India does not have too many good options in responding to the militant raid that killed 17 Indian army personnel, perhaps the largest number ever for a single day of the Kashmiri insurgency that began in 1990.
Sure, you can break down the responses and see what works. First the
military – an army raid across the Line of Control, an army incursion
across the international border with Pakistan, a naval blockade of
Karachi, an air strike on the Jaish headquarters in Bahawalpur, an air
strike on camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Second, the diplomatic –
a UN Security Council condemnation and sanctions, sanctions by friendly
countries like the US, Japan, UK and Germany, and a few Gulf countries.
All of the above have been thought about and have not got us anywhere.
At the end of the day, India has to ensure that the options it
exercises – particularly the military ones – do not leave it worse off
than before in terms of casualties and costs.
Proponents of the military strategy must also be aware of the fact
that the Indian armed forces are not in particularly good shape for an
all out war with Pakistan. The military is short of vital equipment like
artillery and air-defence systems, as well as key ammunition. The air
force is also not in particularly great form given the steady attrition
it has faced without getting adequate replacements.
For a government which came to power promising a change in the
allegedly weak-kneed policies of the past, there are powerful
psychological and political compulsions at play here. The BJP-led
regime demonstrated what it meant by undertaking a campaign of
disproportionate bombardment of the international border in Jammu in
early 2014. After the Pathankot attack, it took on a high-decibel
diplomatic campaign to isolate and sanction Islamabad and then, it
threatened Pakistan that it would expand its political support to
separatists in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan.
The violent mass protest in Kashmir upended a lot of calculations.
But New Delhi’s poor handling of the events, especially by denigrating
the protests as being inspired by and paid for by Pakistan only served
to aid the Pakistani design. The attack in Uri is now a Pakistani
riposte, aimed as much at New Delhi as at the disaffected Kashmiri. To
New Delhi, the message is that when push comes to shove, Islamabad has
the wherewithal to do things, while the signal to the Kashmiris is that
Pakistan remains a tried and tested ally in their struggle. Of course,
you can be sure that the long-suffering Kashmiris will not be
particularly inspired by the Uri attack, knowing that they are the ones
who will suffer the consequences, not the Pakistanis.
The downside of force
The danger of army action across the international border is that if
it is too successful, it could trigger a nuclear war. And action limited
to PoK presents military difficulties because of the terrain, and also
may not be sufficient to compel the Pakistanis to shut down their jihad
Air strikes are a tempting option; however, India lacks the
intelligence and surveillance capabilities that will ensure the targets
struck are actually militant camps. The possibility of collateral deaths
is high and could result in a PR setback for India should a large
number of women and children be killed.
Precision strikes are a myth of sorts and the kind of strikes that
Israel and the US have launched, with vastly superior intelligence and
targeting capabilities, have resulted in a large number of civilian
deaths which have not had the effect of cowing down the populace, either
in Gaza or Afghanistan.
Air strikes in the Pakistani heartland such as Muridke or Bahawalpur
will be contested by the Pakistan Air Force and will almost certainly
trigger a response whose consequences cannot be easily determined.
Another possibility is a large-scale covert campaign targeting
Pakistani terrorists and their facilities. But as is well known, India
lacks the wherewithal and would require several years of preparation to
run such operations. Nevertheless, Pakistan believes that India is now
on the path towards stepping up covert activities in Balochistan and
Gilgit-Baltistan and it may be useful to keep on deepening the Pakistani
neuroses here as a bargaining chip to get it to shut down its jihadi
shop. Modi may actually be on the right track here, as long as he can
Actually, the only way to deal with the dilemma confronting the country is to persist in a combination of policies.
First, harden the defensive system against infiltration and perimeter
security in camps. In Pathankot and again in Uri, we have seen the
perimeter breached too easily.
Second, strengthen covert capabilities in Balochistan and Gilgit
Baltistan, not with the view of hiving them off Pakistan, but for the
purpose of exerting pressure on the Pakistan military brass in
Third, step up the diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, and put
serious pressure on countries like the US and its allies as well as
institutions like the IMF to act against Islamabad. UN resolution 1373 passed in the wake of 9/11 has
been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and India should lobby
with UN members for its application to Pakistan since it
obligates states “to prevent the commission of terrorist acts” as well
as to “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit
terrorist acts, or provide safe havens.” Of course, we need to
understand that given the respective compulsions of states like the US
and China, none of these diplomatic steps will yield results.
The eventual goal has to be for New Delhi to bilaterally bring
Islamabad around to rejecting the instrument of terrorism. This is not
an impossible goal as was evident in the Vajpayee and Manmohan eras. The
ceasefire of 2003 and the subsequent back channel discussions led to a
sharp reduction of infiltration and violence in the Kashmir Valley.
Indeed, we also came close to working out a modus vivendi in Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan during this period.
Some of the suggestions above can be seen in the Modi approach to
Pakistan. But there is too much incoherence and rhetoric, which tends to
confuse both adversaries and citizens. Modi needs to get away from
using Jammu and Kashmir as part of his domestic electioneering and treat
the issue with the seriousness it deserves.
The Wire September 19, 2016