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.