Sunday, 8 May 2011

Osama hit a wake-up call for India

Osama hit a wake-up call for India
By Chietigj Bajpaee

The killing of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan's heartland by United States special forces demonstrated American resolve in the decade since the 9/11 attacks to get its man. It has also renewed concerns that the South Asian nation is a hub of Islamic extremist activities that have targeted neighboring India.

The May 3 hit draws attention to the shallowness of India's claims to be an emerging "great power" since it caps events in South Asia over the past decade that show India remains incapable of solving problems within its own sub-region, far from acquiring the capability to project influence on a larger scale.

Death by a thousand cuts
The Fedayeen (guerilla)-style attacks in Mumbai on November 26-28, 2008, which claimed the lives of nearly 200 people have often

portrayed in the media as "India's 9/11". However, in reality, India has suffered multiple 9/11 moments over the past two decades inflicted by Pakistan-based militant groups, and few of the masterminds behind these attacks have been held accountable as India's list of demands grows longer with each assault.

From the multiple bomb strikes targeted at transport infrastructure, religious venues and commercial hubs across major cities in India's heartland, including Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Pune, attacks have claimed some 1,000 lives and injured almost 3,000 people. Add to that toll the death of more than 40,000 people in the two-decade insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir state that has seen continued militant infiltration and ceasefire violations along the Line of Control dividing Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

The incursion of militant elements supported by Pakistani paramilitary forces in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir in mid-1999 could be defined as India's "Pearl Harbor moment" when the country was caught off-guard by Pakistani aggression. Given that it came mere months after then-Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's much-hailed "bus diplomacy" mission to Pakistan.

Pakistani military and intelligence services continue to feign ignorance of these plots to destabilize India while drawing distinctions between "good" militants (Kashmiri separatists, Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani group, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir factions of the Pakistan Taliban) and "bad" militants (the Mehsud faction of the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar al-Zil, TNSM) as a means to escape charges of being state sponsors of terrorism.

Indian interests and citizens have also faced direct threats beyond its shores from Pakistan-based militancy and extremism. In December 1999, India faced what some have described as the "dress rehearsal for 9-11" as five militants hijacked Indian Airlines 814 after it took off from Kathmandu, Nepal and diverted it to Kandahar, Afghanistan after stopovers in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai.

The hostage crisis was resolved following the release of three militants, one of whom, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, was later implicated in the kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 and another, Maulana Masood Azhar, was linked to an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.

The Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has come under direct attack on two occasions in recent years (in July 2008 and October 2009). Indian nationals from the Border Roads Organization working on the Zaranj-Delaram Highway project have also been attacked on several occasions and Indian civilians appear to have been sought out in an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul in February 2010.

These attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan have happened despite the fact that the country does not maintain a military presence in Afghanistan, is not a member of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there, and its activities largely limited to diplomatic and reconstruction initiatives.

Playing second fiddle in South Asia
With clear indications that Pakistan remains the most direct external threat to India's sovereignty and security, India has turned the other cheek time and again in the most clear demonstration of appeasement since Neville Chamberlain's pledge of "peace for our time" following his Munich meeting with Adolf Hitler in 1938.

Despite a frequent war of words and the occasional mobilization of military resources, which brought both countries on the verge of a fourth war in 2001-2, India appears to have more often than not turned Theodore Roosevelt's proverb on its head by "speaking loudly and carrying a small stick".

Whether driven by international calls for restraint, deficiencies in its military resources that prevent rapid deployment, or fears of escalation fueled by Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and unwillingness to commit to a no-first-strike policy (while India lacks clarity over its own nuclear doctrine), India has remained reluctant to exercise the military option to Pakistan's frequent provocations.

Instead, New Delhi appears to have "outsourced" its Pakistan policy to the United States and then expressed shock and frustration when Washington has not toed the same line in its approach toward Pakistan. Despite claims to pursuing a more pragmatic foreign policy, New Delhi appears to maintain a strain of Nehruvian idealism in its foreign policy approach.

This is demonstrated in its inability to acknowledge that despite the United States' self-proclaimed role as the world's policeman, Washington is in fact driven by the only interest that dominates every state's decision-making in international relations - the national interest.

New Delhi cannot expect Washington to do its bidding, especially as New Delhi retains its own preference for a non-aligned foreign policy. This saw its most recent manifestation when two US companies (Lockheed Martin and Boeing) were knocked out of the mammoth competition for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft, which is likely to leave a bitter taste in the US-India relationship and unravel some of the goodwill generated by the US-India nuclear agreement.

In the process of having a marginalized military role in the Af-Pak region, India has been limited to spewing rhetoric. The inability of the Indian government to support several positions vis-a-vis Pakistan through concrete action makes its pronouncements shallow. While in themselves laudable, there is a hollow ring to statements that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-administered ("Azad") Kashmir are an integral part of India, that the Pakistani state must cease its support for militancy targeted at India, and in New Delhi's opposition to proposed reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban.

In a contrast with India for instance, the Chinese government, while maintaining a similarly stringent position on recognition of its "One China" policy, has been able to make definable progress in its goal of reunification with Taiwan by pursuing a carrot and stick approach through a free-trade agreement, three links of direct postal, transportation and trade, burgeoning tourism and by swaying the cross-strait military balance in Beijing's favor to deter separatist tendencies in Taiwan.

India has not been able to make any such strides in reaffirming its claim to all of Kashmir, curbing the anti-India ideology that continues to permeate the Pakistan military and intelligence services and combating the spread of Islamic extremist ideology embedded in hardline Deobandi, Wahhabi and Salafi Islam in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Instead, its actions are limited to symbolic and token gestures such as the recent "cricket diplomacy" that occurred during Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani's meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh during the World Cup semi-finals.

Filling a strategic void
The boldness with which the United States deployed Navy SEALs commandos deep inside Pakistani territory to decapitate al-Qaeda's leadership and thus accomplish the mission that it set itself nearly 10 years ago should be a wake-up call for India, which continues to face the same security dilemmas it faced at independence 64 years ago.

India for its part has developed the much-hailed "Cold Start" military doctrine, which advocates rapid deployment as a means to facilitate swift and limited military engagements aimed at deterring a nuclear response and intervention by the international community.

However, this doctrine remains mere rhetoric given its inability to deter continued aggression by Pakistan, whose development of asymmetric warfare tactics and nuclear-capable battlefield range ballistic missiles has served to somewhat negate the utility of Cold Start.

Furthermore, India has demonstrated an inability to execute the doctrine given resource and logistical constraints, including transportation bottlenecks and the shortage or poor quality of key platforms, such as artillery and surveillance systems, deficiencies in interoperability between branches of the armed forces, and an apathy or unwillingness by the civilian leadership to properly consider issues of national security.

Given these logistical, resource and command and control constraints, the chances of India mounting similar operations inside Pakistani territory to kill or capture members of terrorist groups such as Hafiz Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim, Maulana Masood Azhar, Ilyas Kashmiri appears slim.

Furthermore, despite the double-digit increase in the country's defense budget this year to over $36 billion, revisions to the doctrine, including fighting a two-front war and engaging in "out of area" operations, appear wishful thinking and a case of strategic overreach.

Pakistan, despite all its faults, has demonstrated an impressive agility to redefine itself depending on the changing strategic landscape. This includes maintaining an "all weather friendship" with China, portraying itself as the quintessential Islamic state as noted by its status as the possessor of an "Islamic" nuclear bomb, and being a pivotal component of the US-led security architecture by first bandwagoning with it in the struggle against communism during the Cold War (in the Baghdad Pact/CENTO/opposing Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and more recently as an ally in the "war on terror", which granted it recognition as a "major non-NATO ally".

India on the other hand, has tended to be more slow-moving and reactive in its foreign policymaking with shifts driven more by necessity or upheaval, such as the country's foreign exchange crisis in 1991 that prompted economic liberalization. Changes in the country's foreign policy orientation have also been driven by the actions of other players, such as the US government's recognition of India as a major emerging power during the Bill Clinton and second George W Bush administrations, which fueled a rapprochement.

Rather than being driven by objective and long-term strategic assessments, indigenous shifts in foreign and security policy have often been more the result of the personalities of ruling parties, such as the more realistic interpretation of the international system by the Hindu-nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), which prompted it to declare India as an overt nuclear weapons power in 1998.

Calm before the storm
Al-Qaeda's Arab element is being increasingly displaced from South Asia and back to its heartland in the Middle East and North Africa. This push has been fueled by anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emergence of new places of instability as ripe terrorist sanctuaries, which have given rise to such groups as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic Maghreb, and militant groups exploiting ongoing instabilities plaguing the region, such as in the conflict in Libya.

As such, terrorist leaderships in South Asia are becoming localized, as demonstrated by the proliferation of indigenous militant umbrella organizations such as the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) and Punjabi Taliban. These groups are likely to return attention to Kashmir, their original grievance, and target their original enemy - India.

The decapitation of al-Qaeda's leadership in the Af-Pak region and the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 set the stage for a reversion to the original bilateral conflict plaguing regional stability between India and Pakistan. New Delhi cannot afford to be caught off-guard once the dust settles in South Asia and it is once again alone in facing the scourge of terrorism, separatist insurgency and military aggression emanating from Pakistan.

Chietigj Bajpaee is an Asia analyst. He has worked with several political risk consultancies and public policy think-tanks based in the United States, Europe and South Asia. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at

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