Interestingly, Pakistan has double-crossed the US all these years under the promise that her rogue proxies will not attack the US mainland. She promises China the same even while giving sanctuary to a 320-strong hardcore Uighur unit owing allegiance to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement.
India’s inability to establish an irregular deterrent has led Pakistan to high levels of arrogance…
India has been shy of deploying Special Forces abroad other than in conventional war. The exception was as part of the IPKF besides UN missions. No other country sends Special Forces as whole units and sub-units on UN missions. Our army was sending Special Forces units to UN out of turn as recognition of those that had earned three or more Chief’s Unit Citations. It was in recognition of their operational excellence and to give all ranks a chance to earn financial reward in terms of the ‘foreign allowance’ they would earn. But this stopped when the army got shall we say jealous of too many Special Forces units going periodically on UN missions and inadvertently curtailing the chances of routine turnovers. Stopping sending the Special Forces units/sub on UN missions was the right decision but instead the Special Forces should have been sent covertly into areas of strategic interest including on UN missions if of strategic interest, but this hasn’t happened. The military being out of strategic decision-making cycle does not look beyond the immediate tactical area, exceptions being Strike Corps operations and even those have limited planning within the ambit of individual sphere of operations.
Ironically, our existing Special Forces do not have institutionalised intelligence or dedicated airlift. There is no concept of integral support elements including civilian elements. At the national level, when we have failed to define a National Security Strategy in the last 66 years, where is the question of having a National Policy for the employment of Special Forces? The MoD has no separate institutionalised set-up for strategic planning and the NSA seeks advice from the NSC without any inputs from the military. The NSC itself is an advisory body with no say in implementation. The MoD has little experience in matters military but does not permit true integration of the military, especially HQ IDS with the MoD, and shuns professional military advice perhaps on account of false pride and/or fear of exposing lack of knowledge.
But the most important factor that deters the hierarchy from deploying our Special Forces abroad is the lack of understanding of their employment beyond direct attacks, raids and ambushes. The fact is that such tasks have gone onto the backburner and have been replaced mainly by politico-military missions that may not entail physical attack at all. This is not understood by the hierarchy. Our response to irregular threats has not gone beyond raising more and more Special Forces units. India’s failure to establish a deterrent to irregular war despite having considerable number of Special Forces has led to continuous glaring voids of strategic intelligence even in areas of interest in our immediate neighbourhood, right from the 1950s in Tibet to surprises in the recent past in Pakistan-POK, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, Coco Islands, Sri Lanka, Maldives and what have you, besides the numerous terrorist attacks orchestrated within India.
Growing inter-dependence and interlinking of terrorist groups regionally and internationally should be a matter of serious concern.
Special Forces do not create resistance movements but advise, train and assist resistance movements already in existence. They are ideally suited to control the faultlines of the adversaries without any signatures or with ambiguous signatures. That is what Pakistan is doing today through her proxies and China has joined hands to destabilise us internally. We must employ our Special Forces strategically to control the enemy’s faultlines. Admittedly, there may be a gestation period but certainly not that huge besides in the current age ideas and money can both be transferred electronically. There is an urgent need to develop publicised overt capabilities and deniable covert capabilities as deterrence against the irregular war thrust upon us.
The only way Pakistan will stop its proxy war is when it becomes apparent that Baluchistan, NWFP, Sindh, Baltistan can also splinter. There are just too many faultlines in Pakistan and China and one can actually pick and choose. Our Special Forces must be covertly deployed in all our areas of strategic interest. Despite the numerous faultlines within China, she is deliberately and directly fanning insurgencies in India. It is not without reason that a large chunk of the Chinese Defence Budget is being spent on internal security and this has been hiked considerably recently. Look at the faultlines in Pakistan: Balochistan, Sindh, Pashtunistan, Baltistan, the Shia-Sunni divide, dissent against Punjabi dominance and the military-ISI throttling democracy.
It is not clear how far the Naresh Chandra Committee recommendation for setting up a Special Forces Command has progressed or will be implemented at all. The recommendation to appoint a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee has set the establishment of a CDS back by years/decades, which reportedly was pre-conceived and given as a direction to the Committee at the very beginning either by the NSA or the PMO. To this end, we may well end up with a Special Forces Command as a gigantic set up under HQ IDS or even under the NSA, which will remain largely ineffective.
Special Forces have a central role in responding to asymmetric and irregular forces.
Optimising the employment of Special Forces would entail our Special Forces operatives must be trained for specific regions and deployed in all areas of our strategic interest or strategic surveillance, perception management, intelligence, psychological operations, training and supporting friendly forces, blocking external support to insurgents/terrorists in India, and controlling faultlines of adversaries with a view to establish irregular deterrent that may have to be demonstrated as quid pro in case specific countries continue to play rogue. These will have to be politico-military missions directly under the highest politically authority and mostly without reference to the military. Such forces should essentially be small but effective. The second tier comprising commando type of forces should selectively go for the jugular of insurgencies within India. This should not be confused with army deployment against all insurgent outfits.
A major portion of 21st century warfare is likely to comprise large employment of irregular forces though windows for conventional war will continue in the sub-continent. The cyber, space and electro-magnetic domains will remain active. The advent of smart and ‘no contact’ wars will, however, continue to be intertwined by continuous contact with irregular forces. Special Forces have a central role in responding to asymmetric and irregular forces. India needs to get on with optimising their strategic potential to shape the asymmetric battlefield in her favour. Restricting their employment to within India on tasks that can be performed by other forces would be wasting these strategic force multipliers.