Fighting terror with terror


By Gautam Sen PhD, December 2005


It is an extraordinary presumption that concession and compromise can defeat terrorism. Yet this is precisely the implied rationale underlying New Delhi’s policy towards terrorism. After each act of mass murder politicians of all hues clamour to outdo each other in proclaiming that the peace process remains unperturbed. Such ignoble defeatism serves to confirm Pakistan’s belief that further doses of terror are likely to tilt any final settlement in their favour even more. An end to violent conflict does eventually take place through negotiations and some compromise inevitably occurs. But this scenario must be preceded by first weakening the resolve of terrorists by inflicting unacceptable losses on them. However, the government of Pakistan is well able to replenish the manpower losses they have been suffering in the battle against India. This is why counting Jihadi casualties is meaningless when an unlimited supply clearly exists to continuously replace the few hundreds necessary to commit acts of terror. And the Indian public should be under no illusion that it is the government of Pakistan itself that sponsors the terror they are suffering daily, despite all the efforts of Indian politicians to convince them otherwise.


Perhaps the Indian establishment knows something that the public does not. Possibly, the neutering of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by the US in the aftermath of 9/11 is considered a big enough prize to gift a few hundred dead Indians annually to Musharraf at the bidding of the US. Or maybe the Americans are also dangling the prospect of Pakistani consent to some sort of acceptable peace formula, which has proved elusive for so long, before the eyes of India’s cynical political entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, it is more likely that the posture on peace is merely the customary Indian predilection towards the path of least resistance, usually combining abject grovelling if their grasp over political power is at risk. Thus, there are no grounds for believing that politicians, who have failed over decades to organise the national electricity supply, urgently required for India’s economic advancement, are somehow manifesting startling acumen on this one issue.


Yet, policy change and firm resolve can stop Pakistani terror. Resolve is the principal requirement, a quality that India displayed fleetingly when Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi showed their mettle in the face of the enemy. But Indian policy since has taken to spouting tired clichés and empty rhetoric, certainly after the 1990s. By contrast, even Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was reputedly more gutsy and belligerent when the need arose. This is why India’s post-1998 nuclear weapons’ status has become a proverbial millstone around its neck rather than a source of empowerment and self-confidence. India’s nuclear gambit was premature because the government erroneously believed that the US would sign the CTBT, making testing more difficult subsequently. How such an error of judgement was made is hard to fathom since all the evidence publicly available indicated that it would not sign. There are grounds for suspecting, and strategists abroad appear to believe, that India’s ballistic missile capacity was and remains undeveloped, which means that the alternative is a retaliatory second strike with bombers, more likely to be interdicted by enemy counteraction.


This is why Pakistan has concluded that India is afraid to risk even border skirmishes, fearing they could escalate to nuclear threats because it does not yet have the capacity to retaliate commensurately. Of course it could be that in any case India is simply culturally unprepared for the psychology of nuclear deterrence. That might explain why it has been extraordinarily reluctant to inflict any punishment on Pakistan despite unremitting and dramatic provocation, including the attempt to liquidate India’s national leadership; surely, a casus belli if ever there was one. But if it is the case that India does not yet have the capacity to launch an immediate retaliatory nuclear attack because of shortcomings in its domestic missile programme absolutely everything needs to be done to overcome it. It implies temporary resort to sufficient numbers of bombers to reduce the odds of their successful interdiction before delivery. The underwater leg of the triad of deterrence, alongside missile and aircraft delivery, is a necessity, but not in immediate prospect.


Dismayingly, the lack of adequate retaliatory capability means that India remains vulnerable to the very two-front war, with Pakistan and China that the possession of nuclear weapons was designed to end. India must therefore now think ahead and rapidly transform its nuclear weapons programme and accompanying deterrence strategy. India should show readiness to engage in nuclear brinkmanship instead of prevaricating over its intentions, which merely advertise, in advance, surrender of the national will. It must be understood that once reputation for the determination to resist and actually embark on a nuclear exchange, if necessary, is lost the demands of adversaries can only grow. Nuclear weapons are intended for the waging of psychological warfare, not actual use, but failure to deter, by seeming fearful, may in fact invite the very pre-emptive nuclear attack that their possession intends to avoid.


In order to send an unmistakable message to the murderous Jihadi thugs and their Pakistani governmental controllers that India will retaliate by crossing the international border, the first step is to make the integrity of Indian missiles an absolute priority. The second step would be to abandon the muddled ‘no-first-use’ policy since it is a meaningless idea that only has drawing-room conversational appeal. No strategist believes, and certainly not anyone in Pakistan that any country - perhaps India is really the exception - knowing for sure that a nuclear strike was imminent, would not launch their own first to avoid committing suicide. The third step would be to heighten the degree of readiness for missile launch to ensure that the other side knows that India means business, which probably entails not separating warheads from missiles. Some urban evacuation drills and building of shelters for decision-makers would also convey deadly seriousness. The international community, which has shown a singular lack of concern about Indian welfare, would swiftly start singing a different tune once the ramifications of India’s determination had sunk in. Stopping Islamic Jihadis murdering Indians at will would be a small price to pay to avoid a nuclear holocaust, with its catastrophic global environmental consequences. This is how nuclear brinkmanship, which is merely an aspect of deterrence, can achieve peace.


The final piece of the puzzle, which requires a guaranteed warhead delivery capacity first, so as not to precipitate a pre-emptive attack against India, is a public discussion of another remaining strategic policy option. What it requires is pointed reflection, with the government maintaining a studious silence, on how India would react if many of its cities lay in ruins because Pakistan had used its arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles, supplied by China, to effectively end Indian civilisation. Indians should think aloud that they would seek to punish the actual instigator of their mass murder by letting loose any missiles that remained, after ending global jihad once-and-for-all, against Chinese cities. All one needs do is to make Chinese planners wonder how a country with nothing left to lose might behave. India’s calculating tormentor is likely to conclude that endangering major Chinese cities is too high a price for continuing to incite Pakistani Jihadis against India? One suspects that harmony would descend rapidly on the region from the Himalayas and peace would break out quickly in Kashmir as well.