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End the menace of terrorism!

End the menace of terrorism!

Major General Ashok K Mehta (retd)
Rediff on Net
April 7, 2000
Title: End the menace of terrorism!
Author: Major General Ashok K Mehta (retd)
Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: April 7, 2000

We have the will and the means to end this menace, was the warning given to Pakistan by Prime Minister Vajpayee at the joint press conference with President Bill Clinton following the Sikh massacre. This belated declaration of intent and capability rings hollow against the background of the decade-long proxy war which has thrived because it has gone unpunished. The will and ways to end the menace of terrorism were forfeited when the Indian State failed to strike at the source and roots of insurgency across the LoC in the early 90s.

Any show of grit and determination now when India has internationally sanctified the LoC is sheer rhetoric. Missing altogether is the deterrent of denial and retribution which has encouraged terrorism and militancy.

Last month was easily the worst 30 days of the ten-year-old proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir where Pakistan has kept alive the LoC for more than 50 years. The main reason for the violent intensification of terrorism was the Clinton visit attended by a battalion of international media, though the tempo of violence has been building up since Kargil and the military takeover of Pakistan.

There has been a qualitative change in the nature and intensity of terrorist attacks. Previously only soft targets were chosen and confrontation with security forces avoided. It was typical hit-and-run operations, but very effective. By 1994, the situation took a turn for the worse with even the army coming under extreme stress and strain. There were a number of stress-related incidents like mutinous conduct and shootouts among security forces.

Around mid-1994, then army chief General B C Joshi had strongly advocated hot pursuit and targeting of the source of insurgency. But the idea was dropped even though Pakistan did not then possess a nuclear shield. Renewed counterinsurgency operations and political dialogue with Pakistan were able to contain militancy. By 1998, after a peaceful election, Srinagar was restored as a tourist destination and economic activity revived. Jammu and Kashmir had attained normalcy. But then Kargil happened and shattered the peace.

The first three months of the new century have been the worst ever for the security forces. The induction of foreign mercenaries and suicide squads of fedayeen have brought all manner of targets within the reach of terrorists. They now dare to attack posts. Ambush patrols lay improvised explosive devices and infiltrate high security camps like the BSF, Corps and Rashtriya Rifles headquarters and shoot soldiers with silenced pistols at point blank range. These are acts of defiance and high motivation. The casualties inflicted on security forces are the highest in the last ten years.

Besides the surprises and shock effect of these spectacular assaults on premier military sites, they also undermine the morale of the soldier constrained by the emphasis on use of minimum force and by human rights concerns. Political interference and administrative enquiries have forced troops into a no-risk defensive mentality. Just two terrorists holed up in a camp have put hundreds of elite troops in a spin. No concept of surgical strikes has been devised to flush them out.

The intensification of the proxy war has affected the morale of the troops fighting it. They are tired, overstretched and extremely stressed. Commanders are testy and on edge. They question the one-sided respect of the LoC and are visibly relieved when they cross the Banihal tunnel for rest and recuperation. Thank god we are out of the hell hole, is what they say.

There is calibrated escalation by both sides of the proxy war. Pakistan first upped the ante by introducing suicide squads, heavy weapons and Taleban-hardened foreign mercenaries after Kargil. Despite the ritual declaration of a new, proactive strategy, no practical steps have been taken to end the menace. The authorities believe that pumping in more troops is the answer, whereas what is required is actionable intelligence and unity of command. The much venerated unified command is a joke. Post-Kargil, when the army tried to pull out from the proxy war, the state and central governments raised a hue and cry. The army is meant to fight wars, not insurgencies.

Late last month, India also raised the ante by incorporating the attack helicopter in counter-insurgency operations. For the first time, gunships are being used to track and attack terrorists in their hideouts. In the past, helicopters have been used only for casualty-evacuation.

A book on a future two-front war between India-Pakistan and India-China, written by a western military expert to be released soon, begins with the scenario which has already been enacted in the past by the introduction of the helicopter. In the fictionalised account, the Taleban use a Stinger missile to bring down a helicopter carrying the Indian home minister and the northern army commander. The rest is all out war, the favourite hobby horse of Western military theorists.

It is not inconceivable that shoulder-held missiles may soon be acquired by terrorists. The LTTE is one source for these. In the past, Tamil Tigers have not been averse to merchandising military expertise like the improved IED. The real danger is of the fedayeen turning into Dhanu, the human bomber which has become the scourge of Sri Lanka.

Civilised democracies respect human dignity and life. Kargil, Kathmandu and Kandahar happened because India is getting accustomed to turning the other cheek. One wins wars by inflicting casualties on the enemy, not inviting them on one's own forces.

The fatalistic approach to accepting insult and injury is bad for the national psyche and morale. Equally, it is no good sulking over the straitjacket India has put itself into by sanctifying the LoC.

Last week, at their biannual meeting at Delhi, army commanders were addressing future conflict whereas they should have been concentrating on the present in Jammu and Kashmir. Markaz al Dawa, near Lahore, is the fount of jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. If America could attack Osama Bin Laden in Kandahar, why can't India target Markaz al Dawa?

Let India demonstrate the will and means to end the menace of terrorism.

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