Gurdaspur attack: How India can make Pakistan pay without war

The cowardly act by well-armed and -trained terrorists is an opportunity for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make a strong public statement on terrorism.

 |  4-minute read |   27-07-2015
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The terror strike in Gurdaspur, Punjab, is a tactical error by Pakistan. It extends its sponsorship of terrorism beyond Jammu & Kashmir to Punjab. Though Pakistan was deeply complicit in funding and arming Khalistani terrorists in Punjab in the 1980s and early 1990s, it soon shifted its focus to the Valley.

In the Valley, Pakistan hid behind the veil of the "freedom fighter" - saying it was merely providing moral support to the Kashmiri cause in a "disputed" territory. Punjab is not disputed territory. The Gurdaspur attack exposes the Pakistani establishment as a state sponsor of terrorism based not on ideology but on pathological enmity with India.

Pacifists want to engage with Pakistan. Dialogue is the only way forward, they say. Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar continues to call for an "uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue."

Such carte blanche emboldens a rogue state like Pakistan to launch terrorist attacks on India with impunity and then quickly disown them to pressurise India to resume talks - on Pakistan's terms.

Hawks on the other hand urge the government to launch cross-border raids on Pakistani territory to inflict damage on terror camps (over 40 such camps reportedly exist, though in makeshift infrastructure).

There is, however, a middle way. I wrote this after an Indian soldier was beheaded by Pakistan in January 2013. The prescription on how to make Pakistan pay, without war and without doing nothing, is briefly this:

1. Diplomatic: We can downgrade Pakistan to consular status, allowing its embassy limited diplomatic functionality till Rawalpindi GHQ delivers on 26/11 Mumbai attack and the other terrorist-criminal acts it has perpetrated on India. Pakistan possesses whatever international credibility it has by being associated with India. Downgrade that relationship and you downgrade Pakistan internationally.

2. Economic: As with diplomatic relations, Pakistan needs India. India doesn't need Pakistan. Pakistan's GDP is barely 11 per cent of India's and growing at less than two per cent a year while India's is expanding at over seven per cent a year. India's trade volume (the sum of its global exports and imports) is over $700 billion and dwarfs Pakistan's. Make trade ties conditional to Pakistan delivering on terrorism.

3. Legal: India is unduly sensitive about "internationalising" its conflict with Pakistan. It should instead make it clear to the world that Pakistan's repeated bluff about holding a plebiscite over Kashmir's status is just that - bluff. All the 1948 UNSC resolutions Pakistan constantly refers to - and wilfully distorts - actually demand that Pakistan vacate PoK before a plebiscite can even be considered in Jammu & Kashmir.

Pakistan craves equivalence with India. It recognises it can't claim parity economically, militarily or diplomatically. The only way it can do so is to engage India in a permanent, low-intensity conflict. The Gurdaspur attack is part of this strategy of plausible deniability while inflicting damage on Indian soldiers, police and civilians. Rawalpindi knows that India, with its myriad governance problems, forgets and forgives easily: it's a matter of weeks before it's "business as usual". The Indian government lacks the stomach for a sustained battle of attrition. Hence Pakistan's rehearsed script: attack, deny, posture, engage.

The cowardly Gurdaspur attack by well-armed and -trained terrorists is an opportunity for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make a strong public statement on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and take questions from the media. This is the time to assert his leadership. The statement must spell out the government's broad intent and strategy on Pakistan. It need not disclose details of any covert operations on Pakistani soil that may or may not be under planning.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh is scheduled to make a statement on the Gurdaspur terror attack in parliament on Tuesday. It must reflect strong intent, not the mild remarks he initially made to the Press Trust of India (PTI).

National Security Advisory (NSA) Ajit Doval is an old hand on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It is important he too make a supplementary statement to the PM's, again without disclosing details of the strategy to counter Pakistani terrorism.     

Anything less than this will not help India bring to an end the undeclared war that Pakistan has been waging on our border for decades. Unless Pakistan is made to pay, it will not stop.


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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