Evidence of a Pakistani hand in 26/11 is stark. It was an operation planned and carried out by the Lashkar e Toiba, also called Jamaat ud Dawa. The level of complicity of the Pakistani state itself - in the form of the ISI and the Army - is likely to be negligible, though we cannot rule out the association of rogue elements from these entities in the conspiracy. What is certain is that the Pakistani state, through acts of omission and commission, has provided a facilitative environment in which such an organisation as the Lashkar can function with impunity.
This structural vulnerability of the Pakistani state is largely because its Army dominates its institutional structure. But the current problem is also due to the popularly unwelcome American presence in the region. The terrorist attack in Mumbai is only the most recent and visible impact of this situation in Pakistan.
India has been forced to be firm with Pakistan, demanding strong action in a demarche. A number of opinions have also been aired cautioning against an over-reaction, with even the doyen of Indian strategists, K Subrahmanyam pitching for a tempered response. This proves that suitable military action in response to the attacks has not been ruled out, and this has been acknowledged frankly by Indian officials. The form such military action could take ranges from a minimum of cruise missile attacks on known terrorist infrastructure, such as the Lashkar headquarter at Muridke, to much weightier options that are presently uncalled for. Frankly, extreme military responses are not an option, given the spin-off impacts these would have.
Nonetheless, Pakistani intransigence could prompt a beleaguered Congress government to take military action, albeit buttressed by political and diplomatic measures. India does have a clear case for undertaking military action. The capability, legitimacy and political utility of the action are not in question. That still leaves one other important question: Would it be effective?
Launching Brahmos cruise missiles or air attacks will carry the risk of escalation. Besides, though a regional power, India is not quite in a position to emulate the US and launch such attacks with impunity on another country, whatever the motivations. Nor can Pakistan be compared with any of the states that have borne the brunt of American action. Any Indian attack would inflame Pakistani public opinion. This could only strengthen the extremist forces and the hardline sections of the Army and the ISI, at the expense of the democratic forces. India would have the satisfaction of retribution, but would lay itself open to further terrorism.
Subrahmanyam rightly advises that the Pakistani Army should not be given an alibi to divert from its preoccupation with the Taliban. Instead India, along with the US and NATO, should work with the democratic forces and civil society in Pakistan to eventually tame the Army and ISI. He has outlined the aim without outlining the strategy in his opinion piece, perhaps for want of space.
There are a number of things we must do to protect ourselves - strengthening intelligence, investigations, policing and laws - and these have been addressed in the all party meeting chaired by the prime minister. Of the proactive short term measures, diplomatic pressure on the US to in turn pressure Pakistan is also underway. The threat of military action is in the background. Notably absent in all this is reflection on an indirect strategy; that is necessary in the long term. The remainder of this article attempts to outline the indirect strategy, though not in the usual manner of the mainstream strategic discourse.
India is on a growth trajectory that could lead Great Power status. It is beginning to act as one, having entered into a strategic partnership with the US, best signified by the nuclear deal. It has dispatched its Navy to control piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The recent electoral turn out in Kashmir has reinforced the comfortable conclusion that the Kashmir problem is winding down. Its major antagonist, Pakistan and its army are in a difficult situation. Indeed, the Mumbai attack can be viewed as an attempt by a failing Pakistani establishment to escape its predicament by provoking an Indian reaction. Given all these, India could simply allow the cards to build up more favourably, as they already appear to be doing.
Is this the same as 'doing nothing'? Not at all - it is only the continuation of the things are already tilting the equation in India's favour - our economic growth and continuing expansion of military capabilities. And it needs to be done for two reasons.
Firstly, the outcome of the global war on terror is as yet uncertain. Any redoubled efforts from a President Obama to make Afghanistan the 'central front' is unpredictable. Secondly, the Indian position on Pakistan has always had internal ramifications too - because right wing politics regularly attempts to exploit this for its political ends. India is not out of the woods on this score, as evident from the attention brought to it by the heroic martyr of the anti-terrorist operation in Mumbai, gallant IPS officer Hemant Karkare. Any response to Pakistan now also becomes a response to political questions within India; this is all the more reason we should take a long-term view.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel from an earlier time. Pic: en.wikipedia.org.
India could also take some steps to address Pakistan's concerns, out of its own self-interest. The power asymmetry between the two nations is a great source of fear in Pakistan; this can be tackled in part by confidence building to mutually reduce both nations' forces. This would also result in depriving the Pakistan Army a rationale for occupying the controlling heights of the Pakistani state. Similarly, seeking a just and long-term solution to the Kashmir issue should be done regardless of a Pakistani angle in any case. Doing so would impact Pakistan positively, diluting the Islamists' rationale for anti-Indianism.
In addition, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week, we must insist that Pakistan itself take up the war against its Islamists with more seriousness, and show results. If the country wants us to believe, as President Zardari said after the terror attacks, that Pakistan too is a victim of terror and should not be seen as a perpetrator, then it is only fair that the world demands an appropriate response from Pakistan. Without this, the claim of victimhood rings hollow, and is likely to be understood as a wink-wink strategy of running with the wolves while howling - but not hunting - with the hounds.
Only Pakistan can control its internal menace. Any external intervention would only exacerbate the problem. Incentivising such Pakistani state action against reducing the power of the Army in its power structure and that of Islamists in its society would require accommodation on India's part. What India does or does not do is therefore critical not only to its current security predicament but also to the wider GWOT. The eventual triumph of democratic forces there cannot be done without such Indian help.
The outcome for India in a democratic peace subsequently is an incentive. India has postponed addressing these two issues meaningfully, hoping to transcend Pakistan economically and militarily. Recognising that this is not possible is the foremost message of the Mumbai attacks. Heeding the message is only the first step to regional rapprochement through the adoption of an indirect anti-terror strategy.