Tuesday, October 11, 2016

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.


At 10:00 PM, Blogger Wise_Ass said...

Off topic,it seems odd you have not covered Ishrat Jahan encounter controversy since you follow
these type of intelligence/special operations thingy very closely.Would love to know your thoughts on that.Especially since it is alleged PC,Sibal,Ahmed Patel conspired to fix an IB special director who refused to go along

At 5:40 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Sorry for the delay in replying.

It is odd you should bring this up today as just today morning I was thinking about the Ishrat Jehan case. Thank you for the video, I had not seen it.

Perhaps it is time to share my observations on that dark episode in India's national security history.

I have never been convinced that a real threat existed to Chief Minister Modi's life after the Godhra-Ahmedabad cycle. I know that several Pakistan based terror groups like LeT articulated a desire to kill Sri. Modi in the media and but I do not think there was any substance to it.

Based on the letters written by former IGP Vanzara, it appears that the political machine close to Sri. Modi concluded that a threat must exist and they petitioned the Gujurat SIB to carry out the necessary operations to contain the threat. The bulk of this process started and ended with Sri. Amit Shah, who was in a position to channel such influence, but I don't know who he was taking orders from - although anyone can have guesses about that.

Based on the reports of various inquiries conducted into the events that followed, it appears the Gujurat SIB initiated a number of "double-cross" type provocation operations. These operations deliberately seeded low level agents into Pakistan and sought to bring LeT modules into India with the express aim of "killing Sri. Modi". Once the modules made landfall in India, the Gujurat ATS moved to eliminate them and to maintain the credibility of the entire process the low level assets were also eliminated.

These "double-cross" operations carry great moral hazards with them. In such an operation the state is practically sponsoring terrorism in its own land and against its own people. If the government agent embedded in this conspiracy cannot act in time to foil the attack then the government has essentially perpetrated a terrorist attack on its own soil. This is "Droh Kaal" territory - extreme moral hazard - you only do this kind of shit if you are desperate.

In the movie Droh Kaal - DSP Abbas Lodhi and DCP Abhay Singh lose control of their assets in Operation Dhanush. This is not entirely a fictional affair. Reality has its way of finding a reflection in the film.


At 5:40 AM, Blogger maverick said...

contd from above

From what David Headley has testified under oath, it appears that LeT leadership did not take these shallow penetration agents seriously and no critical elements of the LeT's strike forces were ever exposed to these double-cross efforts. Despite repeated attempts the LeT's response was nominal - they even put a complete novice in charge of these operations. This suggests to me that the LeT saw right past the shallow penetration agents and didn't want to expend any real resources on the mission to kill Sri. Modi.

I found this double cross process initiated by Gujurat SIB extremely wasteful. I see this as a serious overuse of the double cross technique by Gujarat SIB under Jt. Dir. Sri. Rajendra Kumar. In the Ishrat Jahan encounter alone it appears the Gujarat SIB burned through 5 resources (Asad C1, Owais C2, Javabhai, Meraj Idris, and Javed Sheikh/Pranesh Pillai). If this was the rate at which they burned through people - it will be very difficult for the Gujarat SIB to run any operations against the Lashkar with any degree of confidence.

I understand that these things happen from time to time everywhere. The intelligence machinery goes into overdrive in response to a political pressure point but I don't see this a positive thing. I can only hope this doesn't repeat at the national level - though it is difficult to see that happening given how much experience the national level people typically have in those things. It is easier to make such mistakes at the SIB level - a lot harder to screw up like this at the national level.

I have always been willing to give Gujurat SIB the benefit of the doubt. The leadership there was operating outside its area of expertise and clearly they were blind to the realities that come with this kind of work. A more experienced group of people would not have botched it this badly.

I guess you could say that there is a balance between aggression and restraint and if you don't hit the correct level of both - you end up in a bad way.

I am sure that Retired Director Rajendra Kumar has a lot to say. I am certain some people will find him very credible.

There is little he can say that will change my perspective on the events past.


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