It is unsurprising that the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) has gone back on the report on terrorism of a task force commissioned by it. The task force had recommended 'surgical strikes' in the event of another terror attack with Pakistani roots. This recommendation raised concerns within its Pakistani counterpart, FPCCI. And FICCI itself may have concluded that such strikes would do more to disrupt the investment climate than the terror strikes for which it thinks these strikes are remedy!
Notwithstanding FICCI's reversal, it is worth discussing the notion of surgical strikes, since even today it continues to be regarded by sections of public opinion and policy makers as an 'option'.
The FICCI report argued that since the locations of terror outfits in Pakistan are largely known, it would be possible to attack these. India could use artillery for those locations which are in range, and supplement this with the air force and possibly Special Forces operations. Ballistic missiles would not be used due to their linkage with nuclear weapons, and Prithvi missiles are in any event being retired. The levels to which cruise missiles are operational is uncertain, so one assumes that those too would not be brought into the theater of a surgical strike.
The report rightly assessed that India would need to be prepared for a backlash of international opinion, as also for a possible war. While it can reasonably be expected that robust Indian diplomacy can handle international opinion, particularly by referring to Indian restraint in the wake of Mumbai 26/11, it is worth considering whether escalation of conflict can be avoided, and whether we can cope with such an outcome.
The latter is easy to concede in light of the Army Chief's comment that India is preparing for a 'two front' war. India has the advantage of quality and quantity and can be expected to be effective if not efficient in conventional conflict. Nevertheless, efficiency will be important to the eventual outcome of the conflict. This is because even while India will prevail, the margin of the win will determine the real victor. Just as 1979 is treated as a Vietnamese victory and the Israeli campaigns of 2006 and 2009 are seen as defeats (despite much higher losses by the opposition in each case), for Pakistan, 'not losing' would amount to a victory. No Indian government would likely be willing to countenance the political cost of such ambiguity in the outcome. The negotiations at war's end would unambiguously bring Kashmir back onto the table.
Coordination - still in 'draft' mode
It is also worth asking if surgical strikes can even produce the desired outcome at all, in military terms. One of the key determinants of that will be the effectiveness with which the different wings of the armed forces work together to achieve a joint objective in conflict. Partly, this is because while the Air Force would lead the charge, Pakistan, being an Army-directed state, is more likely to reply on land, immediately drawing the Indian army into the theater. Thus, at least the Air Force and the Amry would need to work synchronously to achieve any specific goals set for the strikes. But there is plenty of indication of late that such we are far from ready to carry out such coordinated action.
Consider the opinion of the Standing Committee on Defence: "Considering the fact that the key to success in modern day warfare operations is the ability of the different wings of the Armed Forces to integrate their efforts under a single command without any loss of time ... The Committee have also recommended that till such time the post of CDS is created, the Government may take steps to give appropriate authority to the Chairman COSC in the present set up to command and control the resources of the Defence Services whenever the situation so demands." In other words, the principal coordinator of the defence forces would only be served with an enhanced staff!
It is also worth questioning if surgical strikes can even produce the desired outcome at all, in military terms.
The efficacy of the current COSC system is revealed best in Admiral Mehta's speech: "We have a draft nuclear doctrine in place, which is restrained, in keeping with our traditional national culture." In referring to the 'draft' nuclear doctrine of 1999, the Admiral reveals that he is unaware that the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the doctrine in 2003! This, despite having the Strategic Forces Command under him in his capacity as COSC!
The blame game
There are more reasons not to make haste with any war-mongering. It is also safe to assume that there will be some shortcomings - almost inevitable in any conflict. Who will risk bearing the blame for this? The Army has already revealed shortcomings in its inventory, and would attribute any failure to those. The Air Force's Vice Chief has already controversially attributed this to do with the kind of politics India has. Therefore the buck, as it must, would stop with the government, in the event of setbacks. It's safe to say the government would not like to position itself for such self-sacrifice, even if warranted.
The FICCI report also raised concerns of the corporate sector, ostensibly as part of its civil society duties, with respect to terrorism in India's hinterland, the Naxal belt and the North East. It made the point that terror is designed to disrupt India's economic growth by, among other reasons, making India an unsafe destination for foreign capital and visitors.
The business of war
It failed to mention that the same would be doubly so if the threat of conflict were to increase as a result of the surgical strike it envisioned! This is strange, but the industrial-military complex has always worked to its own rationale - seeing economic opportunity in militarisation. The preface of the report is candid on this calling, "for greater involvement of industry in national security strategies and improved cooperation between policy-makers, government and Industry as part of a robust public-private partnership." Already there is talk of a two-front war, which would require greater military spending and exertion by India. Ayesha Siddiqa, noted Pakistani military expert, rightly observed at a recently concluded Track III conference on India-Pakistan peace in New Delhi that the FICCI appears to find less benefit in trade and cooperation with Pakistan as a way to engage that country than in the alternative of militarisation.
Eisenhower's warning on the dangers of the military-industrial complex, in his farewell address as American president, may be finding its home in India too.