Indian military retaliation would play straight into LeT’s hands. – Praful Bidwai

There is no military option

by Praful Bidwai

Ultimately, it wasn’t superior firepower, sophisticated interception methods or commando training that explains how one of the Mumbai attackers was arrested alive. The key to that feat lies in the great courage shown by the city’s policemen in overpowering Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman (Kasab) with nothing more than lathis after his accomplice Abu Ismail was killed.

Assistant sub-Inspector Tukaram Ombale held on to the barrel of Kasab’s gun even as he took a burst of fire and pounced on the man, allowing his colleagues to arrest him. Ombale died, but his bravery ensured that a key participant in the attack would live to tell the tale.

Kasab’s arrest is unique in the annals of anti-terrorist operations anywhere. His interrogation has produced invaluable evidence about the preparation for and execution of the attack.

Kasab must be tried scrupulously fairly and with full respect for his right to legal defence. A lawyer of unimpeachable competence must be drafted to defend him. His conviction cannot be a foregone conclusion merely because of the attack’s barbarity. His guilt must be proved on the highest norms of criminal law.

After Kasab’s disclosures to the police, there can be little doubt that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out the attack after putting recruits through rigorous training and ideological-political indoctrination for almost a year. The Pakistani media has since verified Kasab’s home address, and interviewed his father in Faridkot village in Punjab’s Okara district. The international community has confirmed the LeT’s involvement through the ban imposed on its sister organisation, Jamaat-ud-Daawa, by the United Nations Security Council under Resolution 1267.

The LeT isn’t just another jehadi group. It has had a special relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Unlike other groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, which are Deobandi, the LeT is Salafist and doesn’t believe in fighting governments in Islamic countries. The LeT doesn’t actively oppose the army’s anti-Taliban-Al-Qaeda operations at the Afghanistan border.

It’s not clear if the ISI or its “rogue” elements logistically supported the Mumbai attack. But it’s reasonably plain that the attackers’ main motive was to provoke a military response from India, which would cause a troops build-up at Pakistan’s eastern border. This would create a rationale for redeploying Pakistani troops from the western border—where they face considerable pressure from US-Pakistan operations—to the Indian border. This would allow Al Qaeda-Taliban fighters to regroup and overrun large swathes of Afghanistan and Pakistan

Secondarily, the attackers’ motive was to increase disaffection among Indian Muslims and provoke a backlash—to further help extremism. Mercifully, this hasn’t happened—despite the Sangh Parivar. The attacks have triggered unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity and a spirited condemnation of terrorism by an overwhelming majority of India’s Muslim organisations.

Indian military retaliation would play straight into LeT’s hands. This would further destabilise Pakistan, which is already in a precarious condition, to the point of unravelling its state—with disastrous consequences for the whole region. The Indian government has acted with restraint and used diplomatic, not military, means to deal with the crisis. On December 11, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee underscored this approach. In response to a demand for attacking Pakistan, he said: “That is not the point….I am making it quite clear that that is not the solution. Let us be very clear and frank that that is no solution.”

The meaning of the military option, advocated stridently by hawkish “strategic experts” and by Bharatiya Janata Party MPs like Arun Shourie should be plain. Shourie wants India to target Pakistan’s vital installations and keep Pakistan “preoccupied”, presumably through covert action, with its “own problems in Balochistan, in Gilgit, Baltistan”, etc. He said: “Not an eye for an eye; but for an eye, both eyes. For a tooth, (the) whole jaw.”

This is an insane prescription. Any India-Pakistan conflict is liable to escalate into nuclear war. In Nuclear Armageddon, there are no winners—only mega-deaths.

Even a limited nuclear exchange will kill millions of civilians in both countries. The economic and environmental damage will set us back by decades. A single Hiroshima/Nagasaki-type bomb will kill 8 to 20 lakh people in a big city. India and Pakistan both have scores of such bombs, indeed even more powerful ones.

In every conceivable war-gaming scenario—and many credible ones exist —, an India-Pakistan conflict has one inevitable outcome: full-scale war, in which Pakistan won’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons if it fears loss of territory. This will invite nuclear retaliation from India, with consequences too horrifying even to contemplate.

No leader has the moral right or political mandate to sacrifice millions of civilians. Only extremists with apocalyptic visions like RSS chief KS Sudarshan believe nuclear war is acceptable.

He recently told an interviewer: “Whenever the demons (Asuri powers) start dominating this planet, there is no way other than war…I know it will not stop there. It will be a nuclear war and a large number of people will perish. But … let me say with confidence that after this destruction, a new world will emerge, which will be very good, free from evil and terrorism.”

It’s dangerous to imagine that the threat of war can compel Pakistan into acting decisively against extremist groups. Indeed, Pakistan will respond with even greater bellicosity.

The idea of “surgical strikes” against terrorist training camps is equally harebrained. LeT camps are makeshift affairs, and poor candidate-targets for strikes. Any strike, however “limited”, will invite armed conflict. Pakistan isn’t Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which the US could attack without fear of resistance because it crippled all military communications. Even covert action, which will require the creation of a new monster—”India’s own ISI”—will trigger escalation.

But there are alternatives. Manmohan Singh outlined a two-pronged approach: galvanising international opinion for effective action against terrorism, and persisting with diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Domestically, he promised reform of internal security arrangements. US and UK pressure has already led to a ban on JuD. But India must develop a broader multilateral approach to avert getting drawn into Washington’s parochial plans for the region.

The best strategy would be to press Pakistan through UN Security Council Resolution 1373, under which sanctions can be imposed on a state that fails to “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts…” and violates its duty to “refrain from providing … support… to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts…”.

Bilaterally, India can achieve much by sharing evidence of the LeT’s role in the Mumbai attacks with Pakistan, and acting demonstrably to defuse suspicions about its covert operations in Balochistan and Afghanistan.

While revamping India’s internal security system, the Singh government should have followed the advice of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan against using “questionable methods such as permitting indefinite detention of terror suspects…coercive interrogation techniques and the denial of the right to fair trial”, and his plea for “substantive due process”.

Regrettably, it has done the very opposite by having a law passed which replicates all the obnoxious provisions, including detention without charges for 180 days, of the discredited Prevention of Terrorism Act—except for making police confessions admissible as evidence. The National Investigative Agency Act too has flaws, including overcentralisation of powers, and their illegitimate extension to areas affected by insurgency and Left-wing extremism. These Acts must be undone.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:

Friday, December 26, 2008 (The News)