Solving the Pakistan puzzle

The terrorist attack on an Indian Army base in north Kashmir’s Uri by Pakistan-based terror groups has rekindled a long-standing debate in the country on how to deal with its troublesome neighbour, Pakistan. At the same time, it has called into serious question the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s incoherent policy towards Pakistan, characterised by a consistent lack of nuanced understanding of the art of diplomacy, and the costs of war.

A cursory analysis of the BJP-led government’s Pakistan policy reveals an inherent desire for quick returns from what is arguably India’s most difficult bilateral challenge which goes to indicate how historically unsound the thinking behind the BJP’s Pakistan policy has so far been. After the initial reach out during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in, the year-long military stand-off on the international border in Jammu stalled progress between the two sides. The quiet parleys between the two National Security Advisers thereafter brought some semblance of normalcy back into the relationship, which was further cemented by Mr. Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore in December, something that has apparently become a millstone around his neck today.

Pakistan’s inability to keep promises

Surprisingly, the Pathankot terror attack in January did not damage the relationship beyond repair as the political management of its aftermath was exceptionally tactful. Then came Uri. The key reason why the Uri attack mauled the relationship so badly is because it took place in the backdrop of the Kashmir unrest which was proving to be awkward for the Central government. Thanks to Pakistan’s ‘not-so-diplomatic’ support to Kashmir, BJP spin doctors managed to cleverly use the Uri shocker to divert attention from the persistent unrest in the Valley. When the nation is busy preparing for a war with Pakistan to pay back for the Uri massacre, how could anyone be bothered about Kashmir!

While New Delhi does not have an imaginative Pakistan policy, Islamabad is clearly an unreliable neighbour. Islamabad continues to be unwilling to rein in its anti-India rhetoric, keep its promises on basic bilateral courtesies, and stop the terror masterminds from plotting and waging their covert wars against India. In the wake of the deplorable Uri attacks, Pakistan must answer some hard questions. Why did it not allow the National Investigation Agency team to visit Pakistan after India allowed Pakistani investigators to visit Pathankot? Why did it not bring Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) leader Masood Azhar to book post-Pathankot? Given that the JeM is reportedly behind the Uri attack, it ‘indirectly’ implicates Pakistan for letting Masood Azhar walk free after Pathankot. There is no evidence yet of the Pakistani state’s direct complicity in the attack. If such evidence indeed emerges, Pakistan will need to answer many more hard questions. Pakistan needs to show some seriousness if it is keen on improving the relationship — it can’t be a one-way street.

Thinking beyond the military option

Despite the relentless clamour for a military reprisal against Pakistan, the understated, but well-thought-out, view within the Indian strategic community, including retired commanders of the Indian military, is that coercion may not be a feasible option vis-à-vis Pakistan, for a variety of reasons. A step-by-step cost-benefit analysis of using a military response to Pakistan would show that we are likely to be worse off after carrying out a military mission, of any intensity, against Pakistan, including on the terrorism front. The point here is not that the Indian military can’t fight and win a war of attrition with Pakistan: it can, even under nuclear conditions, albeit not without inviting massive damage on the country. But the policy-makers need to carefully consider if they want to risk a potential nuclear exchange in response to a terror strike. Hence the unacceptable costs of winning a war with Pakistan should persuade us to look for other strategies of dealing with it. “War,” after all, as Clausewitz put it, “is not an act of senseless passion.”

If we rule out the coercive options using simulated scenarios, how do we then deal with a Pakistan that is seemingly uninterested in winding down its terror machinery against India? Doing nothing can’t be a policy either, although that has been the preferred option all this while.

First of all, New Delhi needs to view and deal with Pakistan within its larger grand strategic scheme. Quick-fix solutions and like-responses will only get us into an ugly dogfight with Pakistan which are not in consonance with India’s global ambitions and developmental goals. It’s worrying that New Delhi’s language and tactics have already started resembling those of Pakistan, which is a direct result of not keeping the big picture in mind. In the grand strategic scheme of things, Pakistan is an irritant, not a strategic threat: so treat it like it, and focus on the real strategic threats.

The ‘India can survive’ reality

Second, however unpopular it might sound and however painful they are, the reality is that we can, as a nation and state, survive these attacks. Successive governments in New Delhi have intuitively recognised this. If anything, every terrorist attack directed against India continues to weaken the Pakistani state and nation: its sovereignty, economy and character. Pakistan’s 28-year-long Kashmir campaign has not only not managed to wrest Kashmir from India, it is today on the verge of self-destruction primarily due to its misguided Kashmir policy.

Third, it is time we learnt to defend ourselves better, with better equipment for our forces, a better fence on the Line of Control and the International Border, more army-Border Security Force deployment on the vulnerable areas of the fence, and by adopting more efficient and technologically sophisticated border management practices. Moreover, it is important to ask hard questions on the security lapses which led to 18 soldiers being killed by terrorists. Clearly, in the self-generated commotion surrounding “teaching Pakistan a lesson”, we forgot to ask the government as to how and why this attack took place in the first place. Kashmir was on fire, Uri is a traditional infiltration route and there was intelligence about a possible strike. Who then is responsible for the shocking lapses that led to the death of our soldiers? The government has not yet given a comprehensive assessment of the attack. The BJP leadership cannot be allowed to deflect these crucial questions concerning our national security by issuing statements such as “we should not discredit the sacrifices of our soldiers”.

Dealing with Rawalpindi

Fourth, engaging a hydra-headed Pakistan requires creative statecraft, and for this New Delhi needs to think outside the traditional modes of diplomacy. While riding high on his birthday tête-à-tête with Mr. Sharif, Mr. Modi and his advisers forgot to keep in mind the most important actor that matters in Pakistan’s policy towards India: the Pakistan Army. It is important to note that Pakistan’s Army is driven by strategic choices and politico-economic rationale which the decision-makers in New Delhi need to analyse and understand, and then reach out to the generals in Rawalpindi accordingly. Repeating that ‘Army runs Pakistan, civilian government has no power there’ is a lazy complaint; looking for ways to work around its complex rational calculus is smart statecraft. If New Delhi wishes to choose the latter, it needs to engage the ‘enemy’, the Pakistan Army, by perhaps opening discreet negotiations with it. When New Delhi engages Pakistan Army’s rational calculus through the Islamabad’s political establishment, the message seems to get lost in translation. It’s time to convey the message directly and address Rawalpindi’s pay-off structure.

Finally, if Kashmir is what forms the raison d’etre of Pakistan’s proxy war against India, India can successfully deal with Pakistan and its rationale by addressing Kashmir in the first place. In so far as Kashmir is on the boil, Pakistan, till it is persuaded to give up its claim on it — which is hard to happen — will inevitably try and take advantage of the situation there. Hence, even if India is unable to deal with Pakistan’s absolutist claims on Kashmir, it can and should effectively deal with Kashmir which will necessarily weaken Pakistan’s Kashmir claims.

Going by that logic, blaming the Kashmir unrest on Pakistan instead of pacifying the rage in the Valley can only make things difficult for our ability to deal with Pakistan. So far, New Delhi’s policies have been a failure on both fronts. Every time we link Pakistan to Kashmir by blaming Islamabad for the protests in the Valley, we are only helping Pakistan’s Kashmir cause. The argument here is not that Pakistan is not engaged in a proxy war in Kashmir, but that the government’s intellectual and political inability to pacify Kashmir should not be excused using the Pakistan bogey. It would be useful for the BJP to take on board Chanakya’s perceptive advice in Arthasasthra: “A ruler with loyal people accomplishes his task even with a little help because of their cooperation.”

Mr. Modi in his speech at the ongoing BJP conclave in Kozhikode de-emphasised the military option as a response to the Uri attack and instead called “upon people of Pakistan to come forward, fight a war on who defeats unemployment, poverty, illiteracy first”. His invocation to the Pakistani people to ask uncomfortable questions of their government on terror, and focus on development is indeed a good beginning.

Happymon Jacob is an Associate Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Related Topics