By Dr. Arvind Virmani
State sponsored Terrorism is unconventional War. Unconventional war can only be won by asymmetric/unconventional means: Different Strategy, tactics, weapons, training, resources. It will be a grave mistake to try & fight such a long term unconventional war with conventional means such as complete mobilization or the fabled Cold Start Doctrine. Armed forces and security agencies need new thinking and approach and completely different level of human resources & training and type & quality of equipment from the conventional. For instance the use of Aerostats equipped with infrared cameras to detect infiltration and use of armed drones to attack terrorists, instead of Hercules aircraft for detection (used in Pathankot) or attack helicopters to detect & attack them.
Given the entrenched conventional Defense thinking in the three services, para-military border forces, State police, politicians media & intelligentsia, we need an Asymmetric Defense doctrine (ADS) to give all players broad guidance on how to approach this issue. The National Security Advisor should anchor and guide the formulation of such a doctrine and ensure co-ordination, integration & effectiveness of the diverse elements of unconventional Defense. The creation of an empowered Chief of Defense Staff (4 star CDS) with responsibility for strategic planning, HRD & equipment acquisition decisions, would help accelerate the change. There are arguments for and against the creation of a Special Forces Command under the CDS, given that each branch already has its own special forces. However, a special department/division for unconventional/asymmetric warfare is needed within the Integrated defense Staff (IDS), which includes designated posts for RAW and other intelligence agencies. Its first task could be to develop an Asymmetric Defense Strategy (ADS). As noted earlier this may requires unconventional ways of thinking and operating that are alien to regular armed forces. Under the guidance of the NSA, it could also sort out some of the operational issues (such as co-ordination) that arise in case of a terrorist attack on a defense installation or area & develop SOPs for the same.
Formation of the Triad of counter terror (CT) institutions: NIA, NATGRID, NCTC is needed to improve internal defense. A review of intelligence institutions may, however, suggest greater integration of overlapping functions through fewer organizations.
The foundation of unconventional Defense is precise actionable intelligence. We need a quantum jump in capability across Asia (central, west & east). For instance the quality of intelligence required to carry out a precision drone strike is higher than the average quality of intelligence currently available, even for S Asia. Local language competence/skills and cultural understanding are essential for obtaining good intelligence and for recruitment of assets. The capabilities of RAW must be strengthened to deal with State sponsored terrorism as well as potential future threats from Middle East & North Africa. Central Asia and South East Asia must not be underestimated as potential geographies for intelligence.
A critical (new) aspect of asymmetric war is the public narrative, domestic & international. Media is a fundamental theater of unconventional war. Indian media barons, anchors & personalities, must educate themselves on this issue & then educate the Indian public about unconventional/asymmetric war that we have faced for >20 yrs & how to counter it. For instance, it is well recognized that an important objective of terrorism is to create panic & uncertainty and instill fear and paranoia in the population. Therefore the calmness and collectedness with which the government and all other institutions of democracy and society function during such an attack is a measure of our success. Thus it is a mark of their failure when the PM and Cabinet ministers are able to go about their schedule business without interruption.
The media is an important instrument for creating & influencing public, political and intellectual opinion in democratic countries (including India & USA). An important element of Pakistan’s media game plan is to convince its targeted audience that it is more sincere in its search for peace than India, despite its periodic nuclear saber rattling and continued sponsorship of cross-border terrorism. The complex game of India-Pakistan talks, including subjects to be discussed and how, which country cancelled, started or restarted talks, is a tactical tool for achieving its public relations objective. Both war mongering and peace mongering (e.g. criticism of Indian government instead of Pakistan for stalled talks) helps support Pakistan’s media narrative. A balanced approach by discussants and analysts on Indian media, supports India’s National interests.
Diplomacy is a vital element of how other countries, their foreign policy experts and informed global public opinion perceives terrorism carried out against us. Thus Pakistan has successfully convinced the US, many of its allies and Indian track II participants, that (a) General Kayani’s policy of tacitly allowing extreme Islamism to flourish under his charge, has been replaced by General Sharif’s policy of countering internal terrorism & extremism. (b) It is the hard line attitude/approach of PM Modi & his hard-line supporters that is the main roadblock to India-Pakistan peace [not Pakistan’s unchanged strategy of terrorism (by pet terrorists like Let, JeM & HeM) under the nuclear umbrella].
PM Modi’s surprising halt in Lahore, the discussions leading up to it, and the subsequent terrorist assault on Pathankot Air base has given the lie to this false narrative. Indian diplomacy and media must ensure that global public opinion understands & appreciates this point. Indian strategic interlocutors must also ensure that we get the equipment (e.g. armed drones) and technology needed to deal with cross-border terrorism.
A long term perspective is essential for dealing with an opponent whose long term objective is to undermine India’s Strategic position in the region and whose Medium term objective is territorial aggrandizement. Short term revenge cannot & must not be our objective. Our primary goal is deterrence of terror. But terror will only cease when it entails unacceptable asymmetric cost on the sponsors of terror against us. Acquisition and demonstration of the capability for doing so, is long overdue and must be achieved by 2018 end. The National Security Advisor and to some extent his boss will be judged on their success in this matter during the 2019 election.
Dr Arvind Virmani, Chairman Policy Foundation
January 8, 2016