Independence Day


Deterrence against proxy wars

Issue No. 14 | July 16-31, 2014By Lt General (Retd) P.C. KatochPhoto(s): By Illustration: Anoop Kamath

We need to establish credible deterrence against irregular warfare. We need a comprehensive policy to deter proxy wars and protect ourselves from being victims of international terrorism.

The explosion of terror in the Middle East has engaged the attention of the world, not that similar terrorism and radicalisation is not engulfing other regions of the world, what with Pakistan’s so-called offensive against the TTP and Haqqanis in Northern Waziristan and China’s crackdown in Xinjiang to subdue the increasingly volatile ETIM in particular and Uighurs in general. The more significant fact is that powerful nations are indulging more and more in using terrorism as the currency of power in furtherance of national interests as part of geopolitical gaming.

John Pilger in his article titled ‘In Ukraine, the US is Dragging Us Towards War with Russia’, dated May 14, 2014, published in The News it writes, “Every year the American historian William Blum publishes his ‘updated summary of the record of US foreign policy’ which shows that, since 1945, the US has tried to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democratically elected; grossly interfered in elections in 30 countries; bombed the civilian populations of 30 countries; used chemical and biological weapons; and attempted to assassinate foreign leaders”. He adds, “In many cases Britain has been a collaborator”.

Proxy forces have been used in all this. The fact that Saudi Arabia is funding terror globally is no secret, as is the fact that Saudi Arabia also supplies money to US politicians. Then is the age-old Shia-Sunni rivalry being capitalised by the West to manipulate oil and gas rich regions—as is happening in the Middle East. USA and NATO having burnt their fingers in Iraq and Afghanistan have replaced the policy of ‘boots on ground’ by the policy of ‘proxy boots on ground’. So you see terrorist organisations that they fought for years, like Al-Qaeda and Taliban, being ‘used’ by them to manoeuvre regional and global level powerplay.

In recent times, the West has been employing its Special Forces for regime change as a new asymmetric option/policy. The combination is information warfare (IW), intelligence agencies, Special Forces and air power applied in the last stages. If media reports are to be believed, US engages in asymmetric war by any means in national interest; recent reports indicate US used Al-Qaeda in Libya and is doing similarly in Syria in conjunction USSF, NATO, Turkish and Qatari Special Forces mixed with rebels/opposition. Paul Joseph Watson, wrote in 2012 that just as Al-Qaeda terrorists were used to oust Gaddafi, hundreds of Libyan rebels with Al-Qaeda willing members were being airlifted into Syria to aid opposition in carrying out attacks against government forces. This implies USSF using willing captured Al-Qaeda cadres including detainees from Guantanamo prison. This was no different from World War II where the US OSS (Office of Strategic Services), predecessor to USSF, utilised members of a German dissident group who had fled to France as refugees for unconventional operations against the German Army in conjunction with OSS. The philosophy of the then OSS Chief General Donovan had been, “Use them as long as they kill Nazis”. In October 2012, Mitt Romney, US presidential candidate vowed to arm Al-Qaeda in Syria, responding to which Paul Joseph Watson, editor of PrisonPlanet wondered whether America shares its values with terrorist. In her recent book Hard Times, Hillary Clinton says that she would have preferred to arm ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in a much earlier time frame.

China and Pakistan have both been resorting to unconventional war against India since long. China has been providing tacit support to Pakistan’s anti-India jihad and in many cases Pakistan is acting as a proxy for meeting Chinese aims. Chinese weapons and communication equipment have been supplied to Indian insurgents, particularly Maoists coming via Myanmar to the PLA in Manipur and onwards to Indian Maoists. Media reports quoting intelligence sources had reported last year that China had supplied AK-47 manufacturing capability to Kachen rebels in Myanmar and Maoists in India. Significantly, Indian media on June 7, 2014, have reported emergence on the scene of AK-47 rifles “manufactured in Bihar”. The presence of Paresh Barua and other ULFA hierarchy at Ruli in China has been confirmed through communication intercepts. China has also been trying to mould perceptions of villagers living in strategically located East Sikkim and Ladakh through money, rations, kerosene, even mixing of blood, a trend that could be further exploited by her. Unrestricted and hybrid warfare are likely to be employed by China and peace time cyber attacks on Indian websites expose potential of this type of warfare.

It is no secret either that Pakistan continued to play the double game with the US, of which the US also has been fully aware. The Haqqanis have special treatment in Pakistan. Pir Zubair Shah and Carlotta Gall wrote in New York Times on October 31, 2011, “The Haqqani family, which runs the network like a mafia, maintains several town houses, including in Islamabad and elsewhere, and they have been known to visit military facilities in Rawalpindi, attend tribal gatherings and even travel abroad on pilgrimages. Experts say leaders of the Haqqani network may be hiding in plain sight in cities rather than in remote tribal areas.” Then is Mullah Omar, Afghan Taliban Chief whom Pakistan gives royal treatment like Osama bin Laden. General John Allen, Commander, US and NATO Forces, Afghanistan had disclosed in August 2012, “Omar lives in Pakistan, as do many of his commanders. From that safe vantage point, they’ve sent hundreds of young impressionable and helpless youth to their death and detention in Afghanistan. For this, they must forfeit their honour and any claim to Islamic virtues.” The current Pakistani offensive in North Waziristan (Operation Zarb-e-Arb) is not likely to achieve much since eyewitness accounts say that the radical leadership has already left the region.

‘Beyond Bullets: Strategies for Countering Violent Terrorism’ a 2009 study by the Centre for a New American Security, USA stated, “Some countries require particular attention. Pakistan, for example, represents the most difficult problem because it has become the host of the global jihadist movement and terrorists can increasingly operate with impunity there because of the weakening of the state. The fact is that the linkages of Pakistan’s Military-ISI with terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have serious implications for us. Then wherever the US-NATO forces have been deployed, there have not only been excessive casualties through collateral damages because of their scorched earth policy but more importantly, there has been upsurge in radicalism – both during occupation and in the aftermath. Whether it is ‘boots on ground’ like Afghanistan or ‘shoot and scoot’ likely in Syria, results are the same.

This is the stark truth of the war in Afghanistan where upsurge in instability has been because of the free-hand given to Pakistan to generate terror. It has nothing to do ‘with’ Kashmir but it is to do with freely allowing Pakistan to terrorise whole of India, leave aside Kashmir. Cosmetic actions like imposing sanctions on Jamia Taleem-ul-Quoran-Wail-Hadith Madrassa in Peshawar and saying Hafiz Saeed was involved in 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack mean little. The report ‘Global Trends 2025’ by US National Intelligence Council, as earlier similar reports, talks of the growing arc of instability on grounds of economies, management of social change, the two-tier Muslim world and the like. There is no mention, leave aside analysis of how western military actions including supporting terrorism generating countries like Pakistan have helped aggravate instability in the past or will help do so in period 2025.

The Syrian Ambassador to India recently stated that some 5,000 Pakistan Taliban have been assisting the rebels in Syria, some of which may now be with the ISIS. Maldivian radicals have also been fighting in Syria. Indian media has reported on July 9, 2014, that the government is currently tracking 18 Indian radicals who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight as jihadis. The actual number may be more, having gone out illegally. As sectarian violence increases, it is likely to engulf parts of Af-Pak post the US-NATO withdrawal and with these radicals returning home to roost.

Chances of increased volatility in the region are high. Most significantly, the Islamic state radicals now control former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad that houses remnants of 2,500 degraded Sarin Gas rockets plus other other chemical weapon agents. So the chances of CBRN terrorism too are high. It is unfortunate that we think of Special Forces only in emergencies like the one that has occurred in Iraq.

The US Special Forces are deployed in some 200 countries including in considerable numbers in India. They are not visible and are not likely to undertake any raids here at least in the foreseeable future. Russia’s Spetsnaz has been operating inside Pakistan. The Chinese Special Forces are spread incognito in development projects globally. These projects are actually being executed by the PLA or through PLA-owned companies. The tasks of Special Forces in modern armies covers the canvas of strategic intelligence, perception management, building partner capabilities, controlling enemy fault lines, shaping the environment in favour of own country and like, over and above direct type of actions, if required. These are politico-military task at the strategic level executed under directions of the highest political authority. We need to establish credible deterrence against irregular warfare. We need a comprehensive policy to deter proxy wars and protect ourselves from being victims of international terrorism.