Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two back-to-back speeches in Kerala over the weekend were warmly received by India’s peace professionals. They said in delighted unison that Modi was finally advocating the sensible line they had been recommending for years: “strategic restraint ”.
What precisely is strategic restraint? In essence, it means responding to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism without serious military or economic retaliation. The benefit to India from such restraint? Uninterrupted economic growth.
This of course is nonsense. The US, Israel and France – to cite just three examples – have shown that economic growth and military action against terrorism are not mutually exclusive.
Meanwhile, those disappointed with the PM's nuanced speech, though filled with duality of intent, had expected Modi to deliver a tough, unambiguous message to Pakistan that enough was enough. Red lines have been crossed. Pakistan must be taught a lesson.
They regard Modi’s direct call to the Pakistani people to fight a “war on poverty and unemployment” as a cop-out. They expect direct military action for the Uri attack, not a homily on poverty and unemployment. That reminds them of ten years' of Manmohan Singh and his apologetic statement on Balochistan at a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Modi’s speech has, of course, been widely misread. The first 95 per cent of his address strongly condemns Pakistan’s abetment of terrorism. It was the closing five per cent of his address, when he spoke of competing with Pakistan in the war on poverty and unemployment, that India’s small but influential community of peaceniks seized upon as an expression of strategic restraint.
Clarity of objectives
So how should India tackle Pakistani-instigated terrorism? There must first be absolute clarity on what Pakistan’s objective of “bleeding India by a thousand cuts” is predicated on.
Islamabad’s strategic aim is to wound, not kill. Kashmir is a pretext. The Pakistani army is a professional terrorist-sponsoring force as well as a multinational business corporation.
Its Generals control roughly one-third of Pakistan’s total corporate revenue. The last thing Rawalpindi GHQ wants is an all-out war with India which it will lose and cause significant damage to its business interests.
|PM Narendra Modi pointedly mentioned both Sindh and Pashtunistan in his recent Kerala speech, apart from Afghanistan and Bangladesh – both victims of Pakistan-sponsored terror. (Photo credit: India Today)|
Between war and strategic paralysis, India has several options which together will bleed Pakistan by a thousand cuts and impose a severe cost on its sponsorship of terrorism:
One, fully back the Free Balochistan movement. Balochistan lies at the heart of the $46-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Unrest there will cripple progress on the CPEC. Grant asylum to Brahumdagh Bugti and other Baloch living in exile abroad. Allow them to set up a Balochistan government-in-exile in India. There is a precedent: in 1959 Nehru allowed a Free Tibet government-in-exile to be established in Dharamsala.
Two, support dissidents in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan which is legally Indian territory. Its people are constitutionally Indian citizens. The CPEC passes through Gilgit-Baltistan – a violation of Indian sovereignty by Pakistan and China which can be challenged in international fora.
Three, review (not abrogate) the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). Regulating water flow into Pakistan from Indian territory provides considerable leverage.
Uttam Sinha of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) said recently: “We should use this option legitimately. It is India’s right under the treaty. Pakistan cannot challenge this as it knows India can use water of the western rivers under the specified clauses of the treaty. If India exercises this option, it would be enough to put Pakistan under extreme pressure.”
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) said in an interview to a daily that India has been permitted to construct storage of water on the western rivers up to 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) for various purposes. The country, however, has not developed any storage facility.
He added: “We have never exercised our rights under the treaty as we have not created infrastructure on our side to use water of the western rivers. We must, therefore, concentrate on building barrages and other storage facilities to use the water.”
This now is exactly what the government proposes to do following the PM's meeting with senior officials on September 26. The decision will provide Jammu and Kashmir an additional 15,000 MW of hydroelectric power by reducing the flow of water – legally – to Pakistan.
Four, pass the private members’ Bill (already submitted by MP Rajeev Chandrashekar to the Rajya Sabha) to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Other legislatures like America’s Congress have done the same to designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. Once so designated, wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on Pakistan and its top leaders will kick in.
Five, withdraw Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan. The trade affected will be small but the step is symbolic of Indian intent and resolve. If India retains MFN status for Pakistan, it will dilute that resolve.
Six, provide moral support (as Pakistan pretends to do in Kashmir while actually instigating and funding terror) to the people of Sindh and to the Pashtuns. Both want an independent homeland free of Pakistan’s gunboots. The PM pointedly mentioned both Sindh and Pashtunistan in his speech apart from Afghanistan and Bangladesh – both victims of Pakistan-sponsored terror.
By thus pointing out Pakistan’s vulnerabilities, Modi was signalling that the option of covert military operations by Indian special forces remains part of his multi-pronged approach. A combination of these actions will impose a heavy cost on Pakistan. Until India makes Pakistan pay, it will not stop terrorism on Indian soil.
What about China? Will it stay silent as India bleeds Pakistan?
China has its own vulnerabilities. These include Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang and a slowing economy. Beijing will help Pakistan rattle a sabre or two but knows that the Indian market for Chinese products – the world’s largest outside America and China – is too big to alienate.
Consider Beijing’s four geopolitical vulnerabilities: first, China’s terror-prone northwest province of Xinjiang, through which the CPEC passes; second, Beijing’s problems with the new anti-China government in Taiwan, third, the perennial global opprobrium it receives over oppression in Tibet; and four, its festering disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and others in the South China Sea.
All of these give India multiple levers to discourage Chinese support of Islamabad beyond a point when India retaliates against Pakistan’s proxy terrorism.
The PM knows this. Hence the strategic duality in his speech so gleefully, but mistakenly, seized upon by India’s febrile Pakistan-nurtured lobby.