One more attack on India. Two more soldiers killed, their bodies mutilated. A brutal, vicious act, by all reckoning, carried out by the Pakistan Border Action Team. The incident, seen as “reprehensible and inhuman” by the government, puts fresh pressure on the Narendra Modi government to deal with the neighbour strongly, possibly in manners similar to last year’s surgical strike. Indian forces had at the time gone into Pakistan-held territory and destroyed terror launch pads in response to an attack on an army base in Uri by Pakistani-origin militants.It is not the first time that Indian soldiers have been killed, and their bodies mutilated and desecrated, by Pakistani forces. Killing soldiers when you are not at war, and officially we are not, is possibly an act of war. In 2016, 60 Indian soldiers lost their life on the border with Pakistan. But, it is not just about unprovoked shelling and killings. It is also the way bodies are desecrated, and human heads are taken as the spoils of war, that is a violation of the Geneva Convention, and a war crime.
Between Kargil (1999) and now, Indian soldiers have been tortured, killed, desecrated, mutilated. We have all read about Captain Saurabh Kalia, and the way he was tortured and murdered. The following year, Ilyas Kashmiri, the Al Qaeda commander, took back the head of Jawan Bhausaheb Maruti Talekar, supposedly as a gift for President Musharraf. For a while after that, it was relatively less barbaric on the western front until 2008 — when a soldier who lost his way was captured, and his headless body left behind. There was a lull again, though the deaths continued, till 2013 when Lance Naik Hemraj was beheaded. Then last year, there were two beheadings, and this year two more.
Pakistan, of course, and as always, has denied all involvement. And as always, manages to portray itself as the ‘victim of terror’ while glossing over the fact that the terrorists were nurtured on their territory by their largesse. Since 9/11, the world at large has seen what India had been experiencing since Independence: the involvement of Pakistanis in acts of terror on their soil. The West is lucky, because geographically Pakistan is not next to them, but acts of terror by people of Pakistani origin have brought the problem up front and close to the West. India is stuck in an unfortunate space. We cannot change our neighbour, nor can we change our neighbourhood.
After the PM Modi and his security planners – including ad hoc Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, key Cabinet ministers, the army, navy and air force chiefs and the heads of intelligence agencies — met to weigh revenge against the perpetrators of the attack, it is becoming clear that Modi is short of retaliatory options.
The leaders seems to only agree on a diplomatic plan to expose Pakistan in international forums as a State that supports terrorism — something that New Delhi has already been doing.
This, however, would fail to douse inflamed Indian opinion, with critics already asking on social media how diplomatically isolating Pakistan punishes those behind these dastardly acts.
Essentially, the government’s repeated promises to respond harshly to Pakistani provocation have exposed it to criticism if it acts moderately. In November 2008, in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the United Progressive Alliance government had ruled out a military response after the three service chiefs were unable to offer viable response options.
Nine years later, Prime Minister Modi has discovered there are still no plans to adequately punish Pakistan for unacceptable provocations. Top Indian planners, including NSA Doval and the PM himself, are known to admire Israel’s tough response to cross-border terrorism. However, New Delhi’s situation is far more complex than Tel Aviv’s, which enjoys preponderant military superiority over all its neighbours.
In contrast, India faces a cross-border terrorism challenge from the Pakistani military, which Credit Suisse has ranked the 11th-most powerful in the world, which means Pakistan is capable of protecting its territory and airspace.
Further, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is on level with India’s. For these reasons Doval, who is masterminding a tough response against a civilian unrest in Kashmir, is finding Pakistan rather a tougher nut to crack. There is also a shortfall of military expertise at the top-most planning levels. With Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar having taken control of security and foreign policy, the army, navy and air force chiefs have — like many of their predecessors — found themselves on the sidelines in a subordinate role.
With the military and the defence ministry distanced themselves from the planning loop, there are no clear contingency plans for retaliation. True, the military has a list of targets in Pakistan, strategic as well as tactical, that can be struck. But there has been no inter-agency planning, where the ministries of external affairs, home, defence and the National Security Council have evaluated the strike options, the escalation dynamics caused by inevitable Pakistani retaliation, nuclear crisis management, and the diplomatic handling of the international community, to assuage fears of a full-blown conflagration between two nuclear armed States.
Already, planners are wrestling with the question of responding to the beheading of our soldiers, without falling into the Pakistan trap of ‘internationalising’ the Kashmir dispute during the visit of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current President of Turkey.
So, what should be the course of action to tackle this menace? Clearly, India’s carefully calibrated strategy to fight Pakistan’s proxies within its own borders and on its own side of the Line of Control (LoC), in order to keep the level and the intensity of conflict low and maintain a stable environment for rapid economic growth, has not yielded the desired dividends.
The increasing attempts at infiltration across the LoC and the spurt in encounters with terrorists in the Kashmir valley recently show that Pakistan’s proxy war against India is continuing unabated. In order to reduce casualties and damage to property, India’s response needs to be reviewed and upgraded to a more pro-active one that raises Pakistan’s cost for waging a proxy war.
According to Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd), who is a Distinguished Fellow at Institute of Defence Strategy and Analyses, New Delhi, India should pursue a four-pronged strategy to gradually force Pakistan to stop waging a proxy war against India. While writing on rediff.com he suggests that incidents like the terrorist strike at the Pathankot air base in January 2016 and later in Uri and the recent beheading, Pakistan’s proclivity to remain in denial even though hard evidence of the involvement of organs of the State is given to it, are exhausting Indian patience. So, the security establishment of the country must use four-pronged strategies to curb this menace.
“Firstly, the Pakistan army must be made to pay for sending Lashkar E Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists to strike army and civilian targets in India.
“The army and the IAF should ‘hit to hurt’ the Pakistan army on the LoC where it is deployed in large numbers and can be easily reached. For every act of terrorism on Indian territory for which there is credible evidence pointing to the involvement of the Pakistan army and the ISI, carefully calibrated military strikes must be launched against the Pakistan army.
“These should include artillery strikes with guns firing in the ‘pistol gun’ mode to destroy bunkers on forward posts with minimum collateral damage; stand-off PGM strikes on brigade and battalion HQ, communications centres, logistics infrastructure, ammunition dumps and key bridges; and raids by Special Forces and border action teams.
“Every Pakistan post through which infiltration takes place should be reduced to rubble by artillery fire.
“Secondly, as Pakistan continues to drag its feet in bringing to justice the leaders of terrorist organisations against whom hard evidence has been provided by India, covert operations should be launched to bring them to justice. These should be based on hard core ‘actionable’ intelligence and should be sanctioned at appropriate levels.
“In any case, Pakistan’s ISI has been conducting covert operations in India for long. Since Pakistan is not inclined to bring to justice the leaders of terrorist organisations like the LeT and the JeM, terrorists whom they call ‘strategic assets’, must be neutralised through covert operations.
“Thirdly, India should continue to engage the elected civilian leadership of Pakistan with a view to resolving the seemingly intractable disputes between the two countries and reducing the salience of the Pakistan army in the country’s polity.
“India should also engage members of Pakistan’s civil society and senior veterans of its armed forces who are amenable to seeing reason as they wield considerable influence with the generals in command.
“Efforts to further liberalise the visa regime, encourage people-to-people contacts and enhance trade should continue.
“Finally, along with overt military measures and covert operations, India’s growing diplomatic clout must be harnessed to influence the outcome by isolating the Pakistan army internationally as a rogue army for the acts of terrorism that it perpetuates along with the ISI.
“The international community that is already tired of Pakistan’s shenanigans in Afghanistan will not need too much convincing to accept that the time has come to stop mollycoddling the Pakistan army on the grounds that it must be supported in order to ensure that its nuclear weapons do not fall into jihadi hands.
“Instead of wining and dining the military leadership, the international community must censure the Pakistan army in the strictest possible terms and ensure that it stops attempting to destabilise its neighbours.
“Failing satisfactory progress, the United Nations Security Council should be approached to approve an embargo on the sale of arms, ammunition and military equipment to Pakistan.
“If the UNSC resolution is vetoed by China, as it well might be, India should use its buyers’ clout in the military industrial complex to ensure that arms manufacturers that supply weapons and defence equipment to Pakistan stop doing so.
“India should lobby extensively with the US political leadership and the members of the US Congress to apprise them of the fact that continuing US support for the Pakistan army is hurting the growing India-US strategic partnership.
US military aid strengthens the Pakistan army and gives it greater confidence to destabilise its neighbourhood with impunity.
This four-pronged strategy should succeed in bringing Pakistan’s proxy war to an end in one to two years,” writes Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd).
Finally, the Government of India needs to stop wanting to be liked by the world at large. Our foreign policy has traditionally been driven by a certain self-image, something akin to a nice and cuddly teddy bear, a friend to the world. The present dispensation needs to stop wanting to be liked, or seeking international approval, vis-à-vis its relationship with Pakistan. It is only when India acts in its self-interest, without worrying about what the world at large will think of us, in our dealings with Pakistan, will there be some cessation of violence from our neighbour.
By Nilabh Krishna