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Pakistan’s resurgent hardline narrative

India needs options to counter looming threats beyond current LoC skirmishes.

On January 8, Pakistani soldiers affiliated with 29 Baloch regiment infiltrated across the Line of Control (LoC) at Mendhar sector in Poonch, ambushed 4 Indian soldiers, and according to news sources, “mutilated” the bodies of two jawans.  Defense Minister AK Antony termed the act “highly objectionable,” while MEA’s official spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, called it “ghastly and unacceptable.”

Some reports indicate that at least one of the soldiers was beheaded.  If true, this would not be the first of such an occurrence.  Historically, beheadings of Indian troops were carried out by terror groups affiliated with the Pakistani army and by members of Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG).  In one such incident in 1999 2000, Ilyas Kashmiri, a member of the SSG (as well as future leader of HuJI’s 313 Brigade, and the “operational commander” behind 26/11) killed an Indian soldier, beheaded him, and allegedly presented the head as “trophy” to his then-COAS, Parvez Musharraf, for which he was highly commended.

In the face of such provocation, India’s response has been measured.  External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid promised a “proportionate” response.  Foreign Secretary Mathai summoned Pakistani High Commissioner Salman Bashir  to protest the incident, who in turn, flatly denied that it ever occurred (as is Pakistan’s m.o.).  To be sure, it is in India’s interests not to escalate the situation along the LoC and to ensure that the ceasefire remains in place.  Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex has never been a big fan of the 2003 ceasefire, as it poses certain challenges to its well-known bad habits.

It is therefore in India’s national security interests to ensure that these bad habits remain curtailed.  Military escalation, over an incident — heinous though the killings were — having little tactical or strategic significance (purely from a military standpoint) to India would not be wise.  Of course, non-military options are available at the government’s disposal, which can be used at a time and place of its choosing.

The Big Picture

But more broadly, what should concern India is the increasing assertiveness in Pakistan’s discourse of a more hardline narrative towards India.  Over the past several days and weeks, there has been disproportionate anti-India coverage in Pakistan’s Urdu press. (1, 2, 3).  This increasing assertiveness could have implications beyond the current skirmishes across the LoC.  The reasons for a more hardline stance towards India could be many.

First, there could be a realization in Rawalpindi that territorial negotiations with the UPA have reached a point of no success for Pakistan. Whatever faith the generals in Rawalpindi initially placed in prime minister Manmohan Singh to deliver magnanimous, Pakistan-friendly solutions to territorial disputes appears to have dissipated with the realization that negotiations have reached a cul-de-sac.  Trade talks, discussions on negative- and positive-lists may continue, but we are effectively back to square-one on issues of any real significance to Pakistan.

Second, while sections of our media misread recent updates to Pakistan’s “Green Book,” the inclusion of a section on “sub-conventional warfare” is interesting.  Pakistan is faced with a serious challenge to its internal security from well-armed militants.  It can seek to counter this challenge by [a] appealing to the militants to lay down their arms (ineffective), [b] military confrontation (costly), [c] absorbing those willing into Pakistan’s security forces, or [d] re-orienting them towards another target (i.e., India).

Indeed, recent statements from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has no direct quarrel with India, nor any capacity today to attack it, must be seen in this light.  This could pose a bigger challenge to India when hundreds of thousands of well-armed, but unemployed “mujahideen” return from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2014.

The third is the Kayani angle.  Gen. Kayani, no doubt, did not endear himself to his Corps Commanders when he sought, and was given, an unprecedented extension as COAS in July 2010.  Now, while we can never be sure if he favored PPP’s on-going dialog with India, we know that he didn’t try to actively undermine it.  The big question mark is who will replace Gen. Kayani in November 2013, and what will his successor’s views be on India and the U.S.

There’s growing unease in Rawalpindi in the way Gen. Kayani handled the bin Laden raid, the Salala incident, the unrelenting U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, or peace talks with India.  What better way, then, for an aspiring COAS to present his credentials and ingratiate himself with the rank and file of the armed forces than by towing a harder line towards the neighbor on the east?

Lastly, Pakistan’s generals feel they are now in a position to affect a Pakistan-favorable solution to Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves in 2014, while continuing to be ensured of U.S. financial largesse in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism funds (this is a bad assumption for Pakistan to make, by the way.  Remember the Pressler Amendment)?

Securing an advantageous position in Afghanistan and continued economic assistance from the U.S. renders the need to play nice with India moot; or so the thinking of the military-jihadi complex goes.  The increasingly assertive hardline stance could mean increased attacks, both in J&K, and in “mainland” India in the months and years ahead.  New Delhi ought to be considering options to deal with threats emanating from the resurgent hardline narrative, beyond the current skirmishes at the LoC.

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The Lashkar threat and soft targets

A society with low levels of security consciousness contributes to threat potentiality

The arrests of David Coleman Headley aka Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana by the FBI in Chicago last week have led to revelations of threats against India.  David Headley is a US citizen of Pakistani origin, while Rana is a Canadian citizen, again of Pakistani extraction.

Both LeT operatives were arrested after an email exchange between Headley and an unnamed senior operative in which Headley suggested traveling to India, possibly either for recon or actual action. There is speculation that this unnamed operative is Pakistani SSG turned senior al-Qaeda operative Illyas Kashmiri.

The interrogations, in which both the IB and RAW participated, have brought to light specific threats against the National Defence College, New Delhi, two boarding schools in North India and a few five-star hotels.  According to Rediff‘s report:

Two leading boarding schools located in prominent hill stations in a north Indian state and a few five star hotels in popular tourist spots are targets of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a senior Home Ministry official said on Wednesday. According to intelligence inputs, the terrorist group was planning to attack the two schools and the hotels, which are regularly frequented by foreign tourists, he said.

The information came in the wake of reports that David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US for plotting a major terror attack in India at the behest of LeT, have revealed that they were also planning to attack the National Defence College in New Delhi.

The official said the intelligence agencies gathered information about the possibility of LeT attacks a few weeks ago and forwarded it to the concerned state governments for providing adequate security at the schools and the hotels.

It is encouraging to note the level of information sharing between the FBI and intelligence counterparts in India, and the participation of contingents from RAW and IB in the Headley-Rana interrogations in the US.  The level of cooperation will likely increase with greater convergence of Indian and American threat perceptions.  Such information sharing and indeed participation would not have occurred seven years ago.

The other side of the equation for India is security consciousness.  Indian attempts to beef up its internal security must factor in security consciousness at Central, State and personal levels.  Our schools, universities, hospitals, marketplaces and centers of faith are all soft targets which unsurprisingly find their way into terror plots.  Ours is not a security conscious culture; indeed those who flaunt rules and bypass security protocol are greatly admired.

There is a systemic problem in India where appreciation for security has historically been lacking at personal, state and central levels.  While it took humiliation at the hands of a larger adversary in 1962 to shakeup the armed forces and a pacifist government forged from the idealism of the ahimsa movement, no such shake up has occurred in the case of local law enforcement.

Most state governments are happy to let their dilapidated law and enforcement apparatus rot away.  Low budget allocation, no training, no equipment and resources and poor pay.

I’ve never heard of an unmotivated terrorist.  But unmotivated police personnel, there are plenty. Nowhere is the urgency for police reform more apparent than when the physically unfit, unmotivated police constable armed only with a laathi (or a World War II era .303 rifle, if he’s lucky) comes face to face with a terrorist armed with an AK-47, several rounds of ammo and schooled in commando action in the finest jihadi tradition from across the border.

India has battled insurgencies galore, from Kashmir to Khalistan, is in the middle of a Maoist perversion in seven states, and experienced its annus horribilis last year when terrorism against soft targets claimed the lives of 400 Indians. One would have hoped that the impetus for a shakeup in mindset had been provided.  Almost a year after 26/11, nothing seems to have changed.

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