India is unlikely to resort to any military action, whether direct or indirect, against Pakistan to avenge the Uri terror attack in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed.
It seems that the military commanders have advised the Modi government against any "rash military action". Their rationale, it is understood, is that Pakistan at the moment is fully prepared to negate any such actions. The military commanders seem to suggest therefore that it is better to wait for a more opportune time to strike at the terrorists (including their top leaders) and terrorist camps in Pakistani or Pakistan-controlled territories. The standard phrase thus is "at a time of our choosing" for conducting such strikes or raids in a “graded, sequenced and synchronized” way.
In other words, the “hybrid wars” that Pakistan has imposed on India, of late, will remain unchallenged for some more time. "Hybrid war", a term popularised by the American strategic analyst Frank Hoffman, means multiple types of warfare being used simultaneously by the adversary. Here, it will engage in irregular warfare, often taking the help of the non-state actors in its territory, apart from preparing for the conventional war to serve its ends. And when one talks of the irregular war, it involves terrorist mercenaries, deadly criminals, drug-traffickers and insurgents etc. in the enemy country.
The idea here is to unleash indiscriminate violence (often communal), coercion and criminal disorder. At the strategic levels, hybrid wars ensure that there is a clear linkage between the regular and irregular (the so-called non-state actors); in fact, in many a case the distinction between them gets blurred. They are operationally integrated and tactically fused. In fact, under hybrid war, the warfare becomes quite unrestricted. Multiple means - military but more non-military - are used against the enemy. Hacking into websites, targeting financial institutions, terrorism, using the media, and conducting urban warfare are among the methods championed. There are no rules or norms of war; in fact nothing is forbidden.
These elements of hybrid war perfectly match Pakistan’s policies towards India. No wonder Pakistan did not find any role of Hafiz Saeed in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. It does not find anything wrong in Saeed’s relentless hate-speeches against India. Similarly this time too, it will not find any role of Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in the Uri attack.
Why is it that India is not able to wage such hybrid wars against Pakistan? What is it that India is lagging behind Pakistan in “sub-conventional war” capability (also called strategic asymmetry)? These are the questions the Modi government should mull over.
One often comes across India developing 'Special Forces' for carrying out surgical strikes in the neighbouring region if its national interests so dictate. But then the fact remains that we have too many of such 'Special Forces'. The first in the series came with the Special Frontier Force (SFF) or Establishment 22, a force raised post the 1962 Sino-Indian War with US help and manned by exiled Tibetans for “behind-enemy-lines activities” if the Chinese were to launch another invasion of India. Then, we had the “Meghdoot Force” raised in Army’s Western Command during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. The Army today has its “Para” (Special Forces). In course of time, the Navy and Air Force have built their respective special forces - Marine Commandos (MARCOS) of the Navy and Garud of the Air Force. Then, we have raised the National Security Guard (NSG).
However, the fact remains that despite having so many Special Forces, the only time they have been used outside the country (other than the United Nations operations) was in 1987 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, where all the then three Para (Commando) battalions in conjunction with MARCOS gave a good account of themselves. One is told that following 26/11 attacks on Mumbai in 2008, the then Air Force Chief Fali Homi Major had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he was prepared to strike inside Pakistan; but he could not do so because the intelligence services could not provide adequate digital data on Lashkar camps. Then Army chief Deepak Kapoor also demurred, saying the Army was not prepared for a brief surgical war. Remarkably, the Army speaks the same language even now.
Be that as it may, India is perhaps the only country whose Special Forces have no centralised command structure. We have a variety of Special Forces under varied chains of command ranging from Services Headquarters for Military Special Forces, NSG under the Ministry of Home Affairs, SFF under the Cabinet Secretariat. In early 1990s, the then Chief of Naval Staff had put up a proposal to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for integrating the Special Forces of the Services; but in vein. Proposals to put the NSG, particularly its Special Action Group (SAG), under the command the Army have also remained on paper. As a result, the variety of Indian Special Forces have little synergy, thereby failing to optimize their potent combat capabilities. And this is all the more surprising, given the fact that one of the reasons India bought six C-130 Hercules transport aircraft was for special-forces operations.
There have been speculations that the Modi government is about to give the green signal for the setting up a Special Operations Command (SOC) to counter terrorism and conduct unconventional warfare and covert operations in the country and the neighbourhood. The MoD has apparently approved the SOC in principle and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by the Prime Minister, is likely to give the final approval. Headed by a Lieutenant-General, the proposed command will report to the National Security Advisor (NSA) and work closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as the commandos may have to carry out strategic strikes outside Indian boundaries.
In fact, this proposal predates to the UPA government which had set up the 14-member Naresh Chandra Taskforce on National Security. The Taskforce in its recommendations submitted to the Prime Minister in 2012 had suggested setting up three commands, including Special Operations, Cyber and Aerospace, to keep abreast with the fast changing nature of war fighting. The Cyber command is supposed to be headed by a Vice Admiral and the Aerospace command will be managed by an Air Marshall. Once put in shape, the Special Operations Command will see the integration of the commandos of Special Forces of the Army, MARCOS of the Navy and Garud of IAF. They will deal with "out of area" contingencies.
While, personally, I am in favour of the creation of the SOC, it will be little unrealistic to expect that it will deliver results in near future. In my considered view, the SOC will have teething problems and it will take years for becoming effective. All said, if the US Navy Seals succeeded in conducting an Abottabad type operation that killed Osama bin Laden, it was because the CIA provided adequate intelligence inputs for the operation. In contrast, India's intelligence capabilities are quite limited, the contrary claims of the Research Analysis wing (RAW) notwithstanding. Another thing we should be realistic about is that we simply do not have the technological assets that the US has for these operations. We have then huge political constraints in the sense that our political class is not reputed for taking hard decisions, particularly when it pertains to launching cross-border commando raids.
Here one would like to quote novelist Aravind Adiga, who is really apt in describing what our leaders say regarding New Delhi’s response to the next major terrorist strike: “The government will immediately threaten to attack Pakistan, then realise that it cannot do so without risking nuclear war, and finally beg the US to do something. Once it is clear that the government has failed on every front – military, tactical and diplomatic – against the terrorists, senior ministers will appear on television and promise that, next time, they will be prepared and teach Pakistan a lesson.”
This being the case, the only thing India can do effectively, and it seems to be doing so, is to isolate Pakistan internationally by launching a series of diplomatic offensives. The very fact that Russia has called off its joint military exercise with Pakistan is a victory for Indian diplomacy.