Post-Mumbai 2008 What are India’s Military Options

Consequent to Pakistan’s continuing refusal to accept that the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 were planned and launched from Pakistani soil, India ratcheted up the political rhetoric by several notches, but refrained from even limited military action. On January 2, 2009, three key Cabinet Ministers, Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram and A K Antony, took the Government of Pakistan to task for failing to act decisively to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. Spurred by Pakistan’s continued denials, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh broke his studied silence on the issue and accused it of adopting terrorism as a state policy and said given the "sophistication and military precision" of the Mumbai terror attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in that country. India has also shared evidence of the involvement of Pakistani organisations with the international community.

However, no amount of high-pitched political rhetoric and astute diplomacy will force Pakistan to change its policies and its sponsorship of a proxy war and terrorism against India. Pakistan has consistently failed to convincingly end terrorism emanating from its soil despite previous promises to do so because India continues to shy away from exercising hard options, which include punitive military strikes. Unless some punishment is inflicted on the real perpetrators of terrorism, including the Pakistan army and the ISI, they cannot be persuaded to terminate their low risk-high payoff strategy to destabilise and weaken India by “bleeding it through a thousand cuts”. 

Military Options

Several viable military options are available to the Indian government to send a strong message to the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate that India’s threshold of tolerance has been crossed and that enough is enough. 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 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 lasting punitive action against the Pakistan army that has for so long driven Pakistan’s proxy war strategy. 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. 

Covert Operations

However, hard military options will have only a transitory impact unless these are sustained over a long period of time. These will also cause inevitable collateral damage, run the risk of escalating into a larger war with attendant nuclear dangers and have adverse international ramifications. In order to achieve a lasting impact and ensure that the actual perpetrators of terrorism are targeted, while simultaneously avoiding collateral damage, it is necessary to employ covert capabilities to neutralise the leadership of terrorist organisations. Clandestine operations can be methodically planned and stealthily executed at an opportune moment. These are not time critical responses and also have an element of ‘plausible deniability’ built into them. Other advantages include relatively low political, economic and military cost and low risk of casualties to own operatives as local personnel – who harbour grudges against the targeted organisations – can often be used.

After independence covert capabilities available to Indian intelligence agencies were virtually non-existent while Pakistan launched irregular warfare against India in Jammu and Kashmir and sustained it over the next few decades. After the 1962 war with China, India’s newly-established external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), received help from the CIA to establish capabilities for clandestine operations across India’s borders. When the ISI intervened in favour of the protagonists of Khalistan in Punjab in the 1980s and later supported militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, India retaliated in Sind and Balochistan. Soon after the Brass Tacks IV crisis in 1987, R&AW chief A K Verma and ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul (now on India’s wanted list) reportedly agreed to stop launching covert operations against each other. 

Pakistan did not keep its part of the bargain in Kashmir on the specious plea that it is disputed territory. Since then, Pakistan has often accused India of clandestine interference in its internal affairs but has failed to corroborate its claims with hard evidence. B Raman, a well known intelligence analyst and former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, has written: “The R&AW imposed heavy costs on Pakistan for supporting the Khalistanis and should be able to do so now for its support to the LeT and other jihadi terrorist organisations.”

According to the intelligence grapevine, India’s covert capabilities in Pakistan were wound down on the orders of the Prime Minister in 1997 so as to promote reconciliation. If that is true, a great deal of effort will be necessary to establish these capabilities from scratch. Young operatives will have to be selected and trained – first in the rudiments of intelligence gathering and after being given some in-country experience, in the complexities of high-risk special operations in a hostile foreign environment. They will also need to be imparted specialised instructions in selecting, training and motivating local agents to carry out pre-planned and opportunity strikes against nominated targets. 

It will take at least three to five years to put in place basic capabilities for covert operations in Pakistan as both the terrorist organisations and their handlers like the ISI will have to be penetrated. Targets should include the leaders of fundamentalist terrorist organisations in Pakistan who are sponsoring terrorist strikes in India, their ISI handlers – particularly those who are renegade or rogue elements – and fugitives from Indian justice like Dawood Ibrahim. In fact, Dawood should be secretly apprehended from his hideout in Karachi and brought back alive to India to face public trial. In a later phase, when a network of operatives is in place and sufficient experience has been gained, logistics installations like ammunition dumps – from which explosives are issued for suicide strikes – can be blown up.

Since Pakistani organisations are continuing to sponsor terrorism in India, it would be justifiable in international law to pay them back in kind. This can only be done by identifying, selecting, training and motivating suitable Pakistani citizens as moles to infiltrate the terrorist organisations and carry out targeted attacks on their leadership. Limited strikes on army installations like ammunition dumps and communication centres could also be planned through saboteurs. The R&AW must be suitably restructured immediately to undertake sustained covert operations in Pakistan as the flames of fundamentalist terrorism in India are spreading quickly. The time to debate this issue on moral and legal grounds has long since passed. 

Conventional Conflict
There is, of course, some risk of limited military strikes across the LoC in Kashmir escalating to conventional conflict, with attendant nuclear dangers. In such a scenario, the Indian army and the air force will take the fight into enemy territory through their new concept of joint air-land offensive operations. This concept has been tested in a series of joint annual exercises that have included Poorna Vijay (2001), Vijay Chakra, Divya Astra, Vajra Shakti (May 2005), Desert Strike (November 2005), Sanghe Shakti (May 2006) and Dakshin Shakti-Brazen Chariots (March 2008). All of these exercises were aimed at concentrating and coordinating the firepower of all available assets and fine-tuning army-air force joint operations in a strategic setting premised on conventional operations in a nuclear environment. 
While the option to strike deep and call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff remains on the table, a new concept of offensive operations now under consideration is a combination of “Cold Start” and integrated battle groups (IBGs). During Operation Parakram the Strike Corps had taken almost three weeks to move to their deployment areas. The aim of the Cold Start doctrine is to move rapidly from the cantonments directly to battle positions to launch a number of potent strikes all across the western border without prior warning to give India strategic advantage. Army IBGs, based on combinations of infantry divisions and armoured brigades, are battle groups that are tailor-made for offensive operations and are capable of penetrating across the entire border over a wide front. Supported by massive firepower, IBGs can launch multi-pronged offensive operations into Pakistan without presenting large targets for nuclear strikes. 
After the experience gained in Operation Parakram, India’s strike formations are now better capable of launching offensive operations quickly. Within 72 to 96 hours of the issue of the order for full-scale mobilisation, a large number of IBGs based on strike divisions may be expected to launch offensive operations even as the defensive divisions are still completing their deployments on the border. Such simultaneity of operations will unhinge the adversary, break his cohesion and paralyse him into making mistakes from which he will not be able to recover. 
Each strike division battle group will be specifically structured to achieve designated objectives in the terrain in which it is expected to be launched and yet be flexible enough for two or more of them to be grouped for concentrated operations under a corps HQ. This will enable them to bring to bear the combined weight of their combat power on a common military objective deep inside Pakistani territory. The “pivot” or holding Corps have been provided significant offensive capability that is now integral to them. General J J Singh, former COAS, had stated that “they have been assigned roles, which are offensive as well as defensive…” 
Should the Pakistan army find itself unable to stop the Indian juggernaut, it may consider launching nuclear strikes against India’s mechanised forces operating inside its territory. However, Pakistan has a lot to lose by initiating nuclear strikes. Its military leaders are well aware that while India will sustain considerable damage in a Pakistani first strike, India’s massive retaliatory strike will completely destroy major Pakistani cities, industry and combat forces and Pakistan will cease to exist as a nation state. 
Under the circumstances, Pakistan’s “red lines” are not as close to the border as the Pakistan army has been trying to convince Indian military planners to believe. The nuclear tipping point in a conventional conflict is a matter of fine military judgment. A rational Pakistani approach would be to opt for a “graduated response” in case push comes to shove. Lt Gen Sardar F S Lodhi (Retd) has written about a demonstration warning shot followed by a low-yield nuclear explosion over Indian forces advancing inside Pakistani territory. If that fails to stop Indian offensive operations, Pakistan may choose to target a small border town in India. However, it will risk total annihilation. 
The Indian Army, equipped with T-90 main battle tanks, Smerch rocket systems and the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile system, enjoys an edge over its Pakistani counterpart despite the slow pace of modernisation. The Pakistan Army has been badly bruised in the NWFP, FATA and the Swat Valley and is in no shape to fight a conventional war. The IAF, armed with SU-30 MKI and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft and sophisticated PGMs, is also qualitatively and quantitatively superior to the PAF. Hence, General Pervez Kayani’s bravado that Pakistan will retaliate within minutes should be taken as typical Pakistani bluff and bluster rather than a genuine threat.
In the end India’s conventional superiority will prevail and a future conflict with Pakistan can be expected to end on terms favourable to India. Hence, while war is not a rational option, there is no need to fear war and act timidly. India must act in its national interest by launching limited military strikes and covert operations against the Pakistan army, the ISI and the terrorist organisations and not continue to suffer the adverse consequences of Pakistan’s interminable proxy war. 
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. Under no circumstances must India continue to undermine its status as a regional power by succumbing to procrastination and inaction and by merely banking on the international community to discipline Pakistan. 
Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.