Center for Strategic Decision Research


An Indian Perspective on Global Security

General Ashok Mehta
Indian Armed Forces (Ret.)

I will try to give an Indian’s perspective of the developments following September 11, including the global fight against terror and the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The question must be asked: Is the world a safer place nearly three years after September 11? The answer is no. Sri Lanka’s Rohan Gunaratne, an expert on counterterrorism, says that Operation Enduring Freedom, that is, the war in Afghanistan, merely dispersed Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It made the United States and Europe secure only until the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004. 

The danger of terrorism is widespread. In the “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report of 2003, India was named the biggest victim of terrorism, followed by Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. The arc of instability stretches from Palestine to Pakistan, and there are many terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is just one component, in addition to the other autonomous groups that are part of the International Islamic Front (Jehad), which was established in 1998. Prominent among them are Lashkar e Taiyyaba and Jaish e Mohammad, which operate in Kashmir. Regrettably, due to a lack of cooperation and coordinated action against the Jehad, the Jehadis are winning the war. Even more regrettably, very little has been done to address the root causes of terrorism. 

In March of 2004, Operation Mountain Storm, in Pakistan’s south Waziristan, showed the multinational character of the terrorist conglomerate.Uighur Chinese, Chechens, Uzbeks, Al Qaeda members, Taliban members, and others were captured, but there are many more terrorists holed up, waiting to be taken out. The good news is that Al Qaeda is still not in possession of fissionable material to use in a nuclear bomb. 

India understands the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan. Many great games have played out there—for at least three centuries Britain and the Soviet Union have tried to pacify that ungovernable country without success. This time around, the U.S.-NATO effort seems to be more sustained and comprehensive. I wish them good luck, but I believe that the claims made in this conference that two-thirds of Afghanistan is stable are rather exaggerated. The noted journalist Thomas Friedman thinks that Afghanistan is on steroids. Warlords are operating freely and taming the tribes is not going to be easy. While India is involved in the country’s reconstruction, the provincial reconstruction teams operating under NATO auspices are likely to be put to a severe test. Further, the election scheduled for September 2004 is rather optimistic. 

I have had the honor of writing a book calledWar Dispatches, Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was published recently. In the book I note that there are three parts to the military operations there: The secret war before the war, the real war (Operation Iraqi Freedom), and the war after the war, the current phase of fighting. The U.S.-led coalition forces carried out a brilliant conventional operation to bring down Saddam, but they ignored the stability phase. Shock and awe won the war but lost the hearts and minds campaign. And while U.S. forces excel in hi-tech wars, they do not do so in low- intensity conflict, a point that the U.S. military must factor in during its ongoing transformation. 

In regard to this point, I’d like to cite the last paragraph of the post-script to my book: “In November, Commander-in-Chief George Bush made a surprise visit to pep up the defeated morale of the U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. But some questions remained: The size of residual coalition forces and their relationship with the provisional government; who would look after U.S. strategic and economic interests in Iraq and the region; what would be the impact of an accelerated U.S. transfer of power on its longer-term goals in the Gulf and the Middle East; would this abridged strategy forced by electoral compulsions hold?; would the UN carry the can? Whatever the revised priorities in Iraq between finding WMD, Saddam, democracy. and Iraqi self-rule, the U.S must not be seen to be quitting or failing.”  

All of this is playing out now. In addition, there are two other principles for stability operations that must also stay in play during the current war in Iraq. They are using proportionate/minimum force and having good faith. 

One of the key lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that there are limits to what the military alone can do. Therefore we need alternative strategies. The days of mass maneuvering and all-out wars are over. From the panoply of military capabilities, we need to identify what is usable. 

There is also a need to redefine military victory or success. A decisive outcome in the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq has been insufficient to shape the desired politico-military objectives. Part of redefining victory must inevitably include a reexamination of the whole concept of intervention and nation building. The litmus test of successful intervention must be that you achieve a better end state than you had before the intervention. 

India is the world’s largest provider of peacekeepers. At present there are Indian peacekeepers in Eritrea, Congo, Lebanon, and, soon, Sudan. India’s position on Iraq is that if there is an explicit UN mandate for troops in Iraq and a request for them from the Iraqi government, then India would consider that request. However, there is an all-party resolution in force, agreed to in July 2003, not to get involved in Iraq. But several issues have changed since then to enable India to reconsider: The reality on the ground, the need to help Iraq (the Indian military trained the Iraqi military from 1972 to 1991), and the need to maintain our commitment to the UN and the U.S. 

A word about India’s relations with the outside world. India is in the unique position of increasing its strategic relations with the EU, the U.S., Russia, and, soon, China. There is also talk of ties between NATO and the Indian military. I would like to end my presentation with these few points: 

  • We need more of the UN, more international laws, and more human rights. 
  • Multilateralism, or, as the EU says, effective multilateralism, must be our password. This is not the time to go it alone. International cooperation and taking cooperative security measures are the paths to follow. Therefore, I encourage you to spare a thought for global interests concurrent with your national self-interests. 
  • The abuse of Iraqis by coalition soldiers is as devastating as a suicide bomb. Whatever we do in Iraq must be acceptable to the people of Iraq.  













Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research