‘False Flag’ Operations

India Pakistan border at Wagah. (Photo by Koshy Koshy, Creative Commons License)
India Pakistan border at Wagah. (Photo by Koshy Koshy, Creative Commons License)

Pathankot was a cold-blooded effort by vested and motivated interest to derail the start of the comprehensive “dialogue” between India and Pakistan, and in that they have succeeded, at least temporarily. The moot point is, was it contrived by “State” actors and/or “non-State”actors, or a mix and match from either side?

Receiving “actionable intelligence” the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval immediately sanctioned 50 commandos from the elite “National Security Guards” (NSG) along with other elite units to augment the airbase security several hours before the terrorist attack. Instead of following the SOP of having the local commander exercise command and control, why did Ajit Doval retain control over the counter-operations from New Delhi?  On killing the four terrorists, the “all clear” was sounded with great fanfare within 24 hours. Unfortunately everything did not go according to the script, two more terrorists infiltrated separately and managed to paralyze the large Indian air base for almost four days more.

It is well known that Indian intelligence has penetrated some of the Kashmiri militant groups,  even setting up counter “Jihadi” outfits themselves. Past masters of using “false flag” operations for purposes of grand strategy, this cannot be ruled out without incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.  The whole episode, including not allowing Pakistani investigations areas, reeks of suspicion, an element of double-crossing between the “State” and “non-State” actors carrying out the “false flag operation”. The overwhelming premise is that this was a deliberate initiative staged to blame the ISI and the Pakistan Army, and scuttle the peace process.

Pakistan’s breakup in 1971 started with the successful execution of a “false flag” operation by India.  Outsourcing of terrorists for deadly purpose has been repeatedly used by India against Pakistan.  On Jan 30, 1971 we fell for an India-staged hijacking of an Indian Airlines Fokker-27 to Lahore. Taken out of service by Indian Airlines, the mothballed Fokker named “Ganga” was brought back into operation only for this flight, blowing up of the aircraft was hailed by the Pakistani masses, the Indians used this as a pretext to stop all overflights between East and West Pakistan just when the surging political crisis badly needed physical (and psychological) direct communications route symbolizing the unity of the federation.

The Pakistan Naval Station Mehran in May 2011 was attacked by heavily armed gunmen targeting the P-3C Orion aircraft, two aircraft were destroyed, another was badly damaged. Why did the terrorists walk past dozens of modern (and expensive) warplanes on the tarmac to focus on the P3C-Orion hangar almost 1000 meters away? What earthly motive would the terrorists have in targeting Pakistan’s naval surveillance “eyes and ears” capacity? Who other than India was benefitted by making our Navy temporarily blind and deaf?

In Dec 13, 2001 six terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, all except one who got away, were shot dead, but not before they started a chain of events that brought Pakistan and India to the brink of war. As per normal practices (now being emulated by the Afghans), long before the live TV drama was over the terrorists who had no identification on them were labelled as Pakistanis of Kashmiri origin belonging to “Lashkar-e-Taiba” and “Jaish Mohammad”. Was it really planned and carried out by Kashmiri militants or by militant proxies of Kashmiri and Pakistani origin gifted to them by the Northern Alliance from among the Taliban prisoners captured by them at Kunduz? Remember the Polish Border Incident used by Germany to justify their invasion of Poland?

A year or so ago an Indian Airlines aircraft remained “hijacked” for 4 hours on primetime Indian TV, complete with “links to Pakistan”. Senior ministerial-level Indian officials claimed for hours on primetime media that the hijackers were Pakistani since their conversations in “Urdu” level been intercepted. It was later discovered that the flight had no hijackers, the cockpit crew thought the “hijackers” were in the cabin and the cabin crew thought they were in the cockpit. Someone had bungled and they had probably missed the flight but no one had told the complicit cockpit or the cabin crew. Of such stuff are “facts” created to scandalize Pakistan.

With Ajit Doval (very much a “State actor”) in the driving seat as India’s NSA and his threats (as well as that of other Indian officials) about “teaching Pakistan a lesson” on record, “false-flag terrorism” has gone into overdrive. Subjected to siege by “hybrid warfare”, we Pakistanis are living in self-denial. RAW has masterminded with impunity the spreading of misinformation by using its proxies, why do some in our media openly mirror the Indian media’s animosity towards our Armed Forces and the ISI?  One hears about journalists being on the enemy payroll, what motive drives others? Given the existential threat to the nation, what stops our intelligence agencies from moving against such well-connected agent provocateurs?  Proxies for RAW, they are as guilty as the terrorists killing and maiming innocents.

Gone are the days of fighting conventional wars; today’s strategy is a combination of conventional warfare, irregular tactics and terrorist acts. In the all-out exercise of “hybrid warfare”. States use a variety of non-state actors, or a combination thereof, using violence, coercion, cyber warfare and subverting the media by using the advertising power of management in complicit financial institutions, disparage the Armed Forces and the ISI and demolish the basis of culture and economy within Pakistan. Employing both modern technology and modern electronic mobilization methods, other initiatives include isolating us in sports and thus force-multiplying the mass civic frustration according to a well-crafted gameplan. Whether combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor practicing “Hybrid Warfare” intends to avoid attribution or retribution.

Blatant fabrication and lies in the electronic and print media can adversely influence the relationship between any two nations. On our part if the terrorists can be identified by verifiable and concrete electronic or forensic evidence then we must act and not allow to peace to be destroyed by the motivated machinations of mindless terrorists with their own evil agendas.  For their own narrow, selfish ends India’s present political rulers are taking us inexorably towards war in which the choice of last resort may be non-conventional means.

Clausewitz’s maxim states “war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means”. Some among the Indian establishment, like the Nazis before them, have reversed this dictum to regard “peace as a continuation of war”.  The defining question is, can India and Pakistan afford to be held hostage to the evil designs of non-State actors or even motivated “State” ones?

A defense and security analyst, Ikram Sehgal is the Chairman Pathfinder Group

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