India for long has been a victim of numerous terrorist attacks. Covert operations by Pakistan’s ISI, which were once limited to J&K have now engulfed other parts of India as well. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, India has suffered almost 1050 civilian deaths from 28 major Islamist terrorist attacks since 2000 (excluding J&K and the North-east). The numbers clearly reflect the dismal internal security situation in India. The ISI’s unbridled support to home-grown fundamentalists in fighting a proxy war with India is considered good investment by the Pakistan establishment, an extension of Operation Topaz, initiated by Zia ul Haq. India has suffered immensely and responded only diplomatically, and it is time we redefine our war on terror. It is important to realise that so far, no government, agencies or laws have been able to defeat terrorism, primarily because terrorists are a faceless enemy and do not provide a viable target. Threatening Pakistan or negotiating with them to close their terrorist camps has not produced results. On the contrary, covert operations of the ISI have only become more intense with time and are likely to continue. Kashmir is the primary but not only agenda.
Left with limited options, India needs to exploit the prevailing fissures within Pakistan and inflict a degree of pain that compels Pakistan to abate its nefarious acts, if not stop them completely. Formerly, R&AW possessed the capability to carry out covert operations and were politically backed to nurture this potential. However, in 1997, Prime Minister IK Gujral shut down the Counter Intelligence Teams (CITs) on moral grounds. It must be noted that building up capabilities is the product of many years of consistent effort and cannot be done overnight.
The basis of covert actions is to identify fissures that could be an entry point for covert operations. In terms of region, Sindh, Baluchistan and Northern areas of Pakistan are important for consideration. Sindh is the second most populous province of Pakistan, where the native population is threatened by the Punjabi majority and influx of non-Sindhis in the region. In 1992, acute domestic unrest in Sindh resulted in the imposition of army rule. The tension between Balochistan and Pakistan’s national government has been perennial. The plight of the Baloch people has been incessantly ignored and their periodic calls for autonomy have been ruthlessly crushed, while the blame is affixed on R&AW for supporting them. India has not exploited these vulnerabilities but should do so now by strongly supporting such movements through liaison with Sindhi and Baloch leaders, working within and outside the region.
Another region that poses a threat to Pakistan’s unity is the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). NWFP holds a majority of Pashtuns and has always tilted towards Afghanistan due to shared identities. Furthermore, US operations in Af-Pak region have raised tempers in NWFP, owing to Pakistan’s alliance with the US and deaths resulting from drone attacks. Consequently, the region is a fertile ground for anti-government movements.
In the ongoing war against terrorism in Afghanistan, India has invested heavily in Afghanistan’s development projects. To counter this, Indians have been targeted by Pakistan-backed-groups, in an attempt to force them to leave the country. The recent London Conference has also marginalised India’s role in Afghanistan. However, we should remain undeterred, foster our relations with Afghanistan, and ensure a strong presence there. Current anarchy in Afghanistan should be utilised by undertaking covert operations from Afghanistan, thereby coercing Pakistan army to concentrate on its Western borders. This would further constrain Pakistan to think of a probable “Kargil-II”.
In terms of issues, discrimination of minorities, like Ahmadis, Pakistani Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and the Shia-Sunni divide offer numerous options for exploitation. The wave of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan threatens these minorities. The latest beheadings of two Sikhs by the Taliban echo the threats faced by Pakistani Sikhs. Ahmadis, on the other hand, are branded as non-Muslims by the Pakistan government and are repeatedly oppressed for their religious beliefs. The recently released figures of 11 Ahmadi deaths in 2009 clearly reflect that they are not spared by Islamic fundamentalists. These communities not only need moral support, but also assistance to assert their rights. Moreover, there is a stark divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims within Pakistan. Pakistan, a Sunni majority claims to be a truly Islamic nation, but has been unable to iron out differences between Shia and Sunni elements. Therefore, India’s action on this issue would offer a threat to Pakistan’s unity, thereby establishing punitive deterrence.
In order to establish a stronghold on covert operations, intelligence cooperation is imperative, especially with countries that bear serious problems due to terrorism originating from there. In order of preference, India should strengthen intelligence ties with Israel, Afghanistan, France, UK and USA. Covert operations should be directed towards creating instability by sagaciously utilising present fissures within Pakistan. India also needs to target key leaders, like Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who propagate and facilitate terrorism in India. This would not only threaten the future leaders of Pakistan’s terrorist organisations, but also hinder ISI’s despicable support to such terror outfits.
Such covert operations are likely to fulfill India’s goal, i.e. stop Pakistan from accelerating insurgency in J&K and terrorism in India, at large. Instability in Pakistan from covert actions would affect its economy, resulting in declining foreign investment and waning import-export activities and thus act as an effective deterrent. If India continues to follow a policy of appeasement and ad-hoc actions, then the future of internal security looks bleak. R&AW could focus on developing the capabilities to engage such actions, and if a strong political will is forthcoming, to legally embark on covert acts against terror outfits and the states promoting it.
Nevertheless, India herself needs to step up its internal security apparatus and prepare contingency plans for a probable backlash from Pakistan. We live next to a risk-taking-neighbour, which periodically attempts to destabilise India. There is a need to pre-empt future attempts by punishing Pakistan, through covert operations, the most viable counter-terrorism strategy.