OPINION

The two NSAs must meet

OLD FORMULA:“Looking at past provocations, such as Kargil and the Parliament and Mumbai attacks, we have often used diplomatic pressure, and on most occasions it has worked.” Picture shows soldiers outside the army base, in Uri. —PHOTO: PTI

OLD FORMULA:“Looking at past provocations, such as Kargil and the Parliament and Mumbai attacks, we have often used diplomatic pressure, and on most occasions it has worked.” Picture shows soldiers outside the army base, in Uri. —PHOTO: PTI  

The fidayeen attack, reportedly by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, on an Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday morning is a very serious provocation. As we know, Pakistan does this periodically, whether it was the Kaluchak attack of May 2002 or the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. In fact, the Kaluchak attack was very similar — the death toll crossed 30, and in fact, families of officers and jawans too were killed. That attack, in the summer of 2002, broke the proverbial camel’s back.

The background to the Uri attack is the high-pitched rhetoric from the Pakistani establishment, and it is interesting to note that this change came in the wake of the Panama Papers exposure that weakened Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif politically. Till then there was a good chemistry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Sharif. The Panama Papers isolated him politically, and made him vulnerable vis-à-vis the military. Subsequently, you heard uncharacteristically aggressive rhetoric from him on Kashmir, and on Burhan Wani’s killing. It seemed to go against the grain, and that he was under pressure was evident. To this escalation in rhetoric, India brought up Balochistan.

Raising the stakes

For whatever reason, Pakistan has chosen to dangerously raise the stakes with the Uri attack. It is the worst attack on the Indian Army by Pakistan-backed terrorists since Kaluchak more than a decade ago, and the Prime Minister had no option but to say that the strike would not go unpunished.

Looking at past provocations, such as Kargil and the Parliament and Mumbai attacks, we have often used diplomatic pressure, and on most occasions it has worked. After Uri, Mr. Modi has said India will isolate Pakistan internationally, and there is some merit in going down that route. For instance, after the Parliament attack of December 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government downgraded diplomatic relations with Pakistan. This option is now on the table.

There is also talk of a surgical strike. These things have been thought of in the past too, and obviously this is a call the government has to take, all things considered. However, here two things are not in India’s favour. One, relations with Pakistan are already not good; and it may sound strange to say this, but surgical strikes work when bilateral relations are better.

Two, we currently have a mess in Kashmir. Normal life has been thrown out of gear for more than two months, the death toll continues to rise, and the government and security forces are not able to break the cycle of protests. The fallout of rising bilateral tensions would be to encourage the boys — or militants — in south Kashmir. Kashmir needs to be dealt with separately, not in conjunction with our relationship with Pakistan. We have already wasted too much time, and containment is never going to be enough. We did contain the situation in the 1990s. But there cannot be a solution through containment by the security forces. It’s a political matter. All this is an aside, and may not be directly related to our response to Uri, but it is part of the backdrop.

Better sense needed

The fallout of Uri is not looking very good, and I hope better sense will prevail in Pakistan. There is talk of the DGMOs (Directors General of Military Operations) talking, but that is a formality. Information may be shared, but as we saw after the Pathankot attack earlier this year, and after the Mumbai attacks, nothing is likely to come out of this.

There is a more serious dialogue needed. I am, instead, hopeful that the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of both countries are talking to each other. This is a serious juncture, and I would hope that they will meet somewhere — it does not have to be in the media spotlight. India has some stern lecturing and questioning to do. Pakistan has some explaining to do, and the onus is on Islamabad to help us all get out of a mess that is of their making. The two countries have already done away with the backchannel — the NSAs, who reportedly have a good rapport, are the only backchannel of sorts that we still have. They must meet. And after that New Delhi must do what it has to do.

After the Mumbai attacks, there were reports that the Director General, Inter-Services Intelligence, would be sent to India. Even at the time, the idea seemed a bit unrealistic, and eventually he did not come. But had he come, it might have soothed public opinion. Something out of the usual, out of the ordinary, is needed today.

Meanwhile, suggestions that the Prime Minister should call off his scheduled visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit are premature. There is plenty of time to take a considered view on that. This is not the right time.

Uri, however, is a reminder that India needs a long-term strategic policy on Pakistan. And in the immediate aftermath, the government should do what it needs to do, without saying too much — else, things you may have nothing to do with get attributed to you.

A.S. Dulat, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, was an adviser on Kashmir in the Prime Minister’s Office.



Pakistan has some explaining to do, and the onus is on Islamabad to help us all get out of a mess that is of

their making



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