Above: Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multi-role strike fighter
As the luxury Taj and Trident hotels prepared to reopen for the first time since the November 26th terrorist attacks in Mumbai, The Times of India reported that India is “keeping the military option alive and kicking in face of Pakistan doublespeak on the crackdown on terror.” According to the report, “a top-level meeting was held on Saturday evening to review the security situation in the region and the state of defence preparedness of the armed forces.” Similar accounts of high-level security meetings have appeared elsewhere in the nation’s press over the past couple of days. More ominously, another leading newspaper, The Telegraph, quoted “top government sources” saying that the Mumbai attacks were “the direct handiwork of Pakistanâ€™s military that trained and armed the militants and planned the strike in detail.”
Meanwhile, on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border, stories about apparent border incursions by air continue to appear, including an Indian report of “massive practice by Indian Air Force planes in Jamnagar” a city in western India a short jet hop from Pakistan.
This should not come as a surprise. Since the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani authorities have gone through the motions of rounding up the usual suspects associated with the Kashmiri terrorist outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, that U.S. intelligence officials believe were responsible for the attacks. But Pakistan resolutely refuses even to concede that Pakistanis were involved in the attacks, much less crack down hard on the Kashmiri groups it has long sponsored and supported.
The Mumbai attacks shook Indian society and the Indian leadership to the core. Unless it gets some hard concessions from Pakistan that are politically difficult or impossible for any Pakistani government to make, India’s governing Congress Party government simply cannot afford to kick up a little dust and hope the matter will go away. It will likely lose the next national election.
Speculation about a possible Indian strike has centered on air attacks on Kasmiri separatist training camps inside the Pakistani-administered portion of Kashmir. There is no shortage of such targets. A “surgical” strike against them might satisfy India’s need to make it’s point and cause Pakistan some pain without risking escalation into a major conflict.
However, the independent intelligence analysis firm, Stratfor, points out that such strikes might be largely symbolic, since the Indian Air Force lacks the heavy bombing capability needed to do significant damage to facilities of this kind. Stratfor theorizes that India may decide to attack a key Pakistani governmental facility in Islamabad, such as the headquarters of the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, which India has long identified as instrumental in creating, training, arming and supporting the Kashmiri Islamist groups.
The the Indians have the resources needed for such a mission, according to Stratfor:
The Indian air force increasingly has been regarded as professional and capable by American pilots at Red Flag exercises in Nevada. India has modern Russian fighter jets and probably has the capability, with some losses, to penetrate deep into Pakistani territory.
Just two days ago, Stratfor confirmed its belief that India is preparing for a strike.
Hitting the ISI would send a clear, loud message. Pakistan would want to retaliate but have few serious options to do so, lacking much of an air punch. And the Pakistan military leadership might be forced to conclude that further Mumbai-style terror attacks inside India are not worth the trouble they bring.
If India is contemplating a military strike, the next week or so would be a ideal time to carry it out. The United States has been working hard to restrain India while pressing Pakistan to make tougher concessions. But the U.S. is in the midst of a government transition, and this coming week, both the outgoing and the incoming administrations will be on vacation, along with most of the rest of us. The coming holiday period may be aÂ critical time.Â Â
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