Homeland Security

India’s Sub-Conventional Warfare Deficit
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Issue Vol. 30.1 Jan-Mar 2015 | Date : 28 Aug , 2015

National security strategies should aim at the creation of national and international political conditions favourable to the protection or extension of vital national values against existing and potential adversaries. Unfortunately, in spite of having been subjected to terrorism for over three decades, neither have we defined a national security strategy nor discussed how to go about establishing credible deterrence to Pakistan’s proxy war. We have failed to acknowledge the strategic significance of sub-conventional warfare. In today’s world, one cannot guard one’s house without patrolling the streets, no matter what barricades are erected.

For the umpteenth time, Pakistan’s proxy war was at display on December 05, 2014, in the Kashmir Valley through three almost simultaneous terrorist strikes including one targeting an army camp in Uri. To count the number of terrorist incidents India has faced over the past three decades, is a mathematical exercise, but India is presently at the sixth position on the Global Terrorism Index 2014 and as per the US State Department, India suffers two per cent of the global casualties on account of terrorism annually albeit having 17.5 per cent of world population. What is more significant is that we are being subjected to sub-conventional war by both Pakistan and China including through territories of our neighbouring countries.

Terrorism is hardly a new phenomenon. The Sicari zealots were used by Romans in the first century to create terror. The French unleashed a Reign of Terror during the French Revolution employing Jacobites for intimidation, mass killings and executions. Later, terrorism became associated with non-governmental groups and towards the end of the 19th century, anarchists had already assassinated a Russian Czar and a US President. During the 20th Century, terrorism continued to be associated with anarchists, socialist, fascist and nationalist groups, anti-colonials in Third World countries, as also genocide in communist countries and Nazi Germany.

India is presently at the sixth position on the Global Terrorism Index 2014…

Though no common definition of terrorism has been coined, the US and the West actually pushed for consensus definition that would largely or completely exclude state entities. The term “non-state actor” is comparatively new, but the fact remains that a non-state actor has to reside in a state besides requiring funding, arming, administrative and other support. The fact that a non-state actor is resident within a state makes the ‘non-state’ part a misnomer. Even in the case of cyber attacks, technology can help identify the general area of origin of attack. Therefore, the state can really not abrogate total responsibility.

Sub-Conventional Warfare

War at the sub-conventional level is hardly new. Visit the Sochi tunnels close to Hi Chi Minh city in Vietnam and witness how the mighty US army with its impressive array of weapon systems and technological superiority was made to pay a heavy price and eventually forced to retreat despite indulging in chemical warfare against the Vietnamese military. For the latter to administer a counter-lesson to an aggressive China in later years was child’s play. Sub-conventional war saw the Soviets rout from Afghanistan, followed by the just-ended NATO mission in the same country and heavy casualties inflicted on US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that forced the US to dispense with its policy of ‘boots on ground’.

The strategic success of sub-conventional forces rose to such extent that there has been no war between two conventional forces after Russian and Georgian armies engaged in conventional conflict. While the use of terrorism and irregular forces was earlier thought of as compensation to a conventionally superior enemy (for example, Pakistan), the change now is that powerful countries (US and China included) are now employing proxy forces at the sub-conventional level to counter the influence of their adversaries and to further own national interests. We see this in play in the Middle East, West Asia, Ukraine and Afghanistan-Pakistan regions.

War at the sub-conventional level is hardly new…

There is no denying that some of the terrorist organisations, though spawned by powerful states, go berserk from time to time, prominent examples being Al Qaeda, Taliban and now, the ISIS. However, they are still used when required, being available for a price and as and when interests coincide. Furthering national interests include securing energy and natural resources. The result has been that Pakistan, despite being the nurturing ground of all types of terrorism, remains the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of the US, China and Saudi Arabia because its bank of irregular forces is available for their bidding and use. Despite Pakistan being blatantly involved in nuclear proliferation, an issue which the US and the West are pretty sensitive about, one finds that there are no sanctions on Pakistan.

The fact is that there are 12 major terrorist groups operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, all of which are linked to Pakistan’s ISI. The US continues to side with the military in Pakistan despite the latter having double-crossed the former all these years under promise that her rogue proxies will not attack US mainland. Pakistan promises China the same even while giving sanctuary to a 320-strong hardcore Uighur unit owing allegiance to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement.

Terror Scene in India

Based on advice given in the early sixties by China, Pakistan raised anti-India jihadi forces and inducted, pan India, armed modules that were identified in some ten States including Assam, West Bengal and Kerala around the year 1992. The SIMI started sending cadres to Pakistan for training with the mujahedeen, Taliban and Al Qaeda and established linkages with radical organisations in Bangladesh for training of terrorists.

There are 12 major terrorist groups operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, all of which are linked to Pakistan’s ISI…

In recent years, Pakistan’s ISI had organised training for Maoists in mines/IEDs/explosives with LTTE that is extracting a heavy price through the CRPF cadres being killed and maimed. The Indian Mujahedeen (IM) is the creation of Pakistan and Pakistan’s involvement in numerous terrorist acts including the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strike and the December 05 strikes in Jammu and Kashmir is unmistakable. The LeT has been hobnobbing with the Maoists and both LeT and Al Qaeda have established roots in Kerala and are deeply linked with the Popular Front of India (PFI).

Pakistani militant Asim Umar has been nominated as the head of Al Qaeda’s South Asia group. Shaped in radicalised seminaries and the madrassas of Pakistan, tasked to head Al Qaeda, he operates from Afghanistan to Myanmar. He facilitated bin Laden’s move to a safe-house in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he lived undetected for years before US forces captured and killed him. His mother organisation, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), used to run branches in Kashmir and Myanmar, so Zawahri feels he can deliver. That Pakistan will continue with its state policy of terror is unambiguously clear, one major indication being its official state support to Hafiz Saeed despite United Nations’ strictures and a price on this rabid mullah’s head. Pakistan has also been using Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka territories to wage proxy wars in India and is in the process of radicalising Maldives with the same aim.

China has developed links with the Taliban more than a decade ago. She backs Pakistan’s anti-India jihad and supports the Maoist insurgency in India and People’s Liberation Army in Manipur. Not only is China providing sophisticated weapons and communication equipment to the Maoists but over the past several months, has provided arms manufacturing facilities to the Maoists within India and to the Kachen rebels in Myanmar. Significantly, media reports on June 07, 2014, indicated that three AK 47 assault rifles recovered by security forces were ‘Made in Bihar’. China is providing active support to ULFA and Paresh Barua and some of the militant leaders have been traced to being located at Ruli on Chinese soil. When the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was in power in Bangladesh, its pro China-Pakistan and anti-India stance were well known because it was supported by terrorist organisations including Jamat-e-Islami and Ahle Hadith Andolan that are viciously anti-India and largely funded by Saudi Arabia. Major terrorist camps were being run in Bangladesh then and illegal immigration into India (which is still continuing) facilitated the entry of terrorists into India.

In India, the lack of strategic culture is more on account of keeping the military out from formulating strategic policies…

Post the Burdwan blasts, revelations of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) having consolidated in West Bengal is one of the fall-outs. The present Bangladesh government has come down heavily on terrorism but the latent capacity continues. In Northern Sri Lanka, the Pakistani High Commission has been successful in establishing what is termed as the ‘Osama Brigade’. So there have been radicals apprehended while on reconnaissance in Southern India. In the Maldives, the advent of radicalism and anti-India perceptions have been building since 2005 when youth started going for training under the LeT in Pakistan; drugs started flowing in and signs of radicalisation became visible on the streets. It did cause alarm bells to ring in the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) but nevertheless radicalism is on the rise.

In a country where, as per 2008 estimates, there were 70,000 foreign employees and some 33,000 illegal immigrants, the presence of Al Qaeda, LeT and ISIS radicals in Maldives cannot be ruled out, as would be their links with their operatives and PFI in Kerala. This poses a major threat to soft targets in South India. Additionally, China’s newfound interest in Maldives may advertently or inadvertently help spur anti-India sentiments in that country. What mischief Pakistan can do from Maldives is obvious with the proximity by sea and the fact that the flight time from Male to Bangalore is just an hour plus. As for India, we have numerous terrorist organisations that are being capitalised upon by our enemies. Additionally, the Al Qaeda is refocusing on South Asia and India has her share of ISIS radicals to add to the problem.

Indian Strategic Culture

In his recent book ‘World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History’, Henry Kissinger writes, “The Arthshastra sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralising, subverting and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbours. The Arthshastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation. For Kautilya, power was the dominant reality. It was multi-dimensional, and its factors were inter-dependent. All elements in a given situation were relevant, calculable and amenable to manipulation towards a leader’s strategic aims. Geography, finance, military strength, diplomacy, espionage, law, agriculture, cultural traditions, morale and popular opinion, rumors and legends, and men’s vices and weaknesses needed to be shaped as a unit by a wise king to strengthen and expand his realm — much as a modern orchestra conductor shapes the instruments in his charge into a coherent tune. It was combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz.”

Both China and Pakistan have advanced sub-conventional capabilities and are employing them proactively…

As mentioned above, the use of terrorism has been recorded since the first century. Kautilya obviously appreciated this being waged by a country’s neighbours. It is an irony that while Henry Kissinger derives strategic culture from the Arthshastra, we have failed to do so.

In India, the lack of strategic culture is more on account of keeping the military out from formulating strategic policies and decision making of all matters military. This has led the hierarchy to believe that conventional forces coupled with nuclear clout can protect us from irregular threats. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Pakistan, though conventionally inferior, has been successfully playing her ‘thousand cut policy’ knowing full well that India has failed to develop the required deterrent. It is our inability to find a cure to this Achilles’ heel that has led even China, which hitherto was using Pakistan as proxy to wage irregular war on India, to now directly aid and support insurgent and terrorist outfits inside India.

Sub-Conventional Asymmetry

The conflict spectrum has four major segments – nuclear, conventional, sub-conventional and cyberspace. Without doubt, China has achieved full spectrum capability. China is also assisting Pakistan in upgrading her capability in all segments including cyberspace. Significantly, while both China and Pakistan have advanced sub-conventional capabilities and are employing them proactively, we are lagging behind woefully. This strategic asymmetry is all the more pronounced because the sub-conventional segment and use of irregular forces has become a strategic asset in furthering national interests, over waging conventional war, leave aside nuclear power which will remain a deterrent. Operation ‘Parakram’ should have been proof enough that conventional power by itself is no panacea to irregular threats. During Parakram, Musharraf kept taunting India to cross the LoC and upped his nuclear sabre rattling. India’s inability to establish irregular deterrent has led Pakistan to high levels of arrogance and obduracy in continuing terrorist attacks in India.

Creating Deterrence

National security strategies should aim at the creation of national and international political conditions favourable to the protection or extension of vital national values against existing and potential adversaries. Unfortunately, in spite of having been subjected to terrorism for over three decades, neither have we defined a national security strategy nor discussed how to go about establishing credible deterrence to Pakistan’s proxy war. We have failed to acknowledge the strategic significance of sub-conventional warfare. In today’s world, one cannot guard one’s house without patrolling the streets, no matter what barricades are erected.

The US has managed to secure itself post 9/11 because of the US Special Forces (USSF) operating in 200 countries including India…

Maloy K Dhar, former Joint Director IB in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s Intelligence Unveiled’ wrote, “I continued to advocate for an aggressive and proactive counter and forward intelligence thrust against Pakistan. My voice was rarely heard and mostly ignored…The Pakistani establishment is a geopolitical bully. The best response to blunt such a bully is to take the war inside his home. India has allowed itself to be blackmailed by Pakistan even before it went nuclear. The sabre rattling of ‘coercive diplomacy’, which is nothing but sterile military power, cannot convince the Islamist Pakistani establishment that India can take the border skirmishes inside their homes and hit at the very roots of the jaundiced Islamist groups.”

Why the US has managed to secure itself post 9/11 is not only because of homeland security but because the US Special Forces (USSF) are operating in 200 countries including India. The Special Forces are central to creating deterrence against sub-conventional threats and proxy war. One major factor that deters our political hierarchy from deploying our Special Forces for creating deterrence against irregular threats is because of lack of understanding of their employment beyond direct attacks, raids and ambushes, which actually are only relevant at tactical level relevant to the military.

At the strategic level, such tasks have been replaced by politico-military missions that may not entail physical attack at all. Since this is not understood by the national 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 large number of Special Forces has led to glaring voids in strategic intelligence even in areas of interest in our immediate neighbourhood.

Special Forces do not create resistance movements but advice, train and assist resistance movements already in existence…

The second major reason for failing to establish credible deterrence is because our national intelligence agencies think it is their sole domain and integrating Special Forces with them would encroach upon their turf. As a result, our experiments with the LTTE and organisations like EROS were dismal failures and our voids in strategic intelligence persist.

Special Forces do not create resistance movements but advice, train and assist resistance movements already in existence. They are ideally suited to control 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 exploit enemy 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 urgent need to develop publicized overt capabilities and deniable covert capabilities as deterrence against irregular war thrust upon us. The only way Pakistan will stop its proxy war is when it becomes apparent that Baluchistan, NWFP, Sindh and 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.

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Despite numerous faultlines within China, she is deliberately and directly fanning insurgencies in India. It is not without reason that a large chunk of China’s defence budget is being spent on internal security and this has been hiked considerably recently. Creating credible deterrence to sub-conventional warfare implies optimising the employment of Special Forces wherein our Special Forces operatives must be trained for specific regions and deployed in all areas of strategic interest to India for 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 quo 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 in counter-insurgency operations. Establishing a credible deterrence to sub-conventional war needs to be accorded the highest priority by the government.

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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

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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