Monday, April 6, 2009



Afghanistan marked an important landmark in the evolution of covert action techniques. It was a proxy war, partly overt, partly covert, to make the Soviet troops bleed through the use of surrogates, without the direct involvement of US troops.

Conscious encouragement of religious fanaticism was for the first time used as a covert action tool. Whereas the past covert actions of the Western intelligence agencies were projected in ideological terms (democracy vs Communism), those in Afghanistan were projected in religious terms (Islam vs Communism). Jehad was brought out of the closet of medieval times and sought to be used against the evil empire of Communism, without a careful examination of its long-term implications for peace and stability in the world.

In their eagerness to take full advantage of the entrapment of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the Western intelligence agencies reverted to the pre-1970s concepts, which viewed any means as good means for achieving a national security objective. Even the production and smuggling of heroin were encouraged to make the proxy-war at least partly self-financing and to promote addiction amongst Soviet troops.
As a result of these ill-advised actions, Islamic jehad has become a multi-headed hydra, striking here, striking there and striking everywhere and no country, which has a sizeable Muslim population, has been able to escape its ravages. The Islam vs Communism clash has been replaced by an Islam vs Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism clash.

Let there be no mistake about it. The long-term objective of Pakistan's Army of Islam vis-à-vis India is no longer the acquisition of territory in J & K. It is to make the sub-continent safe for the spread of Islam by weakening Hinduism, by debilitating the Indian State and thereby paving the way for the restoration of the Mughal State. This is an illusion, but illusions can cost lives and suffering. India has been the target of a religious war, which is not going to end with the resolution of the Kashmir issue. What is in danger is not just the future of J & K as an integral part of India, but the future of India itself as a secular, politically pluralistic and economically prosperous State.

Pakistan's objective of debilitating the Indian State, which is the driving force behind its proxy war, is not of recent origin dating from its experience of its successful (as perceived by it) role in the Afghan war of the 1980s. This has nothing to do with the two-nation theory; this has nothing to do with the so-called unfinished agenda of the Partition of 1947, as Pakistan describes its quest for J & K, by hook or by crook.

It has everything to do with a mindset, riddled with complexes, which is marked by a permanent hostility to India, by a compulsive urge to take advantage of every difficulty faced by India and to keep the Indian Security Forces bleeding and by a burning desire to prevent, by every manner possible, the emergence of India as a major regional power.
It was this mindset, which was at work in the North-East before 1971, in the Punjab thereafter and in J & K since 1989. Pakistan's proxy war against India dates back to the 1950s, when it started training and arming the Naga hostiles. It suspended it after the humiliating defeat of its Army in 1971 and started it again --this time in Punjab-- after Gen.Zia-ul-Haq seized power in 1977.

What is new about the latest phase of its proxy war in J & K and other parts of India is the use against the Indian Security Forces of the expertise, the experience and the arms and ammunition and other tools acquired by it under the supervision of the CIA in Afghanistan. What is equally new is the use of the clandestine Army of Islam of the Afghan War vintage, without the direct involvement of its Army of the State.

The diversion of this Army of Islam from the battlefields of Afghanistan to J & K serves three purposes, in Pakistan's perception:

* It keeps the Indian Security Forces and civilians bleeding without the Pakistani Security Forces suffering any casualties.

* It keeps the fanatical jehadis dying at the hands of the Indian Security Forces, thereby preventing their return to Pakistan and clamouring for the imposition of a Taliban-type rule there. In the Pakistan Army's perception, the longer the jehadis are kept fighting and dying in Indian territory, the longer it would be able to prevent a possible Talibanisation of Pakistan.

* It provides a training and motivating force and a training ground for Muslim extremist elements from other parts of India such as the cadres of the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) just as it had functioned in the 1980s as a training and motivating force in Afghanistan for Muslims from Muslim and non-Muslim States wanting to take up arms against the State.

The post-1989 phase of Pakistan's proxy war has an overt as well as a covert component. The overt component relates to its political, moral and diplomatic support to the indigenous Kashmiri organisations, its orchestration of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, its Psywar against India on the human rights and other issues and its attempts to internationalise the issue. The covert component is about its letting loose its Army of Islam against the Indian Security Forces and civilians.
The Pakistan Army thinks that its demonstrated nuclear and missile capability has insured it against a retaliatory response from the Indian Security Forces due to the fears of the Indian leadership that retaliation could degenerate into a regular warfare. Its feeling of having acquired a psychological asymmetric advantage over India due to the nuclear factor has given it a confidence that it can persist with its proxy war at no cost to itself.

In the absence of a meaningful and effective response from our side, it is India, which has been bleeding at the hands of this Army of Islam, with the Pakistan Army remaining untouched. Unless and until the Pakistan Army is made to realise that a proxy war is a game which two can play and that India can play it more effectively and conclusively than Pakistan, there is going to be no respite from the ravages of this war.

Till now, we have been restricting ourselves to the conventional counter-terrorism strategy based on the principle of passive defence in our own territory in response to Pakistan's proxy war. This strategy has not brought this war to an end and is unlikely to do so. We have to adopt a counter proxy war strategy based on the principle of active defence through a mix of overt and covert actions. UN declarations and international laws and practice justify the adoption of an active defence strategy by a State against another State which seeks to use terrorism as a weapon to achieve its strategic objective.

State-sponsors of terrorism generally tend to project the terrorist groups backed by them as "freedom-fighters", just as Gen. Musharraf has been doing since he captured power on October 12,1999. How to differentiate between terrorists and freedom-fighters is one of the questions considered by President Reagan's Special Task Force on Terrorism headed by Mr. George Bush (Sr), his Vice-President and the father of the present President. It said that while freedom-fighters confined their attacks only to Security Forces, who were in a position to defend themselves, terrorists were those who killed innocent civilians. It defined a State-sponsor of terrorism as a State "supplying money, weapons, training, identification documents, travel documents, or safehaven for terrorists."

The USA's Department of Defence Directive 2000.12 issued in 1996, finetuned the definition of terrorism in order to bring under its ambit acts directed against civilians as well as security forces. Its definition of terrorism is as follows:" Unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property, with the intention of coercing or intimidating governments or societies, often for political or ideological purposes."

It laid down the following other definitions:

* International (or Transnational) Terrorism Terrorism in which planning and execution of the terrorist act transcends national boundaries. In defining international terrorism, the purpose of the act, the nationalities of the victims, or the resolution of the incident are considered. Those acts are usually planned to attract widespread publicity and are designed to focus attention on the existence, cause, or demands of the terrorists.

* Non-State Supported Terrorism Terrorist groups that operate autonomously, receiving no significant support from any Government.

* State-Directed Terrorism Terrorist groups that operate as agents of a Government, receiving substantial intelligence, logistical, and operational support from the sponsoring Government.

* State-Supported Terrorism Terrorist groups that generally operate independently, but receive support from one or more Governments.

The State Department's report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism during 2000 has further expanded the definition of terrorism to bring under its ambit even attacks on military installations. It said: "We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site."

A Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the UN approved by the UN General Assembly on October 24,1970, has laid down that "every State has the duty to refrain from organising, instigating, assisting or participating in acts of civil strife or terrorist acts in another State or acquiescing in organised activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts."

Subsequently, while speaking during a debate on another Declaration on the strengthening of International Security, which was passed as Resolution No. 2734 on December 16,1970, delegates from the USA, the UK, Canada, Italy, Australia, Japan and the then USSR described the sponsoring by a State of acts of terrorism against another State as indirect aggression.

The right of a victim-State to defend itself against such indirect aggression by the use of appropriate conventional as well as non-conventional means was underlined in an address delivered by Mr. George Shultz, the then US Secretary of State, after the signing on April 3,1984, by President Reagan of a National Security Directive on this subject and again later in a foreword contributed by Mr.Bush Sr to a study on Terrorist Group Profiles in November, 1988.

Mr.Schultz described State-sponsored terrorism as a new form of warfare and said that the success of diplomatic options in dealing with State-sponsors of terrorism would depend on the readiness of the victim-State to hit back, through conventional military and non-conventional clandestine means if the diplomatic options failed. He, therefore, expressed the determination of the US to follow a strategy of active defence, that is, taking the counter-terrorism operations into the territory or against the interests of the State-sponsor of terrorism, if left with no other alternative.

In his Foreword, Mr.Bush Sr reiterated the determination of the US to demonstrate to State-sponsors of terrorism that their actions would not be cost-free.

Even though international law and practice thus give us the right of active defence against Pakistan, we have not exercised it even once. We do not have even after so many years a credible counter proxy war strategy to demonstrate to Pakistan that its proxy war will not be cost-free.

Is it any wonder that Gen.Musharraf behaves towards us with such impudence? There is not even a sense of outrage in us as was seen by the way we fell over each other in welcoming and lionising him when he came to India for the Agra summit in July,2001. Nations, which become incapable of feeling a sense of indignation and anger when attacked and let their will and readiness to retaliate, when warranted by circumstances, be weakened by misplaced forbearance invite greater aggression. Perceived over-anxiety for peace with a State-sponsor of terrorism does not lead to peace. It leads to only more violence and more suffering for innocent people.

A credible counter proxy war strategy against Pakistan has to have an overt and a covert component. The overt component relates to extending political, moral and diplomatic support to the alienated sections of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (NA) in their agitations/ struggle against the Government of Pakistan. Islamabad goes to the world promptly with exaggerated accounts of every incident taking place in J & K in order to keep the issue constantly in the media and before international public opinion. At the same time, it has imposed a virtual iron curtain on developments in POK and the NA in order to keep world media and public opinion in the dark about the real situation there.
For nearly two years the world was not aware of the massacre of the Shias in Gilgit in 1988 by the tribal hordes of bin Laden instigated by Musharraf. The world was ignorant of the demonstrations all over POK in 2000 against the proposal of the military junta to raise the height of the Mangla dam to benefit the farmers of Punjab. The Amnesty International's report on the Pakistani ban on pro-independence groups/individuals contesting elections in POK has hardly received any publicity.

The policies followed by the Zia and the Musharraf regimes of settling Punjabi and Pathan ex-servicemen in the NA in order to weaken the nationalist forces there are hardly known even in the rest of Pakistan. The outbreak of sectarian riots in Gilgit in the second fortnight of June before Musharraf's visit to India and the way, after Agra, Musharraf forced the POK Assembly to elect Maj. Gen. Mohammad Anwar Khan, the Vice Chief of the General Staff in the GHQ, as the President of the POK after he had prematurely retired from the Army to contest the election have not been brought to the attention of the world.

The world does not know that the POK Assembly does not have any financial powers, that the budgets are prepared in Islamabad, that the Chief Secretary and other senior officials of the NA are either Punjabis or Pathans, that the people of the NA have never participated in the elections to Pakistan's National Assembly and that they are governed even today as the frontier tribals of British India were before independence by the Frontier Crime Regulations promulgated by the British colonial masters, under which no native of the NA can move from one village or city to another without the permission of the police and has to register himself or herself with the police during such movements.

After 1988, a number of new organisations came up in the POK and the NA demanding greater democracy, autonomy and even independence, but the ISI has ruthlessly suppressed them keeping their leaders under detention without trial. Those, who escaped arrest, are living in exile abroad.

India claims that the entire J & K as it existed before August 15,1947, is an integral part of India and, yet, our political leadership, bureaucracy and public opinion have taken no interest in the plight of the peoples there and in bringing to the attention of the world what has been happening behind the iron curtain erected by Islamabad.

One has the impression that New Delhi is as ignorant about the state of affairs on the other side of the Line of Control (LOC) as the rest of the world. It has taken little notice of the emerging new leadership in the POK and the NA and has avoided interactions with the political exiles from these areas living abroad. No attempt has been made to better organise them in their struggle against Islamabad. We have every moral right to do so if we consider the POK and the NA as rightfully belonging to us.

This tragic neglect has to be put an end to as part of the overt component of the proposed counter proxy war policy. What should be the contours of the covert component cannot be discussed in a study like this, but certain points can be flagged. It has to be based on a recognition of certain ground realities such as the following:

* Ideas such as the right of hot pursuit, raids on training camps across the LOC etc will not work. Hot pursuit can work against terrorists/insurgents indulging in hit and run raids from rear bases across the border. There cannot be any hot pursuit of terrorists operating from shelters inside our territory and against suicide bombers. The question of raids on training camps across the LOC does not arise because the camps are located on either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and not in the POK or the NA.

* Covert actions against the Pakistani interests in the POK and the NA would be difficult because of the strong presence of a Punjabi-Pathan component (mostly ex-servicemen) in the local population. Even before 1947, the present POK had a strong Punjabi presence and this has increased since then due to the systematic resettling of Punjabi and Pathan ex-servicemen. The NA had very little Punjabi-Pathan component before 1947 except in the areas in the proximity of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Today, Punjabis and Pathans are economically dominant, though not yet numerically.

* Pakistan has the advantages of terrain and local support in this region and, therefore, will be able to frustrate any covert actions without serious difficulties.

* Hence, the epicentre of the covert component of any counter proxy war policy has to be largely outside the POK and the NA, in areas where we will have the advantages of ground conditions and local support. We have to carefully choose the terrain, which will hurt Pakistan and hurt it badly.

Before drafting and implementing an effective counter proxy war policy, we have to pose to ourselves certain questions, which have rarely been posed till now, or if posed, rarely been answered keeping in view the imperatives of national security. The more important of these questions are:

* Is it in India's interest to ensure that the law and order situation in Pakistan continues to be as bad as ever thereby deterring foreign investment?

* Is it in India's interest to do any thing, such as the normalisation of the bilateral trade, which might help Pakistan come out of its economic difficulties?

* Is it in India's interest that the unbridgeable sectarian divide in Pakistan strengthens demands for an independent Shia State?

* Is it in India's interest that the movements of the non-Punjabi nationalities of Pakistan for a genuine confederation, if not independence, succeeds?

* Is it in India's interest that the movement for the restoration of democracy with the Army returning to the barracks with no political role gathers momentum and succeeds?

* Is it in India's interest that Pakistan remains inextricably trapped in the black hole of Afghanistan?

* Is it in India's interest that the swarming Mullas and their organisations continue to drag Pakistan back into the past, thereby making it an unwelcome proposition either as an ally or as a friend or as an investment destination?

You find the right answers to these questions and you will have the right mix of the covert component of our counter proxy war strategy. The careful drafting of the strategy has to be entrusted to a special task force on a time-bound basis. Once the strategy is adopted, its implementation has to be the responsibility of a counter proxy war centre in the external intelligence establishment.

We have till now treated our intelligence agencies essentially as intelligence collection, analysis and assessment agencies and not given them an adequate covert action/counter proxy war capability. This capability is an urgent need.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: )

No comments:

Post a Comment