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OPED | Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Print | Close

Waging war on Taliban

Hiranmay Karlekar

Whether Pakistan wins or not, India stands to lose

New Delhi needs to work out its response to either of the two outcomes the Pakistani Army’s ongoing offensive against the Taliban can have — failure or success. Failure may not manifest itself in the form of a defeated Pakistani Army suing for peace but the current offensive losing its steam and the Taliban regrouping and coming back to the areas from which they have been expelled. This would in effect mean a return to the pre-offensive situation in these where Taliban had terrorised the population and imposed a savage, medieval order with the Army and the Government watching passively. The possibility can hardly be ruled out given the way in which the offensives in Swat and Buner, which began on April 28 and May 8, 2009 respectively, have proceeded. In both districts of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, the military’s early claims of success and predictions of a quick rout of the Taliban have been repeatedly belied. Clashes continue even now.

Should the offensive fail, the jihadi elements, who have a substantial presence in Pakistan’s Army and principal intelligence/covert operations agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, and who are now lying low, will begin to reassert themselves. The modernist and professional elements spearheading the current offensive under the leadership of the Chief of Army Staff, General Parvez Ashraf Kayani, will be thoroughly demoralised. In such a situation, it will be a matter of time before the Taliban take over the country and gain access to its nuclear arsenal. For India, this will trigger a steep escalation in Islamabad’s proxy war against it through the instrumentality of terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which remain very much intact despite being formally banned.

The failure of the Pakistani Army’s offensive may also be followed by direct military intervention, by way of an extension of the war in Afghanistan, by the United States and allied countries, against a Taliban takeover of Pakistan. For, neither the US, nor countries like the Soviet Union, Britain, and even China, can fail to realise that such a takeover would mean Pakistan turning into an Al Qaeda base and the staging ground of terrorist strikes, backed by nuclear blackmail, all over the world, and posing an immediate survival threat to the regime in Afghanistan.

Should the Pakistani Army’s offensive succeed, Islamabad will demand form Washington, as a reward for services rendered against a common enemy, US pressure on India for a settlement of the Kashmir issue in its favour. To force Washington’s hand, it may step up sharply its unconventional war against this country and hold up the bogey of a nuclear conflict should India react sharply. Judging by Washington’s traditional weakness for Islamabad and the way the Obama Administration has showered it with aid, Pakistan may well have its way. Thus, whichever way the offensive goes, India must prepare to face a sharp escalation of Pakistan’s unconventional war against it and must focus on two aspects.

The first is reinforcing the institutional and operational infrastructure to combat terrorism. It has implemented and is in the process of implementing, a number of important measures planned in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Mumbai on November 26 last year. These cover a wide range from reinforcing coastal security, to the setting up of hubs for the National Security Guards in cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad, the creation of a National Investigation Agency and a tightening up of anti-terrorism laws, but are essentially defensive in nature. Terrorism can never be combated successfully without inflicting an unbearably high cost on those perpetrating it. India has so far been trying to do so primarily through diplomatic means, which have not worked the way New Delhi had wished. This leaves it with unconventional warfare, in which India must acquire deterrent capability, including that of staging a 26/11 type of attack on a city like Karachi.

Simultaneously, New Delhi must consider what it should do to ensure that the major war next door, which will follow if the US and its allies intervene militarily, does not affect its critical regional and global interests, which includes having a friendly regime in Afghanistan and an end to Islamabad’s continuing unconventional war against it.

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