What the "surgical strikes" mean for the Special Forces in India
I am going to speak on these issues without direct references to a specific published text but if you are looking for where I am coming from - the core information can be found in Saikat's book
. The rest of what I am saying - can be dismissed as the spin of an old fool. I don't actually know why I am bothering to do this - it doesn't fit into 160 characters and everyone is much happier listening to Rajit
In the days of old a warlord in a distant land approached a very capable police officer in India and spoke about his fears that India's neighbor was building and testing nuclear weapons. To find out if this was actually the case a special group of people was set up. The selection process for this special group was quite tough. People with a certain flair for independent thinking and coherent action were selected. The emphasis was on people who were very fit but did not have to be given very detailed orders for every little thing and were willing and able to do whatever was needed to make it all hold together.
This special group climbed mountains and looked over the horizon at what was happening. They also trekked deep within the neighbor's yard and repeatedly picked up the neighbor's family members and asked them if they knew anything about his nuclear intentions. As long as they could determine that neighbor did not intend to deploy nuclear weapons in his back yard there was a chance that the peace of a thousand years could remain.
The people of this special group sat in a set of old huts behind the President's house. They had unfettered access to parts of Hindon and Palam - which all they really seemed to need. It was a small low/no profile affair.
And as time wore on, the warlord lost interest in this part of the world but his friend the police officer grew in national stature. It was after all a small country back then and everyone knew everyone. The police officer was asked by his commander to help solve a vexing problem along the eastern border. Again he fell back on the men of the special group. Again they delivered. This became a pattern whatever was asked - they delivered with no questions. They did grumble occasionally but it was nothing compared to what they delivered.
What started as a small group of misfits - gradually morphed into a real but nameless establishment with a real sense of national thought. As they were usually the last steps of the national thought process - they became the real stakeholders in all policy making. Never has a small group of people had so much influence on the nation since the companions of Gandhiji.
What emerged from this establishment was a very lean and mean version of India's national security policy. A minimalist national thinking - long on substance and short on bullshit. Long after the policeman retired, the group continued to affect the way India thought about critical issues. As the national sphere expanded and threats morphed, the group grew in size to meet the various needs. Eventually a place was set up in Himachal Pradesh to gradually fill the ranks. The place was managed by the Army and the volunteers from the Army staffed the ranks. The standards were extremely high - about 1% of those that applied actually made it through. Those that got through were capable of picking up new languages, dialects, adapting to new cultures while still retaining the capacity for extreme physical exertion. This establishment became the mothership from which all other conflict resolution capabilities emerged. Whether it was hostage rescue, or riot control a variety of policing functions grew naturally from their roots planted by the establishment.
There was a catch though. Per the policeman's world view - if you were to become part of this special group - you could not be part of the uniformed services. The rationale was that a member of the uniformed services being caught in a foreign land could be interpreted as an act of war. So you could only join this group by renouncing the connection to your parent cadre or service. From that point on - you were a civilian.
Now over the last decade, things have been changing. The Armed forces came in and expanded the setup in Himachal. They came to have a bigger and bigger role in the day to day affairs of the establishment. It became harder and harder to claim that the establishment and the Armed forces were not tied at the hip. The policeman's principle of separating the two elements became increasingly unworkable.
The old members of the establishment looked upon this with disdain. They felt the standard were being diluted and pretty soon the special group would spend its time painting anything that didn't move. They reconciled to all this with the understanding that whatever new capabilities were raised outside the needs of the special group would remain confined to national borders. This was all effectively a glorified internal security operation.
But that was not to be. By crossing the borders and then crowing about it in public - the enfant terrible of the establishment made it clear that it was not going to remain subservient to the older ways and do what it felt was right.
So where does that leave things?
I feel we are at a parting of ways here. The old establishment's ideas do not sit well with what has formed in Himachal over the last decade.
Will things split as they have in other lands? Will the establishment separate into an "Activity" and a "Command" like they have in the US? Perhaps. Or will they remain unified but separate the S, A and B groups?
Will the old establishment simply disappear into thin air? will the Piyush and Hector Corporation suddenly see its payroll swell?
I don't know - but the change is coming.
Who is more important Breitbart News or The Donald Trump Campaign?
Earlier this year, I had predicted that in the final month of the election, the Breitbart news guys would expected to carry out a major strike on the HRC Campaign. The attack would likely be a major media spectacular and in the aftermath of the political strike - the counter-strike mounted by the HRC campaign would completely destroy Breitbart News' credibility and make it impossible to continue. I was expecting a repeat of the Peter Thiel - Gawker situation but it seems I was wrong.
Right now based on all the information that is leaking out from various places, it looks like Breitbart News had no intention of sacrificing itself for the Donald Trump campaign. The version of events that is now available suggests that Steve Bannon carefully setup the press conference with the former Clinton accusers and then promptly disappeared from the scene. From the point that those accusers ended up on the same table as Donald Trump - the Donald Trump campaign entered the crosshairs of the HRC response mechanism.
It is not a terrible surprise that allegations of sexual misconduct have surfaced about Donald Trump. He kind of prides his aura of masculinity. Some people like that and that is why he continues to enjoy some level of support despite the open allegations of sexual assault against him.
What is interesting to me is that he is taking the hit directly. There is no Breitbart News or Drudge Report style foil. Both those agencies have gone on to focus on the Wikileaks hack of HRC campaign emails. That is an odd thing for both those groups to do. No one believes a hacked email as everyone knows you can make that hacked email say whatever you want. The Donald Trump campaign discovered this to its detriment when it accidentally re-tweeted an excerpt of John Podesta's emails from a Russian site only to discover that the the Russian site was actually mistakenly attributing quotes from Karl Eichenwald to Sidney Blumenthal
. No one in their right mind has enough time to read through millions of "hacked" emails - those emails might as well not exist.
And as regards the idea of emphasizing that HRC can't seem to keep her emails secret - well that point kind of went out the window when Breitbart and Drudge went to town telling everyone how she kept 33000 emails secret from the FBI!
It looks like the Donald Trump Campaign is being sacrificed for a alt-right website's interests.
That is odd - I must just have the relationship between these two entities wrong. It must be that the DTC is expendable and it is Breitbart News that is supposed to survive all this carnage.
Sidebar: This brings me to another character Roger Stone, it is not clear why Roger spends so much of his time glued to Wikileaks. Surely Roger knows that what he does is a direct reflection on his boss? When Julian Assange holds a 3AM press conference and doesn't release anything incriminating, and Roger Stone is one of the first people going "Aw- shucks!!! we bin wikirolled!!!". It makes people think that Roger Stone is somehow orchestrating the entire hacking.
The GOP Civil War - Why did the they walk back from cutting off Donald Trump?
As I indicated in the earlier post - the GOP broke with Donald Trump because he fell far behind Hillary Clinton in the polls. This imperiled the GOP's senate and congressional campaigns and that created a pervasive fear that their majority in the houses was under threat.
So why did they first push away from Donald Trump and then apparently walk back into his fold?
The answer is simple - the top of the GOP that sits in established seats and with long standing ties to financial channels in Washington DC couldn't care less about Donald Trump and his shenanigans. The only GOP people who care about Donald Trump are the ones without that same sense of security.
A number of insecure Republican party politicians are still trying to ride the Trump tiger. They have actual hard data on how many registered voters they can count on to turn up at the polls on November 8th, but they do not have any idea how many of these people are hard-line Trump supporters. The absence of this data makes it difficult for these insecure Republicans to remain distant from Donald Trump for too long. When asked why by the press - these insecure Republicans will first indicate pause and then reply that their own polling says that Donald Trump comments on women do not seem to matter to their own voters. While his comments do not sit with their own personal views, they have to listen to the professional pollsters who are obviously supported by hard data. As that data never has to be released - the GOP flip-floppers can hide behind it.
The insecure Republican candidates can't become too distant from the GOP leadership either because that would lead to a serious shortage of funds and they must walk the line between riding the tiger and remaining loyal party people.
This is an impossible situation - no one can survive being pulled in two directions like this. That is why the middle of the GOP is splintering so badly.
What we are witnessing are desperate attempts to re-seal the ever widening rifts in the GOP. Most of the efforts are being led by Reinhold Priebus Given that the GOP leadership probably does not want to see too many mid level people drift towards Donald Trump (given how hard they find it to get along with him) - it is unclear if the "healing efforts" will actually succeed.
This is like watching one of those Afghan tribal coalitions fall apart. Uncles turn on brothers who turn upon cousins who turn upon fathers and so on.
The GOP civil war - some observations
It appears a civil war has broken out in the GOP. It is easy to understand why this is happening, the GOP congressional leadership made a deal with Donald Trump when they made him the party nominee. The some terms of the deal are now active but the GOP does not seem to be in a position to fully divest itself of Donald Trump.
Based on news reports at the time I think the deal went something like this - you do what you can to bring your fans over to the party's voter rolls and we will support your brand. The fine print in the deal was - if Donald Trump starts alienating the GOP existing voters, then the GOP backs out. The flag set on this was Hillary's lead over Donald Trump in the polls. If Donald Trump fell below Hillary by 7 points - the GOP would move to secure its needs and abandon the Trump campaign.
The basic rationale of the GOP for making the deal was that the Donald Trump supporters were not really part of its voting ranks. They were the ones making weird stances at rallies and they were clearly easy to sway with emotional reactions, but these were not people you could count on to turn up to actually vote.
Donald Trump for his part promised to make them all turn up to vote. He directed his machine to start registering voters and reaching out to people to make sure that they came to the polling both or cast early ballots. Unfortunately for Donald Trump - there really is no Trump organization - he has never invested any money in one or raised money to build one. The result was his directives to the organization - were basically directives to nowhere. The GOP's internal surveillance people picked up on this disconnect very early on and told him to fix that - it seems like he didn't actually do it.
An added problem arose when the release of the lewd comments tapes and the ensuing mishandling of the issue by the Trump campaign created a massive 10+ point lead for Hillary over Donald. This automatically activated the "Abandon Trump" clauses of the deal and the GOP top leaders began to distance themselves from Donald Trump. The GOP's financiers began to slowly back out of pledges for campaign support [1
The rank and file of the party and lower tier GOP leaders however were not in a position to action on these clauses. In the last decade as the GOP's voter base struggled to cope with a black man being president, a number political opportunists jumped into the party. They saw this voter disaffection as a means to launch themselves into a position of influence inside the GOP. This group of opportunists saw Trump as a great chance to topple the existing GOP leadership and seize control of the main organs of the party. It is these people that are making it hard for the GOP to detach from the Trump campaign.
The naivete of these opportunists is something to be seen to be believed - it appears these people are operating under the assumption that the massive financial support for GOP causes which comes from personal pledges by long time leaders to special interest group will simply flow to them just because they are the new guard. The opportunists don't understand that is not how it really works.
For his part now with the "Abandon Trump" clauses in action - Donald Trump has two choices. He can either try to sound conciliatory and recover the lost support of the GOP. This would be a significant distraction from his main campaign task of attacking Hillary Clinton. Or he can abandon the GOP leadership and push ahead with the task of consolidating his base. The latter move will likely cost him the election but it might secure his brand against the catastrophic losses it would endure if he failed in the election despite GOP support.
I am not really sure what strengthening Donald Trump's brand this late in his life will do. At most he will be like Sumner Redstone - living and nominally in control but ruled by random special interest groups who basically buy airtime by engaging expensive legal teams to sue each other. I also echo Mark Cuban's question - what is the point of running a mass market engagement when you have a *premium* brand? none of these people you are drawing to your rallies are going to buy your premium products. At best they will buy mass market stuff but the royalties from those are shaky at best. Typical margins on those products are ~ 5% at most compared to the 30-50% you get from a premium brand. Why would you do this? It is one thing to broaden a brand portfolio - but it is completely another thing to shoulder ridiculous risks for no clear gains.
For the GOP - this civil war is going to cause a major split that has been some years in the making. It could be that the older established GOP people will keep their seats this time around but in the GOP's core will pull a way and try to establish its own political presence (with or without Donald Trump). Kind of like a Tea Party 2.0. It isn't clear that formation will sustain but the GOP will have to spend a lot of time restructuring itself.
New Delhi presses the pause button
It appears that Sonia Singh
has shut down all political commentary on the cross border strikes on NDTV. The answers she offers to The Wire's questions on "questioning the army's claims" are Trumpesque. This is a red flag to me that she doesn't know the answers herself and that she is acting on instructions from someone higher up.
I think this incident at NDTV is a sign that someone in New Delhi has pressed the pause button.
To those of us who knew the TV scene in India, this is important because NDTV is trusted by the Armed Forces. This makes NDTV the natural choice for making the Army's point of view known without actually publicly saying so.
There is some supporting evidence for this from a related source.
The Indian Army was coming under pressure from political channels to release the drone video. However another NDTV anchor - Vishnu Som
has indicated that he feels that the release of the video will likely be damaging to operational secrecy matters. I don't know if I agree with Vishnu Som but I think he is trying to rationalize something the Army has indicated they are strongly inclined to do.
My guess is that the Indian Army does not feel it's hand is strengthened by releasing the drone video data. The Indian Army does not like being pushed around by the politicians into playing a card it is not comfortable with laying on the table right now. This is different from politicians taking credit for the Army's achievements - that is annoying - but it doesn't really damage the Army in any way. So Manohar Parrikar taking credit for the hard work of raising the various Para regiments to the SF standard (a process that took the better part of a decade) - is not really a problem from the Indian Army's point of view. [**]
On a much broader canvas, one persistent criticism of the "hot pursuit" or "cross border strike" approach has been that if the Pakistani Army is pushed too hard in Kashmir, then they will likely retaliate against soft targets in the rest of India. This thought has acted as a barrier against sudden escalation by the Indian Army in Kashmir. No government in New Delhi has ever been keen to accept high visibility terror strikes in India's cities. If it happens - then they struggle to cope with it, but those cities are practically indefensible against such assault.
We are seeing reports emerge now about India preparing for a "big terror strike" in the Indian "mainland". Last week all airports were put on high alert. A number of institutions and public areas had their security beefed up. The Indian intelligence side is seeing an increase in chatter about a major strike on India.
I don't know what Sri. Modi really wants, and what his grand plan for Pakistan is, but it appears that someone in the government of India does not want the probability of such strikes to increase beyond a certain point - and that is why I think the Indian Army is very publicly indicating that it is not keen to release the drone video data.
This will give the Pakistan Army enough wiggle room and allow it to deny that the strikes ever happened.
A lot of people will see this a failure of India's policy vis-a-vis Pakistan, but I think it is quite the opposite. This reflects a highly calibrated and coordinated approach between the Indian Army and other branches of the national security machinery.
I feel the Indian government is pursuing a very Machiavellian policy of hedging against a coup inside Pakistan. The GoI is less interested in ending cross border terrorism and more interested in reaching a position of real leverage with the Pakistan Army.
If the Indian Army gives the Pakistan Army the political cover it needs at this time to secure itself from civilian criticism - in a "surrender at Dacca"-sort-of-way it makes the Pakistani Army beholden to the Indian Army.
This is a powerful element of leverage - one which may be well worth the price paid in terms of human lives at Uri and elsewhere.[***]
If my guess is correct - there will be no major terror strike in India now. The Pakistani backed modules inside Kashmir will go to ground for the winter. And the rhetoric in the media will go down over the next week.
I think thankfully
- this escalation is now over [*].
* I am not in Delhi - so this is my best guess at this time - so if this blows up in two weeks, you can call me a stupid peace loving fool.
** When Gen. Nirbhay Sharma first pushed for all Para regiments to be raised to the SF standard - he was severely opposed by people in the know. Countless articles were written about whether such a massive increase in SF strength was needed if no cross border ops were planned. A lot of ink was spilled about how the average Army Commander doesn't really know how to use SF properly and the highly expensive SF assets would be used to do mundane counter-terrorism tasks. A few of those predictions have come true, but now at least - there is a cross-border element that has come into play and frankly one doesn't need Domaki/Burushaski/Pashto speakers to do this kind of thing. The correct assessment of the people at Nahan in 2003 was that this would require diluting the standards. And that is what was done - the regiments were put through a filter that was set at higher percentage pass instead of the usual 2% pass. But now over the last decade, the filter has slowly been rolled back and some 10% of the probationers are clearing. This is not ideal - but perhaps it is enough to meet India's needs? I don't know - you are as informed as I am about that part.
*** A crazy old bat like myself would like to see as little SG level resources committed as possible to stuff like this. There are certain missions that only SG level operators can service, and it is best to keep them in reserve for exactly those tasks. Chasing random international criminals is a job for a police force - not the 1%-of-the-1% crowd.
Is Pakistan heading for a coup?
Here is why I think Pakistan may be headed for a coup.
There is a separation of powers between PM Nawaz Sharif and the Army under Gen. Raheel Sharif. The PM controls the civilian function and some fraction of internal security matters, and Gen. Raheel Sharif controls all external security issues and the greater fraction of internal security matters. The arrangement is quite robust and there is almost no overlap between the two domains.
The Pakistan Army has for decades now accepted that it cannot fight and win a conventional war against India and the Army has had to resort to sub-conventional options to redress the imbalance. As India's economy has grown, its capacity for defense spending has increased - and so proportionally has the size of its arsenal and the readiness of its military forces. The Pakistan Army has to keep up with that change and both its conventional and sub-conventional packages have be *expanded*. In order to carry out this expansion it needs to pull more resources out of Pakistan's shrinking budget. The budget is in the civilian sphere of responsibility.
The Modi Administration has indicated that it does not want to see the sub-conventional side of the Pakistan Army's option package expanded. In order to make its view heard it has put the entire Indus Water Treaty (IWT) on the table. The Pakistan Army knows its option packages cannot change the lower riparian status of Pakistan. It has no counter to the Indian move to cut of meetings of the Permanent Commission. By pulling this move - India has basically openly said that the Pakistan Army is irrelevant to the Indo-Pak discourse. I am sure that attitude by India is making the Pakistan Army feel terrible.
Most of Pakistan's civilian leaders and a good number of Pakistan Army people rely on agricultural income. They need more water for their farms to be productive. That water can only come from India, and without the IWT's negotiation meetings, there is no scope of Pakistan getting that water. The civilians are not okay with that. As the water negotiations and distribution (managed by the Indus River System Authority - IRSA) are under civilian control, they feel that they have the last say on these matters.
The Army has a history of ignoring civilian inputs and so the civilians are being extremely forceful in telling the army to restructure its sub-conventional options package. The problem is that this intrudes on a topic that is firmly in the military domain.
From the Army's perspective - it doesn't have to take this behavior from the civilians. It can conduct a coup - seize control of the national budget and IRSA and then reorganize things the way it prefers it. The Pakistani political spectrum has shown itself to be quite malleable, for every defiant Nawaz Sharif, there is a pliant Imran Khan waiting in the wings.
As both the Pakistani civilian leadership and the Pakistan Army cast an eye on things in each others' possession - the friction between them increases and a coup draws nearer.
I am one of those people that believe that Pakistan will continue to see civilian regimes punctuated by military coups in the foreseeable future.
There is no room in that country to have a functional democracy and a powerful military - for one to live - the other must die and since a coup is much cheaper than a democratic revolution - the coup is inevitable.
Was someone important captured in the Indian Army cross border strikes?
The attack on the 46 RR camp in Baramulla was quite strange. RR camps are heavily defended and there is no reason to attack one or to even provoke attention from one. There is often no way to get to an RR camp without passing through a screening force made up of BSF and CPMF units. If you come near an RR camp or get withing line of sight with an RR patrol and they don't like you - then you are in for a lot of harassment.
Doing this at a time when tensions between the countries were so high didn't make a lot of sense to me. If anything the PA-ISI should have been asking its assets to go to sleep given the climate. What possible sense could there be in throwing away squads on hard targets like an RR camp?
Now it appears that the squad tasked to attack the camp encountered a screening force and that "woke up" the entire defense line around the camp. The element of surprise was lost. At this point - in a fashion completely out of sync with other other fedayeen attacks, the assault commander appears to have called off the attack. This says he wasn't keen on sending his men to die - the objective of the raid was not to kill people at the RR camp.
What is stranger still was that the attackers escaped and after the attack a Para-SF unit was called in to clear the area. This almost immediately suggested to me that the Indian Army felt the threat to the RR camp was quite severe, otherwise why bother with redeploying the local reserve to cope with the situation?
Nothing made sense to me until a few days ago, Banuk Zarina Baloch's twitter account
posted an image of a man in Indian Army custody. I do not know who the man is in this picture or if he is indeed the man photographed next to Hafiz Saeed, but if the images are accurate and it is the same person - we are looking at a very high level LeT asset who has been captured. Given the revolving door that exists between these groups and the ISI - this person is likely to be very close the ISI itself.
It is difficult to imagine why such a person would be near the border. Usually critical assets are placed far away from any situation where they could be compromised. This was the case with Tariq Aziz's son (Tariq Aziz was a civilian bureaucrat who was very close Gen. Musharraf). Tariq's son fell in with the Al-Badr Mujaheddin. Al-Badr acts as a kind of nodal body for United Jihad Council operations in Muzaffarabad. It attracts a large cadre of experienced and highly placed Jihad vets and usually played a major organizational role in the way the Jihad is actually conducted in Kashmir. At that time, it appears Tariq's son wanted to cross the LoC and go to India. This would put Tariq at great risk and so he was picked up from Al-Badr HQ and deposited back his father's care before he could do anything really dangerous.
I do not know how much faith I want to put in Zarina's image and what it suggests, but there have been sporadic reports of people being arrested in the Indian attacks on the "launch pads". If anyone of importance was captured, it is possible they would kept in the 46 RR camp for interrogation before being moved to Red Fort in New Delhi. Anyone arrested would traditionally have been moved to facilities like Haftchinar, Hariniwas and Fairview, but those were closed down in the last decade. I suppose an RR camp would be the perfect place to locate such a detention center - no one in their right minds would think of interfering with it.
The fact that someone in Pakistan would think it was a good idea to tangle with an RR camp suggests to me that there was something valuable inside the camp itself. Something valuable enough to risk expending a full fedayeen module. Add to this the fact the fedayeen squad commander chose not to press the attack and we have a very few options for what this was all about.
I think it is plausible that a high value asset was captured by the Indian Army in one of its recent operations and the asset was being detained at the Baramulla RR facilities.
Whoever this asset is, (I don't know if the person in Zarina's photo is that person) the ISI wants to get them back.
A submerged dynamic like this could emerge as a significant driver in the escalation.
Climbing the ladder
This situation is climbing up the ladder.
I don't know where things are going to go.
The Pakistanis went on a media offensive yesterday by trying to take reporters to locations that had nothing to do with the Indian strikes on the "launch pads". Again this is understandable - everyone knows they have to do something to save face. But this is NOT the time to sound belligerent.
It is important to note that a "launch pad" is not a "camp". There is no camping at a "Launch Pad". It is simply a way point where the infiltration team gathers before making the passage through the AIOS.
The pad is usually 2 km from the AIOS. There is no line of sight from any Indian post. So in this article
, when Mr. Rustam takes the NYT journalist to a place where Indian positions are visible - that is the *last* place where a "launch pad" would be located.
The pads are positioned in gaps between AIOS OP/LPs - precisely where local terrain breaks up the line of sight from the Indian posts. The usual launch pad is easier to access from the Pakistani side and difficult to approach from the Indian side.
When you lie that transparently - I don't know who is going to believe the Pakistanis when they deny that the attacks have happened.
The IA is claiming 20-30 dead per site and 7 sites in total. That puts the number of dead at around 200. That is a month's worth of infiltrators during the high (spring+summer+fall) season. I would be shocked if there was no drone footage and or if there was no collation team that accompanied the away teams. You can bet your bowl of nihari that there are photos and videos of the events. The away teams were on the ground for a hour or so - plenty of time to get proof of kill or validation and the drones would have flown and done damage assessment. The IA has a pile of data they can share with the world at a time and place of their choosing.
I think the seasonal totals during the worst periods of infiltration in the 90s were in the 2000-3000 per season range. Someone can dig up the number from SATP and IA sources for confirmation but the numbers haven't been that high in a decade. If the IA did effect 200 KIA in this raid - the infiltration season is over. There is going to be no push in October or November. You won't able to convince the Tanzeems to put up the men if all the PA guarantees is that they will be wiped out inside Pakistani territory - long before they actually cross the LoC. If these numbers are anywhere near correct, that is a big hit.
The logical thing at this time would be to go into force conservation mode and ask all assets to go to ground until the shitstorm blows over. But instead in this environment - the super-geniuses at Aabpara- ask their guys to go after an RR encampment. This is very stupid - there is no likelihood of making it through the BSF screening force. You might as well ask the seeded modules to shoot themselves and their UGW hosts - because that is about as effective as this is going to be.
Seriously - what are you people doing in I'bad? Have you completely lost your minds?