India: A Weak Link in the Counter-Terror Chain

December 30, 2008

December 30, 2008

The “Jihad International,” despite its bickering and its factions, often operates as a unified field. Each element learns from the experience of the others, and opportunistic combinations of groups are formed to carry out missions, this fusion helping to ensure success in major operations. Which is why the West needs to be concerned about the softest jihadi target, India, because each victory on the battlefield gives oxygen to the jihadists to plan more devastating hits. The 1999 Indian capitulation at Kandahar, when key terrorists were released in exchange for the passengers of a hijacked aircraft, may have led to the restraints being removed from the 9-11 operation, for example. Unless there is a unity of purpose and response between the major democracies, the weakest link – in the present situation India – will create vulnerabilities for every other state. A compromise by India can lead to increased danger to other states in the same way that the Indian government’s confused response to the five mass terror attacks on India since 2008 alone generated an operation that included nationals of the West as specific targets, for the first time in India outside Kashmir

George Tanham (RAND) used to point out that India lacked a “strategic culture.” The country also lacks a genuine national security leadership team – the multiple agencies tasked with this responsibility being each led by superannuated officials, none with internal security experience. The National Security Advisor comes from the Intelligence Bureau, an agency that has not changed its essentially political focus since the 1880s. Other security czars come from the Foreign Service or administrative backgrounds. Small wonder that when the terrorists entered the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, the Chabad Center and other sites in Mumbai there was a gap of nearly 16 hours before a response could begin to be implemented. This response was itself deficient in equipment and slow in gaining the initiative.

The Indian government chose to send in the National Security Guards (who are trained for VIP protective duty). This was a mistake. The Indian Army’s commandos (especially those with Kashmir experience) should have been the units sent in. With their close combat, urban warfare, night-fighting capabilities, such forces would have taken far less than the shameful 59 hours that was needed by the National Security Guards to sanitize the three locations where terrorists remained operational. Tellingly, it was only by accident that a terrorist was captured alive. Even in the Chabad Center encounter, when it was known before the location was stormed that the hostages had been tortured and killed, the National Security Guards were unable to capture any of the terrorists there alive. To a national security team that has never experienced any form of combat, such a decision on the type of forces to send in was beyond their capabilities.

India is a country where the fear of coups within the political leadership during the period 1947-1984 led to the exclusion of the military from the matrix of national security decision-making. And although a few police elements have been included among the retired officials, diplomats and journalists that comprise India’s national security establishment, the reality is that fighting terror is very different from battling crime and that therefore standard police experience is of only limited value. The experience gathered by the Indian Army, which has significant counter-terror expertise and capabilities, yet has been excluded from the higher command of the country’s homeland security network.

India today is where Pakistan was during the early period of the 1990s, on the cusp of a significant domestic escalation in the support base of jihad. In Pakistan during that fateful decade, the primary jihad-nourishing force, the military, was permitted by the international community to continue to arm, fund and train jihadi groups for operations in Kashmir. The U.S. State Department’s South Asia bureau formed significant linkages (through the Pakistan army) with the Taliban elements that took power in Kabul in 1996. Until a post-mortem is completed of U.S. South Asia policy during the 1990s, there will not be enough known on the ways in which the jihadi chemistry in Pakistan became so much more effective than the moderate elements during that lost decade and the ways in which U.S. policy ignored such a development. Instead, had Pakistani civil society been strengthened vis-à-vis the military and had attempts not been made to continue to co-opt religious extremists in Afghanistan the way they were during the 1980s, the situation in Pakistan may now not have been so dire.

Should India follow Pakistan in creating a fertile internal medium for the nourishing of jihad, the results could be catastrophic. The national security structure within India was and is incapable of ensuring security even for itself, much less the populace. What is needed is for a complete examination of the gaps in the system in India and how the international community can help plug at least some of these. This is a time for correctness not political correctness. Any social group that takes the assistance of jihadist forces to try and advance its agenda needs to know that such a linkage spells death to any such aspirations no matter where they are located – Kashmir, the Middle East or elsewhere. Zero tolerance for terrorism implies a corollary zero tolerance for any political or other objective promoted by terror. Should a political or other objective sought by the terrorists become fulfilled that would give them the same oxygen as repeated Indian failures on counter-terrorism have. India’s weakness of response has meant that it has suffered more mass terror attacks since 9-11 than the rest of the globe barring Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is a lesson in this for those in favor of “soft” options.

If India ever becomes part of (what is today’s) Greater Middle East, the world is in trouble. Rather than the so-called Greater Middle East, India needs to be dealt with as part of what may be termed the Greater West. Now that the U.S. electorate has voted in its 44th President, Barack Obama, it is clear that ethnicity is not the core criterion for inclusion in this democratic, secular and moderate geopolitical group. India, Israel, Turkey and Singapore are part of the Greater West and, as such, India needs its partners to help its own ramshackle administrative structure negotiate away from the danger that jihad will get implanted in the country as securely as has happened in Pakistan, there because of the errors made by the international community in the 1990s, in India because of failures in domestic policy.

It took 9-11 for policymakers in the United States to accept the need to take out the Taliban. But while most bases in Afghanistan got destroyed, the roots were allowed to survive, especially the Taliban leadership and its principal backers, the jihadist elements within the Pakistan army. As a consequence, this evil has regenerated. The United States ought not to wait for a repeat of 9-11 before taking out – in conjunction with allies – the regenerated Taliban in all its lairs. This time, the “roots” to be attacked are the poison spewed by the religious schools in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan as well as the Bangladesh and Pakistan militaries that sought to co-opt extremists as auxiliaries but have increasingly themselves become the auxiliaries of the terror networks. Barack Obama is right. The entire region needs to be looked at as a single theater of operations in the War on Terror. But he is wrong in believing that concessions of territory anywhere to jihadist-backed groups will stanch the flow into the jihadi forces. If the response of Britain and France to Germany during the 1930s had been different, the world would have been different. For the War on Terror, this is that time.

M.D. Nalapat became India’s first professor of geopolitics in 1999 at Manipal University in India’s Karnataka state. Since 1992,he has held that Wahabbism-Khomeinism and authoritarianism are the twin threats faced by the international community and that the “unified field” of terrorism mandates a similar response. In 2003,he partnered with JINSA in organizing the first of four annual India-Israel-U.S. Conferences. Professor Nalapat, who first put forward the idea of forming an “Asian NATO,” believes that Israel, India, Turkey and Singapore form part of the “Extended West”, rather than an “extended Middle East”, and that the countries in this group need to work in concert to promote prosperity, democracy and freedom from terror.