Tackling Pakistan Should it become necessary, many military options are available to the Government

The rock solid electronic and circumstantial evidence that is now available about the origins, methodology, execution and minute-to-minute control in respect of last week’s Mumbai terror attacks clearly establishes the complicity of Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the successor to the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT). Whether or not the Pakistan Government has also been complicit, the fact remains that this reprehensible act of immense brutality originated from Pakistani soil. 

How then should India respond if the Pakistan Government fails to provide a satisfactory reply to India’s demarche, as will most likely be the case? Should India exercise military options to inflict punishment, as the people are demanding in spontaneous rallies all over the country? Would it be justifiable to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty? What will be the international ramifications? Does India have viable military options that will not eventually escalate to a larger war with the risk of nuclear exchanges? Will military strikes succeed in hurting the actual perpetrators and achieve lasting results? The answers to these questions are critical to decision making for choosing the right course of action.

The issue of violation of sovereignty is undoubtedly difficult to address. However, there have been several precedents in recent history where strong military action was taken by nation states, even though the circumstances violated international law. In June 1981, convinced that it was designed to produce nuclear weapons to attack Israel, it had launched a bolt-out-of-the-blue bombing raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. The South African Defence Force had launched numerous raids across Namibia’s border deep into Angola to attack SWAPO and MPLA positions and camps in the 1980s. Closer home, the US and its NATO/ ISAF allies have been routinely carrying out helicopter and UAV strikes from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory in the NWFP and FATA as the Pakistan army has failed to prevent Taliban raids from its territory on Coalition forces across the Durand Line. 

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in New Delhi on December 3, 2008, “When non-state actors operate within the confines of the state, there has to be direct and tough action against them.” Pakistan’s weak civilian government has failed to take any action against the large number of terrorist groups operating both within Pakistan and from its soil against targets in neighbouring countries. Hence, when the Government of Pakistan cannot root out terrorist outfits and has shown no inclination to do so, it has no right to object to the neighbouring states protecting their citizens by striking out at Pakistani terrorist groups that are wanton causing death and destruction on their territory.

A wide range of military options is available to the Government of India to strike at the terrorists and their known handlers if Pakistan once again fails to respond in a tangible manner to India’s demands. The military strategy should be to target only terrorist organisations, the Pakistan army and the ISI and carefully avoid civilian targets. This will send a clear message that India has no enmity towards to the Pakistani people.

The LeT had established many camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) in the wake of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. These should be the first to be targeted as their destruction will have a direct and lasting impact on those responsible for the carnage in Mumbai. Camps which are at distances of 15 to 25 km from the Line of Control (LoC) can be attacked by long-range artillery guns. Those which are close to the LoC can be attacked by the army’s Special Forces that are capable of infiltrating across the LoC by stealth and extricating themselves after performing their task. 

Pakistan army posts on the LoC that are known to have supported recent bids at infiltration but were not attacked as a mutually observed – though not formally agreed – Cease Fire has been in place since November 25, 2003, can now be punished with both direct firing weapons and heavy doses of the potent firepower of artillery guns, howitzers, mortars and, in some cases, multi-barrel rocket launchers. Sustained attacks will result in telling punitive action against the Pakistan army that has for so long driven Pakistan’s strategy to “bleed India through a thousand cuts”. Inevitably there will be some collateral damage but care can be taken to minimise it. 

The Pakistan army’s logistics installations and infrastructure like bridges along major rivers would also be suitable targets, but these could be attacked in a later phase if necessary. Similarly, fighter-ground attack aircraft of the IAF and helicopters gunships can also be employed should Pakistan choose to escalate the situation to a higher level. At that stage, an air-to-ground strike on the LeT’s HQ at Muridke across the Punjab border will also be justified. As long as large-scale ground attacks are not launched, escalation to an all-out war can be avoided. 

Punitive military measures will certainly meet with criticism from the international community, particularly the US, but it will be muted and will eventually die out. The Pakistan army and the ISI will soon realise the futility of fighting a proxy war against India and that will be a major gain. If they need a few doses of repeated punishment before such realisation dawns on them, so be it. 

The writer, a retired brigadier, is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.