About Bibhu Prasad Routray
Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is a Singapore based security analyst and a senior analyst at Wikistrat. He was Deputy Director at India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), Government of India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BibhuRoutray
Articles by Bibhu Prasad Routray
Despite all the evidence that investigators claim links the Mumbai attacks to groups and individuals in Pakistan, India's options vis-à-vis its hostile neighbour are severely limited.
It has so far been established that Pakistani nationals, described as "stateless actors" by Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, were indeed involved in the attack on 26 November that led to the death of 163 people and injured more than three hundred in Mumbai. The lone terrorist taken alive during the attack, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman (alias Kasab), is a Pakistani citizen. The investigators have said that Kasab has provided a lot of details of the planning leading to the atrocity, including the training regimen of the attackers, his journey along with nine other terrorists from Karachi to Mumbai, and also some details of their "handlers" in Pakistan. Kasab also apparently denied that any locals in India gave assistance to the terrorists during their operation. Bibhu Prasad Routray is a security analyst and works as a Research Fellow at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi
The investigators have not been able to establish a direct link between the attackers and the civilian Pakistani government, or even with some of the renegade elements within the Pakistani army or the notorious Directorate for Inter-Intelligence Services (ISI). But the lack of that important thread of evidence has not stopped India from trying to hold Pakistan accountable, given the fact that many recent terrorist incidents have been traced to Islamabad. There is a growing clamour from sectors of the public and the political establishment for India to more strenuously "pursue the terrorists" or even, more shrilly, to "teach Pakistan a lesson".
What exactly are India's options in dealing Pakistan? Attacking a nuclear state is not among them. The Indian response after the attack on Indian parliament on 16 December, 2001 serves as a cautionary tale. The then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, headed by the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), launched Operation Parakram, a massive and yet purposeless massing of troops along India's western borders with Pakistan, costing almost Rs. 60 billion (US$1.5 billion). Not a single bullet was fired, yet 680 soldiers perished during the ten months of mobilisation. A similar "march on" exercise, this time around, would be equally fruitless.
Even a limited military campaign, targeting the terrorist installations within Pakistan, principally within areas of Pakistan-held Kashmir, may be counter-productive. Except for a broad description of the camps operating within the area, Indian intelligence does not have much information on the exact locations of these terror camps. Air raids would struggle to neutralise them. In the week after the attacks, Pakistan moved against a Lashkar-e-Taiba-linked camp in Kashmir, in part to show the west that it was taking action and in part to pre-empt any Indian action against camps in Pakistan-held Kashmir. Moreover, these camps are designed purely for the jihad in Kashmir and are not believed to offer the training facilities for the urban operations that the terrorists carried out in Mumbai. Those facilities are intermingled with civilian areas in big Pakistani cities like Karachi. An air raid in such a cite would yield little tactical success, while only hurting Pakistani civilians.
Analysts have also noted that the Indian military is simply not prepared for a military campaign. Saikat Datta observed in Outlook India that while hawks call for the bombing of Islamabad, "our air force, sanctioned 39.5 combat squadrons, is down to 30 off-combat squadrons, our armoured corps doesn't have the tanks to roll in, our infantry is horribly tied up in counter-insurgency operations."
In recent history, Indian governments have responded to Pakistan-linked atrocities with bluster, but very little bite. The current Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government showed such inefficacy in its response to the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008. New Delhi described the attack that killed almost fifty people, including two senior Indian diplomats, as the handiwork of the ISI, a claim which was supported subsequently by the United States. India's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan insisted in emphatic terms, "The ISI needs to be destroyed. We made this point, whenever we have had a chance, to interlocutors across the world... there might have been some tactical restraint for some time, obviously that restraint is no longer present." Seven years later, the ISI remain a regional threat. Nothing suggests that there was any real fire beneath Narayanan's smoke.
The Indian government bristled quickly after the Mumbai attacks. New Delhi summoned the ISI chief to India, a request which Pakistan first accepted and then turned down. But such anti-Pakistan posturing has to be put in context. How the government acts cannot be separated from the impending general elections, just a few months away. Indeed, the blasts could not have come at a worse time for the UPA. The UPA's past electoral performance in a number of legislative assembly polls for the federal units (states) has been poor and its alleged soft policy on terrorism has been exploited by the BJP to score victories in various states. Investigations to a number of recent terrorist attacks in Indian urban centres have reached no conclusion. Congress is wary of the resurgent BJP and is seeking to convince the electorate that it is capable of taking a firm line with Pakistan. Though Congress weathered the recent round of state elections better than expected, it will seek to project a message of strength ahead of national elections next year.
The posturing on Pakistan is, in albeit a small way, also an attempt to deflect scathing criticism of the gross intelligence failures that led to the attack. The government claims to have initiated new secretary measures, including a revamp of the protection of India's porous 7,500 kilometres of coastline. But the fact remains that successive governments have chosen to sit over several such proposals in the past, even after terrorists landed on the Maharashtra coast in 1993 ahead of the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai that year.
India may have the tacit, rhetorical support of a number of countries, especially those whose nationals were killed in the attacks. However, there is very little possibility that any of these countries, probably with the exception of Israel, would actually support an Indian military campaign inside Pakistan, which will certainly degenerate into a full scale war. Gordon Brown's recent visit to New Delhi was primarily to underline the west's position against potential Indian aggression. Pakistan has indicated that any aggressive Indian military posture would force it to divert forces from its western border with Afghanistan to the eastern border with India. With Pakistan's western tribal areas continuing to be the source of Afghanistan's instability and continuing to host al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the US and the NATO do not want to Islamabad to have an excuse to disengage from the restive area.
Moreover, it is well-known that the writ of the Pakistan government does not run in vast stretches of its territory. While many Indian analysts maintain that it will not be easy for Pakistan to get away this time around, Islamabad can cite its ultimate lack of control over its own country to evade responsibility. In such a scenario, there is very little that India possibly can do, except for choosing to opt for a long, arduous (and politically unexciting) process of building evidence against the perpetrators and their sponsors in Pakistan. India's prior records of such endeavours are far from encouraging.
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Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50