Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The attack at PTC Quetta

A massive terrorist strike has occurred at Police Training College Quetta. A fidayeen squad targeted the facility and several dozen cadets were killed. The police are presently blaming this atrocity on the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-al-Alami [1] which they allege is working out of Afghanistan.  As I was writing this post - IS claimed responsibility for the attack [2,3].

I can never find a clear thread in these events in Pakistan but here are some things I have noted.

The Pakistan Army relies on a very complex  relationship with Jihadi groups to secure its "sub-conventional" options vis-a-vis India. There seems to be a dedicated apparat which handles this relationship and for organizational purposes, the apparat divides the  Jihadi groups into ones that will take money and do what they are told and ones that won't. The latter are publicly identified as enemies-of-Pakistan and are usually lumped with India in the Pakistani media discourse.

Most Jihadi groups that operate inside Pakistan limit the attacks to the security forces. The aim is to avoid alienating the population at large which serves as a manpower reserve and psychological support mechanism. Killing civilians is not something the Jihadi groups vie to take credit for. The same is not true for attacks on security forces. If the attack is very successful, then there is a kind of competition to take credit for the attack. Any claim of responsibility is usually linked to something the  security forces did.

There are numerous reports of IS penetration of Jihadi groups inside Pakistan. It is not entirely impossible that the Pakistan Army may be facing some competitive pressure from the Islamic State brand on the financial offers it makes to various groups. Such a competitive bidding process would doubtlessly lead to a massive surge in terror attacks inside Pakistan. As the IS operation in Mosul winds down, there is likely to be a spread of IS operations and spectaculars anywhere.


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Wise_Ass said...

Can we(Indians) do to Pak like what Pak does to us without hardwork of setting up fully fledged terror-factory ecosystem(madrassas etc).I have read somewhere Israelis build fully fledged fake madrassas&maulavis to radicalize for their own provoke operations.Just bid higher like Doval said in his famous talk?Afghans can definitely help but dont know they would like to stir jihad hornet's nest again.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger maverick said...

The funny thing about provocation operations is that if you talk about them - you permanently swear off any benefits that might come from actually doing them.

I think Sri. Doval's public talk on the issue was reminiscent of the way in which things are typically done in India. By talking about it - he completely shut down all ideas about actually doing anything. That single act saved a ton of resources.

India's national security machinery is predominantly focused on self-defense. The border is so large, so porous and the population is so diverse - that there are almost no resources available for purely offensive operations. That is why he had to discuss it as "offensive-defence". Fantastic notions like the one referred to by Sri. Doval are popular in the lay press. It is like me dreaming of owning a Bugatti Veyron - fine as fantasy but not impractical in reality. I don't think most people got what he was actually saying, which is fine - most people don't have any comprehension of these issues anyway.

It is possible to do a one-off action like that. That is expensive but always possible. But then such one-offs are rarely sustainable. Long term costs are always unacceptable.

Even in 1971, the Indian approach to the situation was so minimalistic, that it was a challenge to get anything done. Neither Madam nor Gen. Maneckshaw were keen on occupying the area for any length of time. The entire process was set up to simply disable the Pakistan Army and facilitate the takeover of the democratically elected government of Sheikh Mujib. That is minimalism for you.

I have long felt that the ISI baksheesh system is nonviable in the long term. In Afghanistan, the ISI was making money by charging a premium on opiate transit and refining. As long as the payoff from the transit and refining was greater than the revenue from the upstream cultivation, the ISI could afford to pay the Tanzeems to do its bidding. If the cash available from the upstream business became comparable to or higher than the downstream business - the ISI would end up in bidding wars. The moment any order stabilized in Afghanistan (whether Taliban dominated or US-friendly or Russia friendly) - the Pakistanis were basically screwed.

When the Sri. B. Raman was alive people used to talk about activating a dormant sub-conventional option inside Pakistan. But that too I feel was talk. My only contribution to such discussions was to remind everyone that the option had been rendered dormant in 1997 by Prime Minister Gujral and that it was unlikely to be operable at this time. The agents would be too old to be effective.

On the balance of it - I feel India is better off without getting into those kinds of things. Those actions IMO carry an unacceptable moral hazard. It is difficult for a democratic society as open and as transparent as India to carry such risks for long periods of time.

At 3:15 AM, Blogger Wise_Ass said...

I respect the moral hazard point of view.But we see today this is tying us down like even water-boarding is forbidden on hardened terrorists&5th column HR orgs like CAGE is bullying law enforcement into reparation to convicted terrorists in UK.US was doing leisurely bombing of IS like couple of mortar positions,couple of machine gun fortifications with an average of 10 sorties per day with absolutely no effect for years.Then comes Russia,systematically,cost effectively bombs hospitals,aid convoys,double tap bombing of two-faced aid workers like "white helmets",oil trucks,cluster bombs&TOS-1s whole blocs and overnight changing tide of war within months!Shouldnt there be a balance between conventional morality and just play to win!I like the re-think going on like Trump&Ted Cruz who says they will bring back torture to extract time-sensitive information from hardened terrorists and kill families for deterrence.I personally dont buy that we are "better" than terrorists.Islamist terrorists have their values,we have our values which we value greatly but paradoxically we have to violate some items to survive and reduce costs of security!I'm sure we can maintain our lifestyle and freedom,but brutal&ruthless when we have to!

With respect to Pakistan,even if they capitulate and go back to being peaceful tommorrow,what about 100,000+ people killed in insurgency,terrorism inflicted by Pakistan on India.What message are we giving to other neighbouring states?Dont you think we should make a horrible example out it as deterrence to others?I'm sure Islamic terrorism is going to go on couple of decades more and Pakistan is going to ride the tiger as long as it can anyway.So shouldnt we get on the train and redirect some of that to Pakjab and drown them in blood?

"Doval sought to explain the dilemma one faces between “individual morality” and the “value system of the state”. The state is necessary. “If it is necessary, protecting itself will be its supreme role. Individual morality cannot be inflicted on the larger interest of society. The nation will have to take recourse to all means to protect itself. And in this, it cannot afford to subjugate what is in its long-term interest.”Should there be clash of values, the higher values (of the state) is selfless(ness)”.http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/the-doval-doctrine/article7800194.ece"

At 5:16 AM, Blogger maverick said...

IIRC individual morality has always been distinct from the value system of a state. There is really nothing to comment on as that issues goes. A nation always reserves the right to protect itself by any means possible.

The more critical aspect here, IMO - is that the what accountability do the officers of the state have when they initiate a policy that puts them in contravention of established norms or laws of the land and the world. This where the rubber hits the road on the moral hazard side.

With accountability mechanisms kicking in on a global scale in some cases long after the incidents have occurred, one is faced with a dilemma. While actions inside the borders are sufficiently protected by the laws of the land, outside one's borders - there is no real protection from a legal process. Whether Henry Kissenger recognizes the validity of the legal process that seeks to bring him before a court - but the arrest warrants just keep piling up. All it takes is one of your opponents gaining power and then you are not safe even in your own country.

A related concept is blowback. India has already seen the effects of such a process in the case of the Tamil Tigers. This was by no means an ill-willed affair - the support extended to the Sri Lankan Tamil was intended to prevent a genocide (just like it was in 1971) - but New Delhi lost control of the operation and hundreds of Indians (including the man who actually lost control) lost their life. That is blowback for you.

No one in India wants to be subject to that kind of thing. And in this age of surveillance where nothing is really secure, it makes little sense to get mixed up in something this toxic.

The closest I think India came to a reciprocity policy was when a certain Indian diplomat would handover a bag of cash to some people in Karachi whenever there was a major incident in Indian Punjab. This was all during the late 80s but even then there was no specific direction given to the recipients of the cash. If they chose to commit criminal acts, there was no connection to India there - India was merely providing moral.

The reciprocity policy has always been an orphan in India. I don't think that is about to change. Idle musings at conferences and public speaking events aside - there is no real interest in pursuing this option at any level. Again - a one-off is always possible - but given how much effort goes into seeding deep cover agents or illegals and their value as information sources - it is very wasteful to use that capacity for killing random women and children. This makes a systemic reciprocity framework uneconomical.

At 6:21 AM, Blogger maverick said...

I guess the legal challenge and blowback are part of the same accountability process. They are just sourced to different parties in the transactions.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger maverick said...

The reference to Trump and Putin is interesting. It alludes to the lack of belief in accountability that is necessary to action such a reciprocity process.

Only a person who feels they are not accountable to anyone will initiate such a process.

That is not where India is today.

People talk about this kind of thing - but no one actually acts on those thoughts.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger maverick said...

>> Dont you think we should make a horrible example out it as deterrence to others?

No - I don't because that is not how (AFAIK) things work. It is never a good idea to go down this line of thought.

Deterrence doesn't work against irrational actors. As long as a deeply irrational impulse remains - these things will keep happening. It is just a question of how much one lets it derail a nation's agenda.

Take the Israelis for example, all that time pursuing aggressive counter-terror strategies has not resulted in an end to terrorism inside Israel. Every hole the IDF plugs simply opens a new hole.

In Pakistan - they are caught in a spiral. As long as they hate India - they will keep supporting these groups. As long as they keep supporting these groups - these groups will keep ripping their innards to shreds. Everyday that Pakistan flirts with its anti-India obsession, is a day it draws closer to complete collapse. There is nothing anyone can do about this.

In India there is very little room to let things slide. If India goes down the same route as Pakistan - i.e. invests heavily in hostility towards its opponent, it too will be drawn into that bottomless pit of hatred. Once the social animus is released from its chains - it will do what it does and that will drain what precious resources are available for India's development.

In the US, hubris leads people to believe there is more room than reality permits. If the US gets drawn into the Syrian civil war, it will find itself in another unproductive Middle Eastern war. I think everyone has had enough of those. Trump and Cruz can talk all they want, no one is going to give them carte blanche to pursue such open-ended affairs.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger Wise_Ass said...

I'm afraid Israel is a good example of tit-for-tat working AND it is NOW a bad example because it has become a soft state and is not prepared to do what needs to be done.We can see from last Hezbollah war&even Hamas war,Israel gone complete force protection mode trying to protect each soldier and also maximize caution to reduce civilian causalities on enemy side.
The Dubai hit,was obnoxiously over-cautious,over-elaborate and blew up it's face.Even half-hearted punishing of Hamas/Hezbollah have lead to partial deterrence.Now violence is largely crowd sourced by Fatah-propaganda&Islamic State inspiration.

I think what we think of as irrational is a different "need hierarchy pyramid" because of different weightage to values like honour etc.You can of course deter so-called irrational actors by mapping their need hierarchy pyramid and endanger crucial ones.In Islamist terrorists,that would be family/clan ties and hence need to target their narrative, honour,families and women.In Pakistan case,that would be target brigadier rank and above.In case of mainland attacks like 26/11,their families and children!Just a thought!

At 4:11 AM, Blogger Wise_Ass said...

During interrogation, Akhtar said that he was posted in the Pakistan High Commission here since about two-and-a-half years and was working in visa section, according to police.
He said that he is on deputation to Pak ISI since January 2013 and is a serving Hawaldar of 40 Baloch Regiment of Pakistan army and native of village Kahuta, Rawalpindi district, added the officer. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/pakistan-high-commission-staffer-detained-for-espionage-3105387/

At 5:17 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear WiseAss,

In my view Israel proves that once you have done it all - you still have terrorism.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the moral aspects of this is that you have young Israelis wondering how different the current Israeli policy with the Palestinians differs from the Nazi policies of the 1930s. I am referring of course to the theme of Yair Golan's speech. Such a speech would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.

I am always conflicted about the Israelis, I greatly admire their resolve, but at the same time I can't help wondering if there isn't an easier way of doing this?

When I think of the Israelis - I feel that there is such a thing as being too aggressive.

At 5:26 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Also - a rationality that is uncommunicative (however it may be structured) is essentially irrational from the perspective of the observer. What is true for us and their rationality is also true for them and our rationality.

They are committing these acts under the notion of rationality we do not recognize. In their minds they are conducting reciprocal actions but we interpret their actions as incoherent violence. The same logic will apply if we attempt to use deterrence against these terrorists. They do not recognize our definitions of rationality and they will simply interpret aggressive actions as incoherent acts of violence.

A historical example of this is the US operation in Laos during the Vietnam war. The US saw operations in Laos as a critical security measure to protect its flank in Vietnam, the rest of the world (and the Laotians) saw it as terrorism. There is no other word for mining and bombing a country that you are not actually at war with. The US knows this and only a handful of Americans can come to face it. That is why the issue is swept under the carpet in public discourse about any war.

If certain thresholds are crossed the threat will appear existential. The result will be a massive escalation with no capping point.

I don't think it is worthwhile getting drawn into something toxic like that.

It may be easier to simply accept Elon Musk's vision of colonizing Mars as a global aspiration and ask all these willing-to-die-for-a-cause people to sign up as astronauts for the one-way-trips. At least then we can say we are one world working towards one goal.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Nanana said...


Menon reiterates what you have been saying. On Pak, there is no solution, and we need to be patient. Unsatisfying, but there it is.

At 5:18 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Yes - I saw that.

One small correction though. The echo mirrors the voice - not the other way around.

If you have the time - go back through the posts I made around 26/11 and this will become even clearer.

At 5:20 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Sri Menon exemplifies why I feel security affairs should remain the realm of professionals who have spent their lives on it.

It is important to have public debate in a democracy but the exact contours of national security policy is really only the domain of specific experts and that part cannot be crowd sourced (sorry Pirate Party of Iceland).

At 5:34 AM, Blogger maverick said...

One thought I want to get out there is perhaps India should consider establishing a Psychological Strategy Board focused on radicalization inside Pakistani society. Composed of eminent scholars in the sociology and human psychology, it can offer meaningful insights into the functioning of the toxic anti-India thought process inside Pakistan.

Right now a crude version of this entity exists, but making it a formal affair will IMO benefit India greatly.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger Wise_Ass said...

"On Pak, there is no solution, and we need to be patient" etc argument is laziness&political cowardice masquerading as "wisdom&high thinking",that is perhaps why Bhagwan put it front centre in Bhagavat Gita and ridiculed it.Ofcourse we have levers with Pakistan even without going to war like building infrastructure to redirect rivers to army Afghanistan Army to the teeth with billions of dollars.Also modernizing Afghanistan mentality is easy and will happen over a generation as their population is so low.This will have a trickle down effect in Pak's tribal areas.Modi is finally using those levers and it will bear to fruit in few years.Of course,our feckless leaders like Nehru with brown sahib mentality and no national consciousness frittered it away leading Pakis to conclude we are pushovers.Not anymore.

At 5:50 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Wise_Ass,

I fear one is trying to do too much in one step. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. When one tries to do too much one inevitably fails to get anything done right.

If we separate the psychological strategy aspect from the executive action aspect - perhaps a clearer pathway will emerge through this.

As both the psychological strategy and the executive action aspects are really in the realm of experts with detailed knowledge of such field, we can leave to their work and get on with our lives in peace.

Clearly Pakistan based terror is a major problem for India. As this terror is a byproduct of several toxic processes inside Pakistan - a wider approach is need to confront all aspects of the core problem.

IMO (again I am no expert on human psychology or sociology) Pakistan's sponsorship of anti-India terrorism has to do with a deep seated hostility towards India. The common man in Pakistan is convinced due to religious and national influences that India is an enemy bent on Pakistan's destruction. The Pakistan Army is convinced that it cannot defend Pakistan without supporting terrorists and that Pakistan cannot hold together without a religious straight-jacket holding it all in.

How to wean a population off such sentiments is a difficult exercise.

Half-thought out measures will likely produce paradoxical outcomes.

As I indicated earlier - the voice and its echo are separate. I cannot claim to be the voice, I can lay some claim to being the echo. That said I do plead (as the voice would) for a more restrained and reasoned approach to these topics in public debate.

I think if one over-extends oneself, one sets oneself up for a massive failure.

The interpretation of the Srimad Bhagwatgita is a deeply personal affair. Perhaps that is why so many on both sides of this debate quote liberally from it. I for one refrain from commenting on anyone's interpretation I can only reiterate what others have said in this context - it is easy to misinterpret these documents and pass off delusions as vision.

Nothing is easy.


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