The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

26/11 and India’s response

It’s politics as usual in New Delhi, and no one seems to care

A year has gone by after the carnage in Mumbai that left over 190 people dead and hundreds injured.  In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, articles were written about the gaping holes in India’s internal security preparedness.

Recommendations put forth to the Indian government are all in public domain —  a tougher anti-terrorism law, a separate ministry for internal security, police reform, increasing NSG headcount and footprint, and enhancing India’s covert ops capabilityThe Filter Coffee also presented recommendations in the wake of the 26/11 attacks.

Of the recommendations made, Manmohan Singh’s government chose to make the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) central to its response to the holes in India’s internal security preparedness.  To be sure, the establishment of the NIA was an important move, because it addressed Centre-State jurisdiction issues that hitherto plagued the CBI.

However, the NIA’s mandate notwithstanding, nothing in public domain indicates any significant activity in the NIA, until 11 months and two weeks after November 26, 2008, when the NIA belatedly sprung into action, based on inputs from the FBI on David Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

In addition, by virtue of design, the NIA mostly addresses post-incident investigation and forensics.  Manmohan Singh’s government articulated little by way of detective and preventive enhancements to India’s internal security preparedness.

The bigger picture that needs to be examined on the first anniversary of 26/11 isn’t necessarily about specific structural and organizational changes, but about the government’s willingness (confidence?) to make public aberrations in its response to the terror attacks and how these can be addressed.

In the year following the World Trade Center attacks in the US, the Bush Administration constituted the 9/11 Commission to examine aspects of US’s response to the attacks as they unfolded, and make recommendations on how the US should proceed, going forward.  The US Department of Homeland Security was born out of these recommendations.

India deserved its 26/11 commission with a limitless mandate to examine our response to the attacks in Mumbai. Key aspects of the events of 26/11 require independent review.

These include incident-specific issues relating to governance and leadership such as  (a) How long it took to notify key stakeholders, such as the Prime Minister, NSA, intelligence services and ministers of Home Affairs and Defense, (b) The time it took for the relevant stakeholders to coordinate and assess the situation, (c) How long it took to authorize deployment of anti-terror units to the scene, and (d) Crisis management — who was coordinating what aspect of India’s responses.

The second aspect of the commission’s review should have entailed structural and organizational changes and enhancements, including those previously discussed.  Sadly, this government does not have the gumption to constitute such a comprehensive review of its responses to the 26/11 attacks.  This isn’t an assailment of the the UPA administration, it is an indictment of India’s petty political environment.

There are critical aspects of the attack that require further analysis — aspects that India is still uncovering, including the roles of Headley and Rana — and questions that no one seems to be able to answer, such as how a bunch of semi-literate people alien to Mumbai, were able to negotiate their way through the city’s conspicuous and inconspicuous landmarks, without local assistance.

This cannot be accomplished by adhocism or through token responses, such as establishing the NIA and deploying the NSG in some cities. One would have thought that the time was ripe for such a bold response, faced as the UPA is, with an ineffectual, embattled Opposition. Sadly, barring a few cosmetic rearrangements, not much has changed in India, and no one, least of all Mumbaikars seem to care.

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Filed under: 26/11, commandos, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, National Security Advisor, National Security Guard, NIA, Politics, POTA, south mumbai, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nuclear Arithmetic, Deterrent Calculus

K Santhanam sent the Indian media into a flutter with his statement that the thermonuclear device (Shakti-I) tested in 1998 during Pokhran II was not completely successful and did not produce the anticipated (and reported) yield of 40-45 kT.  He put this apparent failure in the context of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), advocating that we do not sign or ratify the treaty until India’s thermonuclear capability can be successfully demonstrated.

Notwithstanding denials from APJ Abdul Kalam, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, R Chidambaram and Brajesh Mishra, the vast differential in the reported vs. observed yield is no secret.  International nonpartisan sources, such as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) indicated 10  years ago that yield of Shakti-I was between 12-25 kT.  Indeed, Santhanam’s statements were also corroborated by both former AEC chairman PK Iyengar, and national security expert Bharat Karnad.

However, this admission does not change India’s nuclear posture much, either with regard to Pakistan or China.  Nuclear weapons are a deterrent force and Pakistan will neither be emboldened nor hindered by the admission of this yield differential, in the event that it is contemplating a nuclear attack against India, in the face of rapidly deteriorating circumstances during a conventional war.

A nuclear bomb is a nuclear bomb. Indeed, the credibility of Pakistan’s own nuclear tests in Chagai were marred by reports of a significant divergence between reported vs. observed yields.  While Pakistan reported tests of six nuclear devices (two in the kT range, and four in the sub-kT range) with a total yield exceeding 36 kT, nonpartisan sources indicate the May 28, 1998 tests produced a total yield of between 9-12 kT.

However, despite such reports, Pakistan’s arsenal consisting largely of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) acted as a very credible deterrent against possible Indian offensives across the LoC during Kargil.  Additionally, had Pakistan’s “diminished” nuclear capability been a factor, India’s responses to the December 13, 2001 Parliament attack and the recent 26/11 Mumbai attacks would have been very different indeed.

The nuclear calculus also doesn’t change much with regard to China.  India’s current nuclear posture continues to be incongruous to its “No First Strike” nuclear doctrine.  The nuclear triad, a corollary to the “minimum credible deterrence” and “No First Strike” policies remains unfulfilled, with two of three legs of the triad not currently being operational (with respect to China).  While India has taken the first step in the development of nuclear-powered submarines, the first of these, INS Arihant, will not be operational for sometime.

The most serious challenge to India’s “minimum credible deterrence” is its crippled missile program.  India’s longer range Agni-III IRBMs are as yet incapable of hitting strategic targets such as Beijing or Shanghai. The development, production and weaponization of the Surya-I and Surya-II ICBMs have experienced delays exceeding 10 years, as a result of high-technology denials by the US and the sloth-like inertia of DRDO.

Without true ICBM capability and bereft of an operational nuclear-powered submarine, India’s deterrence against Chinese aggression remains challenged; a 12 kT fission bomb or 50 megaton hydrogen bomb changes nothing under these circumstances.

The low yield of Shakti-I alters neither Pakistan’s perception of Indian retaliatory capability in the event of a Pakistani nuclear first strike, nor does it hurt any further, India’s credibility in being able to deploy nuclear payload to strategic targets in China, should the need arise.  Shakti-I changes nothing with regard to Pakistan; however, if looked through the prism of maintaining a credible deterrent against China, should reignite a debate  on the sorry state of India’s delivery systems and the credibility and logic behind our “No First Use” posture.

Filed under: China, India, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Nuclear Proliferation, nuclear weapons, Pakistan, Strategic Forces of India, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Ignominious Climbdown

The joint statement issued by Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani talks of de-linking action on terrorism from progress on the composite dialog process between India and Pakistan.  After months of belligerence and posturing, this is how it all ends.  In a climbdown most ignominious.  From no dialog without action against 26/11 perpetrators, to a mandate to only discuss state sponsored terrorism, to a surrender so meek, it would make the Saddam that emerged from the hole look like Samson.

The sharm in Sharm el-Sheikh means “bay” in Arabic; perhaps, in their enthusiasm to renew composite dialog with Pakistan, India’s diplomats were remiss in accurately translating the term, taking it instead for its literal meaning in Hindi.  Pakistan no longer has any reason to do anything substantive with regard to bringing the handlers of the 26/11 carnage to justice.  The Hafiz Saeed drama will continue, and Pakistan will weave such a tangled web of contradictory statements on any potential point of progress, that it will have India and its media in coils for long enough for any resolution of the issue to be meaningless.

The text of the joint statement also mentions Baluchistan in name, a reference to Pakistani allegations on India’s involvement in secessionist movements in that province.  Clearly, full marks for thinking outside the box.  Why stop there — India should have acquiesced to a blurb about the Indian mission in Jalalabad and to insinuations about anti-national movements in Sindh, and the humiliation would have been complete.

To be clear, the resumption of dialog between India and Pakistan is important.  Not only is it important, it is the only available course of action to India, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out.  After the months of inertia that plagued India’s initial demand for no-strings-attached action on 26/11,  there could have been but one outcome on the composite dialog at Sharm el-Sheikh.

A resolution on this could have been achieved pragmatically and honorably, without the need to strike such a mind boggling compromise.  Vague cases will be made that this issue will be quietly addressed through backroom diplomacy.  But backroom diplomacy on an issue as critical as this, if not backed up by public pressure to act will yield nothing.  Sustainable pressure to act on the issue, both on the UPA and on the Pakistani government will be absent.

De-linking terrorism from composite dialog creates two isuses.  One, it raises questions on the credibility of the composite dialog process itself, when the issue that is front-and-center of India-Pakistani relations is specifically excluded from it.  And second, it will comfort the terrorists and their sponsors in Islamabad that India’s capacity for punitive diplomatic/military action against them in the event of mounting terror attacks on Indian soil is effectively zero.  Deterrence is about inducing the fear of retribution in response to an attack.  In the case of India, our deterrence capability on the issue of terrorism, whose credibility was low to begin with, is now null and void.

It is time Manmohan Singh came clean with the Indian public on how his government will address Pakistan’s propensity to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India.  190 civilians from 10 countries, including India, died on November 26, 2008 at the hands of terrorists who were recruited and trained in Pakistan.  What we expected at Sharm el-Sheikh was a reiteration of commitment from Pakistan (to act against terror aimed at India) and from India (to ensure that Pakistan’s committment is carried through).  What we saw instead was India’s abject, quivering surrender.

Filed under: 26/11, Composite Dialog, Foreign Policy, India, indo-pak peace, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Terrorism, World, Yousaf Raza Gilani, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)