Thursday, December 4, 2008

Update: Consequences of the Mumbai Attacks - guest post by MarkL

Kill Team Tactics

We have now seen the first of the ‘new standard format’ of terrorist attacks, two-man kill teams mimicking standard ADF two-man infantry tactics. The problem with this is from the counter-terrorist side is that it is infinitely scalable, and that the traditional ‘police’ response is quite useless. Police are civilians. They can and will refuse to engage kill teams with their own pistols, just as they did in Mumbai: and in honesty they are not trained for that role. The only effective response is to either have the Army doing routine armed patrols of our cities, or to arm the citizens, who can then protect the civilians as they protect themselves. Note the careful delineation between citizen and civilian here.

Why is this the new standard format? Because it cannot be viewed as a random event. Bombings are not as psychologically shocking as the use of kill teams. A bombing can be likened to an industrial accident – a random event. But kill teams are hunting civilians down over a much more extended time. This is far more effective as it cannot be written off as a random event.

While the MSM obsesses with irrelevant trivia like who the ‘Deccan Mujahideen’ might be (who cares? That they are muslims who targeted all non-muslims is all that matters), they are ignoring the things that really, really matter.

Between a Rock and Hard Place

The geo-strategic situation in South Asia is now in flux. The Indian Congress party government has consistently taken short term measures and is now being attacked as ‘soft on terrorism’ and responsible for Mumbai. It must react strongly or farewell any hope at the next elections. The BJP is already running an advertising campaign on this basis.

So Congress has to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan, whence came the muslim terrorists. But unlike 2001, Pakistan is as fragile as spun glass. A strong Indian response (which it is electoral suicide for Congress not to do) can easily shatter the Pakistani state, with bad consequences for NATO actions in Afghanistan. So the crisis has already drawn in the USA. The Bush Administration handled 2002 brilliantly, but things have changed now. Condolezza’s Rice’s visit may well prove futile – the USA has little to offer.

We know that the terrorist attack included Pakistanis and was based from Pakistan, also using Islamist terrorist groups operating in India. It is also obvious that t this was a carefully planned, well-executed attack. While its precise outcomes could not be predicted by the instigators, all possible outcomes benefit the islamists.

For example, the Indian government has two realistic choices.

It can simply blame domestic terrorists and get blamed for the failure to protect the public: a failure of enormous proportions in security and law enforcement. That means a BJP government at the next election.

It can link the attack to Pakistan, holding a foreign nation-state responsible and therefore using the crisis atmosphere to head off the BJP by strengthening Congress’s internal position. Politically, this is what they must do, but this move runs a high risk of war with Pakistan.

This line of action will plunge India and Pakistan into the worst crisis they have had since 2002 when only deft and muscular action by the Bush Administration prevented (possibly nuclear) war.

If Delhi blames Islamabad and moves troops to the border, Islamabad has two choices. They accede to Indian demands to ‘do something about muslim and Kashmiri terrorists’, or they move troops to the border by stripping out some of the 100,000 (of their 450,000) troops on the northern border. That eases pressure on the Taliban, a win for the islamists.

It already appears that the incoming U.S. President-elect Obama is already following President Bush’s old guidebook on pressuring Islamabad to force greater cooperation from Pakistan. This is a grave mistake, because things have changed, as the Bush Administration is trying to tell the new proto-Administration.

There is a new problem that the ‘Obamessiah’ does not appear to understand. Pakistan today is much weaker than in 2001-2002. A weak and massively fractured civilian government is in charge and the Pakistan Army is overstretched. However, the civilian leadership lacks credibility and the Army and ISI are battling each other while both are refusing to acknowledge civilian primacy. The economy is bankrupt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan only covers half the problem and has politically explosive conditions attached. IMF remedies like slashing defence spending and phasing out subsidies will enrage the military, ISA and population. A perfect storm with a coup is certainly on the cards. This may be the a way to curb the military in the long term and keep the civilians in power should the Army or ISI trigger a war with India that sees them crushed. However, the chance of a civilian government surviving that event is also low.

So Islamabad is in a nutcracker vastly worse than in 2002. That was a near-nuclear confrontation, in which the United States brokered a stand-down in return for intensified Pakistani pressure on the terrorists. While that crisis helped redefine the Pakistani position on local muslim extremists a similar move now may well collapse the Pakistani state. After all, present demands are even more intense. The Indians and Americans will have a joint interest in forcing Islamabad to act decisively and fast – but it cannot. India must have a guarantee that such attacks will not re-occur. The only way to get the guarantee is Indian dominance of the Pakistani security apparatus, a clear impossibility.

Islamabad has told Washington and Delhi that such pressure may well break the Pakistani state – but Delhi cannot wind back on the pressure and Washington must respond to a chance to obtain major concessions in Pakistan’s north. India must refuse any effort by Washington to ‘go easy’ on Pakistan because to accept it means that India is accepting all the risk of future Mumbai-style attacks while Washington bears no such risk. This is unacceptable to Delhi. Both acknowledge the risks, but both are constrained by realities on the ground.

So Islamabad has no control and massive destabilisation is probable – a bad thing with any nuclear power. If this situation ends badly with Pakistan fracturing and a war, the options become quite grim. The least-worst outcome would be a coup inside Pakistan, and a bloodily ruthless purge by the Army of both the ISI and their muslim extremist allies. The worst outcome is a regional war escalating towards nuclear exchange which would obliterate Pakistan and massively damage India. This might even trigger a muslim uprising in India. While they’d lose, the communal horror would be unspeakable. The danger to Indian democracy is so grave as to make any person shrink from such an appalling possibility. But this is the road the terrorist attack has forced Delhi, Islamabad and Washington to walk.

No matter what the outcome, the islamists can only benefit. In this light, the Mumbai attack was a wildcard operation of great strategic sophistication. The islamists have voted with their guns, and they have voted for a situation where they cannot lose irrespective of how much blood gets spilled.

The world is a dangerous place. Actors like these terrorists sharpen the dangers considerably. It is difficult to see how either a war or a coup inside Pakistan can be avoided.

*** Update: Apologies, I didn't realise that there was more to the post. Please forgive me, MarkL.


bruce said...

Pakistan has always de facto been ruled by its army - the Pakistan 'state' is the army at both local and national levels. The strength of the army has been about the same through 60 years of its history, as strong now as it ever was. There is no 'weakness' except when the army is under direct attack or unable to establish itself in an area - that only affects the northwest tribal lands.

India's police were powerless against the terrorists but the 'elite' special squad was fairly effective. The main complaint has been that it took them 8 hrs to get to Mumbai. Next time they will be a lot quicker, no doubt.

Technically the Mumbai attacks were new, but similar things occur fairly frequently. More people have died in recent decades in Mumbai itself in riots with sticks and swords. Heavily armed gangs rampage across the countryside terrorising villages. Usually the poor suffer, this time it was a lot of the rich as well. And westerners en masse were targetted, that's new.

Pakistan is feeling the pressure and that is good. At least now they cannot make excuses as they always did before, with US support unfortunately. They know they have well and truly lost that US (State Dept) support now, that is something new.

As for the election cycle, Congress was already looking exhausted before Mumbai. It will soon be BJP's turn to rule anyway, as they did from 1998 to 2004. Perhaps this time they will have Narendra Modi as PM, a volatile option, but he is for economic development and middle class growth which tempers his extremism.

bruce said...

In March 1985 my wife and I flew into India (our first trip together) on Air India's 'Kanishka'. 3 months later that same plane was blown out of the sky over the North Atlantic with the loss of all 329 on board.

It was probably because of this guy

who was the 'Osama' of the 1980's. He was likely to some degree supported by Pakistan's ISI, who appear to be at some level bent on Reconquest of India to rule it again like their Mughal ancestors. Kashmir is part of that 'plan'.

Ralph Peters brilliantly guesses this motive to be the meaning of otherwise cryptic 'Deccan' name.

Peters has a good grasp of the issues:

Stevo said...

no comment on what you've said, other than i'm curious why none of my friends and work colleagues have discussed this latest muslim murderous mayhem ... the response is disappointing ... india isn't that far away ... i had a schoolmate stubby die there ... thanks for the post markl and kae ...

kae said...

Hi Stevo.
Sorry to hear about your friend.
That's close, a lot less than six degrees of separation.

bruce said...

The extra bits don't make the piece any more convincing, Kae.

For example: "This might even trigger a muslim uprising in India. While they’d lose, the communal horror would be unspeakable."

Unspeakable: would 1-2 million dead qualify? Already happened in 1948:

People have been making these kind of observations of imminent doom in South Asia for generations, 50 and more years. India's an impossible place for outsiders to understand. I've built up my knowledge from 30 yrs on the ground and studying with one of the most experienced 20th century observers of Indian political affairs: Robert W Stern

I've even offered my skills to ASIO but no takers, oh well.

I'd be happy to discuss all this with MarkL. I'll send you my email, Kae, so he can contact me.

MarkL said...

Bruce: Sure, 1947-48 occurred, and many others besides including in East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh.

The issue I'm driving at here is not some prediction of apocalypse, but on the limited room to manoeuvre available to Islamabad, Washington and Delhi as compared to 2001-2002.

No matter which path is chosen by the main players here, the radicals will derive some benefit from it. That is the central point behind this.

Now, as you'll note, Islamabad has decided to conduct an internal security crackdown, a sensible choice - indeed probably the best choice they could have made in the circumstances - but one with specified dangers. Specifically, it will force closer cooperation between radicals, some of the major criminal gangs, and some elements of the ISA (and other elements within government allied to the islamists).

So the main point is now being illustrated: irrespective of courses of action, some benefits will accrue to the islamists.