Indian Army Reacts to the Taliban Threat

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 15

General Deepak Kapoor, Indian Army

For India’s military, the Taliban is a threat looming large on the horizon. The perception of the Taliban making inroads to India has increased since December 2008, when Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mahsud vowed to fight alongside the Pakistan army if a conflict broke out between India and Pakistan (The News [Islamabad], December 23, 2008; see Terrorism Focus, December 12, 2008). The verbal threat has since been underlined by the Taliban’s eastward movement inside Pakistan, from its bases in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the city of Lahore, close to the Indian border in Pakistan’s Punjab province (India has its own, smaller Punjab province on the other side of the boundary). The advance on Lahore was marked initially by the Manawan police academy siege just outside of Lahore on March 30, in which 8 policemen were killed and 95 wounded, and more recently by the May 27 suicide bombing of the Lahore headquarters of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (The News, May 28; Geo News, May 28). Manawan is strikingly close to the international border with India; hence the fear of the Taliban reaching India through the Wagah border drew enormous public and military attention at the time. These fears are now reinforced by the Taliban bombing in Lahore.

Particularly worrisome were the conversations intercepted by India’s intelligence services between Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in Jammu and Kashmir that gave hints of a Taliban presence inside Kashmir. [1] TTP spokesman Muslim Khan refuted the reports but said if the Taliban ever decided to fight the Indians in Kashmir, no power on earth could stop them (Greater Kashmir, April 20).

Amidst these developments, speculations are rife about the possible impact of the Taliban’s growing strength on India’s security. Fears are being expressed by political and military elites about a potential Taliban incursion into Indian territory in the near future. Similarly, anxiety over a “nuclear-armed Taliban” in the event it takes over Pakistan’s nuclear installations and missile arsenal also dominates the security discourse in India.  Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor has expressed his concerns with the growing number of warheads being developed by Pakistan: "Even if Pakistan is looking at deterrence, they require a minimum amount. But when you keep increasing [the number of warheads], it is a matter of concern….I think the world community should put the kind of pressure that is required for Pakistan to cap their nuclear weapons” (Sify.com, May 29).

The issue of the Taliban turned political in the recent parliamentary elections in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew attention to the possibility of a Taliban attack during the elections. He was overtly critical of Pakistan’s peace deal with the Taliban in Swat in light of recent military aid to Pakistan. According to Singh, New Delhi has no problems with economic aid for building schools, roads and hospitals in Pakistan, but is concerned with military aid that has been used against India in the past (Indo Asian News Service, April 20). The opposition right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the Taliban’s advance in Pakistan a threat to India’s national security, calling for better counterterrorism mechanisms to be put in place (Indo Asian News Service, April 25).

At the time of the Manawan police academy siege by Taliban militants, the Indian army second-in-command, Lieutenant General Noble Thamburaj, responded to the threat cautiously, though asserting that the army would thwart any jihadi spill-over (Times of India, March 31).  General Deepak Kapoor denounced the impending threat of the Taliban and noted that any attempt by terrorists to infiltrate the border would be met by a three-tier defensive system (Rediff.com, January 31; Indo-Asian News Service, April 14, NDTV India, April 14).

With over 1 million active-service personnel and 1.8 million reserves, the Indian Army has 13 corps organized under six operational commands and one training command. Of these, eight corps and three commands (Western, Northern and South-Western) are specifically dedicated to countering the Pakistani military (Daily Times, Lahore, May 27).

Any Indian military response to a Taliban threat from Pakistan would take place within the context of India’s “Cold Start” military doctrine, implemented in early 2004.  By creating eight Integrated Battle Groups deployed close to the border, “Cold Start” significantly decreases the mobilization time needed by full strike corps while providing for rapid pursuit of enemy forces and penetration of enemy territory without the old emphasis on holding ground (Daily Times, May 27). By design, penetration efforts would be shallow in depth in order to avoid crossing various “nuclear-response red-lines” set by Islamabad. Indian Army operations would be closely supported by the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy where possible (Friday Times [Lahore], December 19-25, 2008).

The “Cold Start” doctrine was devised in response to the slow mobilization of the Indian Army and the hesitation of its command structure in “Operation Parakram” (Operation Victory), the Indian Army’s reaction to the December 2001 attack by Pakistani militants on the Parliament buildings in New Delhi. In short, the Indian plan “seems to be aimed at inflicting significant military reverses on the Pakistan Army in a limited war scenario short of a nuclear war”. [2]

In the midst of India’s Taliban anxiety, former Chief of Army Staff Shankar Roychowdhury wrote a column in a leading daily urging India to “recognize the Taliban threat” as far as India’s national security is concerned but cautioned India’s leaders and media “not to hype it” beyond a certain point (Asian Age, May 5). He warned that the Taliban could create an “existential threat” to India if they succeeded in seizing power in Pakistan through a radicalized government under their control. He also noted the threat of “nuclearization of jihad” in this scenario cannot be ignored and demands serious attention from the security establishment.

Brahma Singh, a retired Army officer and commentator claimed that the Taliban is the real threat to India, urging the security establishment and the political leadership to “recognize the inevitability of a confrontation with the state-sponsored Taliban sooner rather than later” (MeriNews, May 8).

Following the Manawan incident, reports from border areas of Indian Punjab indicated that civilians had begun to feel insecure following the Taliban’s advance into that region. There are growing fears that Punjab’s own jihadi groups are now aiding the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in carrying out bombings and other operations close to the Indian border in Pakistani Punjab (Dawn [Karachi], May 24). Recognizing the people’s apprehensions about the geographical spread and the emergence of the Taliban forces as a grave security threat, the Indian military has just finished an exercise code named Hind Shakti to check the operational readiness of its elite Kharga Corps in southwest Punjab (India Today, May 6).

The Ambala-based II “Kharga” Corps is one of the Indian Army’s two designated “strike corps.” It consists of two infantry divisions (including one Reorganized Army Plains Infantry Division – RAPID), a division and independent brigade of armor and a brigade of engineers.

Hind Shakti was a three-day exercise carried out in the Punjab plains (about 100 km from the Pakistan border) beginning on May 3. It involved India’s “premier corps” conducting what the Indian Army described as a “blitzkrieg type armored incursion, emphasizing rapid penetration into enemy territory.” The exercise included “intensive electronic and information warfare” and the coordinated use of a wide variety of intelligence and surveillance equipment, including satellites, helicopter-borne systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ground-based surveillance systems. The exercise began with a massed mechanized attack, followed by a parachute drop by airborne troops and the insertion of assault troops by helicopter (Indian Ministry of Defence, Press Information Bureau, Statements of May 3; May 6).

The three day operational exercise at the Indo-Pakistan border was aimed at any Taliban or al-Qaeda threat emanating from Pakistan as well as serving as a confidence-building measure for a worried population.  

Notes:

1. For the full transcript of the intercepted conversation, see, “Taliban men sneak into J&K,” NDTV, April 7, http://www.ndtv.com/news/india/taliban_men_sneak_into_jk_ndtv_reports.php

2.  See Subhash Kapila, “Indian Army’s New ‘Cold Start’ War Doctrine Strategically Reviewed, Part 1, South Asia Analysis Group Paper no. 991, May 4, 2004; Part 2, SAAG Paper no. 1013, June 1, 2004