But New Delhi must create strong disincentives for hostile actions by Islamabad

The validity of our strategic objectives towards Pakistan should not be allowed to be distorted by any jingoistic reaction to the incident in Jammu & Kashmir on January 8, 2013, in which two Indian soldiers were killed well inside Indian territory by a Pakistani Army group and where one of them was allegedly decapitated.

While Pakistan has denied any decapitation, it has sought to project the incident as in retaliation for an earlier incident on January 6 in the Uri sector in which, according to it, a Pakistani soldier was killed by a raiding Indian Army unit. This has been denied by the Indian Army. According to it, it merely countered covering fire by Pakistani units in the area to facilitate the infiltration of some militants into J&K across the Uri area.

In the present state of contentious relations between the two countries, it would be difficult to establish the real sequence of events. Each government and Army will assert the veracity of its version.

Dialogue process

Our strategic objectives are to work for good neighbourly relations marked by normal trade, people to people contacts, greater sporting and cultural interactions, hassle-free travel and a confidence-building mechanism. A sustained dialogue process is necessary to achieve these objectives.

It will be unwise and short-sighted to allow our justified anger over the incident of January 8 to undermine the dialogue process. It will be in the interest of the people of both countries to resist the urge to discontinue the dialogue process.

At the same time, one has to recognise that such incidents of tactical gravity will continue to mar bilateral relations so long as there is no genuine change of mindset in the Pakistan Army towards India. This mindset is marked by sustained hostility towards India and a determination to annexe J&K and keep India destabilised through the use of terrorism as a strategic weapon against India.

Having achieved a reduction of the nuclear and conventional asymmetry through the acquisition of a nuclear and missile capability, Pakistan has built up for itself a set of tactical options to keep India bleeding and destabilised through terrorism and other means without triggering off a conventional and nuclear war.

The January 8 incident arose from the Pakistan Army’s confidence that India has limited tactical options to retaliate without running the risk of starting a conventional and nuclear war. Pakistan’s experience in helping the United States in waging a covert warfare against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan with the help of surrogates has taught it the importance of building for itself a mix of covert tactical options that it can use against India.

Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao knew the importance of a covert tactical armoury to act as a disincentive against Pakistan for increasing the cost of its using terrorism against India and encouraging it to seek accommodation with India.

Our subsequent Prime Ministers and our elite have had no understanding of the importance of such an armoury to supplement our conventional and nuclear arsenal.

As a result, we are totally bereft of any tactical options for riposte against Pakistan when it indulges in actions such as the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai or the January 8 incident in J&K. A power without suitable means of covert riposte will find itself a paper tiger.

Pakistan’s mistaken belief that its nuclear, missile and covert capabilities have reduced India to a paper tiger has to be removed through the acquisition of covert options. Covert action does not mean doing to Pakistan what it has been doing to us. It means creating strong disincentives for its hostile actions. It does not mean tit-for-tat action. It means creating concerns and uncertainty in its mind about the consequences of its actions.

Covert action, to be effective, has to be sustained and unpredictable and must be based on the support of objective allies in its population. We have such objective allies in its population. It is for us to identify them and make common cause with them.

(B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd.), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.)