The hardliner Hindutva government of BJP-elect Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cleared the bill to establish three new joint (army, navy, airforce) organizations, The Times of India reported on October 17, 2015.

These organizations are the Defence Cyber Agency, Defence Space Agency and a Special Operations Division. The focus of this article is on India’s special forces, hence the other two proposed organizations will be discussed on a later date.

Presently, each service arm of the Indian Armed Forces has its dedicated Special Forces: the Army has Para-SF battalions, the Air Force has ‘Garud’ air commandos and the Navy has its lethal ‘MARCOS’ (Marine Commandos). Besides other paramilitary special forces units, India’s notorious Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) has its own ‘Special Frontier Force (SFF)’ to crush insurgency and rebellion in the troubled Northeast (India’s current Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag was once Inspector General of the SFF).

The proposed ‘Special Operations Division’ will have its own pool of commandos, paratroopers and marines from the tri-services, hence we can call it “joint”. According to Indian Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, who is also the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (equivalent to Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff), these new organizations are “interim arrangements” until they are properly established as fully-functioning joint operation commands. The question here is, what was the urgency behind make-shift arrangements?

It is clear that sooner or later, the BJP government through National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was going to flex its aggressive posture in the region and remind neighbors of its hegemonic ambitions: projecting India as a “regional superpower” and pivot for US expansionism in the Asia-Pacific. This year will go down in history as the first in which Indian forces executed cross-country raids and finally passed bureaucratic red-tapism to synergize strategic strike capabilities with the full-fledged support of services chiefs. New Delhi seems deeply inspired by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which is known as one of the world’s most potent and feared special operations forces. Activities of this force are overseen directly by senior-most US officials including the President himself. JSOC acts as a tool of foreign dominance in areas of dispute or interest to the US. It is said that when the US government wants someone captured dead or alive, or preempt intervention in another country’s affairs, JSOC is given the task to set the ground before rigid propaganda-based diplomacy is even initiated.

In an earlier article, I had dissected and examined in detail a paper published by the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses (IDSA) which envisioned the establishment of a standalone Special Operations Command. The paper had quoted excerpts from a book by ex-Indian Army officer Lt Gen (retd) Prakash Katoch who foresaw a ‘Special Operations Cell’ within the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The cell, in perspective, would report to the National Security Council i.e. the National Security Adviser.

After conducting strikes on Burmese territory, reportedly on NSCN (K) camps, Myanmar defence chiefs visited India to hold dialogue on controlling illegal cross-border movement. More recently, Doval, his deputy R N Ravi and former Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga visited Myanmar on special invitation to attend a historic peace agreement between various rebel groups in Myanmar and its government. India had no role in facilitating this ‘landmark’ achievement but it does raise the question of whether Myanmar’s government was “forced” to find a solution for India’s problems in the Northeast.

Was Myanmar forced into “doing more” because of India’s attack on its soil? This raises the specter further and we should rightfully ask, does India plan on repeating the same in Pakistan? Will it carry out strategic strikes on alleged Jamaat-ud-Daawa (JuD) camps in Pakistan which it had once contemplated about?

In their research paper “Modi’s Strategic Choice: How To Respond To Terrorism From Pakistan”, authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analyzed the mindset and attitude of Narendra Modi compared to his predecessors:

Modi’s self-styled reputation as a tough man and strong leader— borne out by his decision to disproportionately retaliate to Pakistani shelling across the Line of Control in Kashmir in fall 2014 —increases the perception that, this time, the Indian government will choose a military response.”

They further observed:

Limited punitive air strikes[…]would put India into a league with the United States and Israel as “hard,” militarily-capable democracies determined to combat terrorism and to punish states that do not fulfill their obligations to curtail terrorists’ operations. This has appeal to strategists and politicians in today’s India—in interviews and writing, Indian strategists frequently invoke Israel as a model in military and homeland security domains.”

On a realistic note however, experts whom they interviewed opined that India “does not now have the capability to combine special operations in Pakistan with precision air support”.

When viewed in the above-mentioned context, the rationale for setting up even a temporary special operations division becomes more clear. Through regional alliances, especially with Afghanistan and Tajikistan (as far as New Delhi’s intended “Western Theatre” of operations are concerned), India might set up airbases around Pakistan. This is an impending possibility that cannot be denied.

When Modi comes into the power equation, one can be sure that it is not him but rather the Hindutva establishment speaking through him. Does anyone remember the “Tejomay Bharat (Shining India)” school books by Dinanath Batra being taught in Modi’s home state of Gujarat? They were declared compulsory reading by the state education ministry (all 42,000 schools in Gujarat). An extract from the book reads as follows:

Students, how would you go about drawing a map of India? Do you know that countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma are part of undivided India? These countries are part of Akhand Bharat.”

Noteworthy Developments

• Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) was attacked by Indian special forces.
• Nepal’s newly-elected government is being pampered by New Delhi to bring it under its fold.
• India is still interfering in Maldives’ internal affairs.
• Bhutan is already receiving Indian economic and structural investments in return for continued political support. No surprise then that the Bhutanese leader expressed full support for India’s permanent membership at the UN Security Council.
• Bangladesh owes a historical debt to India for help in liberation against Pakistan.
• Afghanistan has already witnessed much investments by India and despite the unpredictable situation there, New Delhi might not get the firm foothold it needs to crush Pakistan in between.

Pakistan is, of course, a tough nut for India to crack. Will Modi sarkar employ the same unconventional tactics as it did in Myanmar or something even more sinister? Time will tell.

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