‘Why can’t India be like America?’ was the tormented cry of most members of the strategic community as details began pouring out about the US operation in Abbottabad which led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“I’ll tell you why,” said Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram with some asperity to a news channel anchor who was a little bit more aggressive than the others. “We don’t have our forces on Pakistani soil. We are not invited there. We don’t have any support from Pakistan. We are both nuclear weapons states.”
This sentiment was more or less echoed by a young Lieutenant in the Indian Army, who wrote anonymously on Indiandefence.com, a popular defence web portal: “The Pakistan government will agree to US strikes but not Indian because we are rivals. They will definitely engage us if we intrude into their airspace.”
However, a battle raged in civil society over whether emasculation of sovereignty was the price to pay for stamping out terrorism.
The strategic analyst community also asked whether India had the capacity to take out the five or so ‘wanted’ terrorists/criminals who currently reside in Pakistan.
Popular weekly news magazine India Today wrote that while the 26/11 mastermind – Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed – lives in Lahore, Dawood Ibrahim has been a resident of Karachi for quite long. Al Qaeda commander Illyas Kashmiri and the founders of Indian Mujahideen (IM) – Riaz Bhatkal and his brother Iqbal – are also said to be hiding in Pakistani cities.
Can India hunt down these men? Army Chief Gen VK Singh and Air Force Chief Air Marshal PV Naik led from the front. Gen Singh said Indian armed forces were “competent” to carry out a similar operation. “I would like to say only this that if such a chance comes, then all the three arms (of the military) are competent to do this,” Singh told reporters. But he added: “Whether the US sought permission or not (from Pakistan) has to be asked from them,” he said in a reply to another question.
Shortly after the US operation, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik had also said that India has the capability to carry out such surgical strikes against terrorists. He said, “India can do it.”
Intelligence officials also say the US Navy Seals operation could not have been mounted without close cooperation between Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – something not possible between India’s Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and ISI.
Experts believe that covert operations can be mounted to eliminate the threat and impose costs on terror masterminds, but that can
only happen when the nation’s civilian political leadership gives a clearance for creation of specific assets for specific missions.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2011.