Posts Tagged ‘ RAW ’

11/26/2008: How India Debated a War With Pakistan that November

By Pranab Dhal Samantha for Express India

The last of the 26/11 terrorists had been killed only a few hours back when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presided over an urgently called meeting of the country’s security top brass. Present at that meeting on November 29, 2008, were Defence Minister A K Antony, the then National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, heads of both intelligence agencies and the three service chiefs — the Army was represented by its Vice-Chief Lt Gen M L Naidu as Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor was overseas — among other high-ranking officials. The key issue on the agenda — India’s response.

By then, there was no doubt among any of those present at this meeting, which lasted for over two hours at the PM’s residence, that the entire attack had been controlled, coordinated and plotted by the Lashkar-e-Toiba and its handlers in Pakistan. An undeniable body of evidence had already piled up from the calls monitored between the terrorists and their handlers in the course of the attack. More evidence was pouring in by the hour. There was no way any government in New Delhi could drag its feet — the Prime Minister knew he had to ask the dreaded question to all those responsible for the defence of India.

He started with the words that the people of India “will not forgive us” for what had happened and that the government had indeed failed them. This was not an empty comment. About 10 days before, US intelligence had intercepted a phone call from “somewhere in the Arabian Sea” to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. The input with coordinates of the boat’s position had been passed on to Indian agencies and then disseminated but not with the immediacy and urgency it deserved. Coast Guard authorities carried out reconnaissance sorties but by then it was too late. They found nothing on those coordinates except for scores of fishing boats that looked alike. The boat had obviously moved on. The Coast Guard filed a report that it needed the latest coordinates. And that’s where matters lay until the night of November 26 when the 10 terrorists surfaced in the heart of Mumbai.

Yet, the Prime Minister kept his calm and turned to the three service chiefs. He asked them whether they had any options in mind. In the same breath, he preemptively made it clear that he did not favour another Operation Parakram. That option was off the table from day one, recall sources. The then Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta chose to remain quiet. After all, the Navy was carrying out exercises in the area when the 10 terrorists slipped in without raising an alarm. The Army Vice-Chief wanted to wait for Gen Kapoor to return before they could crystallise their thoughts.

It was Air Chief Marshal Fali Major who eventually spoke up and suggested striking terror camps in PoK. The Air Chief was sure that his planes and pilots could do the job but the intelligence agencies would have to provide the coordinates. There was no further discussion on the subject that day, but it was also not the last conversation.

So, how close did India and Pakistan come to war? The views range from “very close” to “fleetingly close” but the fact which all key players confirm is that the military option was indeed on the table. It was subsumed by only a larger question of how would Pakistan react?

IN the days that followed, the military top brass went aboutnworking on the options. The Air Force, in particular, did go into the finer aspects of conducting a limited air strike in PoK but the political decision-making never moved any further.

However, the Defence Minister did hold a meeting with the three service chiefs after the PM’s first meet. At that point, the Army Chief was asked whether limited ground strikes could be carried out. Gen Kapoor is said to have responded that an operation was possible but he would need a week’s notice and that it would be a “highly risky” affair. He is said to have added that any political approval on this must include flexibility for the Army to respond anywhere along the LoC or for that matter, even the international border. In the Army’s assessment, any strike would definitely lead to an escalated military conflict and the government ought to prepared for it. The Air Force agreed that a strong Pakistani reaction was certain but was not willing to predict the levels of escalation.

While this continued, the Army proposed that it would like to prolong the stay of two of its brigades involved in a scheduled peacetime military exercise on the Rajasthan border. The go-ahead was given and the two brigades overstayed for about two weeks.

Much later, in early January, when then Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, who is now the National Security Advisor, visited the US, his eloquent assertion in all his meetings about how India had not provoked Pakistan was only once challenged. Gen David Petraeus is learnt to have told him that this was not true because Indian troops had overstayed after finishing their military exercise. To Pakistan, he felt, this was a provocation to which it gave a disproportionate response by placing troops on alert and moving its fighters closer to the border.

There was also another incident about an Indian plane violating Pakistan airspace which apparently led to a F-16 scramble on the Pakistan side. Islamabad lodged a strong diplomatic protest. India denied with equal conviction. But at the same time the Air Force was asked to carry out an investigation.

The result was that there was indeed some violation by a reconnaissance plane of the Aviation Research Centre, RAW’s air wing, that was conducting a sortie along the LoC. This aircraft, perhaps, went too close to the LoC, violating the rule that both sides will not send their aircraft that near.

A few days later, a meeting was held in the nuclear bunker where the top leadership of the government is to be rushed in case of a nuclear strike. This was not provoked by 26/11. It was scheduled much before the attacks with the objective of familiarising the PM and other ministers of the emergency drill. But in the backdrop of the Mumbai attacks, the meeting could not have ignored the security environment of the day.

The PM is believed to have asked how would one distinguish a nuclear strike from any other non-nuclear, yet devastating attack. This was important because like many in the bunker, he too wanted to be sure that sufficient safeguards were in place to prevent a mistaken response. A long explanation was given. The PM then wanted to know if there was a chance Pakistan could misjudge a conventional strike by India and trigger a nuclear response.

There was near silence. Pakistan, by then, had already created “war hysteria” which many felt was unprovoked. The larger consensus was that you could not be sure about Pakistan’s response. It’s reliably learnt that it was this uncertainty which halted Indian strategists from fully backing any military response.

Under considerable pressure to show some response, the Prime Minister had independently tasked Menon to draw up a list of India’s options. Menon did carry out the exercise like a professional and gave an unsigned note that started with extreme measures like a limited military strike to less effective but dramatic steps like scaling down diplomatic relations, stopping cricketing ties, visa restrictions among others. He and Narayanan met regularly, at the PM’s instructions, to discuss the question of options in the days and weeks after the attacks.

In the wake of all the uncertainty over how Pakistan would respond, there was also talk about the “deniable option”. One which would involve covert operatives carrying out a sensational strike in Pakistan or in PoK. It’s learnt that RAW and the Army were specifically asked this question. RAW’s response to the NSA stunned all except, perhaps, Narayanan himself who is among the doyens of Indian intelligence. India’s premier external intelligence agency admitted that it had no assets in Pakistan to carry out such an action. It was explained that India lost all the meagre local support it had in pockets of Pakistan after the Babri Masjid attack and what little was left, was shut down by a prime ministerial diktat during I K Gujral’s tenure.

The Army said it had the ability to carry out commando operations but the government had to be clear what would be the approach if anyone was apprehended. Also, the Army let it be known that it was not sure how Pakistan would react if it found out.

This discussion headed nowhere after this because the ground realities were clear that India had consciously not cultivated this option. Some others felt it was pointless to discuss the “deniable option” because the whole idea of a response should be that the “other side” should know who did it.

Just as Singh deliberated these issues here, on November 29 itself, then US President George W Bush held a meeting with his security advisors and also on the video link with his missions in India and Pakistan. He told them that the last time something like this happened in the United States, “we went to war”. Prime Minister Singh, he added, was also under immense pressure and that the United States must do all it can to help him so that he does not go to war.

That eased matters a bit as Bush made it clear to Pakistan that it needed to “roll up and crush” the terror outfit behind the attack. US assistance was unprecedented, forcing Pakistan to accept that the attack was carried out from its soil.

But when the dust settled, all agreed that the unpredictability on the Pakistan side and the fear that its decision makers could opt for a disproportionate response, including the nuclear option, stymied any possible chance of military action on India’s behalf after 26/11.

After the first two weeks following the attack, the question that overtook everyone’s mind was what if there is another terror strike? Would India be able to hold back then?

Two years later, when asked if that phase is now over, a high-ranking security official remarked: “I can’t say, but I think that the question is still as serious. Can we keep quiet if there is another Mumbai? No, this question is still relevant.”

Revisiting Pakistan’s ‘Strategic Depth’

By Syed Nadir El Edroos for The Express Tribune

Two words that hold our country hostage is our policy of maintaining ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Apart from referring to a poorly titled adult film, the policy envisages to protect Pakistan’s eastern borders from unwanted Indian influence.

However, the consequences of continuing with this policy and differentiating between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban, has led to accusations of Pakistan playing a ‘double-game’  in Afghanistan. For many the accusation has become quite stale and repetitive. It seems to have become an open secret, with many accepting it as a reality, a part of the status-quo for dealing with the troubles in the region.

Whether the policy has been successful is debatable. The military’s and the ISI’s continued links with the Haqqani network ensures that they are a sought after broker for any back channel attempt to woo the Taliban.

The strategy aims to maintain Pakistani influence in/over Afghanistan, and to thwart alleged Indian designs. However, the policy has at the same time made Pakistan quite unpopular with large segments of the Afghan establishment. Interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs, while demanding an end to foreign influence in Pakistan is met with much ridicule in foreign capitals; it reeks of hypocrisy.

The policy is also questionable, as it breeds violence, and is responsible for the deaths of thousands in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As the violence continues, Pakistan is sure to be in the news, accused for fostering, abating or at the very least tolerating continued bloodshed to maintain its interests.

The result is the ‘image deficit’ that haunts Pakistan. The dismal public response to the floods in Pakistan for example was attributed to this effect. It has also been more difficult for our economic managers to garner favourable trade concessions and development grants. Winning over wider public support remains a problem, as Pakistan remains associated with fostering rather than curtailing violence in Afghanistan. Politicians in the west are portrayed as weak by the right-wing media, such as Fox News in the US, for taking initiatives to support Pakistan.

Look at any article posted on any western news outlet. The comments question the calls for sympathy for Pakistan as we are branded as supporters of terrorism, who inflict material and physical damage on their interests.

An alternative strategy

There needs to be an alternative to our current strategy. The alternative need not be between defending Pakistan from India or bowing before it and allowing it a free hand in Afghanistan. We need to engage with both Afghanistan and India to leverage our geographic position to develop strategic depth with positive connotations.

The US, Afghanistan and India have been pressing Pakistan to allow the transit of Indian goods over Pakistan through to Afghanistan and vice versa for years. I say, let the goods pass, hell put them on the trains. That will help to give our faltering railways a financial shot in the arm. Extend the Iran-Pakistan pipeline into India, let the gas flow. Transit fees galore! Rather than questioning Indian development aid to Afghanistan we should support it. Geographically it’s more of an advantage for us, as any increase in economic activity in Afghanistan will immediately suck in Pakistani exports.

What would the advantages be? Imagine the headlines. Pakistan would look like the peace builder, shunning international criticism and situating itself as committed to the development of an Afghan state. We would also be seen on the diplomatic offensive vis-à-vis India. With Pakistan offering so many incentives, India will have to respond in the affirmative. After all India is cultivating its image as a regional and global superpower, the ball will firmly be in India’s court. It cannot be seen rebuffing genuine gestures from its old foe.

Importantly, a policy that leverages our geographic position economically rather than militarily negates any association with violence.  We would be treated as victims rather than the guilty.

If India is indeed developing consulates across Afghanistan housing RAW agents that ferment trouble in Pakistan, improved economic ties will help shed a spotlight on the functioning of these consulates. As Pakistan becomes vital for transporting Indian-Afghanistan exports and imports to each other, minimising any threat to these links will become a primary concern for Indian traders. This will build added pressure on those who dare concoct nefarious designs to fuel militancy in Balochistan for example.

India can switch on and off the belligerent rhetoric as India’s economy has little or no interests in Pakistan. However, a Pakistan which is vital for Indian trade, supply of resources etc will have no choice but to tone down any sabre rattling that seems to be a cyclical part of Pakistan-India relations.

So where does Pakistan’s security come in?

In any period of belligerent hostility Pakistan will have the ability to cut of energy and trade links. Containers can be seized, Indian traders in Pakistan arrested, and diplomatically we can garner support by portraying ourselves of peace. We have gone the extra mile to foster our relations with India and support a viable Afghanistan. India would be seen as the aggressor. How is that for maintaining strategic depth?

Our present policy allows for India’s security establishment to deal with her interests in Afghanistan ignoring any media or public scrutiny. A policy that places economic links at its foundations will open up Indian policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan and the actions of its security agencies to wider scrutiny. The competition between competing interests will insure that whatever policy is actually implemented is a watered down compromise that is not a real threat to Pakistan.

We have to find alternatives to the status-quo. With the nation reeling under flooding, terrorism and economic stagnation we are more dependent on foreign assistance than at any point in our history. They are not many variables that we can control for. We can’t control how the foreign press paints us, how we are perceived abroad etc. However, what little we can do to help alter these perceptions, we must. And this does not have to lead to subjugation to Indian influence that many right wing commentators would suggest.

If we are to continue with our obsession with thwarting Indian designs, can we please do it in a manner that doesn’t hold us all hostage to violence and paint us as terrorist?

Shaping global opinion is a long term effort which must start sooner than later. Our challenges for the future, access to water, natural disasters caused by climate change and development depends in a large part to interaction and support of our neighbours and the international community. Politics and security needs are always a concern, but we must get society at large, the world over on our sign. We are not the cause but the victims. Strategic depth? Sure, but by other means.

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