India’s Response to Pakistan Hybrid War in J&K is Skin Deep
India has adopted punitive fire assaults to respond to Pakistan Army’s hybrid war. However, it has limited impact and flipside of this strategy is that it has increased collateral damage on both sides. Punitive fire assaults and surgical strikes are not intended to prevent and defeat a strategy but to increase the cost. In spite of having been subjected to heavy punishment along the LoC, Pakistan has managed to achieve balance by optimally utilizing non state actors in the hinterland to increase the cost for India. Pakistan had sent 10 terrorists to Mumbai (26/11) and the cost India had to bear as per Asia Economic Institute study excluding the loss of lives was approximately $100 billion. History is replete with the examples that war of attrition can only lead to ‘Pyrrhic victory’ (a victory as good as stalemate) but unlikely to bringan end to the conflict. War or any kind of conflict is waged and won through strategy. Pakistan has employed a strategy to bleed India by thousand cuts and in response India has chosen to fight back by adopting a strategy of attrition. Going at the adversary blow by blow and strength against strength is an uneconomical strategy and there is no value in wasting equal resources as the adversary. A nation should not depend upon a single strategy but should have multiple strategies working simultaneously in a synergised manner so that if one fails other can balance it. There is no denying the fact that India suffers from the lack of leverages against Pakistan, as a result it is compelled to respond with conventional resources. With such limitations one could determine India’s response as skin deep without causing major collateral, psychological and perceptional impact on a rogue state. In fact Pakistan has been emboldened by lack of leverages and that is the reason for their innovative and audacious attacks on the symbol of India.
No nation can fight an inexorable proxy war without an end state. It must be understood that militaries are not a tool for conflict resolution; thus, even a full spectrum conventional war is not an answer. Militaries can only escalate conflict to de-escalate ground situation whenever there are unaffordable collateral damages. Policy makers need to understand that it is always difficult to fight an unconventional adversary with conventional resources. Thus response has to be lethal, unpredictable and equally innovative.
India should be conscious of the fact that deepening relations and interests of China in Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (POJK) will reduce India’s options to fight a conventional or sub-conventional conflict with Pakistan. The window of opportunity or areas of operations even for punitive assault and surgical strikes will start shrinking as infrastructure developments start taking shape in POJK and other parts of Pakistan.
The biggest challenge for India is to build leverages against Pakistan. These leverages cannot be built unless there is continuity and continuum of multiple strategies to counter various facets of hybrid war. Engaging Pakistan army along the LoC and terrorists within Jammu & Kashmir is not the answer to the hybrid war or war by proxies. The goal for India should not be to inflict skin deep injury to Pakistan army but to erode the state from within and inflict serious injury that can cripple the country in future. Pashtun, Baluchistan, Northern areas are potential flashpoint to expose the artificial cohesion of the state and Pakistan Army. It is important to employ covert, cyber, psychological, information and even direct engagement with the people and social organizations to assume passive control of institutions, build public opinion against the rogue agencies of Pakistan to force them to commit mistakes by misrepresentation of facts. It is true that building such capability has a long gestation period, however, India should not shy away from such initiatives.
In view of the foregoing, what are the options available for India now? There are only two options to fight against Pakistan’s hybrid war. Either fight within enemy territory and attack his weak or vulnerable points or fight from own side and take it to the enemy territory. If India choses to fight it from own territory and take it to the enemy side, in that case, first priority is to ‘harden your targets’ and minimize exposed flanks. Make attacks and counter-attacks by non-state actors difficult on high value targets. Ruthlessly eliminate nexus between politicians, proxies and anti-national elements operating within. Strangulate flow of funds and take the investigation of money trail from Pakistan and Jihadis to its logical end. Selective prosecution of a dozen members of Hurriyat is only cosmetic and tokenism. The threads leading to big fish at Srinagar, Delhi and Pakistan must be exposed and prosecuted. At the same time prepare ground conditions to penetrate, gain foothold and then strike at the vulnerable points within Pakistan to unhinge the anti-India forces.
Hybrid war can be defeated if it is taken to the point of origin and from where it gets impetus to sustain. Endeavour should be to fight from within Pakistan so that collateral damages do not impact your assets and capabilities. Cyber, economic, information, perceptional and psychological domain can have crippling impact. India’s strategy of non-engagement with the institutions of Pakistan may not yield any dividends because it will distance India from the people of Pakistan that can be manipulated to become constituency of India. Russia continued to engage with the people of the US in spite of the fact that internationally it is leaving no stone unturned to discredit the image of the United States as a pretentious global power. Key to defeating the Pakistan Army and the puppet regime is the people of Pakistan. The objective should be to fight against the Pakistan regime but cooperate with the people of Pakistan and POJK. The Gerasimov model of hybrid war and Putin’s war of perception are examples how Russia tricked the US in Syria and even in the US Presidential election. India must invest to manipulate and assault the institution of governance.
The cornerstone of fighting a dirty war is that there is no moral taint to use deception and irregular means when stakes are high. Punitive assault and option to undertake surgical strikes should continue till the other strategies start giving dividends. However, characteristics of hybrid war is such that canon strategies are unlikely to succeed in the long term. Thus working outside the experience of the adversary to create uncontrolled chaos and disorder itself is a novelty to trigger collapse of those institutions that are working against the interests of India.