Category Archives: Defence And Strategic Affairs Blog

India’s Policies are Mired in Systemic Weaknesses

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had given its approval to the establishment of the National Counter-terrorism Centre (NCTC) in mid-January, two years after it was first conceived following the Mumbai terror strike on November 26, 2008. A month later, almost ten chief ministers have expressed strong opposition to the NCTC on the grounds that the states were not consulted and that the functioning of the proposed NCTC will undermine the federal structure of India’s Constitution.

This opposition comes despite the fact that the structure of the NCTC approved by the CCS is a watered down version of the form in which the NCTC had been originally conceived by the Home Minister, Mr. P Chidambaram following the Mumbai terror strikes. In an address to officers of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on December 23, 2009, the Home Minister had envisioned the NCTC as an organisation capable of “preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators.”

The NCTC had been envisaged as an umbrella organisation, which would exercise control over agencies like the NIA, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the National Security Guard (NSG). It will now be placed under the Intelligence Bureau and the existing Multi-Agency centre (MAC) will be subsumed in it.

The NCTC will draw up and coordinate counter-terrorism plans, integrate intelligence gathering and coordinate with all existing investigating and intelligence agencies. The NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid), which was approved by the CCS in June 2011, will provide a data bank of 20 database like travel records, immigration details and income tax records as inputs to the NCTC.
Unless the NCTC is empowered to conduct counter-terrorism operations like its U.S. counterpart, on which the Indian version was expected to be based, urban terrorism will continue to remain a cause for concern and much will remain to be done in the planning and execution of India’s counter-terrorism policies, the execution of which is mired in systemic weaknesses.

Even though recent terrorist strikes have been sporadic and have been spaced out in time, the overall impression that prevails is that of an unstable internal security environment in which the initiative lies with the terrorist organisations and they are able to strike at will. The government needs to review its largely reactive policies and adopt pro-active measures to fight terrorism, particularly the variety that emanates from the soil of inimical neighbouring countries.

India’s response to the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 was slow and laborious and poorly coordinated among the Central and the State governments and their various agencies. Coastal security was virtually non-existent; the Marine Police were too few in number to effectively patrol the vast area entrusted to them; they were ill-equipped and inadequately trained; and, there was poor coordination between the Coast Guard and the Marine Police. It took far too long to begin flushing out operations and then to eliminate the nine terrorists who were holed up at three separate locations.

The government must formulate a comprehensive approach, with all organs of the state coming together to implement a national-level counter-terrorism strategy to fight terrorism. The government must draw up a national-level strategy that is inter-ministerial, inter-agency and inter-departmental in character. Such a strategy must also balance the interests of the Central and the State governments.

It must be ensured that the counter-terrorism policy is based on strong but egalitarian laws. India’s experiments with POTA, TADA and UAPA have failed to deliver the desired results. Laws must be just and humane and must not be designed to either be vindictive towards or shield any particular community or religious denomination. The experience of many other countries has proved that it is possible to formulate strong yet egalitarian counter-terrorism laws. The U.S. established a powerful Department of Homeland Security following the 9/11 strikes and there has not been a major terrorist attack since then.

One major source of the lack of a coordinated approach is the gross disconnect between how the Central and the State governments view counter-terrorism; there are glaring disparities in the views held in Delhi and the State capitals. The Constitution must be amended to move “law and order” from the State List to the Concurrent List so that the Central Government can act on its own initiative when necessary, particularly in the case of externally-sponsored terrorism. And, it is time the government bifurcated the internal security function of the Ministry of Home Affairs into a separate ministry headed by a cabinet minister.

Besides prevention through accurate ‘humint’ and ‘techint’ intelligence gathering, successful counter-terrorism requires the effective intelligence penetration of terrorist groups so that their leadership can be systematically neutralised by an empowered anti-terrorism agency. Comprehensive planning and better stage management are necessary for the quick elimination of a group of terrorists during a strike while the terrorists are on a killing spree.

Post-incident investigation is aimed at unraveling the identities of the planners and the plotters and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the incident of terrorism. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) must be reconstituted as it lacks teeth in its present form. It should be re-modeled on the U.S. FBI to give it both preventive and investigative powers. While there is no need to blindly ape any country, there is no harm in learning from the best practices abroad and incorporating them into Indian policies.

India’s intelligence coordination and assessment apparatus at the national level and counter-terrorism policies remain mired in the days of innocence. We are now living in the age of ‘new terrorism’ that is far more violent and virulent than before and policies must keep pace with the emerging developments. Also, the government must enlarge the scope of its counter-terrorism policy to covertly eliminate the leaders of terrorist organisations abroad who are actively engaged in sponsoring terrorism in India so as to eliminate the problem at its roots.

US Repeating Brezezinski-Casey Mistake

When Zbigniew Brezezinski and William Casey implemented a policy of training, funding and equipping Wahabi extremists in order to do battle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the international security consequences of that decision were glossed over. Even a cursory reading of the printed material used by the Wahabi cadres were ought to have shown the disconnect between their world-view and that of modern civilization. The literature teemed with references to historical events such as the crusades, and in particular, the re-occupation of Spain by the Christians. Any reference to Jews and Christians was – to put it in a highly diluted form – uncomplimentary. Given the huge staffs that both had at their elbow, Brezezinski and Casey ought to have figured out that the next target of the Wahabi fanatics, once the USSR was sent packing from Afghanistan, would be the western world.

It was not that there were no options to the recruiting of Wahabi jihadists. At that point in time, the Pashtun community in Afghanistan was almost entirely moderate, and nationalists within them would have eagerly accepted a U.S. request to get launched into battle against the colonial forces of Moscow. Instead, the moderate and nationalist Pashtuns were ignored, and help channeled only to the most virulent and extremist of the Pashtun community; elements incompatible with the co-existence of other elements in any society. It speaks for the lack of accountability within the U.S. strategic community that as yet, neither Brezezinski nor Casey have suffered any damage to their reputations as a consequence of their empowering of Wahabi fanatics into becoming the destructive force they now are. Certainly the defeat of the Soviets was a worthwhile objective, but it is assumed by those covering up for Casey and Brezezinski that this could only have been done by the fanatics. The option of using nationalist and moderate Pashtuns was – and has remained – forgotten. The consequence has been the radicalization of the Pashtun community and the empowerment of the Taliban, that “nurturing solution” to Al Qaeda.

Although 9/11 weakened the warm ties between the NATO powers and the countries and entities nurturing Wahabism, the 2003 Iraq war had the unfortunate and unintended consequence of creating an opportunity for the Wahabists to escape from the box into which they had been penned after the WTC and Pentagon attacks. The grounds for this had been prepared earlier, when Vice-President Dick Cheney decided that the U.S. would implement a strategy of outsourcing the war against the Taliban to the Pakistan army, the very force that saw the extremist militia as an auxiliary force. From 2001 permission given to thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to escape from Kunduz, to the funds provided to Taliban elements deliberately identified as “anti-Taliban” by the ISI, to the NATO-assisted removal of Northern Alliance elements from the Afghan government and their replacement with pro-Taliban elements. It is the NATO which has been responsible for the return of the Taliban, and to such an extent that the alliance is now suing for peace with the militia, although aware of the terrible consequences to the Afghan people and to regional security in general of a Taliban takeover.

2011 saw a full-blooded return of the Brezezinski-Casey doctrine of boosting the offensive capabilities of Wahabi extremists. This columnist had warned – at the start of the Libyan intervention – that the so-called “democracy warriors” active against Muammar Gaddafi were largely Wahabi in composition, and cut from the same cloth as the Taliban. That this was so is clear from the literature they have been spewing out for decades, tracts which reek of prejudice against moderates and other faiths, and which faults Gaddafi not for being a dictator, but for allowing women to go about unveiled, and for not implementing a Wahabi version of Sharia Law. To their shame, western media have dropped Libya off the radar after the killing of Gaddafi, thereby allowing the imposition of (a Wahabi version of) Sharia Law in much of Libya, as well as the killings and torture of thousands, to go unreported. The forecast that Libya would become another Taliban-led Afghanistan, a safe haven for extremists, has come true.

Now in Syria, once again NATO is arming and otherwise assisting elements that will turn on the West as soon as they dispose of Bashar Assad. Intervening in the Wahabi battle against the Shia is as future-disastrous for NATO as Ariel Sharon’s 1982 intervention in Lebanon (on the side of the Maronite Christian militias against the Shia) was for Israel.

Civil wars in Arab countries need to take place without external intervention, especially those having a Wahabi-Shia hue. Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will avoid listening to the big donors from the Middle East to her husband’s charities and foundations, and go by common sense. The repeat of the Brezezinski-Casey strategy of arming Wahabi extremists in first Libya and now Syria is a geopolitical error of the first magnitude.

Mutually Assured Destruction of Economy (MADE) Doctrine

During the phase of the Cold War between 1952 and 92, the possibility of any form of direct attack by the U.S.S.R on the U.S. or vice-versa was reduced to near-zero by the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Each of the two had the capability to absorb a nuclear first strike and thereafter inflict terminal damage on the other. Knowledge of such capability kept peace in Europe and helped the continent escape the conflicts that broke out in Asia. Indeed, the U.S.S.R was so intimidated by the U.S. nuclear arsenal that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (C.P.S.U.) lacked the courage to mount even a conventional challenge, not simply against the U.S. and its N.A.T.O allies, but also against countries such as Pakistan, that were being used by Washington to conduct a war by proxy against Moscow. Had a fraction of the munitions expended by the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan been spent on locations within Pakistan (in particular the regions feeding the insurgency in the neighboring country), there was a high probability that Moscow would have crippled the U.S.-backed insurgency and its regional satellites in Afghanistan. So pervasive was the fear of a U.S. nuclear strike that the U.S.S.R (even under the usually U.S.-compliant Mikhail Gorbachev) went ahead with an economically ruinous strategic and conventional military buildup after Ronald Reagan spoke in 1983 of creating a missile defense system that would in theory, once completed, absorb a nuclear first strike.

The C.P.S.U. believed that this move was a precursor to a nuclear first strike on the U.S.S.R by the U.S., something that they thought was the fervent wish of every U.S. administration. When in the 1993, this columnist pointed to China as being the replacement for the now defunct U.S.S.R. in the demonology of N.A.T.O., barring a handful of strategic experts (including R D Fisher, then with the Heritage Foundation), others saw such an outcome as “fanciful”. Today, they may have changed such a view, especially after the 2011 Department of Defense strategic vision document released by President Obama, which explicitly mentions the Peoples Republic of China (P.R.C.) as being in the same category of hostiles as Iran and therefore a direct threat to the U.S. Although he has been condemned on the campaign trail as being “weak” on national security, the reality remains that it was Barack Obama rather than the eight years of George W Bush that saw off Osama bin Laden, just as it is since 2009 that drone attacks on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan have accelerated. Indeed, in 2001, the Bush administration gave a free pass to the most deadly elements of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, by permitting their evacuation from Kunduz and other locations within Afghanistan. President Obama has understood that while military power can win a territory from a conventional enemy, it cannot hold it unless it is willing to inflict human casualties on a scale made impossible by cable television and the use of mobile telephones as video cameras. To revert to the case of India, once international publications began to extensively cover the various protests of Mahatma Gandhi, the list of feasible responses by the India Office in London narrowed considerably that the People’s Liberation Army (P.L.A.) and the U.S. military consider themselves rivals is no secret.

Indeed, Afghanistan has become the first significant theater of effective confrontation between the two, with China adopting the 1980s U.S. strategy of using Pakistan to drain and ultimately defeat the military of a rival. While in the 1980s, the target of Pakistan was the U.S.S.R., today it is the U.S. itself. From 2003 at the latest, the P.L.A. has had greater influence over the Pakistan military than the Pentagon, public perceptions, and statements to the contrary. Since 2007, the PLA’s influence – and therefore that of the PRC – has been dominant to a degree that has enabled Pakistan to challenge NATO, including by cutting off supplies to its forces across the Durand Line. The preferred outcome for the PLA is a complete withdrawal of all N.A.T.O forces from Afghanistan (and Pakistan), followed by the takeover of the former country by a Taliban affiliate of the ISI. Across the world, from Iran to Sudan to Venezuela, the PRC has been boosting the military and other capabilities of forces hostile to the N.A.T.O powers, principally the U.S. It is following a low-cost, low-visibility strategy of draining the U.S. in particular via feints and jabs conducted by the States and non-state players reinforced by Beijing.

The P.L.A is no match for the U.S.-armed forces, just as the U.S. conventional forces in Europe were no match for the U.S.S.R. What prevents a sufficiently robust response from Washington to the increasing number of challenges from Beijing? The explanation may vest in what may be described as the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction of Economy (or MADE). While China lacks the capacity to inflict equivalent damage to the U.S. via military means since the mid-1990s, it has reached a stage of economic interlinking with the U.S. as it would make a direct conflict between the two unacceptably costly for Washington.

It is unacceptable because such a conflict would not involve the takeover (actual or attempted) of territory belonging to the other, but jousts in proxy locations. This being the case, the pain threshold that remains bearable in case of a hostile act gets pushed significantly higher, in view of the apprehension that direct hostilities would inflict unacceptable economic damage. Given the absence of an overt and existential threat, such as that posed by the National Socialist German Workers Party (N.S.D.A.P.) by its aggression against Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1930s, populations in a democracy are reluctant to endure the hardships and uncertainties of war. Such an outlook helped shape the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain, which changed only after the public began to better understand the reality of Hitler’s rule. Public opinion played a significant role in French acquiescence in the 1936 occupation of the Rhineland by the German army. Given the importance of economic issues in the matrix of public opinion, states with an elected government would be chary of committing their military to conflicts where the economic costs are huge. The lack of significant domestic opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. is explainable by the absence of knowledge about the eventual costs of that intervention. Now that the figures have come in, both for Iraq as well as Afghanistan, getting domestic support for another full-scale major war would be impossibly difficult, unless there were a direct and existential threat to the U.S. itself. By keeping the threshold of aggression below this (high) level, a country determined to challenge the U.S. can do so with relative impunity, especially if conflict brings with it huge economic damage to both sides unlike Syria and other states that have pursued politics antithetical to perceived N.A.T.O. strategic interests and got blowback, China has thus far escaped retaliation. The reason for this is the dense web of interconnection between the P.R.C. economy and that of the U.S. and the EU. While the U.S. economy may be able to withstand the shock of the stoppage of commercial relations with China that would follow a conflict, the EU would find such an outcome terminal to its hopes of survival. And in a domino effect, once the EU goes under economically, a weakened U.S. may as well. Given the core importance of economics to voters in within the N.A.T.O. bloc, such an outcome becomes unacceptable and therefore, any steps that could potential generate such an outcome would become undoable. Hence the immunity of the P.R.C. from significant N.A.T.O retaliation, despite Beijing challenging the alliance’s strategic interests worldwide. Apart from assistance to regimes considered “rogue” by N.A.T.O, would such immunity extend to a conflict between the PRC and Taiwan? Interestingly, the island has the same defense vis-a-vis the PRC as Beijing itself has vis-a-vis N.A.T.O. This is again MADE. So closely meshed are the economies of the P.R.C. and Taiwan that a conflict would lead to significant damage in the former. In particular, advances in high-technology items need the willing participation of brainpower. Should the Taiwanese see the P.R.C. as an occupier rather than as now, a partner, they would be unwilling to allow their own R&D skills to mesh with those of the P.R.C. It needs to be remembered that it is the Taiwan Dividend that has most enabled the P.R.C. to leapfrog several technological stages in its efforts at matching the N.A.T.O countries in high technology. While some may point to the economic linkages between the U.S., France, and the U.K. on the one hand and Germany on the other as evidence that such ties need not halt a war, the situation in the first half of the 20th century was characterized by (a) far lower interlink ages than at present and (b) the reality of colonies as a buffer against the shocks that a conflict would cause. The situation is very different in the 21st century. In a globalizing word, the transition from MAD to MADE is inevitable; in that the level of deterrence is similar .The only “anti-missile” defense against MADE would be a significant dilution in the economic linkages binding the NATO countries with the P.R.C., an outcome that seems distant at this time.

Cyber-Security Requires Urgent Upgrades

In the past three years, critical infrastructure the world over—from transportation systems,  power production facilities, communications equipment, along with commercial and military assets have come under unprecedented cyber-attacks from increasingly sophisticated elements.  In 2010 satellites controlled by India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO), large scale power projects in Gujarat, offshore oil platforms, and an Army command operations center in Assam were all taken offline as a direct result of cyber-attacks.

Given increasing evidence that many hacks against India are emanating from units within the Chinese MSS, who have been known to target American defense and IP assets, these revelations should be of equal concern to the United States.  India has attempted to create a nodal agency to set up an IT defense infrastructure similar to the US-Computer Emergency Readiness Team, but lacks expertise in implementing a management ecosystem to deal with modern cyber-warfare, as well as suitable manpower possessing the specific skillsets and experience to deal with military grade cyber-attacks.

The United States and its strategic defense partners including Great Britain and Israel however have much greater depth in implementing  critical control protocols, crisis management infrastructure, and proactive monitoring systems at civilian and military levels.  The Department of Homeland Security signed a memorandum of understanding with India last year to promote closer cooperation and timely exchange of information regarding cyber-warfare threats, however there has been little by way of follow up.

India has been on an acquisition spree of late to improve its strategic defense assets, and there is tremendous opportunity at the government-to-government level and for foreign civilian suppliers of military and IT security technology.  Both strategic and financial incentives indicate that the United States and its partners should urgently initiate a meeting between USCYBERCOM and the Indian National Security Council to facilitate a credible cyber-warfare deterrent and address mutual electronic security threats in the region.

Stand by democracy in Pakistan, Mrs. Clinton!

If the U.S. is floundering in a region hosting some of the world’s most dangerous religious extremists, a leading cause is the tribe of “South-Asia experts” nestling comfortably in think tanks, government agencies, and university departments across the U.S. Almost all of them have been apologists for the Pakistan army, as even a cursory reading of their published works during the previous three decades would testify. For years, these analysts and scholars have fed off the disinformation abundant in the ISI trough. Even after 9/11, when the BJP-led government then ruling New Delhi offered Washington an alliance against Wahabbi terror, these “experts” ensured that the offer got spurned, and that once again, the Pakistan army was entrusted with the job of guarding the chicken coop. Unfortunately for U.S. interests, the Clintons’ share with the Bushes’ and the Cheneys’  enormous faith in the “South-Asia” experts who evolved from the crucible of the Cold War, when India leant towards the USSR while the Pakistan army was an alliance partner, albeit on its own terms.

 What those in charge of the formulation of policy towards Pakistan have consistently failed to factor in is the contradiction between a stable Pakistan and a strong military.”South-Asia” experts in the U.S. have been voluble in their claim that it is the military that is imparting stability to Pakistan, and have been dismissive of the few who have pointed out that the reverse is the case. That instability in Pakistan is caused by the bloated power of the military, principally the army, which controls domestic and foreign policy within Pakistan to the same degree as the junta in Myanmar did before the last election.

It is the irredentist adventurism of the Pakistan military and its nurturing of terrorism as a strategy of war that has combined with its Wahabbi outlook and its huge demands on the economy to steadily bring Pakistan to the edge of collapse. Although the “experts” favored by successive U.S. administrations may not be aware of this, the reality is that the Pakistan army is involved in a host of criminal activities, including the transport and refining of narcotics, counterfeiting of currency, and the training of extremist groups. Sadly, all this has been facilitated by the U.S. policy of (effectively) unconditional support for the Pakistan army.

 This is not the occasion to recite a litany of the policy errors made by the Clinton administration in South Asia, except to point out to a grievous error of judgment made by the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009, when she secretly joined hands with the Chief of Army Staff Parvez Ashfaq Kayani in forcing the Zardari-Gilani civilian government in Pakistan to reinstate the dismissed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Choudhury. At that time, this columnist had warned that this move would neuter the efforts of the Zardari-Gilani duo to establish civilian supremacy over the military. And unless this is done, there is zero prospect of a “stable” Pakistan. The military is the wild card in the pack that has ceaselessly fomented a jihadist mentality within Pakistan society, and has created conditions that have led to contempt for democracy within the establishment in that country.

 Secretary of State Clinton has not hidden her antipathy for the President of Pakistan, nor her backing of the Chief of Army Staff.

Perhaps the “South-Asia experts” she relies on for guidance have not told her that General Kayani comes from a fundamentalist background: one that is almost completely Wahabbi. Or that throughout his career he has been a votary of the Zia Doctrine of the unity of jihadis with the Pakistan army. In contrast, while President Zardari shares with Bill Clinton a propensity for making overtures towards seductive females, he comes from a Sufi background, one where there is zero space for religious extremism. Indeed, the ethos of the Zardari family is even more moderate than that of the Bhuttos, whose apparent lack of fundamentalist beliefs cloaks a vacuum in religious attitude that was filled by a pseudo-western lifestyle. The Zardaris are religious, but in the Sufi rather than the Tablighi tradition favored by Kayani

This being the case, Asif Ali Zardari has from the start shown his willingness to take on the Pakistan military and cleanse it of extremists and their sympathizers. Instead of assisting him in this task, the Obama administration drove a dagger into its heart by conniving at the re-instatement of Iftikhar Choudhury as Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) in 2009. While there has been a much effusive comment about the “corruption-fighting” credentials of the CJP, what the U.S. “South-Asia experts” have failed to mention is the fact that Choudhury has not a word to say against an institution that is among the most corrupt in South Asia, which is the Pakistan army. The generals, as also lower-level staff, wallow in graft, to be met by a Nelson’s eye from the Chief Justice, who is equally indulgent towards Mian Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, whose family leapfrogged from poverty to plenty within a generation by use of methods that defy characterization as ethical or legal. The U.S.-facilitated re-instatement of Choudhury has turned out to be a disaster for democracy in Pakistan, because of the CJP’s obsession with ensuring the dismissal of the elected PPP-led civilian government in Pakistan. Once Kayani got his man in as Chief Justice, and forced through an extension to his tenure as COAS (again with help from Washington), he became even more open in implementing the policy that has been his signature tune since the time he took over as chief of the army.

 This is to do to NATO in Afghanistan what the Pakistan army did to the USSR during the 1980s, ensure defeat. It is no secret that China has entered the Great Game as a major player, or that Beijing is adopting the same strategy in Afghanistan that the U.S. followed two decades ago, which is to use the Pakistan army to ensure the defeat of rival militaries active in the Afghan theater. In 1998, this columnist first mentioned that China was more influential among the senior levels of the Pakistan military than the U.S. This and pointing out the Punjabi domination of the army earned him an effort from Pervez Musharraf to block him from writing in the Times of India. The Pakistan strongman complained to the former Times of India Editorial Director Dileep Padgaonkar about the unflattering comments (though accurate) being made about the Pakistan army and asked why “such writing was being tolerated by the newspaper”. Today, the most recent Kayani visit to Beijing, and his long meetings with Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao, and other top Communist Party leaders have made clear that Beijing supports the brass in Pakistan in its struggle with the civilian establishment. After all, it is the Pakistan army that is expected to ensure that NATO leave Afghanistan in disgrace by 2014.

 This is the precise reason why President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton need to avoid repeating their 2009 mistake (of backing Kayani over Zardari), and instead support the civilian establishment in Pakistan. If President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are given backing from the U.S. and the rest of NATO, they can resume the task that was aborted in 2009, which is to de-radicalize the Pakistan army and make it a professional force that would battle terror groups rather than nourish them.