Military & Aerospace

The Winnable War
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Issue Vol 21.3 Jul-Sep 2006 | Date : 01 Jul , 2011

 On a scale of 1 to 10, an American editor of a defence newspaper told me that his threat perception on terror attacks inside the United States would merit an eight. A German minister rated it at four adding that war against terrorism was difficult to win “as they were far too many”. An Indian General engaged in fighting terrorism exported from Pakistan in Kashmir for past few decades responded nonchalantly with ‘May be two!’ These responses exhibit that farther the theatre of war, higher was the paranoia.

We have withstood the onslaught for the past two decades without nation’s morale plummeting while the West that joined the war on terrorism fairly recently is skeptical and despondent. On the other hand, the responses also show that the former imperial powers go for military overkill at the drop of a hat, while we on the other end of the spectrum, are so utterly reticent that even when our parliament is attacked, we display indecisiveness and inertia. The war against terrorism is indeed winnable provided these two extreme positions on the spectrum and the disparate strategic approach to the challenges posed by asymmetric warfare is reconciled.

It is not possible for any country including the super power to win this war on its own accord. Terrorism has not spared any continent including the geographically isolated Australia. Hence, basic cohesion is an imperative for victory over terrorism.

The jihadi forces irrespective of their state sponsors do not have the reach through blue water navies or air power.

By alienating China and Russia, who do not pose any near term threat, and going whole hog on Iran and North Korea-far too many sizzling agendas have been taken up simultaneously that are beyond the American capability. Ignoring and bypassing of the UN by the US have further exacerbated this. In any case, the US enjoys overwhelming influence and leverage over the world body and hence, it marginalizes its clout by making UN defunct.

Further, by opting for another military front in Iraq without consolidating the general area comprising of Afghanistan-Pakistan, which remains the epicenter of Islamic terrorism, Washington has been dissipating away its political, diplomatic, and military energies. In Iraq so far it has neither managed to lay its hands on the oil nor was able to establish democracy. In fact, on the oil front, Russia that was barely comfortable with oil prices pegged at US $ 22 a barrel, now enjoys economic boom with the current price of US $ 70-plus a barrel.

The Bush Administration unwittingly resurrected an old adversary giving the specter of the world being remodeled on the patterns of the Cold War era. On the other hand, today an American citizen who is so deeply wedded to his four-wheeler, ends up paying double the price for oil and gas, while many of the oil producing nations, flush with funds invest heavily in their irregular forces against the democratic societies.

The avowed objective of supplanting western model of democracy met stiff resistance due to cultural and social norms, as also compulsions of governance. Democracy cannot be sledge hammered into an alien society overnight. The US regime that insists on support to a dictator in Pakistan, who has forced two former prime ministers to live in exile – and is trying to push democracy down the throat of Iraq next door – is a huge contradiction and diminishes US credibility.

The wheel has made a full circle-ISAF and NATO is now pitted against the same irregular ‘jihadi‘ forces that they created to fight the Soviet might in Afghanistan. Pakistan is deploying them covertly to expel ISAF, NATO, and Karzai from Kabul while overtly extracting millions of dollars from America speciously in the aid of waging war against terrorism. The false excuse of WMD to attack Iraq and at the same time, overlooking proliferation activities by Islamabad provided adequate incentives to Iran to test the potency and efficacy of nuclear weapon agenda for self preservation and as a tool of diplomatic blackmail.

By removing Saddam’s regime, the Shia groups, which constituted the non-dominant class within Islam, have been radicalized. Their growing writ now runs from Iran to Iraq and threatens Saudi Arabia and beyond. Flush with petro-dollars and military wherewithal, the Shia groups such as Mehdi Army in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon have become irregular forces to reckon with.

On their own most of these groups lacked potency, but became formidable with the guidance and support of the nerve center located in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.

The biggest and most unsuspecting casualty in this counter-productive war devoid of an appropriate military strategy, notwithstanding the availability of most modern and awesome firepower, are the American and British democracies who are forced to circumscribe the freedom of their citizens through new draconian internal security laws. The hunters have become the hunted leading to extreme paranoia. Reportedly there are terrorist camps flourishing within the United Kingdom.

The most adverse consequence of the strategic folly committed by Bush is the uniting of diverse Islamic groups and sects against the West, providing added credibility to the much-touted theory of Clash of Civilizations. Pakistan indeed is an example of fissures that exist within the Islamic world. Even after sustained ethnic discrimination and cleansing of minorities, it is now turn of the Shias, who constitute seventeen percent of Pakistan’s population as the new untouchables. If America the symbol of free world stumbles, there will be cascading effect on other democracies that may not be able to counter it.

Therefore, it is imperative to galvanize the military and intelligence assets of the free and liberal world and redirect the effort to nuetralise the very core of the problem of terrorism. Looking purely from an American prism, this war against terrorism can be won, if waged intelligently, notwithstanding the heavy losses incurred so far, provided military deficit is converted to military surplus.

To regroup its wherewithal Washington needs to reduce its strategic and military stretch even at the cost of temporary loss of face. If its leadership does not display acumen in redrawing its strategy, it will not succeed on either front i.e. Iraq or Afghanistan-Pakistan. Instead the US and its alliance partners will continue to bleed on both the fronts. The choice is between pulling out from Iraq or Afghanistan. Shelving the Iraq agenda is recommended on multiple counts.

First, it is widely perceived as an unjust and unnecessary occupation. Second, the epicenter of terrorism is located in Afghanistan-Pakistan and is orchestrated by ISI.

This is the breeding ground of terror. From here terrorism radiates to India, Afghanistan, Central Asia including Chechnya, to South East Asia and West Asia and EU and the US.

If Afghanistan-Pakistan (particularly Pakistan) area is sanitized, the intensity and reach of terrorism will reduce at least by sixty percent. Non-Talibanisation of Pakistan-Afghanistan and Central Asia is the only way to ensure the security of existing and proposed energy routes.

Therefore, the resources and focus must shift from occupation of Iraq. Let it fall on account of its own ethnic imbalance and contradictions of Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. The vivisection of Iraq due to ethnic contradictions in any case is imminent and would be a better bet than the dismal internal scenario that currently prevails. Kurds may become restless and are likely to create problems for Turkey with demand for greater Kurdistan but that scenario would be far more amenable and manageable. Americans could still retain a foothold in the Kurdish area. In the long term, Iran will act as a natural counterpoise against the Sunni terrorism.

For the US, this would convert the current strategic deficit into substantial strategic surplus. The surplus thus accrued will prove a formidable force for the epicenter i.e. Pakistan-Afghanistan area. The temporary loss of face due to calibrated strategic retreat would be more than compensated in the long run.

It would also be a sound move on the international chessboard considering that the United States and the West can boast of resources other than a young demographic profile. Besides, technological, military, and financial means, wars at some stage do become manpower intensive- especially in the consolidation phase.

The jihadi forces irrespective of their state sponsors do not have the reach through blue water navies or air power. They in addition, suffer from landlocked mentality and medieval outlook in their approach to warfare, which is essentially irregular. Nevertheless, they boast of sufficient manpower that irregular warfare and terrorism entails. Similarly, while the coalition forces hold Baghdad and Kabul, public perception is that Iraq and Afghanistan are under occupation of the West.

The truth is that the writ of the Western forces led by America beyond Baghdad and Kabul is tentative. The jihadi forces have the requisite manpower and retain the element of surprise natural to a guerrilla army and are capable of targeting the capital cities as well. Therefore, a stalemate persists as neither side is in a position to vanquish the other.

India and the US need to militarily cooperate on a quid-pro-quo basis in busting the epicenter of terrorism i.e. in Pakistan-Afghanistan region, whose reach is till the US, and the sweep is 360 degrees.

Hence, it is important to vacate Iraq, leaving the guerrilla factions to indulge in internecine warfare and concentrate on Afghanistan-Pakistan region to tackle the main breeding ground and the supply reservoir of the jihadi factory. Apart from the destruction of the nerve center of terrorism, it will automatically counter balance China by stultifying its one proxy out of the two.

Similarly, India for the past two decades or more has been fighting terrorism all alone, but in a reactive mode. Unlike the Western Alliance, India with a young demographic profile is indifferent, continues to dither, and remains inconsistent in its approach, instead of being proactive. While America’s geographical location lends it a secure environ, India is located in the midst of jihadi churning. Hemmed by Islamic countries on its North, West, East, and Southeast, India has witnessed unrelenting invasions from its Northwestern borders that originated from as far as Central Asia over centuries.

Therefore, it is vital for it to maintain high level of influence, both economic as well as military on the most critical axis New Delhi-Kabul-Tehran-Moscow for its strategic well being. If New Delhi even today remains confused over the fact, whether it is India which is a victim of terrorism or is it Pakistan, that is understandable since there has been a reluctance to face the nature and reality of the conflict. The actuality is that India’s land frontiers, east to north and north to west, are being violated with relative impunity and are characterized by infiltration, exported insurgencies and terrorism, and creeping demographic invasions, which on most counts originate from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region or as a byproduct.

Between 1990 and 2005, in J&K alone India has lost 16000 civilians, 6000 security personnel, as against 20000 terrorists. The ratio of troops to terrorist killed is approximately 1:3. To the champions of human rights, the figures could not be more revealing. On the other hand, the Pak Army has not been loosing personnel in this low intensity conflict in J&K. They have been selfish and manipulative enough in infusing the misguided youth with so called jihadi rationale and then using them as canon fodders.

How many more casualties and for how long India should suffer? New Delhi must seize the initiative to deliver a decisive blow to terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. India should be willing to fight its own war, if necessary, in standalone mode. This war for New Delhi is also winnable by developing a sound offensive-defence strategy by incorporating lethality of covert and overt methodology.

Pakistan, whose geo-strategic location has come to its rescue from the brink of collapse on many occasions in the past, has never been so strategically vulnerable as it is today. It has been compelled to disown its creation- Taliban. Its nuclear assets according to Musharraf’s admission in the aftermath of US led war in Afghanistan were in jeopardy on account of US pressure and concerns.

The nuclear proliferation activities in the past by Pakistan have forced it on the defensive. It is also under increasing pressure to tackle the remnants of Taliban and Al Queada in cooperation with the NATO forces.

In fact, it is the past misdemeanors of Islamabad that has contributed to the deployment of NATO forces for the first time in the history of the region. India must realize that this is the most opportune strategic moment post 1971 to deal with Pakistan decisively. Pakistan has never let go of any such strategic opportunities. It exploited its frontline status during the war against Soviet forces to embark on low intensity conflict and terrorism against India particularly in J&K. Also Pakistan has never faced a more precarious internal security situation after 1971.

The volatile Wazaristan and Balochistan province are on boil, compelling the deployment of more than 1,00,000 Army personnel.

The strategic objective of US and India with regard to Pakistan-Afghanistan region converges at present. India and the US need to militarily cooperate on a quid-pro-quo basis in busting the epicenter of terrorism i.e. in Pakistan-Afghanistan region, whose reach is till the US, and the sweep is 360 degrees. India has excellent manpower resources, as also the unparalleled experience of fighting the jihadi elements in J&K for about two decades. The US and the western world have the financial muscle and technological prowess. If these could be combined it would make the most lethal combination.

While acting in military concert, the US and India together should undertake to:-

  • Isolate the jihadis ideologically.
  • Destroy jihadi recruiting infrastructure and training camps.
  • Compel Pakistan to supplant madrasas with modern institutions.
  • Create fissures within the jihadi groups.
  • Neutralize drug money and other financial and arms channels of jihadi groups.
  • Neutralize fundamentalist and terrorist leadership.
  • Expose the vulnerabilities and double standards of the jihadi groups.
  • Disallow Pakistan to gain foothold in Afghanistan, as this will ultimately consume Central Asia in jehadi fervour.
  • Sandwich Pakistan between their forces so that Kabul and Kashmir may live in peace.

In the war against terrorism, victories are difficult to be judged. There are no definable territorial objectives as in the case of conventional wars between states. It is not to suggest that terrorism, which India and the world are combating, would be eliminated. But it can be brought to a tolerable level. Remnants of terrorism will be there; nevertheless, it would be reduced to the level of “law and order problem”. What in fact Osama bin Laden achieved was that he managed to coordinate and combine the activities of various jihadi organizations active in different parts of the world. On their own most of these groups lacked potency, but became formidable with the guidance and support of the nerve center located in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. The sum of parts was therefore more than the total. If the epicenter is busted, the various parts are bound to loose teeth and fall apart.

This war is winnable if Washington and New Delhi wage it intelligently with display of good generalship.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Bharat Verma

A former Cavalry Officer and former Editor, Indian Defence Review (IDR), and author of the books, India Under Fire: Essays on National Security, Fault Lines and Indian Armed Forces.

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One thought on “The Winnable War

  1. 🙁 With Capt Verma, we lost the pioneer who started military stretegic thnking in our country. His magic was to project everything in simple words…no complex military terms. he would alway put it straight & simple. Irreplacable loss:(

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