
security checks for the common citizen, will probably make our economy stagger
from faltering, as it is doing today. Also, increased numbers of commando forces
by their very visibility will keep alive an unhealthy atmosphere of public fear
(or terror, if you like), or else the public will begin to accept commandos as
part of the scenery, which is almost as bad. Of course commando units are required
for rapid deployment, but merely multiplying the number of such units will not
give us additional security against terror attacks.

It is a far more efficient and more cost-effective option to have sharpened state
police vigilance and rapid communication systems to bring crack commando units
(which should have their own dedicated air and surface transport) rapidly to the
scene of action. Better state police vigilance is of course not possible without
elimination of political interference, which in turn is not possible without
implementing Police Reforms that have been gathering dust for many years now.
Implicit in this is the problem of normal and special security forces being
diverted to protection of "VIPs" and for commercial activities like cricket
matches, which is obviously at the security and financial cost of the public at
large. Priorities for provision of security on a democratic basis need to be laid
down and implemented.

Stricter or more draconian POTA-type laws are not going to work as past experience
has shown. Maharashtra has the draconian MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organized
Crime Act) in force, but it was of no use whatever to prevent the recent attacks
at CST, Taj or Oberoi because it cannot possibly dissuade terrorists, who are
highly motivated individuals on do-or-die missions, from striking at will. Such
laws may however help in rapid prosecution, but have in the past been misused to
settle old scores, have yielded a poor conviction rate, and have been rightly
objected to because innocents are forced to make confessions in police custody -
confessions that are admissible in Special Courts in trials under such laws. As
succinctly stated by Lt Gen Harwant Singh in his article in "The Tribune" on 10
December, titled "What went wrong?", "To cover up shortcomings in investigative
skills, there appear to be moves to bring back some of the draconian laws, though
in a different garb. Such laws turn the Indian judicial system on its head and
going by the past record of their application, it will lead to further alienation
of sections of our society".

The third, macho option of military strikes at Pakistan needs very careful
consideration for several reasons. If we are to be able to conduct "surgical
strikes" at terrorist harbours, safe-houses and training camps within Pakistan, it
will call for very precise and actionable intelligence that our agencies may not
be able to provide at present. And military action based on intelligence borrowed
from "friendly" intelligence agencies is not desirable. Such strikes may not be
limited to aerial strikes because there will certainly be unacceptable collateral
damage to innocent civilian populations, but may have to include air-dropping of
commandos and recovering them after the operation. This will certainly attract
reaction from local Pakistani populations and the Pakistani military, besides
drawing flak and intervention by the international community. The very real
possibility of this snow-balling into war and worse, taking on nuclear dimensions,
is frightening.
But even supposing that Pakistan does not react with nuclear threat or action (say
on "advice" by USA), the conflict remains at the conventional warfare level, and
India succeeds in capturing urban centres in Pakistan, the question arises, "What
then?" and further questions also arise that need to be asked now, in thinking-
through the action. Questions such as, "Why should we hold the captured territory
at huge military, financial and developmental cost?", "How long should we hold the
captured territory?", "Will this military action stop terrorism?", "Is the
Pakistani public to be held to blame and punished for the Government of Pakistan
(controlled by the Pakistan military) encouraging jihadi madmen to 'make India
bleed by a thousand cuts'?", and so on. This third option is obviously neither
politically sensible, economically desirable nor militarily practical, and
therefore should be dropped.
Where do we go from here?
The real questions are, while taking possible sensible measures that are
necessarily reactive to terrorist attack but eminently urgent and necessary to
protect ourselves against terrorist attacks, can we address the problem of why
terrorists are "created", and can we find ways and means to stop their creation.
Terrorism is a sociological problem, and a very serious one at that, with
repercussions that include societal collapse. We need to recognize that such
problems have no technical, police or military solutions, though the use of
technology and police and military force may be necessary to check the growth of
terrorism en route to solving the problem of terrorism.

The Pakistan government, which has always been and still is heavily under the
control or influence of the Pakistan military, has undoubtedly sponsored terrorist
strikes against soft Indian targets. But the option of India's military response
to Pakistan-sponsored terrorist strikes is quite undesirable because it will not
only not stop terrorism, but will cause Pakistan's fledgling civilian government
such as it is, to be yet again swallowed by the Pakistan military. It will also
have the effect of keeping India and Pakistan at loggerheads, expending precious
resources on increasing Defence demands, something that will always be keenly
desired by the military-industrial complex that encourages armed conflict. War
with India will also keep Pakistan's backward-looking clergy and the Al Qaeda and
other such extreme elements going along well, because the thing that they fear the
most is peace, which they are trying to destroy. The present military stand-off
between India and Pakistan is deeply worrying. Pakistan, far from being apologetic
about the Mumbai attack or handing over Maulana Masood Azhar (who, it may be
recalled, was handed over by the Indian government on a platter at Kandahar), is
saying that Mumbai 26/11 was the work of non-State actors, and will respond with
military force if India attacks. Nobody wins wars – only the best of the country's
youth, the soldiers, get killed and maimed and civilians suffer, while terrorists
continue their depredations.