Lead

For an iron fist in a velvet glove

When the former Chief of Army Staff, and now Union Minister of state for External Affairs, Gen V.K. Singh, >tweeted the words “duty” and “disgust” which were reportedly linked to his attending the Pakistan National Day function last month at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, and where leaders of the Hurriyat Conference were also present, it created controversy. But these words may come to represent the state of >India-Pakistan relations under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government which seeks to present a more muscular foreign and security policy, and one that is different from that of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. While the engagement with Pakistan was resumed during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meet in Nepal last year, the inevitable flip-flop over reviving the dialogue with our neighbour culminated in this embarrassing episode — of the tweets.

The ball is now in Pakistan’s court since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the National Day, noted that talks could begin only if held in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. This is déjà vu. Why did the government send Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar to Islamabad this year and not announce the resumption of talks?

It could be that the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, has no intention of delinking terrorism from dialogue as it serves as a pressure point; its dividend is low-cost and high-yield. The series of cross-border attacks in March and April in Jammu were designed to keep the Kashmir disturbances alive, the Punjabi Taliban busy and the Indian establishment on the hop.

Combating terrorism

The attacks coincided with a government-inspired Track-II conference on counter terrorism, in March 2015 and held in Jaipur, where the best Indian and international minds were to discuss the subject. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Advisor Ajit K. Doval and Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje spoke. Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar were busy because of a train accident and the terror strikes in Jammu. The fidayeen attacks, which happened on the first two days of the conference, were a direct response to the predictable Pakistan-bashing not just by the usual suspects but also a number of American and Pakistani participants who feature in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) Red Book.

Mr. Doval made light of American and Western efforts in combating terrorism. His question: 14 years [after 9/11] and $5.3 trillion later, was the world a safer place? He also remarked that the costs did not match the results. The interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the Arab Spring have spawned a new set of jihadi non-state players, prime among them being the Islamic State (IS). The approach by the United States to terrorism has moderated with time. U.S. President George W. Bush began the international campaign against terror by announcing the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT), replacing the word “crusade” that had crept in. In 2004, it was replaced with the term “US Military Engagement/Commitment Overseas” as it sounded politically correct. In February this year, the U.S.’s glossary on military terminology added an innocuous new acronym — CVE or Countering Violent Extremism. It was introduced by U.S. President Barack Obama at a meeting in February this year at the White House in the presence of representatives of the 60-country coalition involved in rolling back the IS’s progress. Here he made four points: remain unwavering in the fight against terrorist organisations; confront warped ideologies; address political and economic grievances that terrorists exploit, and respect all faiths. This is the first holistic enunciation of a policy countering terrorism/violent extremism and outcomes will depend on how comprehensively the policy is interpreted and implemented by different countries.

Experts are divided on the way in which terrorism is used as a tool to promote ideology and faith. A minority view is that violence has not worked. While it is at its peak today and will continue on this trajectory, it is destined to decline. Some analysts believe that the IS genie is out of the bottle and is here to stay; it is not a spontaneous movement but a planned organisation assembled from the spillover of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the intervention in Libya and the war in Syria. Others feel that the IS is not sustainable and while it will expand, it will quickly disintegrate. But most agree that this is a war within Islam — the Muslim/Arab world — exacerbated by the Shia-Sunni sectarian strife driven by both geopolitics and powerful sects. In the end, the IS will fail because a majority of Muslims will have rejected it.

Pakistan’s terror campaign

While the jury is out on whether the international politico-military campaign against terrorism is succeeding or not, one place where cross-border terrorism and violence seem to have worked is Jammu and Kashmir — which is at least the perception of the Pakistan military establishment. Infiltration and cross-border terrorism have been the operational credo of the jihadis and the Pakistan Army; from 1947 to this day, they have not ceased, and employ all the tactics including those used in every war fought with India.

Pakistan had revitalised these tactics through its two-pronged offensives in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir in the late 1980s. While the Punjab police succeeded in crushing Khalistani terrorism, insurgency and terrorism have made gains in Jammu and Kashmir without any deterrent response. Instead, in the mid-1990s, New Delhi did something inscrutable. It quietly dismantled its deep assets inside Pakistan and offered it along with other SAARC nations, non-reciprocal concessions.

The Pakistan Army’s calibrated operations inside Jammu and Kashmir going unpunished are a visible measure of the success of cross-border terrorism which was confined to the geographical limits of the State. This had emboldened the ISI to cross this red line which resulted in the terror attacks on Parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008. In turn, India’s limited response in 2001 had a temporary but sobering effect on cross-border terror as Gen. Pervez Musharraf — as long as he was in command — kept the ISI on a leash. But there have been gains from the full-scale Indian mobilisation called Operation Parakrama. It led to a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in 2003 and a marked reduction in infiltration and cross-border terror, but it was not the end of it. The attack by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) on Mumbai elicited zero Indian response even after crucial evidence was provided by the lone surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab.

Cross-border terrorism has served Pakistan well to compensate for its lack of conventional military equivalence with India. It has progressively lowered its nuclear threshold to deter an Indian riposte to an iconic terror attack. In short, Pakistan is waging its proxy war under a nuclear overhang.

Indian response

How has India fared in countering infiltration and cross-border terror? It has dealt with the challenge in a way that is purely defensive. The concept of adopting offensive methods or active defence/forward defence has figured only in discussions in think tanks and not in the war rooms of military headquarters. Reacting passively with defences based on Maginot Line-like ditch-cum-bunds on the international border and fencing on the LoC only reflects the lack of political will. Even during the Kargil war, the LoC remained sacrosanct though there was a heavy cost in terms of a loss of lives. Because of fencing, the Indian Army congratulates itself for reducing infiltration, from a torrent to a trickle, and containing cross-border terrorism. The terrorist population inside Jammu and Kashmir has shrunk from a figure of 3,000 to 300. Still, the ISI retains the capacity to despatch fidayeens at a time and place of its choosing in Jammu and Kashmir as demonstrated by the twin terrorist attacks in Jammu in March. Speaking in New Delhi on the subject of the challenges to national security at the Growth Net seminar recently, Mr. Doval said: “We want to deal with Pakistan in a way which is fair, correct, transparent and which is not bending to any of the pressure tactics or the blackmailing or the thinking that nuclear threshold will probably leave India with no option but to accept the covert war as a reality to which they don't have any response.”

Gen. Sharif is likely to continue pressing India in Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistan Army sees its low-cost, high-gain strategy as very successful and will not abandon it till it is forced to, for acquiescing to India’s hegemony will be an admission of defeat. It will never accept a subordinate position to India, and therefore, continue its quest for parity even if it has to eat humble pie. One of its crown jewels and a proponent of cross-border terror, the LeT, is on a leash. The self-acclaimed, muscular NDA government now faces a twin dilemma: how to resume the bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free of terrorism and violence and the perennial ‘how to respond to the next big terrorist attack’. The answers are obvious: resume dialogue immediately and make Pakistan pay, militarily and diplomatically, and with compound interest, for fostering cross-border terrorism. The password is political will.

(Gen. Ashok Kumar Mehta is founder member of India’s Defence Planning Staff, now the Integrated Defence Staff.)

This article has been corrected for a factual error.


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 3:37:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/for-an-iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove/article7078264.ece

Next Story