Insights into Editorial: After the terrorist strike in Pulwama, is war even an option?
The attack came in a crucial time of political uncertainty in J&K, the forthcoming general elections in India, and the meetings planned in connection with the opening of Kartarpur corridor for the facilitation of pilgrims with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
The attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which unleashed similar terror campaigns before in several places like Uri, and is believed to have been an associate of the Indian Parliament attack in 2001.
As India ratchets up its diplomatic offensive to globally isolate Pakistan, withdrawing the Most Favoured Nation status and building up a case for a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist, which would make it increasingly difficult for Pakistan’s struggling economy to raise loans, it is also preparing for a military option.
Army officials said that Retribution for the attack is only a matter of time. There are several reasons to suggest that this may be so.
Proportionate reaction: War as a reaction:
The response should be part of a comprehensive long-term, national-level strategy to counter Pakistan’s proxy war.
- The aim should be to raise the cost for Pakistan’s deep state of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for waging its proxy war, with a view to eventually making the cost prohibitive.
- The response should be proportionate and multidisciplinary in approach, comprising diplomatic, economic and military measures. It should include overt and covert actions.
- However, India’s conventional deterrence has failed to deter Pakistan’s proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism and it is now necessary to initiate strong military measures to prevent future terrorist strikes being launched from Pakistani soil.
- These measures should be carefully calculated to minimise the risk of escalation and must avoid collateral damage to the extent possible.
- The military’s aim should be to inflict punishment on the Pakistan army deployed on the LoC and terrorist training camps and related infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
- For each new act of state-sponsored terrorism, the scale and the intensity of the punishment inflicted should be increased by an order of magnitude.
- As long as the international boundary in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat is not crossed by Indian Air Force aircraft, escalation by Pakistan is unlikely.
How far does coercion work?
India has been at this juncture several times in the past, and over the last 18 years, short of an all-out war, has tried just about every kind of coercive mechanism in its efforts to induce behaviour change in Pakistan.
But the changes, if at all, have been temporary:
- In 2001-2002, after Jaish’s attack on Parliament, India mobilised half a million troops to its western border, the largest such build-up since 1971.
- India seriously considered an air-strike on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was persuaded to call it off by the US in light of a speech on January 12, 2002, by the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, in which he called the attack on Parliament a terrorist act and promised to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan.
- According to media reports in 2017, at the end of July 2002 India had also launched air-strikes against Pakistani bunkers at the LoC in the Kel area of Kupwara, the first such operation by the Air Force after the Kargil war.
- At the end of December 2001, India had withdrawn its High Commissioner to Pakistan, and asked the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi to cut down the number of officials and staff at the mission by 50%, and banned Pakistan International Airlines from Indian airspace.
- Pakistan responded by cutting the Indian diplomatic presence in Islamabad by half, and banning Indian flights from Pakistani airspace.
Other side of the coin: Issues to consider:
Basic issues have to be taken into account for taking a decision.
- First and foremost, what is the desired end state: destruction of the Pakistan army, which wields real power, or an action that buys a greater duration of peace?
- Second, if war is the solution, what would be the economic and social impact on India?
- Third, India has international support now, but would that be the case in a long-drawn-out affair?
China will never dump Pakistan due to its large economic and geopolitical stakes in Islamabad.
The U.S., though it has professed its strategic partnership with India, has made its exit from Afghanistan its first priority. It needs Pakistan in its talks with the Taliban and hence there are limits to its support.
Russia, too, has its own interests in Kabul, especially after the American exit, and hence requires Pakistan as an intermediary. Thus, geopolitically, Pakistan has the upper hand in pulling the power strings.
If escalation occurs through kinetic action, there would obviously be a loss of human lives and India needs to be prepared for that.
Here, the red herring of the nuclear factor needs to be removed. In terms of economic costs, the 1999 Kargil conflict made India poorer by many tens of thousands of crores (no official data are available and estimates vary greatly).
More importantly, we lost 527 brave Indians trying to re-take those hills. Diversion of Wealth reckoned in terms of money towards fighting efforts would denude finance required for addressing the economic and social realities of India.
India also considered withdrawing the MFN (most favoured nation) status which is the step it has taken now and abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty, deciding against both as unsound, and in the long run bad for India’s interests as these could become precedent-setters and used against India internationally.
However, the latest terror episode shows that India has not rectified its weak areas after the Kargil war which in fact had called for multi-level intelligence gathering and pre-emptive measures in respect of the intrusion and operation of non state actors in the Valley.
Once the government decides to go down the kinetic path, the armed forces are ready. The ‘reformation’ of Pakistan vis-à-vis India is not possible but this may get us some years of peace.
The peace dividend can be elongated by managing our diplomacy with other countries so that subsequently their acceptance of India’s just position serves as a deterrent to Pakistan’s inimical stance towards India.
Since the remaining roots of militancy are now in Pakistan and PoK, and Pakistan is not inclined to bring to justice the leaders of terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, terrorists they call ‘strategic assets’, they must be neutralised through strong deterrent and diplimatic and Isolation operations.