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Abhinav Pandya

A Brief Overview of Counter-Terrorism Operations in India- Challenges and the Way Ahead




India has been at the receiving end of the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan based actors since 1990s. However, the world community realized the intensity of our pains only after September 11 which made the phenomenon of terrorism, genuinely global. Transnational terrorist organizations shook the world with the well-coordinated network and worldwide operations. The western world, though a late starter took prompt and multifarious measures to tackle the menace of terrorism after September 11. Their response regarding research on the diverse aspects of terrorism, counter-terror operations, technological know-how needed and the smart combing operations was undoubtedly prompt and effective. However,  India despite being at the receiving end of terrorism for almost three decades and even after facing the horrors of 26/11, has not been able to come up with a robust response mechanism and, a long-range counter-terrorism policy. In this essay, the author will discuss the significant shortcomings of India’s counterterrorism (CT) policy, challenges faced by India’s CT forces and policy interventions needed to address the deficiencies.

India’s counter-terrorism approach has mostly been an ad-hoc, operational and reactionary one primarily focusing on the use of force. It has lacked a wide-ranging vision.  This lacuna comes from the fact that there was hardly a serious and systematic effort to understand the phenomenon of terrorism intellectually.  One wonders as to why the majority of the reputed think-tanks and publications on terrorism have originated in the western world. Moreover, even now it is scarce to find a quality study on terrorism issues emanating from India. Terrorism is a very complex phenomenon and entirely different from a conventional security threat; therefore, it needs a nuanced understanding of the problem.

First and foremost,  there has been a tendency among the academic and strategic community to analyze diverse security threats like LWE, the ethnic insurgency in NE, proxy-war in J&K and the incidents of jihadi terrorism through one broad prism of terrorism. Mostly, it has happened for the reasons of political convenience. Especially among the academicians in India, one finds an attitude hesitant to study the issues of Islamic extremism in detail. The problem of jihadi terrorism is a politically sensitive issue, and one finds himself in an uncomfortable zone of being branded a communal if he studies Islamic extremism in India’s socio-political milieu that dwells upon a highly delicate and dangerous interpretation of secularism, driven by petty electoral concerns.  However, an efficient policy mechanism to address these challenges needs a detailed and differentiated analysis. The various security threats mentioned above are very different from each other, though one cannot rule out the convergences and overlapping. Hence, the “one-size-fits-all” approach is highly fallacious.

Secondly, in the policy response to address the challenge of Islamic extremism, the phenomenon of radicalization has not received the much-needed attention. The issue of jihadi terrorism is profound, widespread and multidimensional in nature. In India, mostly we have focused on the military aspects of counter-terror operations. The approach is to wait until someone becomes a terrorist and then neutralize him. Moreover, this narrow approach is amply reflected in the terminology used which mostly hovers around the militant count; weaponry seized, quality of weapons and the encounter deaths. One hardly finds any systematic effort to understand the pre-militancy phases of radicalization that are long-drawn and complex. After one joins a militant group, the only option left is the use of force in the majority of the cases, and it often becomes counter-productive. The security forces kill one terrorist in the Kashmir valley in an encounter, and ten others get inspired and join. What is needed is a rigorous effort to identify the radicalization pathways, the organizations involved, their modus-operandi and the funding channels which all constitute the infrastructure or congenial launching pads for a terrorist organization to emerge, sustain and conduct operations. For example, in J&K mostly the focus is on the activities (primarily clandestine) of Hizbul Mujahiddin such as its recruitment drive, hide-outs and finally the encounters. However, one hardly comes across a robust mechanism to understand and curb the activities of Jamaat-i-Islami which are in open and legal and flourish in the garb of religion. Jamaat-i-Islami provides the necessary cover in which the HM cadres easily move, operate and continue to bleed India. Jamaat-i-Islami provides a ready supply of recruits through its rigorous education system. Jamaat is firmly entrenched in rural areas, and its activities in the rural areas are highly sophisticated. South Kashmir districts such as Pulwama and Shopiyan are hotbeds of terrorism, and they have a strong presence of Jamaat-i-Islami. Jamaat caders function as OGWs(over ground workers) for terrorist organizations and Pak-based ISI handlers. Their activities include spying, providing shelter, food and other logistics assistance to terrorists. Also, with their threatening presence in the village, they intimidate the residents to fall in line with their agenda and not cooperate with Indian security forces. They freely distribute the distorted and violent interpretations of the literature of  extremist scholars such as Syed Qutb, Hasan Banna, Maulana Maududi and Ibn Tamiya in universities, colleges, and other socio-cultural platforms. The extreme radicalization as a result of their activities has almost finished the Sufi Islam of Kashmiris.

Similarly, over the last eight years, Salafis have become very active in Kashmir. Their mosques number more than 700 and are heavily funded by petrodollars. Though they are silent on political issues, it is not without reason that their rise has strongly coincided with the rise of Islamism in Kashmir. Today Islamic state is firmly establishing its footprint in Kashmir. A large number of the followers of Zakir Musa (he raised the idea of Caliphate in Kashmir, and his group Ansaar Ghazwat ul Hind (affiliated to Al Qaida) believes in the ideology of Ahle-Hadith/Salafi. One can find the ISJK (Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir) graffiti on the walls in 90 feets area which has a large concentration of Salafi mosques.

Similarly, in Kerala, Wahhabi proselytization and the resultant radicalization has been going on for last four decades. Malayali diaspora working in the Middle East and charity organizations based in the Gulf have been the primary funders. Over the years, oil money and intense religious propaganda have entrenched a radical and fundamentalist version of Islam in Kerala, that is at odds with India’s indigenous Sufi Islam. Radical Islamist parties like the Popular Front of India have been running conversion camps, terror camps and openly talk of political Islam.  No wonder that Kerala has supplied the largest contingent of ISIS foreign fighters from India. In 2013, IB had released a report that informed that there are 1.8 million Wahhabi followers in India. There is a robust funding channel from Saudi Arabia. USD 124 million was earmarked for setting up four Wahhabi universities, USD 62 million for building 40 mosques, USD 46.5 million for madrasas and USD 15.5 million for the upkeep of existing mosques.

However, such reports have hardly been able to generate any stir at the top echelons of national security. The local police are more incentivized to turn a blind eye to the activities of PFI because pandering such extremist organizations suits the electoral interest of the dominant political parties of Kerala. PFI has also penetrated into the colleges and universities through its affiliate Campus Front of India and in politics through its political front Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). Not only this, PFI is expanding into the northern hinterlands of India and the North Eastern states too.

The examples cited above are to convey the gravity of the threat to the readers. However, they are only the tips of the icebergs. This author believes that a robust counterterrorism strategy needs honest and urgent thinking on the issue of radicalization exploring radicalization pathways, funding networks, cross-border connections, its religious and non-religious factors and the role of social media. Also, indeed a robust mechanism to counter the forces of radicalization is also the need of the hour.

Continued in the next part…

Abhinav Pandya

New Frontiers of Terrorism- Social Media, Cyptocurrencies, and Intelligence Reforms



Counter Terrorism

India’s CT apparatus has not displayed sufficient awareness of the new frontiers of terrorism like social media and the use of cryptocurrencies in terror financing. Social media has emerged as the most lethal weapon in the overall strategy of terrorist organizations. It has been immensely useful in diverse areas such as recruitment, propaganda, the relay of instructions and generating funds. It is a well-accepted fact in the global counterterrorism community that the cyber jihad operations of ISIS played an instrumental role behind the popularity and the reach of ISIS in far-0ff countries. Further, cyber jihad provides a satisfying alternative and a pathway to Jannat (haven) to those who do not want to involve in the armed jihad.

However, CT apparatus woke up to this reality a bit late. It was a British News channel four that informed us about the ISIS recruiter Mehdi Biswas in Bangalore. In J&K social media is playing a most pernicious role in abetting stone pelters and inspiring youth to join militancy. DG Kashmir Mr. Vaid informs that when an encounter begins, more than 300 WhatsApp groups become active sending instructions, locations and other relevant details to the organizers of stone-pelting mobs. In an informal interaction the students of Kashmir University, this author was informed that the videos released by Burhani Wani and Zakir Musa have an immensely powerful appeal among the youth, an appeal that could surpass the propaganda work the 100ds of organized Jamaat-i-Islami cadres. Unfortunately, the levels of the preparedness of India’s CT apparatus are not satisfactory. In most of the states, at the district levels, this author has come across almost dysfunctional cyber security cells. They are mostly understaffed and ill-equipped, manned by a team of two-to-three constables. Their skill-sets are poor. The question is not just about the availability of resources and technology. It is more about the fact that even senior officers do not show enough concern for the cyber threats.

In the world of terror-financing, cryptocurrencies and dark-web have emerged as the matters of grave concern. With the tightening controls on the formal financial system and increasing scrutiny of hawala channels, the future terrorists are likely to use cryptocurrencies for funding terror operations. Crypto- transactions are fast, cheap, extremely-difficult-to-track and anonymous. Further, most of these activities will happen on the dark web. On Darkweb, just like any other online sales portal, one can order things. However, on dark web, one can order all kinds of contraband things like drugs, weapons, IEDs and RDX. India is at high risk because we have a huge segment of gray markets. The quality of vigil kept by regulatory agencies is outmoded, and the reach is limited, not to mention the rampant corruption that prevails. Tracking high-tech crypto-transactions and terrorist activities on the dark web will be a daunting challenge for Indian CT apparatus.

The arena of terror-funding-networks needs attention, as a part of India’s CT approach. However, off late, the focus has been increasing on the areas such as terror financing and radicalization. However, it is too little and too late. The terror funding mechanisms, even the simple ones are highly diffused, sophisticated in operations and have a strong penetration. Moreover, the agencies involved in dealing with the complexities of the terror-financing world, lack sufficient expertise in the field of terror financing.

Indian CT Apparatus is highly fragmented and poorly coordinated. In the federal set-up of India, most of the policing functions lie with the state governments. The state police are understaffed, ill-equipped and poorly trained. Further, they are heavily controlled by political masters and corruption galore. The state intelligence bodies, i.e., CIDs are almost in the state of disrepair. They are considered punishment postings and the officers posted are either incompetent or without political approach or highly corrupt. As a result, the quality of intelligence gathered is very poor, and the whole exercise is just perfunctory. This author came across many senior police officers who would hardly know a difference between Deobandis, barlewis and Ahle-Hadith. If the senior CT personnel lack such basic knowledge of the subject, then one can imagine the malaise that mars the performance of India’s CT apparatus. In one of the  interaction with a senior official from Mumbai Police, this author was told that due to political pressures, they often have to turn a blind eye to increasing radicalization in the state. Intelligence briefs keep piling on for years, but there is hardly any political interest in these matters.

In the intelligence domain, multiple agencies are working on counter-terrorism. IB functions under Home Ministry, RAW and CBI report to the PM, and there are state intelligence bodies which are mentioned in brief in the previous paragraph. Terror financing and money-laundering issues are dealt with by the finance ministry. There appears a turf war-like situation between different agencies and the state and central agencies often compete for resources and bureaucratic autonomy.  All this makes the task of coordination (usually done through joint committees, task forces, and multi-agency centers) and harmonization of intelligence inputs gathered by different agencies very difficult. Before 26/11 there were inputs of a sea-borne threat by central agencies, but they were largely ignored by the coast guards and the Maharashtra State police. They argued that it was not actionable intelligence. Inter-agency coordination has led to intelligence failures in the past also. 9/11 commission report pointed out the lack of inter-agency coordination as one of the causes of the intelligence failures in the September 11 attacks.

Further, our intelligence cadre needs to be upgraded regarding the theoretical understanding of terrorism and counter-terrorism and the latest technological developments in the world of terrorism. The state intelligence agencies are almost dysfunctional, and they need an urgent focus. Besides, the agencies also require a morale boost. Political leadership must ensure that they will not compromise with the core issues of national security and the feedback given by intelligence agencies will be taken seriously to determine a policy and the follow-up action. The officers can visit the UK, US, and Israel for short-term, long-term and mid-career courses in fields like terror-financing, the study of political Islam and the role of media and social media. Counterterrorism experts can be invited for lectures in India’s universities, think tanks and also the training academies of CT forces.

However, after 26/11 India has taken some remarkable initiatives which deserve due credit. National Investigative Agency set-up after Mumbai attacks have played a lynchpin role in busing terror-financing modules in Kashmir. It has emerged as a nodal agency in counterterrorism. National Counter Terrorism Center is a great innovation, but it needs to be vitalized. Expertise from academia, religious studies, the private sector, psychology, sociology, social media experts and artificial intelligence must be roped in to make it a genuinely multi-disciplinary CT agency that generates useful analytical reports. IB ran a successful operation viz. “chakravyuh” and it helped prevent many youngsters from joining ISIS. It is indeed quite surprising that despite having the world’s second largest Muslim population not more than 100 people went to join ISIS from India.

Further marking a significant departure from the past, India has changed its policy with Pakistan also.  In India, a robust CT strategy can never be complete without factoring in the Pakistan question. Engaging Pakistan is quintessential. Then the question arises-which way one should do it? Previously when India exercised restraint and tried to mend fences fearing a nuclear retaliation from Pakistan, Pakistan did not relent and continued supporting proxies in Kashmir and sending Fidayeen squads in Kashmir and other parts of India. However, after the surgical strikes, one finds that Pakistan is under immense pressure to rein in the anti-terrorist groups based in Pakistan. So far, no major attack has taken place in India. Modi government’s policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan and strengthening international pressure on Pakistan through FATF sanctions also seems to be paying dividends. In one his articles for Asia Times, this author explained that nuclear threat by Pakistan is a hoax and nukes were never an option for Pakistan. Therefore, India must adopt a tough and aggressive approach with Pakistan to strike at the roots of terrorism.

Finally, in CT operations the armed forces are fighting a battle which is hybrid in nature. For example, in a typical CASO (cordon and search operation) in Kashmir valley, army cordons a house sheltering a terrorist, on a precise intelligence input, unlike the 90s when they cordoned the entire village. When such cordons take place, WhatsApp groups become active informing about the encounter and inciting the people. The calls are given from the village mosques asking people to assemble for stone-pelting. Within minutes a mob of 7000 to 10,000 gathers. The stone pelters are controlled by CRPF, and J&K Police positioned in the outer circle. Sometimes the crowds become incredibly aggressive and violent. The forces have to use pellets. If they want, they can use AK47 but that will be disproportionate use of force and will raise many ethical questions. Cross-border actors engineer such stone-pelting processions on purpose to make a terrorist encounter appear like an instance of human rights violation by Indian security forces. Many times, the situation demands to call off the entire operation which turns out to be very demoralizing for the armed forces. Moreover, it also gives the terrorists an opportunity to escape.

These days the army has to deal with a new phenomenon of shadow militancy which is a kind of psychological warfare. In this, a terrorist named x is introduced as different individuals in different villages. So when security forces neutralize a foreign terrorist, then someone from the other village will claim that he saw the terrorist x in his village and army lacks the will and strength to kill the terrorist x. As a result, the terrorist x becomes a hero. It is profoundly demoralizing for the military.

Hence, this author would recommend that state police and paramilitary forces should be the mainstay of the CT apparatus when it comes to combat operations. The army is meant to fight a conventional war and kill a foreign enemy. They should not be made to bear the burden of the incompetence of our police forces. The J&K police is the best example to demonstrate that state police can acquire the highest levels of operational efficiency in combat operations with highly trained terrorists of Lashkar and Jaish.  The state police departments and the paramilitary forces need restructuring and overhaul in areas such as command-and-control structure, discipline and the acquisitions of high-quality assault weapons and training. Further, paramilitary forces can be commanded by senior generals from the army as the nature of the operations of CRPF, BSF and SSB are akin to the military than the routing policing. Generalist IPS officers commanding units on deputations are not well accepted in the para-military forces, and the cadre-officers of para-military forces feel demoralized when they are commanded by IPS officers, most of whom hardly have any expertise in counter-terror and insurgency operations.

This author tried to contemplate upon some of the crucial aspects of robust counterterrorism policy. However, it is an extensive subject and needs exploration in detail which is not possible in the space offered by an article. To conclude, this author would like to recommend that CT requires a holistic approach.  We need to strike at the roots of terrorism, and that requires out-of-the-box thinking. A sound CT policy should also think about generating gainful employment opportunities and recreational opportunities for the youth. In the long-run, an alternate narrative needs to be projected. The narrative has to focus on religious harmony, economic development, political representation, nationalism and restoring the dignity of the aggrieved populace.




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Abhinav Pandya

Allahabad becomes Prayagraj-Just a name change or more than that ?




Shakespeare said, “What’s there in the name?” If he had lived in the age of democracy, he would not have said it because in name lies the identity and it forms of the core of politics in a democratic nation-state. Further, if the state happens to be like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or any other developing country with a long colonial past, dysfunctional government structures, poor administration and corruption rampant in the system, the politics and ultimately the democracy finds a safe shelter in fictitious issues of identity. This is so because real issues such as infrastructure development, economic growth, human resource development and socio-political reforms are boring and not so exciting for the people, hopeless and chafing under the burden of dysfunctional governance and overly preoccupied with existential and survival issues. I guess this was the reason, Ayatollah Khamani said, “I did not stage a revolution to slash down the prices of a watermelon.”

Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai, Calcutta became Kolkata, Mysore became Mysuru, Bangalore became Bengaluru, and now Allahabad becomes Prayaagraj. Before the row over Allahabad issue showed any signs of settling down, I came across the demands for renaming Muzaffarabad as Lakshminagar. The love for changing names continues after the long 70 years of India’s independence and hopefully, it will go on in the future too. Although we talk of India as an emergent world power, a new mover and shaker in the emerging world order, it seems that the hangover of the history is not yet over. It still lays buried deep inside the subconscious of the Indian sub-continent. Moreover, it beautifully explains the dichotomy of India’s nurturing of the ambitious space program on one hand and periodically making attempts to reclaim the history. Indeed, India is not just a country of diverse people and faiths but also of diverse time-zones existing simultaneously and the diverse psychological states existing peacefully but not without frictions.

Coming back to the main theme of this article i.e. renaming of Allahabad as Prayaagraj, I must say, the issue needs a little more of factual elaboration. First and foremost, Akbar did not rename the city as “Allahabad”. He had named it as Illaha-bas. “Illaha” in Arabic is a generic word for God and Allah is the Islamic God. The official records of Mughal era mention the city as Illaha-bas which basically means the city of Gods.  Later, it was British who Islamized the name and changed it to Allahabad, the reasons for which are hardly honest as playing communal politics was one of the main pillars of British statecraft.  Hence, personally, I believe that Hindu nationalists have actually paid their tributes to the secular soul of the Mughal emperor Akbar, though unwillingly and unknowingly.

Secondly, Allahabad, Illaha-bas or Prayagraj is a city of immense historical and spiritual importance in India. It is at the site of the confluence of Ganga and Jamuna and Saraswati, the three holy rivers of Hindu mythology, philosophy and the spiritual legacy. Hinduism as a spiritual operative system has always worked at a deeply psychological level and through various rituals and customs; certain symbols have been deeply ingrained in the sub-conscious of a Hindu mind. For example, it is mandatory for a Hindu to visit four dhams, 12 jyotirlingas (Shiva temples) and 52 Shakti Pithas (temples of the mother goddess). The rivers such as Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati, Sindhu, Kaveri and Godavari have very deep spiritual and religious significance for Hindus. Bathing in the zones where holy rivers like Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati mingle with each other, gives a Hindu a divine merit. Hence, Prayaag or Allahabad constitutes the very essence of Hindu identity. In other words, a Hindu has the same reverence for Prayag, which a Muslim has for Mecca and Medina. Further, Praayaag was the capital of the mighty Gupta Empire which is a symbol of the ancient glory of Hindus. Hence, any analysis of such incidents like the renaming of Allahabad and other cities has to be seen in a historical context.  One-sided criticism of such initiatives as the examples of Hindu extremism or populism disregards history and is unapologetic in a very biased way, about the wrongs that Hindus faced in the past.

It is interesting to note that even after 70 years of independence; such symbolic initiatives are powerful enough to influence popular perceptions. It is because of the fact though India became independent; the Indian National Congress never addressed the sentiments of Hindus in India, in an adequate and respectful manner. After independence, when prominent Congress leader from Gujarat, KM Munshi demanded of the government to organize the construction of Somnath temple, (it was destroyed by Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1025), the western-educated and westernized PM Nehru objected to it, citing that in a secular country the government has nothing to do with religious matters. President Rajendra Prasad disagreed with Nehru and participated in the inauguration of the temple. Similarly, Hindu temples were brought under state control whereas the minorities were given sufficient control over their religious places. Hindu code bill regulated Hindu customs and marriages whereas there was no such requirement for minorities. They received constitutional protection. Even in history writing, the academicians allegedly promoted by the successive Congress governments whitewashed the chapters of excesses against the Hindus by Arab and Turkish tyrants. Even the brutal rulers like Aurangzeb, Tipu Sultan and Allaudidn Khiljhi have been glorified in the history books. Hence, even now the Hindu mind feels that they have not received their fair due and they still need to reclaim their history. Had Congress addressed the Hindu concerns in a respectful manner and made its secularism a genuine, honest and truthful principle of governance, rather than a discriminatory and devious political tool to garner minority votes, the questions and concerns over Hindu identity would have lost their relevance by now.

Further, it must be noted that it’s not only the Hindu nationalist parties or elements that are favouring such moves. Neither is it only against the medieval rulers. As noted above, the nationalist fervour has also led to the renaming of cities like Madras and Bombay which were developed by the British. Even the regional parties who profess great loyalties to secularism have also supported renaming of the cities in the past. For example, Mamta Banerjee, who has taken on the flag of secularism (though in its uniquely ruthless and violent style) after the political demise of Congress, enthusiastically supported the change from Calcutta to Kolkata.

The trend of revivalism or revisiting history by Hindu nationalist organizations in the form of populist demands like renaming towns is not something encouraging. In recent years, it has become identified with the rising Hindu nationalism after 2014. Moreover, it happens more so in cases like Muzaffarnagar. The district was a victim of a worse form of communal violence in 2013. After that, it has witnessed a spike in communal passions and radicalization in both the communities i.e. Hindus and Muslims. When seen in light with the facts mentioned above, the demand of renaming it as Lakshminagar gets directly linked to the communal divide between the two communities. Then, political interests get into the fray. As a result, even the genuine demands for an objective rewriting of history gets politically stained and ultimately add on to communal hatred. Further, I would also like to state that objective rewriting of history needs to be done in an unbiased manner. Once the larger project of historical inquiry is conducted in earnest, there remains no need for petty communal moves like renaming places. In fact, the old names can be retained as souvenirs of history seen objectively, not as good or bad.

Having discussed the identity issues and the historical baggage at length, I would like to argue that it is high time; we moved from such symbolic and superficial gestures and address the core issues of governance and politics. Even if we want to address the questions of identity the issue will remain unaddressed without an objective and impartial reading and writing of the history. Such an attempt will serve genuine academic objectives rather than facilitating narrow political gains at the stake of national interests and communal harmony.

Further, the desire to reclaim the glories of history is not unusual. It comes from the most primary human sentiments. However, the effort should not be driven by hatred and false pride. While doing this, I would recommend that an attempt should also be made to explore the reasons for the defeat at the hands of foreign powers. The factors including our own civilizational distortions, corruptions, moral decadence, insular attitude and the lack of scientific outlook which all led to the mighty collapse of India’s ancient glory at the hands of foreign invaders must be pondered upon and right lessons need to be learned from history. Such lessons need to be applied in the current context, not with the historical baggage of hatred, but with an open, tolerant and inclusive mind.

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Abhinav Pandya

India needs a robust strategy to counter Pakistan’s proxy war




On every occasion of Pakistan’s ceasefire violation, we are found fumbling in our response except for our hyper-nationalist media going overboard in abusing Pakistan. Since 2003 ceasefire agreement, there have been numerous instances of ceasefire violations (CFVs). In the first two months of 2018 alone, India reported 633 violations and Pakistan reported 400 violations. Days before, once again Pakistan displayed barbarity, tortured an injured jawan and returned its badly mutilated body.

Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain in his essay, “The Counter Proxy-war Strategy for Jammu and Kashmir” (Kanwal Gurmeet The New Arthashatra-A security Strategy for India) scathingly critiques this shortage of expertise on Pakistan’s proxy war in our strategic establishment, and my understanding of his thoughts boils down to the conclusion that so far India’s response has been ad-hoc, reactionary and lacking a long-range vision.

First and foremost, India must have a clear understanding that it has been at the receiving end of the proxy-war with Pakistan since 1989. Though in effect, the proxy-war started with the birth of Pakistan and had existed since then in some crude form but with Zia’s strategic insights and efforts, it became organized and systematic. And, so far Pakistan is winning that war.

Venturing beyond the superficialities reveal that ceasefire violations are not random incidents of misadventure, but they are calculated strategic moves under the bigger umbrella of irregular warfare. The recent ceasefire violations have occurred in the Jammu region. The violations are aimed to terrorize the Hindu community that still has a strong presence in the Jammu region. The Deep-state (read ISI) wants to intimidate the Hindu community living there forcing them to emigrate out of J&K. Further, the ceasefire violations make sense when seen in the light of the central government’s intentions to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pundits in the valley. Scare-mongering is aimed at demoralizing the government and Kashmiri Pundits and obstruct their homecoming. The broader objective behind such shenanigans is to usher in a demographic change in J&K by a gradual and sustained ouster of Hindus from the state, weakening India’s moral and territorial claims to the state. Further, there is also a strong possibility of such demographic experiments in Ladakh also to dilute the current-Buddhist nature of the region. In a recent visit to Leh and Kargil, this analyst came across the phenomenon of increasing religiosity merging with radicalization among the Shia community. Many young students visit Iran for religious studies. It is very common to come across the hoardings of Aytollah Khomeneh in Kargil and Leh. One can easily come across communal frictions between Shias and Buddhists. Further, there is also a strong possibility of Wahabbi activities in Leh region, in response to a rise in Shia activism.

Additionally, the ceasefire violations in Jammu region have strong potential to deepen the mistrust between the Hindus and Muslims, and between the Jammu region and the valley. The PDP-BJP government symbolizing an alliance between Jammu and Kashmir is a big leap towards the integration of the Kashmir valley with India. The deep-state wouldn’t tolerate it in the least bit, as it jolts Pakistan’s Kashmir ambitions from within. Apart from this, such ceasefire violations are also aimed at eroding the electoral support for the Modi government, which is abhorred by Pakistani establishment beyond imaginations for the reasons more than evident. Further, ceasefire violations also aim at providing momentum and a morale boost to disruptive activities in Kashmir valley or diverting attention for some large-scale infiltration attempt or executing any other completely unrelated social-political unrest in other parts of the country.

The better terminology is irregular war with Pakistan as proxy-war is just one of its several dimensions. The “irregular war” with Pakistan is a very complex, subtle, refined and a nuanced phenomenon. It is a study in itself which needs to be done from diverse stand-points, i.e., intelligence, demographic, military, and sociological, economic and diplomatic. Pakistanis have mastered the art of irregular warfare after years of experiments in Afghanistan and refined it in its diverse aspects, i.e., strategic, operational, tactical and sub-tactical. They devise innovative and timely interventions to infuse life in the event of the militancy floundering in the valley. They control the irregular warfare like a water-tap. The events such as the Kargil intrusion, recent civil unrest/stone-pelting in Srinagar, terror attacks in Uri and Pathankot, frequent ceasefire violations and bomb-blasts in other parts of India must be analyzed in the broader context of Pakistan’s irregular warfare. Seeing them in isolation isn’t entirely helpful in crafting the right response. In fact, there is also a need to explore the seemingly unrelated and remote events like Dalit unrest, environmental protests, communal riots and the left-wing radicalism even, regarding their subtle connections with the overall-objectives and planning of the deep-state.

Understanding Pakistan’s irregular warfare is a study-in-itself and well beyond the scope of this article. However, it must be clear that our options to counter Pakistan’s irregular warfare are limited. The way Pakistanis have their assets here, India, unfortunately, does not have that advantage in Pakistan, for the reasons that may not necessarily be mentioned keeping in mind the considerations of the political correctness of the piece. To build deep assets that could be used for covert actions and long-range irregular warfare, a country needs a sustained effort with clarity and continuity of purpose, high-morale of the concerned intelligence agencies, competence, muscle and skills, and a strong political will. Unfortunately, we have none. In Pakistan, the military has been reigning over the security and foreign policy for the last 70 years with clear policy objectives and sustained efforts. On the contrary, with every new election, the policy, personnel and the ideology changes in India. Further, our agencies lack enough authority, are highly bureaucratized, suffer from inter and intra-agency rivalry and work in a democratic culture which may not be the most friendly work-culture for a spy agency. Lastly, India lacks a “strong strategic culture.” We have never engaged in aggressive psywars and aggressive military action. Remember, it was Pakistan that attacked India four times, not India.

So, what do we do?  Shockingly, the option of being a silent spectator to civilian and military deaths in ceasefire violations have also appealed some great human rights workers and internationally-acclaimed intellectuals who even shamelessly argued that demolition of Babri Mosque turned a peace-loving Maulana into a terrorist Masood Azhar. However, such breed hardly matters to India.

While thinking of a counter-move, the first and foremost thing that needs attention is the fact that India’s edge over Pakistan has always been in a conventional war. Precisely this was the reason they made strategic and tactical nukes, to use them as a deterrent in case if India’s threshold for tolerance is crossed in the irregular war and India resorts to a conventional attack.  We have acted naively in taking Pakistan’s boastful nuclear rhetoric at a face-value.  Our strategic community has come to believe and, without much thought that Pakistan is going to retaliate with a full-scale atomic attack in case of a strong response by India to its terror tactics. This precisely has been the deep state’s trap, and foolishly, we fell into it and thriving in it for more than two decades now, with cuts in India’s body-politic fast exceeding General Zia’s dream number of 1000.

How baseless and unfounded our fears have been, is amply demonstrated by Pakistan’s timid response to India’s surgical strikes. Resorting to nuclear options will be a greater disaster for Pakistan and Pak army is a highly rational actor and understands the fact stated above, well. In fact, Pakistan does not have a response mechanism in case India retaliates with an aggressive military action, short of full-scale war. Pakistan knows that it cannot use the nuclear option and therein lays the chink in the armour of Pakistan. Hence, the option of a full-scale war may be unrealistic, disproportionate and unwise but something like a step short of it may be a sensible idea to explore. We may call it a sub-conventional military response.

India could explore the option of regular bouts of aggressive, high-intensity counter-offensive sustained over a long period with no immediate end in sight. The objectives must be clear- destroy the terror infrastructure including terror camps like Lashkar’s headquarter at Muridke, make civilian life hellish in Pakistan’s border areas and break them psychologically. Ceasefire violations should happen from our side on a regular basis. Along with this, we must activate the Afghan border also, indeed within the bounds of good taste !! The strategy must be to confuse them- two steps ahead and one step backward, i.e., an aggressive action followed by an informal proposal/statement indicating a genuine intent for ceasefire or even a declaration of unilateral ceasefire or a dialogue or some versions of track 2,3,4 diplomacy. Such moves must be followed, after a period, by another bout of aggressive military action on the border. India needs to create smokescreens where aggressive military action becomes a norm, but it does not look like a conventional attack. And, if it appears that Pakistan’s threshold is getting narrower, then India must guard itself with a nuclear threat. Finally, this is the best time to do it because the morale in Pakistan’s strategic establishment is low because of India’s tough approach in the valley and on the border, in the last four years. Besides, internationally Pakistan is under tremendous pressure as the world community sees Pakistan as a more or less a terrorist state. US-Pak relations are highly strained and Pakistan increasingly faces American pressure to act against Haqqanis. In June, FATF is most likely to declare greylist Pakistan for finding terrorism. In such circumstances, even China is least likely to stake its international credibility by defending Pakistan.

The pressure has to be on the border rather than in the valley. The remote control, i.e., Pakistan should feel hemmed in and broken, militarily and psychologically. The idea is to bust their morale. An aggressive action during the month of Ramazan or prayer times can also be a great idea to crack down their confidence.  The valley has to be a witness to the goodwill gestures, economic activity, and civil liberties. The tourism must be actively encouraged, and it will always be welcomed.

While dealing with Pakistan, India needs to care a little less about ethical aspects and its image of a responsible and a democratic actor in the international community. And, in the long-run we India can devise its hybrid-warfare strategy. My essay on India’s hybrid war strategy can be a useful document for India’s strategic community.


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