Pulwama terror attack: How India can now force Pakistan into changing its criminal behaviour
India has for far too long been timorous in its response to Pakistani terrorism. It's time we change our peace-at-all-costs mindset.
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Of course, we can’t change our neighbours. But we can and must change their behaviour. It has to be done systematically and clinically. For decades, India accepted Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as an unavoidable fact of life.
After every terror strike, India retaliates with mortar fire across the Line of Control (LOC), killing a few terrorists whom the Pakistani army considers expendable and the occasional Pakistani soldier or Ranger.
Within days, the guns fall silent. It’s business as usual.
The lurid spectacle at Wagah and other border posts has continued as if nothing has happened. Despite revoking Pakistan’s most favoured nation (MFN) status, trade flows freely across the border. Smuggling of contraband flourishes. Explosives and grenades used for terror attacks by Pakistan-funded jihadis in the Kashmir Valley are brought in through these porous border crossings, thronged by tourists and curious onlookers. Instead of military precision and tight security, there is an atmosphere of a Bollywood bazaar at the Wagah border, with film songs blaring out of loudspeakers.
Even after the Pulwama outrage, the Wagah border continues to resemble a bizarre Bollywood bazaar. (Photo: PTI)
Serious countries don’t treat security like that — especially with a neighbour which is a state sponsor of terrorism.
When Russian intelligence officials allegedly tried to kill Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, in the quiet English town of Salisbury with a novichok nerve agent in 2018, the British government not only expelled 23 Russian diplomats but convinced 20 other countries — including the United States — to expel over 100 Russian diplomats, many of them apparently undercover spies.
Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi is a warren that reportedly crawls with ISI agents. Hurriyat separatists are regular visitors, apparently collecting their payments and instructions to fund stone pelters in the Valley. Till now, the Indian taxpayer paid for their security — belatedly withdrawn in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack. Indian journalists, former bureaucrats, ex-intelligence officers and activists frequent the Pakistan High Commission — subversion follows.
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There are four specific ways to impose an unaffordable cost on the Pakistani army, the global progenitor of terrorism: military, economic, diplomatic and covert.
India has been traditionally wary of taking military action against Pakistan. It has always been reactive. It took the sudden intrusion into the Kashmir Valley along the Srinagar highway by Pakistani Afridi tribesmen on October 26, 1947, for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabbhai Patel to rush Indian troops to push back the invaders.
In 1971, it took millions of refugees pouring into West Bengal from East Pakistan for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to deploy the Sam Manekshaw-led Indian army to liberate Bangladesh. Again in 1999, it was Pakistani army chief Pervez Musharraf’s sneak attack by Pakistani army regulars into Kargil that forced the Vajpayee government to send in reinforcements and repel the Pakistani invaders.
In each of these wars, India was successful.
There were no repercussions — indeed, after the 1971 Bangladesh victory, India enjoyed 18 years of relative peace with Pakistan. By using swift, deliberate force, India had changed its neighbour’s behaviour.
The Bangladesh Victory: By using deliberate force in 1971, India had changed Pakistan's behaviour. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
It didn’t last. In 1989, Pakistani-trained jihadis, fresh from their victory over Soviet troops in Afghanistan, began to pour into Kashmir. A decade later, after its defeat in Kargil in 1999, Pakistan fine-tuned its theory of assymetrical warfare. It had lost four conventional wars with India. Its economy couldn’t sustain another.
Proxy terrorism was a cheap, effective way of bleeding India by a thousand cuts.
Post-Kargil came a series of terror attacks — Parliament, Mumbai, 26/11, and in recent years, Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Uri and now, Pulwama. India seemed over the years to have lost the appetite for military conflict.
The 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, which killed 166 people, including several foreigners, was the ideal opportunity to change this pacifist mindset. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was considering a coordinated attack on Pakistan days after the terror strike in Mumbai but in the end, demurred. Dossier diplomacy followed for the next six years till the Congress led-UPA was voted out of office in 2014. The Narendra Modi government has done little either in the five years since.
Pakistan has periodically issued its nuclear threat to dissuade India from taking military action — the threat is pure bluff.
As I wrote for DailyO in 2015: “Islamabad cannot use its nuclear stockpile — not even the small tactical battlefield nuclear weapons Pakistan is developing. The reason is simple: A retaliatory nuclear strike by India would cripple Pakistan. The Americans know this. So do the Russians and the British. And of course, so does Pakistan.”
Pakistan wants to keep its undeclared war against India asymmetric with expendable jihadis — it is in India’s interest to escalate this into lightning air and infantry attacks on Pakistan. The fear of uncontrolled escalation is overblown. The Kargil conflict did not escalate beyond a point, despite both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons in 1999.
Apart from military strikes using the air force as well as infantry, there are three other key actions India must take:
First, India’s economic strategy should focus on encouraging the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to blacklist Pakistan at its key September 2019 meeting in Paris. An FATF review meeting is currently on from February 17-22. Blacklisting will tighten the tourniquet around Pakistan’s already stressed financial system.
Finally time to act? For far too long, India has been timorous in its response to Pakistani terrorism. Will Modi change that? (Photo: DailyO)
Second, India must downgrade diplomatic relations with Pakistan to isolate Islamabad further and cleanse the warren of subversion in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.
Third, in a change in the traditional strategic approach to Pakistan, India must re-develop covert operational capabilities in Balochistan, Sindh and among restive Pashtuns. In 1997, former Prime Minister IK Gujral, in a misplaced sense of Punjabiyat, dismantled India’s covert capabilities in Pakistan.
India has for far too long been timorous in its response to Pakistani terrorism. A group of Indian activists, track-2 specialists and journalists, subverted by ISI largesse, has argued against tough measures to combat Pakistani terrorism.
That subverted pusillanimity must end.
After Pulwama, India must change its peace-at-all-costs mindset. Imposing an unaffordable cost on the Pakistani army for sponsoring terrorism is the only way to change Pakistan’s criminal behaviour.