Changing The Dynamic


Sept 29, the day when India’s civilian leadership showed resolve and had the army respond to the terror attack in Uri. But there’s a larger picture here, of the prime minister seeking to change India-Pak dynamics. Surya Gangadharan analyses...

“We attacked in 1971 and had Bangladesh freed in less than 2 weeks. If India had attacked in 2002, we should not be facing any more terrorist attacks”

–“Short swift battles are the order of the day. Catch hold of those hiding in Pak and eliminate them”

–“Pakistan is a rogue state, they have nothing to lose”

That’s a sample of some of the views circulating on various media including social media. Clearly,post-Uri, the “attack Pakistan now” constituency has never perhaps been more active, whether on social media or television debates.

This constituency also believes Narendra Modi must put his money where his mouth is, in other words live up to his tough guy persona by giving Pakistan a bloody nose. Modi hinted at such a response through a tweet that went viral shortly after the Uri attack. It said: “Those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished.”

The tweet may not have been made without due calculation. In fact, strategic writers like Prof. C.Rajamohan believe that Modi, unlike the Congress, is more willing to take risks with Pakistan. The unheralded meeting with Nawaz Sharif in Lahore was one manifestation of this.

But more interesting, he writes, is “the PM’s response since the summer … to bring Balochistan, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan into the political contestation with Islamabad. Delhi has also seized the opportunity to deepen strategic collaboration with Afghanistan.” India has already supplied Kabul with attack helicopters and media reports suggest Delhi maybe willing to approve the list of military hardware Afghanistan wants.

Balochistan is a more recent development and unlike the past, India may be willing to move beyond empty talk. Balochistan is Pakistan’s soft underbelly, a province rich in natural gas and minerals with the strategically sited Gwadar port overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Straits of Hormuz. For that very reason, the province has seen savage levels of Pak army violence against the Baloch.

It may not be the kind of genocide that brought India’s intervention in Bangladesh in 1971, but as Hardeep Puri, India’s former ambassador to the UN said recently: “If there is mass killing in India’s neighbourhood, we will intervene.”

It’s also important to recall NSA Ajit Doval’s warning not so long ago: “You can do one Mumbai, you may lose Balochistan ... Pakistan are not our well wishers.”

Pakistan specialist Sushant Sareen echoes a similar viewpoint: “…if the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in Hangzhou is anything to go by – he not only pointed to Pakistan as the one country spreading terror in the region, but also called for isolating and sanctioning countries that sponsor terrorism – the policy of the past may be changing. India will now give back as good as it gets and will use every available diplomatic forum to isolate Pakistan and expose it before the international community.”

That is at the diplomatic level, at the tactical level enough signals have been sent that India is willing to intensify covert cross-border operations against Pakistan and even consider the prospect of a full scale war.

“What we are probably seeing,” argues a senior army officer, “is the synergistic use of every instrument of national power to deliver strategic and other goals.”

How successful this strategy is will be known before long. But the prime minister’s decision to “up the stakes” is probably based on the assessment that the current international environment is favourable to India.

Rajamohan notes: “After the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little enthusiasm in the US and the West for fixing the world’s problems. Thanks to George Bush and Barack Obama, Washington has learnt to control its Kashmir itch. Pakistan’s supporters in the Muslim world, too, are deeply divided today and focused on their own internal and regional conflicts.”

Terrorism is now a fact of life in the US as much as in Europe. Not a day goes by without a scare or attack of some kind being reported. The world’s patience with Pakistan’s support of terrorism is wearing thin. But would the world be willing to countenance an India-Pak military conflict, more so given Islamabad’s repeated threats to use tactical nuclear weapons? There are many in India who believe the threat is not real and Pakistan’s bluff must be called. Nevertheless, the US still sees Pakistan as a useful ally as it mulls its withdrawal from Afghanistan.While US Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to have read out the riot act to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the Uri attack, Washington would not name Pakistan publicly. This, even though Modi has moved India closer to Washington than at any time in the past.

India is also closely studying Russia’s recent anti-terror military drill with Pakistan in Cherat, in the north-west. There was also the supply of Mi-35 military helicopters to Islamabad. Clearly, Moscow is weighing its options as it sees the steady rise and broadening of the India-US relationship. It doesn’t help that the perception in India is Moscow is getting too close to China.

China sees Pakistan as a key element in its One Belt One Road (OBOR) strategy. China is developing Gwadar port which will be the critical link in OBOR, with oil and gas flowing from Gwadar via pipelines to Xinjiang. The return flow will see Chinese goods flooding the region. So while the international environment is largely benign, India will have to plan its moves carefully. Rather than opening a military front with Pakistan, it maybe more practical to take advantage of the scores of disaffected groups in that country and use them against the army.

It is the army which is India’s enemy, the enemy that blocks and blackmails every peace initiative. India has used such groups in the past, in Karachi for instance, and while Balochistan may require some work, other parts of Pakistan are vulnerable and accessible. The time for ending 25 years of a frustrating dynamic with Pakistan is now.


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