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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TAKING FICCI SERIOUSLY

It is unsurprising that the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) has gone back on the report on terrorism of a task force commissioned by it. This was prompted by the concerns raised by its Pakistani counter part, FPCCI, on the recommendation of ‘surgical strikes’ in response to the next terror attack made by the task force. It is perhaps apprehensive that ‘surgical strikes’ would do more to disrupt the investment climate than terror strikes, for which it thinks these strikes are remedy. That the recommendation was made a year ago does not detract from the fact that even today it continues to be discussed as an option.

This article discusses whether ‘surgical strikes’ are at all a sensible option. It does not dwell on two other options mentioned in the report, but deserving of mention here. The first is a ‘covert’, ‘deniable’, reply for if Zaid Hamid writing in the Pakistani press is to be believed, this is already underway! The second is the report’s advocacy of an ‘All Out Assault’ involving ‘a limited but intense attack on the PoK’, taking this as more as outlet for justified exasperation close in wake of the dastardly 26/11.

The FICCI report has it that with the locations of terror outfits largely known in Pakistan, it would be possible to attack these. India could use artillery if in range, the air force and possibly Special Forces operations. Given the linkage of ballistic missiles with the nuclear capability, these would not be used. Also, Prithvi missiles are being retired. The levels to which cruise missiles are operational, is uncertain.

The report rightly assesses that India would require to be prepared for a backlash of international opinion, as also for a possible war. While it can reasonably be expected that robust Indian diplomacy can handle international opinion, particularly by referring to Indian restraint in wake of Mumbai 26/11, it is worth considering whether conflict escalation can be avoided and if such an outcome can be coped with.

The latter is easy to concede in light of the Army Chief’s comment that India is preparing for a ‘two front’ war. India has the advantage of quality and quantity and can be expected to be effective if not efficient in conventional conflict. Nevertheless, efficiency is importance to the eventual outcome of the conflict. This is because even while India will prevail, the margin of the win will determine the victor. Just as 1979 is treated as a Vietnamese victory and the Israeli campaigns of 2006 and 2009 are seen as defeats, to win all that Pakistan needs to ensure is that is does not lose. The political cost of such a ‘tainted’ ‘victory’ would be such that no Indian government would likely be willing to countenance.

Would a ‘victory’ be messy? Consider the opinion of the Standing Committee on Defence: ‘Considering the fact that the key to success in modern day warfare operations is the ability of the different wings of the Armed Forces to integrate their efforts under a single command without any loss of time…The Committee, have also recommended that till such time the post of CDS is created, the Government may take steps to give appropriate authority to the Chairman COSC in the present set up to command and control the resources of the Defence Services whenever the situation so demands.’ In effect, the principal coordinator of the defence forces would only be served with an enhanced staff!

This would be at a time when the weighty decision on the relative weight of each service involved is to be taken. Friction between service viewpoints was referred to in the famous speech of the last COSC, Admiral Mehta. He concurred with the Air Force’s view that he quoted as being, ‘“Jointness does not necessarily imply equal partnership” and that there was a need to “adopt correct combinations, whilst respecting the core expertise of individual Services”.’ Writing in Mail Today, Pinaki Bhattacharya writes: ‘The army and air force are battling it out over how to beat Pakistan in a flash war if and when that happens.’

The efficacy of the current COSC system is revealed best in Admiral Mehta’s speech in which he states: ‘We have a draft nuclear doctrine in place, which is restrained, in keeping with our traditional national culture.’ In referring to the Draft nuclear doctrine of 1999, the Admiral reveals that he is unaware that the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) approved the doctrine in 2003. This, despite having the Strategic Forces Command under him in his capacity as COSC!

To answer the question posed, it could get messy.

The government would require not only being supportive, but also tolerant of shortcomings. The Army has already revealed shortcomings in its inventory. The Air Force’s Vice Chief has already controversially attributed this to do with the kind of politics India has. Therefore, the armed forces would have a ready alibi and the buck, as it must, would stop with the government. Can the government, the ruling party and, more importantly, its inner core centered on the Gandhi family, afford it politically?

The report raises concerns of corporate sector, ostensibly as part of its civil society duties, with respect to terrorism in India’s hinterland, the Naxal belt and the North East. It makes the point that terror is designed to disrupt India’s economic growth by, among other reasons, making India an unsafe destination for foreign capital and visitors. It fails to mention that the same would be doubly so with increase in threat of conflict. Perhaps it smells an economic opportunity in the resulting militarisation. That the FICCI that should instead be interested in increased trade with Pakistan be linked to a report that calls for an attack on it. This calls for an explanation.

Increased defence budgets, the promise of defence offsets and the incipient growth of an industrial-military complex in India as it attempts to gain great power status may lead to manipulation of the threat perception by corporate elements who stand to gain from the resulting militarisation. The Preface of the report is candid on this calling, ‘for greater involvement of industry in national security strategies and improved cooperation between policy-makers, government and Industry as part of a robust public-private partnership.’ Already there is talk of a two front war, necessitating greater military spending and exertion by India. The FICCI report heralds a trend warned against by Eisenhower in his farewell address.

Not only would vigil over the next 26/11 and India’s response continue into the New Year, but the larger trend referred to would bear watching into the coming decade.

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