India should watch out for more 26/11 attacks
The Obama administration has signalled a new United States’ focussed approach towards Afghanistan where the emphasis has shifted to war-waging from development. This will have a substantive impact on India at a time when in the coming General Elections, expected in April-May, terrorism, for the first time, will become a prominent political issue. Calling the war in Afghanistan the US’ greatest military challenge, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates has indicated an increase of US troops in southern and eastern Afghanistan, in phases, from the present 34,000 to 60,000. By mid-summer, about three brigades or 12,000 additional troops will be inducted. These forces will be employed exclusively for war-fighting, while the Nato troops would take over the task of nation-building comprising roads, civil society institutes, infrastructure and training of the Afghan army and police. The focus of the US forces will be to decimate al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds along the Afghan-Pakistan porous, undefined and mountainous border.
This is trouble for both Kabul and Islamabad. President Hamid Karzai who is not favoured by the Obama administration and is expected to be eased out in the coming elections in his country, has condemned US missile attacks on his territory that have killed civilians.
Similar civilian casualties have been reported from the tribal belt as well as the SWAT area of Pakistan’s NWFP. Unfortunately, the Pakistani leaders are helpless being dependent on the US largesse. Worse, there are strings attached to the US non-military aid to Pakistan; Washington has made it known that the Pakistan Army, that has perfected the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hound, will need to show results to get US aid. The results obviously will be in terms of sincere intelligence sharing and allowing US strikes on suspected targets inside Pakistan, something that General Ashfaq Kayani is reluctant to do as this will put his ISI which has established links with the Taliban and al Qaeda’s other progeny, the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT) under strain. This is not all. The US has appointed a special envoy, Richard Holbrooke for Pakistan and Afghanistan. His brief is to keep ears to the ground in the two countries and provide political and diplomatic options for stability in the region. This US approach is being called ‘smart power’ — mix of ‘soft power’ and ‘hard power’ — by the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
What does all this mean for India? To appreciate this, we need to assess General Kayani’s limited options. While there is little that he can do to stop the US strikes in Pakistan, he cannot allow his army to get a bad name for inaction against US inflicted civilian casualties on his countrymen. General Kayani recently visited SWAT and said that his forces were determined to fight terrorists and extremists within Pakistan. He, of course, cannot be too serious about this as loosing India-specific terrorists will undermine his war-fighting strategy against India. Thus, what he did not say is that the LeT cadres will not be harmed.
Rightly so, at the time of going to press when the Pakistan government had not yet formally replied to the Indian 26/11 dossier, there have been reports in the Pakistan media that India’s evidence has not been taken seriously. This should be a matter of grave concern for New Delhi. Pakistan Army’s backed terror group, LeT is no longer confined to far away Jammu and Kashmir. It has arrived on mainland India. The series of bomb blasts across India since 2006 culminating in 26/11 have made the people of all hue extremely vulnerable and angry. The government’s determination and capability to fight this terror is exposed and lies in shreds. While New Delhi’s diplomatic assault on Pakistan has borne few results, it is unwilling to exercise the military option. Unfortunately, this terror will not abate. Whenever the Pakistan Army will find the US military pressure increasing (and this will increase substantially by this summer) on its western front, the LeT will be called upon to unleash terror in India. This will help deflect Washington’s focus and may even push it to mediate between India and Pakistan.
Against this backdrop, New Delhi’s priority should be to strengthen its homeland security and war-waging offensive capabilities. The former is India’s soft belly and given the emerging threat scenario it ought to be taken seriously. While India has taken a few tentative steps in the aftermath of 26/11, they are fitful rather than substantive. For instance, asking the army to give commando forces for the National Security Guard, when it is itself short of troops, is at best a temporary solution. The next government in New Delhi will need to review homeland security in its totality. Things with the defence services are also not encouraging. There are ample media reports on critical shortfalls in the armed forces capabilities to wage a successful war. These need to be plugged at the earliest. On the diplomatic front, it may be a good idea for New Delhi to participate in the coming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Moscow on Afghanistan. But sending the Indian troops to Afghanistan should be avoided at all costs. Clinton, who is expected to attend the SCO Conference, may ask India to assist the Nato forces in development projects. New Delhi needs to secure its home base first before venturing into ambitious tasks overseas.