Military & Aerospace

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

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.

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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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