Calibrated Responses: The Way Forward for Defeating Proxy War
The pre-dawn fidayeen strike by Jaish- e-Mohammed terrorists on the Army administrative base in Uri on 18 September, which resulted in 18 fatalities, stands out as one of the most dastardly terrorist attacks in the last two decades. Its timing, planning and execution follow a well-established pattern. Suffice it to say, fidayeen strikes have emerged as a deadly tool in the terrorist kitty to wage proxy war. In the face of such attacks, resilient nations and professional militaries are judged not by rhetorical statements and optics but by well-measured and befitting responses.
Going back point in time, it was in early 2001 when one of the units of my Brigade foiled the first Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) fidayeen strike in Baramula. The terrorist modus operandi to date remains the same, but for the greater use of technology by way of GPS, radio communications and night vision devices.
Ironically, the Indian response to such terrorist actions has basically been incidence-specific and tactical, without a strategic approach. It is time to draw out a calibrated response mechanism to defeat the proxy war unleashed by our Western neighbour.
Era of Hybrid Warfare
Today, with conventional war becoming a receding option, we are in an era of hybrid warfare; a diverse and dynamic blend of conventional, low intensity, and cyber operations. Low intensity warfare is being orchestrated through both regular forces and irregulars. Examples include Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the Iranian sponsoring of Hezbollah against Israel. The prosecution of hybrid warfare through irregulars and non-state actors has gained currency over a period of time. Pakistan, after enacting the role of a front line state and supporting the mujahideen to defeat then Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s at the behest of the United States, has gone on to master this art.
Having repeatedly failed to defeat India in conventional war, the Pakistan Army has pursued the low intensity warfare option, with non-state actors as its strategic asset. It has employed terrorists belonging to various groups to wage proxy war in order to achieve its prime political objective of internationalising the Kashmir issue. As a low cost option, this has also well served the interest of Pakistan’s military to keep the Indian Army engaged in combating terrorism. To inflict casualties of the magnitude of the Uri strike through conventional means would imply launching a major operation with a high risk of own losses.
Thus the proxy war strategy suits the political bosses in Islamabad and the military brass in Rawalpindi. Given its internal turbulence, Pakistan is likely to continue to pursue this policy, may be even more proactively in future, unless India takes effective counter measures to thwart Islamabad’s grand design.
Calibrated Response: India’s Options
So what are India’s options? To start with, policy makers have to formulate a well-defined security strategy to defeat Pakistan’s proxy war strategy. India’s response ought to be at both strategic and operational levels. The strategic dimensions have to be driven through politico- diplomatic means, complemented by Comprehensive National Power, including both hard and soft power to bring requisite pressure to bear on Islamabad to mend its ways.
Today, Pakistan is being perceived as a nation which is sponsoring terrorism as state policy. This was glaringly evident from the discourse of various eminent speakers at the recent “Senior Executives Global Programme on National and International Security” at Harvard where I was one of the participants. India has to exploit opportunities across the border to pay back Pakistan in the same coin. This entails the creation of requisite wherewithal.
With regard to the operational aspects, it should be best left to the field commanders. There are a number of tactical options, including local punitive actions, surgical operations, upping the ante along the Line of Control (LoC), and precision air strikes against the terrorist infrastructure, to name a few. At the same time, the counter infiltration posture along the LoC and the counter insurgency grid in the hinterland must be continuously reviewed and perfected. The security of vulnerable areas which have been repeatedly targeted needs to be revamped. There is an urgent need for force restructuring and modernization to enhance the operational efficiency of the armed forces, thus enabling them to undertake multiple missions across the spectrum.
Besides, it is imperative that operational actions be in sync and aligned with the strategic direction to achieve the desired results. Further, there is a need for coordination between various internal security agencies and the armed forces to ensure seamless synergy. The roles of the two sets of forces need to be clearly defined. This remains a major lacuna due to narrow vested organizational interests and turf battles.
Despite fool proof security measures, the odd terrorist related incident cannot be ruled out. To this end, the tendency of the top political leadership and senior military commanders to rush to the scene of action needs to be curbed. This adversely impacts upon the efforts of the local commanders in handling the crisis at hand, with their focus shifting to VIP management. Given current means of communications, it is possible to keep the higher ups fully updated with the ground situation.
India is being perceived as an emerging regional power and a key player in the new world order. To be a deserving claimant for a seat at the top table, India needs to project itself as a responsible and resilient nation that is capable of not only safeguarding its own security but also serve as a stabilizing factor in the region at large. Pakistan cannot be allowed to get away with its nefarious designs. Through a pragmatic strategy coupled with national will, India should undertake calibrated responses to defeat Pakistan’s proxy war game plan with a view to making its misadventures prohibitively costly and unsustainable.