Saturday, July 19, 2008




The suicide car bomb blast outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008, was meant to convey a message to India----thus far and no further in assisting the Hamid Karzai Government.

2.One has to painstakingly collect evidence to identify the originators of the message, but one can even now make a reasonable surmise of their identity. It could have originated only from the Pakistan-backed and Al Qaeda-trained Taliban, which has been acting in tandem with the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar, and the Government of Pakistan itself acting through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

3.India is in Afghanistan not to fight against jihadi terrorism. It is there to help the legally-elected Afghan Government and people recover from over two decades of continuous strife and put them back on the road to economic recovery, better governance and a better quality of life for the people.

4.But the Taliban and Pakistan do not look at it that way. The Taliban looks on the Indian presence as no different from the presence of the US and other NATO forces--- meant to strengthen the influence of the “infidels” and propagate the ideals of a liberal democracy, which are seen by it as anti-Islam.

5.Pakistan looks upon it as meant to revive the historic relationship between the people of India and Afghanistan to the detriment of the Pakistani interests and influence built up over two decades of jihad----initially against the Soviet presence and now against the Western presence.

6.The Taliban and Pakistan see a convergence of interests and objectives between the two in resisting what they view as the growing Indian presence.

7. There is a convergence of interests and objectives between the Governments of Afghanistan and India too, namely, to resist the spread of religious extremism in this region and the use of the extremist forces by the ISI to destabilise the two countries.

8.The Kabul blast marked the opening of a second front by the Taliban at the instigation of the ISI. Its first front has been against the US and other NATO forces. Its newly-opened second front is against Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan.

9.The Taliban owes its recovery from the post-9/11 set-back suffered by it during the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom to the protection and patronage extended to it by the ISI. It had its survivors and fresh recruits re-motivated, re-trained and re-armed in Pakistani sanctuaries with the complicity of serving ISI officers and the active assistance of retired officers.

10.It has staged a remarkable come-back since 2005 and has been able to make the US and other NATO forces bleed continuously since then. The US committed a mistake of viewing its on-going war against Al Qaeda and the fight against a resurgent Taliban as two different ball games. So long as Pakistan was collaborating with it against Al Qaeda, it closed its eyes to the ISI’s role in the resurgence of the Taliban.

11.Only now, after six months of mounting NATO casualties in Afghanistan is the realization slowly dawning on the US and other NATO powers that they cannot defeat Al Qaeda without defeating the Taliban and that they cannot prevent the return of the Taliban without acting against its mentor and protector.

12.To realise past mistakes is one thing and to devise new policy options free of the mistakes is another. In an election year, re-crafting new policy options has been a slow process. Moreover, the desire to make Pakistan change without hurting it continues to be a strong motivating factor in US policy-making. Pakistan continues to take advantage of this ambivalence of US policy-makers and strategic thinkers to continue with its policy of seeming action against the Taliban and actual nursing of it.

13.The impact of the Western ambivalence can be seen in Western perceptions of the Pakistani use of the Taliban to counter the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Deplorable, but understandable. That has been the underlying American thinking----whether in Governmental or non-Governmental circles.

14.The West realizes the benign role which India has been playing in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is unable to rid its policy-making of the malign influence of Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as in its sphere of influence where India has no business to be active.

15.Under these circumstances, the second front opened by the Taliban at the nudging of the ISI against India would continue to be a major preoccupation of our policy makers. We should not allow the tragic death of our officers in Kabul to induce second-thoughts on our policy in Afghanistan. The policy is right and to the mutual benefit of the two countries and in the long-term interests of the region.

16.Our ability to press ahead with our policy will depend on our ability to protect our nationals deputed to Afghanistan to carry forward our policy. Their protection is the joint responsibility of the two Governments.

17.How to strengthen the protective security for our nationals and establishments in Afghanistan? This is a question, which deserves the immediate attention of the leaders and the security bureaucracies of the two countries.

18. Protective security alone is not sufficient. It has to be combined with a deterrent capability. The deterrent capability comes from our proclaimed willingness and ability to switch from the mode of passive defence to one of active defence.

19. When terrorists sponsored by another State and operating from sanctuaries in that State attack your nationals and interests , you have the right of self-defence---which can be passive or active. In passive defence, you confine your retaliatory action to your own territory. In active defence, you take the retaliatory action to the territory of the State from where the terrorists are operating, if left with no other way of deterring further acts of terrorism. The US and Israel have a publicly proclaimed doctrine of active defence against State sponsors of terrorism posing a threat to their nationals and interests. The US doctrine was enunciated by George Shultz, the then Secretary of State in the Ronald Reagan Administration, in a public speech after the attack on the US Marines in Beirut in 1983. Many other States have a similar doctrine, but it is not publicly admitted.

20. The doctrine of active defence followed by the US and Israel is applicable whether their nationals and interests are attacked in their homeland or in third countries by terrorists sponsored by a State. Reagan ordered the bombing of terrorist training camps in Libya in 1986 after terrorists sponsored by Libya killed some American soldiers in a West Berlin discotheque. Similarly, Israel has retaliated when its nationals were killed in West Europe.

21. India has had in the past a covert action capability which had been used in active defence in foreign territory for the protection of its nationals and interests, but it never had a publicly proclaimed doctrine of active defence through covert actions for the protection of its nationals and interests from terrorists sponsored by another State.

22. The recent comments of M.K.Narayanan, the National Security Adviser, about evidence being available regarding the involvement of the ISI in the Kabul blast and India’s readiness to go into the active defence mode should it become necessary is the first publicly proclaimed doctrine of active defence since 1947. It is similar in principle to the Shultz doctrine, but not as detailed.

23. While Narayanan’s public proclamation has to be welcomed, it has one important deficiency. It is Pakistan specific and thus does not allow for flexibility. The US and Israeli doctrines are applicable to any State, which uses terrorists against their nationals and interests. Their doctrines do not refer to any country by name. Our nationals and interests face threats from terrorists sheltered and sponsored by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Any doctrine should, therefore, be capable of being applied to both the countries, if necessary, and convey a clear message to them.

24. Publicly proclaiming a doctrine is the easiest part of active defence. The more difficult part is the creation of the required capability for active defence through covert actions. In the past----before 1997--- we had the capability which had served us well, but we did not feel the need for a publicly-proclaimed doctrine. Now, we have a publicly-proclaimed doctrine, but one does not know how good is our capability to enforce this doctrine should it become necessary. Creating or re-creating such a capability and keeping it in a permanent state of readiness to move into the active mode is the next immediate priority. We must have a small core of capability, which is permanent whether we intend using it or not, with a provision for its rapid expansion when the time for action comes.

25. I had made a detailed analysis of active defence through covert actions in my book titled “Intelligence---Past, Present& Future” published by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi in 2001. (19-7-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, E-mail: )