A coherent response

Monday’s terrorist attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab, underlines the theory that the rogue elements in Pakistan would go to any extent to sabotage any breakthrough in India-Pakistan ties. The timing of the attack is hardly lost on anyone. Ever since the joint statement by India and Pakistan in Ufa, Russia earlier this month, the border region has been restive. The Prime Ministers’ meeting was immediately followed by firing across the Line of Control. Apropos Gurdaspur, initial reports suggest that terrorists based in Pakistan crossed the border into Punjab to carry out the attacks. This marked the first major terror attack in Punjab in the last two decades, setting alarm bells ringing in New Delhi for a number of reasons. First, it shows the terrorists based in Pakistan have now started targeting border towns outside Jammu and Kashmir. Second, there were recent reports that Sikh extremists were finding support in Pakistan, among other countries, triggering fears about the dormant Sikh militancy. Punjab could yet be a potential target of terrorists, something that New Delhi should be aware of. Third, such attacks obviously pose challenges to the normalisation of ties between the two countries.

The attacks have already led to the rise of demands for a “strong response” to Pakistan. In a clear change of tone, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said India wants peace with Pakistan but not “at the cost of national honour”. But knee-jerk reactions cannot serve India’s strategic purposes as that is precisely the response the rogue elements in Pakistan seek. Instead, New Delhi should take a positive view of its recent policy of engagement with Pakistan, in place since the 2003 ceasefire. Apart from the sporadic cross-border firing, the border areas have been largely peaceful compared to the far more turbulent 1990s. India should take this policy of engagement forward, addressing both its internal security and peace-building with the neighbour through a multi-pronged Pakistan policy. India should prepare itself to prevent future terror attacks by bolstering its counter-terror and intelligence capacities further. Bilaterally, New Delhi should continue the dialogue with Islamabad and improve upon mechanisms that address border incidents. Internationally, India should not hesitate to raise Pakistan’s dual policy towards terrorism with the Pakistani army’s close allies such as the U.S. and China in bilateral and multinational forums. India can deal with Pakistan using an “iron fist in a velvet glove”.

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