The drone attack on the Jammu Air Force Base by Pakistan coincides with the Indian Government’s political initiatives with regard to J&K. Certainly, the Pakistani establishment had pinned great hopes that the main stream political players in the Valley, in whom it had invested so heavily over decades will fight tooth and nail for the restoration of Article 370 and 35A, in deference to the strategic imperatives of Pakistan.
In the meeting in Delhi, it however became very clear that overtly and tacitly, the protagonists had accepted the new reality and realized that it is fate accompli. More than ever, they also seem to realize that separatism is now an impossible proposition, and Pakistana futile dream. Pakistan and its proxies in India know that in Kashmir’s destiny this is a tipping point. They are desperate to preemptall such moves by Delhi that us hers in a new demographic initiative, a new socio-political order, new political leadership and above all a new strategic and geopolitical direction. In the Valley there is a large segment of Pak sympathizers as well as proxies who are drifting towards the status of fence sitters. Pakistan is desperate to prevent this drift, and hence the drone attack in Jammu airbase, 14 km from the International Border. Most terror attacks in the Indian context have five audiences: the Incumbent Govt (New Delhi), Constituent Population (Kashmiri muslims), Non-constituent Population (radicalized muslims in the rest of the country), Potential Recruits (global jihadis) and the International Community.
The drone attack is a new modus adopted by terrorists supported by military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan. There is little doubt about the direct involvement of Pakistan military. The two drones dropped IEDs, which were ‘shaped charges’. These cannot be prepared without specialized military expertise. These shaped charges penetrated RCC rooftop of the building at Jammu air base.
This mode of drone jihad was becoming evident over the last two years. It needs to be clarified that although UAVs are euphemisticallyreferred to as drones, the former have fixed wing and fuselage while the later are based on the principle of helicopters with variations such as quad copters. The UAVs like the American MQ-9 reaper have become far more sophisticated, elaborate, deadly and therefore costlier. The US is believed to have carried out more than 450 drone (UAV) strikes in Af-Pak regionbetween 2004 and 2018. As per the CIA between 2000 and 3500 jihadis were killedin these drone operations. It is these American UAVs (drones) that killed Maulana Fazlullah (TTP), Baitullah Mehsud (TTP-2009), Hakimullah Mehsud (TTP-2013), Akhtar Mansoor (Afghan Taliban-2016) and Hafeez Saeed Khan (Emir of ISIS-2018) in the Af-Pak region, mostly in Pakistan territory. Most of these TTP leaders were killed by Americans at the covert request of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment. Never the less, for domestic consumption, in Dec 2013, the National Assembly of Pakistan, unanimously passed a resolution against US drone strikes in Pakistan, calling them violation of UN Charter and Human Rights. So, Pakistan as a country is fairly well baptized in this drone warfare.
Kabul centric jihadism has led to the destruction of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s destruction will be engenderedby Kashmir centriceccentric jihadism. Ithas a single point policy nation building narrative, and that centers around Kashmir. It is more of a Punjabi Pakistani obsession. It should be remembered that the tallest leaders of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during 1965 war had bemoaned that they had suffered enormously due to West Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir. It may be mentioned that the trigger of this war was the massive jihadi infiltration into Kashmir under Op Gibraltar. It would not be wrong to say that the seeds of India’s victory in 1971 war and the consequent split of Pakistan was sown during the 1965 war. Hence it was Kashmir agenda of West Pakistan which was responsible for Pakistan becoming a military state, which in turn created Bangladesh in1971. Similarly, following the abrogation of Article-370, Pakistan shall not remain the post-1971 Pakistan. For Pakistan drones are means to upset or neutralize our existing border security mechanisms with little human cost.
The drone attacks just did not stop with the attack on Jammu airbase. Three days later drones were again seen hovering over Kaluchak and Kunjwan military station. Army personnel reported drone activity on the fourth day as well. It may be recalled that there was a jihadi attack on military station in Kaluchak military station in May 2002. The jihadisentered family quarters and killed 23 persons including 10 children, eight women and five army personnel. Even in this attack the perpetratorwas LeT. The impact of FATF threat on Pakistan can be gaugedby the fact that the LeT, between 2002 and now, has upgraded from suicide jihad to, maritime jihad todrone jihad. We can expect more such devious and desperate jihadi attacks in the times to come from our dysfunctional and rattled Kashmir obsessed neighbour. If 26/11 heralded the maritime terror against India, this attack on Jammu is the forerunner of the air dimension of Pakistani jihad. Some people have also called it ‘flying terror’. Hence LeT is the harbinger of both, maritime terror and flying terror in the subcontinent. In the Indian threat perception vis-à-vis Pakistan, whatever be the form of terror, it is the jihadi fuel that propels it.
There is a purpose and message in this attack. In the last two years drones were used for narcotics and arms supply. The first reports about arms drops by drones was in August 2019. This reportedly took place in Hoshiar Nagar near Amritsar and the consignment included Chinese made pistols and rifles. In September 2020, in a matter of 10 days, eight payloads were dropped in Amritsar and Taran. On 21 Dec 2020 security force seized 11 hand grenades dropped by drone. They were Arges HG-84grenades of POF origin. These very type andmake of grenades were used in 93 blasts, 2001 Parliament attack and in 26/11 attacks. The Punjab CM had a long discussion with the Home Minister on this new threat. Three days later another drone entered Indian territory at Chandu Wadala, but returned after being fired upon by the BSF. In November this year Mr Amrinder Singh had written to the prime minister about the increasing Pak sponsored drone activity in his state and the associated dangers that it posed.
The September 2020 airdrop comprisedfive AK 47, four Chinese pistols, nine HG grenades 1000 rounds ammunition and Rs 10 lakh fake Indian currency. The drones flew at 2000 feet and dropped 1200 feet. The drones were launched from two km into Pakistan territory. The consignment was destined for Khalistan Zindabad Force.. It was evident that it was not going to stop at that. After samudri jihad (maritime jihad), economic jihad, biological jihad, chemical jihad, love jihad, it is now ‘drone jihad.’ Our security forces foiled massive plans of biological and chemical jihad during the last Kumbh at Prayagraj (Allahabad). In the philosophyof Islamic countries every war is jihad, and the purpose is complete subjugation and an nihilation of the enemy, by whatever the means, and without any constraints of time. The aim is ‘destruction’ of the enemy till it capitulates to embrace Islam, and the only terms of reference is ‘destruction’. The aim plus is war booty, which includes women and wealth, and is sanctified by the scriptures. In Islamic countries the people and the armed forces are rooted in jihad and are galvanized by jihad. In some these countries like Pakistan, the armed forcesare seldom at the forefront, in fact the cutting edge are always thecivilian jihadis, the military is in the support role. It is because if the military were to be in lead, and failed, the people may wage jihad against the military itself. In case the military is compelled to act against them, as was the case after 9/11, they divert their jihad towards the master and the benefactor. That is the genesis of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The marriage between drones and terror was first publicly pronounced by the Houthis, who after the bombing of Saudi Aramco oil processingfacilities at Abqaiq and Khuraisin eastern Saudi Arabia claimed it as a consequenceof their drone attack. It is more than plausible that the fresh impetus behind the drone attack in Jammuis Azerbaijan, which used the Turkey supplied TB -2 drones to deadly effect against Armed Armenian armoured vehicles and air defence systems. In this six weeks war, the Armenians, reportedly lost 224 tanks, while Azerbijan lost just 36. This heralded a historic paradigm in anti-tank warfare. These TB drone IS hardlyindigenous,. The navigation system is from Germany, the targeting system from Canada, and the fuel pump is from Britain.
It appears that the shift ofthe Centre of Gravity of Proxy war is from LoC to the IB. This has been apparent for some time. Consequently, the active frontier of proxy war has extended to Punjab as well. It is easier for Pakistan to use the IB segment for drone drop operations becauseit facilitates drop collection by the designated proxies Also because in this segment, the depth of SF deploymentis much more shallow compared to the LoC.
Consequently, there is no escaping the fact the drones have further widened the arc of proxy war.
There are various types of drones available in the market with different range, electronic package and payload capacity. Pakistan’s strategic benefactor China and its new Islamic benefactor Turkey are the leading countries in drone manufacturing. With electronics capability of facial recognition it is quite possible to use drones forassassination of specific individuals. For such targeted killings even five grams of RDX would be enough. In fact there was one such drone attack on the Venezuelan president Nicolo Maduro, he escaped by a whisker as the bomb exploded just at the edge of harm’s distance. In the history of Republic Day parades, this year was the first occasion that anti-drone systems developed by the DRDO were deployed due to drone threat to Mr Modi.
There are drones available whichare not only equipped with GPS and armed with machine guns. Then there are smaller drones, cheap and easily available. In January 2018, 13 home made drones in Syria attacked Russian bases. Ten of these drones targetedthe Khmemim air base and three were divertedfor attack on Tartus naval base on the Mediterranean coast. These drones were not the usual quadcopters butembodied three meter long wings made of wood. They were armed with GPS and bombs. It can be said that just as internet democratized in formation, drones have democratized terror. As a consequence just as internet facilitated self-radicalizationof individuals and drones may provide them autonomous means of Jihad through aerial means. Whatever their size, payload capacity, all drones can be used as tools of terrorism. What if there is a swarm of 500 such small drones? There are many such imponderables and possibilities. The drones can be used to target power stations, oil refineries, civil airports, military installations and even public gatherings. It is not a misplaced belief, especially in the backdrop of the current Covid pandemic, that the future wars will be Biological Wars i.e. Virus Wars and Bacteria Wars. The second Covid wave that smashed India was due to the spread of the virus in aerosol form. China is known to have carried out extensive study and researchon ‘aerolisation’. LiYimin, a biological weapon specialist was a great advocate of dissemination of biological ammunition in aerosol form, since it covers large areas. Drones, with their ability to hover are devilishly suited for the purpose.
Drone jihad gives Pakistan the same deniability as proxy war based on jihadi infiltration. Indeed there is need for upgrading our ant- drone capabilities for detection by latest electronic means,disruption by powerful jammers, interdiction by specialized ammunition and lasers and destruction of hostile drones, by soft and hard kill, but thatconstitutes only partial answer to this new threat, The answer is offensive defence.
Hit the Pakistan military. All genre of Jihad against India is calibrated, controlled and supervised byits military. When India hits Jihadi targets in Pakistan the retaliation is on military installations an establishments by the Pak military. On 14 Feb 2019, there wasa jihadi attack in Pulwama by a suicide bomber, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed. The attack was planned and executed by JeM, hence 12 days later Indian Airforce struck at JeM camp in Balakot. The next retaliation was not by JeM but the Pakistan Airforce the very next day in Naushera sector Its target was a military headquarter but it turned out to be an exercise in symbolism..The attack was codenamed Operation Swift Retort. The point ponder is that retaliation was by Pak military. So the episode started with jihadi attack but ended with military retaliation by Pak dispensation. Thus, who is in control of Pakistan, of course, the Military. On the contrary, in Sep 2016 when there was a jihadi army attackon an Army unit in URI, our retaliation was on jihadi launch pads by way of surgical strike. Pakistan however was military not chastised, and consequently the jihadi machinery was also not chastised. The military followed up the URI attack by unleashing fidayeens, i.e. suicide bomberson Nagrota Army base in November 2016. Between jihadi attack on Pathankot airbase in January 2016 and February 2018 attack, we did not target any Pakistani military facility. Hence, the Pak military has never felt the pain. It is time now that it did.
By RSN SINGH
(The writer is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW)