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Hot Pursuit and Radical Islam – India’s Options

May 6, 2011

The Abbottabad incident where Osama bin Laden was eliminated by American commandos has started a debate here in India. It is not that such options have not been discussed before. It is just that after the audacious and successful Abbottabad operations the debate has started all over again and with greater intensity than ever.

While the US has been a victim of terror as have some of the major European nations including Spain and UK, India has been the worst sufferer. That Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism of the world goes without saying. Being our neighbor and the kind of animosity we have had with Pakistan it was to be expected that we would be targeted. The thriving terror machinery that has an economics of its own found India as a pliant target and one they could hit at will. From the times of the Punjab insurgency which later shifted to Kashmir, Pakistan has been targeting India systematically. Whether it was bombs in crowded markets of Delhi or the Mumbai bomb blasts or the attack on the Parliamnet or the Akshardham temple attack or the Mumbai attacks India has been at the receiving end of terror emanating from Pakistan. Indian interests abroad have also been targeted. The attack on Indian embassy in Kabul where one high ranking Indian official lost his life was also the work of the ISI and its various terror organizations.

India has been keeping close tab on the various terror outfits that have been perpetrating these attacks. Whether it is the Lashkar e Taiba, or Jaish e Muhammad, or Hizb ul Mujahiddin or the other affiliates all have one thing in common. Their strings are attached to the Pakistan intelligence agency the Inter Services Intelligence or the ISI. The various actors who have actively planned and executed these attacks are also known to the Indian agencies.  Whether it is Hafiz Saeed of LeT, or Syed Salauddin of Hizb ul Mujahiddin or Dawood Ibrahim who was behind the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts all these characters are known to the Indian intelligence agencies.

Whenever India has been hit, the common refrain from most Indians is that we must catch these criminals and bring them to book even if it means crossing the border. Such dastardly crimes that target innocents need to be checked and those behind these crimes must know that they shall not be spared and that they will be hunted and brought to justice. That is the only way one can contain this menace of terror. Much as I would hate to use the analogy, but facts are before us. Israel has been using this strategy of hot pursuit for decades. Not that they enjoy doing what they do, but they know that if they let the criminals behind any such attacks they are by proxy encouraging more such attacks. Their periodic incursions into Gaza or firing from air at targets when they have usable intelligence are to ensure that terror does not find footing against the state of Israel.

What Israel has been doing for decades the US has done in Abbottabad in Pakistan now.  Covert American operations to get their enemies have been going on for decades but this was different in that when they had actionable intelligence they crossed into another country carried out an operation eliminated the target and withdrew. There are voices questioning the legality of the operation. When there is action against terrorists it must be understood that such actions cannot and should not be discouraged and any argument condemning such operations is in effect encouraging terrorism.

India being the worst sufferer of terror emanating from Pakistan needs to act. So far our efforts have largely been through diplomatic channels. Earlier the west would not take heed to our complaints of terror from Pakistan against our people and our assets. Since 9/11 and subsequent attacks on western interests things have changed a bit. The west has begun to acknowledge the menace of terrorism that we as a nation are facing. They are sympathetic and there has been a vigorous exchange of intelligence between the west and India. India and our western allies have thwarted quite a few possible attacks as well as busted terror modules both in India and abroad through this cooperation. India feels safer now than what we felt till a couple of decades ago. In that the cooperation between India and the western nations has been very fruitful.

But India is still not safe. India is not safe till those behind the terror attacks on our nation and our people are roaming freely in Pakistan. Men like Hafiz Saeed, Zarar Shah, Syed Salauddin, Dawood Ibrahim find patronage with the ISI.  Some of these characters were put behind bars after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or so we are told and later were released because of ‘lack of evidence’. After the Abbottabad incident the debate of unilateral action against these terrorists by the Indian state has gained momentum. The Indian army chief Gen V.K. Singh was asked whether India has the capability to carry out cover operations within enemy territory and he answered in the affirmative with a caveat that the final decision to undertake any such covert operation will have to find sanction from the highest authority in the land. The answer by Gen Singh was fair enough. But this saw Pakistan react rather strongly. Pakistan secretary of state for Foreign Affairs Salman Bashir caustically warned that any such adventurism would have ‘catastrophic consequences’. Pakistan Army chief also joined issue and warned India against any such moves. They both talked about defending the sovereignty of Pakistan. Remarkably the same day the US conducted drone operations in tribal areas killing two.

India then rather naively began to seek approval of the US for a possible covert strike by Indian security forces – what one may call hot pursuit inside enemy territory. The US predictably gave evasive answers, in effect discouraging any such attempts. The Indian leadership remained quite. I may add here that Salman Bashir during his press conference also remarked that the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were an old issue and sidelined the matter as inconsequential. This has hurt the sentiments of millions of Indians.

There has always been a constituency that has been calling for unilateral action within enemy territory to bring to justice the terrorists who have committed crimes in India. This constituency has been increasing with the increase in terror attacks in India and the audacity of those attacks. Terrorists must know that they cannot hide in a foreign land and that if they wrong the people of India or for that matter the people of the free world they will be pursued. India should not shy away from taking action against these terrorists whether in India or anywhere else in the world. Terror has to be fought with the fortitude of the state so as to ensure safety of its citizens. In this India must use all the resources at its command. Better intelligence gathering will be key to any such operations. As for looking for approval from the international community – that is a non issue. Once the world knows that India will not tolerate any terror against its citizens things will fall in place. Yes, there will be dissenting voices but those we will have to learn to live with. As of today, the west and India are on the same page  If we have the will and the resolve not to let terrorists to roam freely then we can act without fear and the world will understand. It is stupid for us to expect a public endorsement from the US administration of a possible covert operation undertaken by our security forces. There are nuances and we must understand and learn to use our leverage with the west. As of now we can and should undertake hot pursuit and bring to justice terrorists who have wronged India. That will send the message that India will not tolerate any terrorism against its people. The US also understands that if India does act against these terror outfits it will only be helping the US in its war against terror. They also know that there is a very thin line between al Qaeda, LeT, Tehrik e- Taliban Pakistan and other terror outfits. Action against any one of them is action against them all. Besides any help is welcome.

Not every covert operation has to be as dramatic and Rambo-like as the one undertaken by US Seals in Abbottabad. The Isreali Mossad neutralized a Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a covert operation in a hotel in Dubai. There was a lot of hue and cry. Tel Aviv remained silent and there was hardly any political damage.   The truth is that the world is sick and tired of terrorism. India being the worst hit by this menace, we must have the resolve to strike at the root of terrorism – the terror camps and their refuge. A trip to Muridke by our special forces at an opportune time won’t be a bad start.

The question of nuclear Pakistan is over hyped. There is no doubt that Pakistan has nuclear capability. But it must also be clear that Pakistan’s ability to detonate a nuclear device on its own is seriously in doubt. The 1998 Chagai Hills nuclear test was a signature Chinese explosion. Similarly, their missile capability is not indigenous. They have some North Korean and Chinese missiles. There is also a school of thought that the keys to the Pakistan nuclear arsenal is with Washington. I will not be surprised if they do. There was some news that Pakistan nuclear arsenal had encryptions in their system that could be read only by the Americans. Even if Pakistan has a potent and robust nuclear program, they know that in a nuclear conflagration they will be decimated completely. So the nuclear bogey does not hold water and this should not be a reason for inaction against terrorists hiding in Pakistan.

Lastly, if radical Islam can be heaped on the Pakistan awam through the barrel of a gun as is the case today, then equally liberalism can and should be protected through the barrel of the gun. It is the solemn duty of the world at large and especially the Muslim world to ensure that extreme, radical Islam does not find currency in the Islamic world. The recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen are therefore welcome. Pakistan may not see such an uprising but Pakistan is perhaps the most radical of all the societies in the Islamic world. Radical strains of Islam must be curbed and outfits like the Taliban whether in Pakistan Punjab or in Afghanistan must be fought militarily. If India pushes from the East and the Western forces push from the Afghan border then it won’t be long before the liberal majority of Pakistan begins to speak out. Terrorism has to be fought from both the flanks.The Abbottabad operation has shown a more robust, in the face approach to fighting terrorism. This initiative started by President Obama should not be lost. Only then there will be peace in the region and developmental projects and strategic interests will be realized leading to a more prosperous South Asia.

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