Wednesday, January 14, 2009



After the attack on the Indian Parliament House by a joint team of terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and theJaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) on December 13,2001, there was a clamour in the New Delhi-based strategic community for military strikesagainst Pakistan.A former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), who held me in some esteem, had called me to Delhi for adiscussion on the options before India. I told him that it would be totally unwise for India to launch military strikes on Pakistan. . After adiscussion lasting more than an hour, he asked me to put down my thoughts in writing and send it to him after I returned to Chennai. I did so.He never told me what he did with my paper. I did not ask him either. I took his permission and sent the paper to the South Asia AnalysisGroup (SAAG), New Delhi, who were kind enough to carry it on their web site on December 27,2001, at

2. I take the liberty of reproducing that article below without any change. I still largely stand by what I stated in that article. (14-1-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )


by B.Raman

Direct military action against a State-sponsor of terrorism waging a proxy war against us by using terrorism through surrogates as alow-cost weapon without the direct involvement of its Armed Forces would be counter-productive and messy.

While there could be no doubt about India's ultimate success in a military conflict, the final cost of the conflict would further retard India'seconomic development.

Direct military action should be a weapon of last resort when there is no other way of protecting our unity and territorial integrity. We arefar, far away from such a desperate situation.

Despite its strong anti-Castro rhetoric, the US has generally avoided any direct military action against Cuba which it has, in the past,accused of sponsorship of terrorism or insurgency in Latin America because of concerns that such action could lead to a messy situationat its door step. What it can afford to do to far-away Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan, it cannot to its across-the-sea neighbour.

Avoidance of direct military action against Pakistan is dictated by its being our next-door neighbour, the suspected presence of irrationalelements in its military, intelligence and scientific establishment and the concerns of the international community over the nuclear factor. India has a common interest with the rest of the world in ensuring that Pakistan's nuclear and missile arsenal does not fall into the hands ofirrational elements.

Public and political opinion should refrain from creating a situation similar to the one created before 1962 when the clamour for a macho response to China's nibbling at our territory led to unwise decisions.

To talk of limited military action in the form of hot pursuit of terrorists, hit and run raids and air strikes on their training camps in Pakistani territory is to exhibit a surprising and worrisome ignorance of ground realities and a lack of understanding of a proxy war despite India beinga victim of it for nearly two decades now.

Legally, India has the right of hot pursuit, but it works only when armed groups indulge in hit and run raids from rear bases in a foreignterritory across the border. It cannot be used against suicide squads of foreign mercenaries operating from safe sanctuaries in our territoryprovided by alienated elements in our own population.

Destruction of training camps would be a meaningless exercise because terrorists do not have a permanent training infrastructure likeKhadakvasla or Dehra Dun or West Point. Their infrastructures are improvised and shifting and come into life whenever they manage to get asufficient number of recruits for training.

If air strikes and cross-border raids on training camps and safe havens could effectively end terrorism, Israel should be free offoreign-sponsored terrorism today. The fact that even after 30 years of a macho counter-terrorism policy, Israeli blood continues to flowshould show the ineffectiveness of its strategy.

The US bombing of the training camps in Afghanistan in August 1998 did not prevent the attack on a US naval ship in Aden in October, 2000or the terrorist strikes of September 11,2001, in the US.

When terrorism is used by a State as a low-cost weapon to achieve its strategic objective, what works against it is the ability and thedetermination of the victim State to hurt the interests of the State-sponsor in order to make it a high-cost weapon for the wielder.

State-sponsored terrorism withers away when the villain State is made to realise that it will have to pay a heavy price for its sponsorship. The US bombing of Libya in 1986 and its economic sanctions against it produced more enduring results than its bombing of the trainingcamps in Afghanistan in 1998 because it hit at the vital interests of the State-sponsor (Libya); whereas in Afghanistan, it hit only at thetraining camps without hurting the Taliban-run State.

If the current "war" against terrorism produces enduring results, it would be more due to the severe damages inflicted by the US on theTaliban State and its overthrow.

The ideologically-oriented terrorist groups of West Europe, including many inspired by Carlos, withered away after the collapse of EastGermany, the erstwhile USSR and Yugoslavia and the US pressure against Syria, Yemen and Sudan deprived them of any State-sponsor.

Egypt was able to control the activities of the Al Gama Al Islamiya and other similar groups only after the US pressure on the Sudan deprivedthem of sustenance from the Sudanese State.

If Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir is not abating, it is partly because of the reluctance of the US to exercise similarpressure on it and partly because of our unwillingness and inability to make the State of Pakistan pay a price for its sponsorship. When apuppeteer uses puppets to hurt you, you have to disable the puppeteer; otherwise, the more the puppets you destroy the more the numberthat will crop up.

Other options, which need to be tried first before even contemplating the direct military option, are political, economic and non-militarycovert actions. The political option relates to intensifying our pressure on the international community in general and the US in particular toact against Pakistan. The US is as opposed now as it was in the past to calling Pakistan to order, but one could see from the US media thatgrowing sections of public opinion there do not take as benign a view of Islamabad as the Administration does. One must take advantage of this wind of change.

India has a much stronger case against Pakistan than the US has had against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We have had difficulty in sellingour case because of the USA's strategic interest in Pakistan and the nostalgic links of the military-intelligence establishments of the twocountries. Loyalty to USA's allies, past and present, has been a recurring theme in President Bush's pronouncements before and after hiselection.

It would, therefore, be unrealistic to expect the US to come down on Pakistan heavily. We cannot expect more than proforma admonitionsaddressed to Pervez Musharraf. However, this should not be an argument for not keeping up our diplomatic pressure to confine Pakistan tothe dog house.

The junta will not give in as easily to US pressure vis-a-vis India as it did apropos Afghanistan. In its perception, the proxy war has brought itvery close to its objective of a change of status quo in J & K. It thinks that if it relents in the proxy war in response to US pressure, it maynot get for decades a similar opportunity to change the status quo. In its eyes, keeping the Indian security forces preoccupied with internalsecurity duties is also meant to neutralise the quantitative and qualitative advantage enjoyed by the Indian military.

The only way, short of a military conflict, of making it relent in its proxy war is by making the perceived low-cost weapon into a high-cost one. Economic warfare, through overt and covert means, could be one way of doing this. However, such economic warfare would have produced better results before September 11, but today its cash flow position has improved with its foreign exchange reserves more than tripling in three months. And yet, sustained economic warfare could neutralise the temporary reprieve which the Pakistani economy has gained.

Political, diplomatic and economic actions by themselves would not make the junta relent unless simultaneously accompanied byhard-hitting covert actions directed at Pakistan's neurologic spots carefully identified. A covert action is defined as a clandestine anddeniable action, armed or unarmed, not involving the use of the Armed Forces, which a State undertakes in a situation where the use of theconventional diplomatic or military option is considered as not feasible or advisable.

Successful covert actions demand the required professional capability in the intelligence community, objective allies in the targetted territory and consistency on the part of the political leadership in their implementation.
Consistency in our policy towards Pakistan has not been a hallmark of our national security management. It must be said to the credit of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment that it has exhibited remarkable consistency in its hatred of India and in its urge to hurt us wherever and whenever it can.

Our policy of "kabi garam, kabi naram" (sometimes hard, sometimes soft) creates confusion and uncertainty in the minds of our own securitybureacracy and makes our objective allies across the border hesitant to co-operate with us in covert actions.

The need of the hour is a counter proxy war doctrine incorporating its political, diplomatic, economic and covert components and itsimplementation in a determined and consistent manner. The results would not come dramatically, but slowly and almost imperceptibly.


Vijainder K Thakur said...

While you make a good case for ruling out the military option, you do not elaborate on the nature of the covert actions that would impose a heavy economic cost on Pakistan.

Cuba is a very small country that can be, and was, easily contained by the US without the need for military action. Not that Cuba ever trained or dispatched terrorists to hit the US. If it ever dared to setup a camp to train terrorists against the US, there can be little doubt that the US would send its Marines to take out the camp and be back home before the day broke!

Let us not forget that the US did not hesitate to go to the brink of a nuclear war when Cuba did become a serious threat to it, oblivious, if may add, to the concerns of the world about a nuclear conflagration that would have had a global impact.

Direct military action need not be messy or counter productive. Not unless you are talking about a mindless invasion. A punitive strike to teach Pakistan a lesson would be foolhardy but a well calibrated military response will work.

Direct military action can be as deniable as covert action. No one can say for sure who fired the first shot on a remote border post.

Military action ultimately imposes an economic cost. It also imposes a human cost and admittedly, the cost is to both sides.

Direct military action may not be the perfect answer but sometimes it is the only answer. Imagine what it would have been like living in Israel, if the government there decided that military action against neighboring states was not a good idea. Would Israel even exist today?

I believe the military establishment in Pakistan hates us as much as the Hamas hates the Israeli. The Pakistan military wields power in that country because it projects us as their enemies. Whether we like it or not, there is going to be no peace with Pakistan unless we can win it - The Gujrals, Vajpayees and Manmohans of this world notwithstanding!

That is the assumption that we have to make. It is rationale assumption based on recent history. What is it that India has not done in order to buy peace? We have ceded territory. We are ready to dilute our sovereignty over Kashmir. Even if we gave away Kashmir does anyone really believe there would be peace? Would the terrorists go away and start farming? Would the Pakistani military return to their barracks for good and beg for parity with the babus in their payscales?

Since we cannot wish away the Pakistan military, or its state sponsored terrorism, we have to deal with it in the language it understands: using guns. Here is how I think it can be done.

1. Make the current no peace no war posture permanent so that Pakistani generals spend sleepless nights trying to figure out Indian intent, rather than overseeing terrorist strikes. This will impose an economic cost both on India and Pakistan. India should be able to sustain the cost with a lot less pain than Pakistan.

In this context has anyone noticed how restrained and slow moving China has been when it comes to making peace with India? It is never in a hurry. They don’t want to solve the relatively minor border problem because then they would have no way of pressuring India.

Why is India in a hurry to make peace with Pakistan?

2. Keep Pakistan on its toes by nibbling at its territory across the border, artillery duels, cross border raids, et al. The strategy has worked in the past and the economic cost was not insurmountable. However, very soon after it started to yield results we made peace with Pakistan.

This time around don’t make peace with Pakistan unless you are sure they have dismantled their terrorists infrastructure and changed their policies for good. Don’t be in a hurry to make peace. Noble peace prize ambitions of our Prime Ministers or the good hearts of our Bollywood stars, artistes and performers should not be allowed to derail the real peace process which can only come through the threatened use of force.

3. Keep military escalation on the cards, not just be prepared for it. If it is not kept on the cards, Pakistani generals will once again start sleeping at night! A bad idea!

Pakistan will try and fight its way out of the military pressure by threatening escalations. Don’t relent.

4. Pakistan will surely withdraw forces from it western borders in response to the aggressive Indian posture and consequently the US will pressure us to ease military tension on our borders. Ignore the US pressure.

Fighting the terrorist in Afghanistan maybe important to the US, but fighting the terrorism that emnates from Pakistan is what India needs to focus on. If we ignore US pleas they will have no option but to increase pressure on Pakistan instead, to start behaving like a responsible state.

Real peace comes from a victory, either in a cold or hot war. What I am advocating is a warm war.

The government of India needs to be more concerned about the 1.1 billion people living in this country, not the smaller number living in US and Europe combined!

Anand said...

Note that President Kennedy pledged that the US wouldn't try to remove or attack Castro in 1962 to the Soviets. The US has kept this promise.

However, the US fought the Cuban army in Grenada in 1983.

I would also point out the that the main threat of terrorism against America and most other countries in the world comes from Pakistan. Afghanistan is percieved in the US and most other countries as a containment strategy to manage the terrorist threat from Pakistan.

The single battle that killed the most American soldiers in Afghanistan was a Lashkar e Toiba attack on a joint Marine/ANA (Afghan National Army) outpost in 2008. A majority of NATO, ANA and ANP being killed in combat are killed by Pakistanis (both "Punjabi" and Pathan Pashtu.) Their most deadly enemies are Pakistani based Takfiris.

One option would be to let the ANA conduct attacks on terrorist camps in Pakistan using its commando battalions (which by all accounts I have read are high quality.) Each of the ANA's six Commando battalions is in the process of fielding four helicopters. The ANA commandos can conduct air borne air assault and extraction, but the ANAAC (Afghan National Army Air Corps) is still building its CAS (Close Air Support) capabilities. The ANAAC also lacks air superiority fixed wing aircraft.

Any ANA attacks on Lashkar e Toiba, Jaish e Mohammed, or other affiliated targets inside Pakistan are likely to be very popular on the Afghan street. Since the ANA is heavily recruited from Sunni Pashtu; why not utilize it for operations against Pakistani based militants?

Anonymous said...

Do you think we have the time to train our spy agencies and cultivate allies and undertake covert actions? We have already missed all the time that was available after 2001. Now the ISI's tentacles seem to be spreading with far greater speed across the entire nation. And with thousands who share their ideology in our country, the ISI is in a better position to conduct covert operations than the RAW or any other agency. So it is important for us to disrupt or destroy the infrastructure of the ISI and Pakistani military than to indulge in tit for tat covert actions.