The decision to set up a Special Operations Command, amalgamating forces from the Army, Navy and the Air Force, recognises the fact that unconventional warfare will play an increasing role in the coming years
The Defence Ministry’s reported grant (The Pioneer, September 29) of approval for the establishment of a Special Operations Command, amalgamating the Army’s Special Forces, the Navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS) and the Air Force’s Garudas, was overdue, as was the Ministry’s clearance of two other commands — space and cyber.
The decision to establish the SOC signifies a recognition of the fact that unconventional warfare, involving counter-terrorism, will play an increasing role in future conflicts. While the need for conventional forces on land, sea and air will remain to cope with any conventional war that may emerge from an unconventional war, the latter will be the preferred mode in all asymmetrical conflicts, particularly where, as in the case of India and Pakistan, combat between regular formations can lead to a mutually-obliterating nuclear exchange.
The formation of an SOC is particularly necessary given the Pakistani Army’s strategic doctrine of “cutting India down to size” by fomenting regional insurgencies to balkanise it and, if that is not possible, keep it too busy fighting domestic fires to play a significant regional role. The objective has been unambiguously stated in lieutenant-Colonel (subsequently lieutenant General) Javed Hassan’s India: A Study in Profile. The fact that the book, representing a study done on behalf of the Pakistani Army’s Faculty of Research and Doctrinal Studies, Command and Staff College, Quetta, was published and distributed by Services Book Club, Rawalpindi, clearly indicates that the strategy it articulates has the Government’s sanction.
Pakistan has been following this strategy relentlessly since the early 1950s when the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate began supporting the Naga rebels. From the early 1980s, it began training the Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir terrorists in the camps established for Afghan mujahideen. Terrorism, sponsored by Pakistan, plagued Punjab from the early 1980s till around the end of 1992 when it was crushed by Punjab Police under the leadership of its Director-General, Mr KPS Gill. By that time, terrorist strikes from Pakistan had started becoming a feature of life in Jammu & Kashmir.
The escalation of terrorist strikes in the 1980s followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the United States’ opening of the floodgates of economic and military aid to Pakistan which trained the mujahideen and coordinated the jihad against the occupation forces. In Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, the distinguished Pakistani scholar and former diplomat, Mr Husain Haqqani, wrote that shortly after the aid began arriving, Pakistan’s General turned President, Zia-ul Haq, wanted a forward policy drawn up to deal with India. Following a conversation between him and lieutenant General Akhtar Abdul Rahman, then head of the ISI, a strategy combining clandestine operations against India while simultaneously appearing to seek durable peace, was pursued “throughout the years Zia was in power as well as the subsequent years.” In keeping with the strategy, the ISI spread its tentacles deep into India, several files from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s office were taken to Pakistan, Indian troop movements were constantly watched, conditions in Kashmir were studied, and a search was mounted for Kashmiris capable of leading “the freedom struggle”.
Terrorist strikes now occur all over the country, perhaps the most sinister being the one in Mumbai which lasted for nearly 60 hours from the night of November 26, 2008, and claimed over 160 lives. The total, countrywide toll has been heavy. According to a report, officials of the External Affairs Ministry said on December 7, 1999, that while 25,267 persons had been killed in terrorist attacks in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir in the 10 preceding years, 12,316 Indians had lost their lives in the wars the country had fought since 1947. The number of casualties from terrorist attacks in the two States has gone up since then, as has the figure for whole of India, as terrorism now stalks large parts of the country. Another report published on September 25, 2008, pointed out, citing the US State Department’s National Counter-Terrorism Centre, that, on an average, terrorist violence killed seven persons daily in India in 2007. Pointing out that terrorists killed a total of 2,300 persons in India during that year, it stated that India was third on the international terror list in terms of those killed, after Iraq (13,611) and Afghanistan (4,673).
Counter-terrorism warfare sometimes requires intelligence-driven special operations, like the one that killed Osama bin laden, to eliminate terrorists and their leaders. It may need them against terrorists who launch the 26/11 brand of attacks or for storming terrorist hideouts. The capability for carrying out the latter has become particularly important given the fact that continued and serious provocations by Pakistan may compel India to carry out surgical strikes against camps in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for training and staging attacks on India from across the loC.
The need for a space command arises from the fact that space, already used for satellite surveillance purposes, may soon become an area for launching rocket attacks with warheads carrying nuclear or biological weapons. Even surface-to-surface inter-continental ballistic missiles may be designed to traverse a part of their trajectory through space to avoid radar detection. India, which has successfully tested rockets capable of being converted into an ICBM, has to be a force to reckon with in space even for ceasing to be vulnerable to space-based aggression.
Perhaps even more urgent is the need for a cyber-command in an age when governance — and activity in all critical sectors — is totally dependent on computer-operated, Internet-based communication and information storage and analysis systems. A successful cyber attack can paralyse a country. The United States suffered cyber attacks from the Chinese when they broke into the campaign computers of Mr Barack Obama and Mr John McCain in 2008, and targeted Google in 2009. On May 21, 2010, it set up a US Cyber Command under the US Strategic Command. As this piece is written, Britain is working on a plan to create a tech-savvy army to deal with cyber attacks. Its Defence Secretary, Mr Phillip Hammond, told the Conservative Party’s annual conference on September 29: “In response to the growing cyber threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, to enhance the UK’s range of military capabilities.”
India’s move to set up the three commands, though a trifle belated, merits a welcome. The question, however, remains: Will we have the will to use the new capabilities when the chips are downIJ