Dealing with Pakistan: Under Modi, India shedding 'soft state' image

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First Published 1, Mar 2019, 3:25 PM IST
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Dealing Pakistan Under Modi India shedding soft state image
Highlights

For the first time since both countries went overtly nuclear in the late 90s, India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. It has attacked a terrorist training centre in Pakistan killing 350 terrorists in their sleep. Pakistan, unequal to the task in conventional warfare, demonstrated as much in short order

It is a well known truism that there are few rich pickings in a place frequented by many. To strike the big gong, it is necessary for a country with ambition to sometimes reboot its strategic thinking and strike out in a direction it has never gone before. India might have had the wherewithal to wrest PoK back, even as it was stolen from under its nose in 1948, but we will never know for sure. Was a newly departed Britain in favour of our doing so?

But now, if not then, a much stronger India has just executed a new interpretation of an erstwhile imperial device called a “Forward Policy”. This Indian version, applied not primarily to a hostile neighbour per se, but to its state sponsored terrorists, could change both the power architecture and economic prospects of Pakistan. This is a possibility with profound and far reaching consequences.

Can the Pakistan Army apparatus including the formidable ISI, maintain its stranglehold on the benighted nation without its raison d'être? If it loses its preeminent power, will the elected civilian authorities be able to lead Pakistan into a future of peace, international cooperation and plenty?

India’s new frontier is an executed doctrine of preemptive and post atrocity punitive strikes against institutionalised terrorists. Pakistan has been conducting a low- cost, low- intensity war against India for decades, ever since it dreamed up the strategy at the Quetta Military Staff College in the 70s.

But now, with punitive strikes into PoK and Pakistan itself, India has cut the very Gordian knot that its “strategic restraint” and any amount of ameliorative diplomacy has failed to impress.

Not only this, but by this preemptive strike and what it implies for the future, the very ground is being cut off from under the feet of the separatist industry with its votaries ensconced both in the  Kashmir Valley and in other parts of India, including New Delhi.

Internationally, Israel may lash out at its neighbours, and be acknowledged kings of the precision strike, but none of its adversaries are nuclear powers, while Israel has its share of US given nuclear bombs and delivery systems.

And the mighty US, victims of meticulously planned terror strikes such as the 9/11 massacre and at sundry locations abroad, has been careful about which countries and entities it chooses to pound into the dust.

It is heartening however that the Donald Trump administration has been most supportive of India’s attempt to take the battle to the JeM terrorists. It has also upheld India’s right to self-defence. The same sentiment has been echoed by almost all of the big powers. The preemptive strike into Pakistan is seen as a task that needed doing for a long time and who is better placed than India to do it?

Even since 1947, India has suffered the consequences of the Partition in multiple ways – blood, anger, betrayal, humiliation, frustration and being hyphenated diplomatically and strategically with its hostile neighbour. This began to change with the end of the Cold War, and then India’s economic ascent in the mid 80s. At the same time Pakistan, while being strategically important to the West for a period, became a country abjectly dependent on aid and grants for its very survival.

By 2019, the economic contrast between the two has grown stark. Pakistan is now practically hand-to-mouth. It is dependent on China, building its costly China-Pakistan Economic Corridor at a time when its own economy is languishing. And help from traditional Islamic neighbours like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, also no longer in the pink of financial health themselves. In addition, Pakistan still tries to get some money from America which is in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. And then there are the borrowings and bail-outs from the multi-lateral agencies like the IMF, but these too are guided and largely controlled by the US.

India, the fastest growing major economy in the world, has chosen its strategic moment well. To execute a paradigm shift on its dealing with cross-border terrorism is a major task that was long overdue. It has killed over 80,000 people and injured even more over the last 30 years. But a series of terror attacks followed by strategic restraint on India’s part, and periodic talks with Pakistan have yielded no results. The Pakistan Army, it is understood, cannot maintain its hold if there is peace between India and Pakistan.

For the first time since both countries went overtly nuclear in the late 90s, India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. It has attacked a terrorist training centre in Pakistan killing 350 terrorists in their sleep. Pakistan, unequal to the task in conventional warfare, demonstrated as much in short order. It was unable to cause damage to Indian military establishments in the Nowshera sector of Jammu and Kashmir, though attacking with as many as 24 fighters on February 27. 

What India has done suggests that it will do so again in future, as and when necessary, and this will surely raise both the physical and psychological costs for Pakistan. The constant cease-fire violations along the LoC, so routine as to have become unremarkable, are another area where Pakistan may have to reassess its strategy. India is using much more sophisticated surveillance technology now, and has begun to return fire using long range heavy artillery more often than not.

International pressure, brought about by tireless diplomacy, and India’s refusal to negotiate till terror factories are dismantled and the offenders brought to justice, has forced Pakistan’s hand. It had to adhere to the Geneva Convention and return a captured Indian pilot in short order, something it was reluctant to do. 

Though it will take some time for it to sink in, the reckless Pakistani policy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts may well have run its course. The UNSC including China, quite a few in the UN general assembly, and even the OIC, have also weighed in. The next steps could lead to international sanctions and boycotts if Pakistan does not pay heed. 

For too long Pakistan has worked on and taken advantage of the assumption of a pacifist India. Though India is a nuclear power, with a delivery “triad” in place, it has neither been a proliferator, nor issued nuclear threats to anybody.

But India does have conventional military superiority over Pakistan, and is sharply escalating its military modernisation programme to protect itself from both Pakistan and China. 

India is simultaneously cracking down, again for the first time, on separatist elements and organisations within Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India. There is also every possibility of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir being abrogated in order to achieve a fuller integration with the rest of India. 

Much of the new paradigm and its continuance will depend on Narendra Modi winning a second term in office, given his sharp policy departure from the past. But with the nation’s patriotism aroused, this looks much more likely than before the Valentine Day massacre of over 40 CRPF soldiers at Pulwama. 

Pakistan, via the JeM, could not have chosen a worse time to up the ante.

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