Can India Pull Off an Osama to Get Dawood?

Can India pull off an Osama type US operation to get Dawood Ibrahim ‘” or any of the other terrorists on India’s wanted list – who is sheltered in Pakistan? Despite the recent confident assertion by the country’s army chief, the answer is a resounding NO. Some might ask why not? After all, India has the world’s third largest military machine and, barring a few bad apples who have been afflicted with the genetic Indian malady of corruption, the military is proficient and efficient.

Incidentally, the reason India’s military is proficient and effective because it is subject to minimal interference by the country’s politicians (like they control the police, for example) because for one, few of them have any clue as to what the military actually does and, more importantly, it sees no percentage (read that as monetary benefit) in interfering.

However, carrying out a successful operation to extract or eliminate Dawood Ibrahim, say, requires more than just brute force. It requires credible and sustained intelligence gathering about the bad guy’s activities and whereabouts. And this is where the Indian establishment falls flat on its face. India’s intelligence agencies ‘” Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ‘” are very much subject to government meddling. This is because the ruling party of the day views these bodies as tools to dig up dirt on their political opponents ‘” and help them win the next elections. National security is not a prospect that exercises their minds much; assuming they think about it at all. Couple this with the fact that the three agencies view each other as rivals rather than partners ‘” and individual members are more interested in their promotions and securing a plum government position upon retirement ‘” and you have a recipe for ineffectiveness. Moreover, because of the ever present desire to show up potential competitors by highlighting lapses on their part, the likelihood of leaks is an ever present hazard. To some extent, the USA, till a decade ago faced a similar problem of inter-agency rivalries, but after 9/11 they got their act together and the result was a unified Department of Homeland Security. India, however, never learned this lesson even after the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008. There are examples of inordinate delays in the procurement of sophisticated weaponry for use against potential terrorists and subsequent deployment even after the weapons had been purchased.

But over and above all the above reasons is the lack of political will. The plausibility of rival political parties getting together to authorize and support a surgical strike is remote in the extreme. Even the feasibility of opposition parties not being averse to a debacle so that can score political brownie points cannot be ruled out. Moreover, being experts at passing the buck and covering their asses, they would make sure that their hands are clean. No doubt, the army is painfully aware that they would be made the scapegoats in the event of failure.

After the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, there has been the inevitable sabre rattling in Pakistan directed towards India. It is an obvious ploy to divert attention from either their complicity or incompetence in the whole affair. Pakistan’s civilian and military establishment has been handing out dire threats of grave retaliation ‘” possibly escalating to nuclear ‘” should India have the effrontery to mount an operation to flush out and eliminate India-specific terrorists comfortably and openly residing in Pakistan, with the full knowledge and cooperation from the Pakistani army and intelligence services (ISI).

Personally, I intend to take that threat with a pinch of salt. Assuming that an Indian team did manage to sneak across the border to eliminate a wanted terrorist; and then got back surreptitiously and safely, that would pretty much be it. There would, of course, be a lot of heated rhetoric and outrage from the Pakistani establishment, but not much else. Despite the bombast and public posturing, Pakistan’s generals are not fanatics and they are well aware that their army is no match for India’s. Neither are they foolhardy enough to escalate to the nuclear option on their own. Apart from universal condemnation, it is almost certain that America would immediately cut off all military and financial help. They got a taste of India’s military capacity in 1971 when they lost half their country ‘” and that was when India was far from becoming an economic power. Besides, the Pakistan army has always used the perceived Indian military threat to reinforce and sustain their sense of indispensability in the minds of the Pakistani public. They have convinced the average Pakistani that, left entirely to a democratic civilian administration, their nation would soon be engulfed by a marauding India. They would not risk shattering that myth by engaging in a military conflict they were more than likely to lose. They are also aware that they would receive no support from their patron, America, in such a venture.

The problem with India is that it is strangely reluctant to project its obvious military and economic clout, when it would pay dividends to do so. It has allowed Pakistan to repeatedly thumb its nose at its more powerful neighbour. Moreover, it has reinforced this impression with weak and pathetic responses. Pakistan’s constant belligerence is routinely met with feeble and almost humiliating attempts at reconciliation. America is not a superpower because it is universally respected, but because it is universally feared. India has the opportunity to be feared too, but it has never exercised that option. Maintaining diplomatic niceties in situations which call for strong action may earn us somewhat condescending and hypocritical approbation from the international community, but behind the fa§ade is usually a feeling of mild amusement and contempt. Until India’s leaders get over their diffidence and timidity, India will remain a potential superpower without actually becoming one.