Raise Air Assault Division

The death of Osama bin Laden marks the culmination of a decade-long manhunt; but, it will not lead to the end of al Qaeda’s terrorist strikes. Osama’s passing is only a temporary setback for the al Qaeda as it has a cellular structure and is not a hierarchical organisation. Leaders heading various cells have always operated fairly autonomously and will continue to do so. The al Qaeda has developed linkages with and coordinates its operations with many international affiliates, including the LeT, JeM and HuJI. Its peculiar brand of Jihad will go on. In fact, in the short term, some reprisal attacks may be expected against western targets and those in India. A spectacular attack with a ‘dirty nuke’ – a high explosive bomb filled with radioactive material – also cannot be ruled out.
The international community will have to take a call on whether or not to continue dealing with Kayani and the ISI with kid gloves. Since the ISI knew about Osama’s presence at Abbottabad for five years and even provided support to him, it has been proved beyond an iota of doubt that it is a rogue intelligence agency that must be dismantled with despatch. The Pakistan army and the ISI are part of the problem and cannot, therefore, be part of the solution in the so-called ‘global war on terror’. Pakistan is in danger of collapsing from the centrifugal forces generated by internal instability and accentuated by creeping Talibanisation. 
If the probability of collapse reaches the tipping point as it soon might, Pakistan’s nuclear warheads must be taken out or destroyed in order to avoid a nuclear holocaust on the Indian sub-continent. Such an international effort will invariably have to be led by the Americans. As the most directly affected party, India must provide all the help and assistance that the US might ask for, including direct military participation.
The main lesson for India from Operation Geronimo is that nations that are too moralistic and legalistic in dealing with the complex challenge of state-sponsored terrorism usually end up as hapless victims. Only pro-active covert operations conducted by the counter-terrorism agencies and Special Forces can raise the cost for the adversary sufficiently enough to deter him from launching terror strikes. There is no reason why terrorist-criminals like Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim should be walking freely. 
The US and Israel have repeatedly demonstrated their determination to eliminate non-state actors who plan terror strikes against them. In the interest of national security, India too must do the same. The government must permit R&AW to re-establish covert operations capabilities that were dismantled under prime minister’s orders in 1997. The Indian army has half a dozen Special Forces battalions, the navy has some MARCOS (marine commandos) and the air force has a Garuda commando unit. These capabilities must be substantially enhanced.
The late General K. Sundarji, former COAS, had advocated the raising of an air assault division comprising three brigade groups by about the year 2000. However, the shoestring budgets of the 1990s did not allow the army to implement his vision. Air assault capability is a significant force multiplier in conventional state-on-state conflict as well. The present requirement is of one air assault brigade group with integral helicopters for offensive employment on India’s periphery. Comprising three specially trained air assault battalions, integral firepower, combat service support and logistics support units, this brigade group should be capable of short-notice deployment in India’s extended neighbourhood by air and sea. Simultaneously, plans should be made to raise a division-size rapid reaction force, of which the first air assault brigade group should be a part, by the end of the 12th Defence Plan (2012-17). 
The second brigade group of the air assault division should have amphibious capability with the necessary transportation assets being acquired and held by the Indian Navy, including landing and logistics ships. The third brigade of the division should be lightly equipped for offensive and defensive employment in the plains and mountains as well as jungle and desert terrain. The recent commissioning of INS Jalashwa (former USS Trenton) has given the armed forces the capability to transport one infantry battalion by sea. The air force has limited tactical and strategic airlift capability. All of these capabilities must be enhanced to plug gaps in India’s ability to intervene militarily across its borders.
Military intervention capabilities, combined with the employment of Special Forces battalions when necessary, will allow India to undertake surgical strikes like Operation Geronimo. Such capabilities will also have deterrent value as these will raise the cost for rogue intelligence agencies like the ISI to support terrorist strikes in India.
Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.