As we again react against an intransigent and hostile Pakistan by cancelling Foreign Secretary level talks, one cannot but conclude that there is a fair bit of similarity between our long term Pakistan policy and a dog chasing its own tail, all going nowhere fast. For all the reams of paper wasted and policy pronouncements made on the issue, the fact of the matter is that all our wise men are stumped by two very stark existentialist questions.
…that direct confrontation between two nuclear weapon armed powers can easily lead to uncontrolled escalation into a nuclear exchange that will leave no winners.
What exactly do we want in Kashmir and how do we tackle a nuclear Pakistan that appears to be willing to take us down with it if it cannot have its way. These are undoubtedly excessively difficult questions to answer and our wise men cannot really be faulted for having failed to do so, because unlike Australia, Britain or the United States we do not have the luxury of an ocean or sea that separates us from those who wish us ill. Also over the years we have learnt to our cost that the fences we build, however sophisticated they may be, are better at keeping us in than at keeping our enemies out.
Let us first take the vexatious issue of what exactly is the end state we are looking for in regard to Kashmir? All governments over the years have been hamstrung in their negotiations with Pakistan because of the parliamentary resolution of 1994 that requires the government to liberate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). There is also a vocal right-wing hardline minority which makes no secret of its active support for the resolution. All this makes for bad politics and really gets us nowhere because realistically speaking, liberation of POK will be an extremely costly business.
Moreover, in a country where the median age is thirty five who really cares about territory lost at the time of Kashmir’s accession in 1948! At a recent discussion on the subject the suggestion to work towards making the Line of Control the International Boundary was mooted by one of the participants. There was vehement opposition to this eminently realistic and reasonable solution by a few and while such sentiments sound wonderful in air conditioned halls, they make little sense to anybody who has been at the receiving end of bullets fired in anger. It surely is high time that people with such hardline views did more than just talk at seminars. They should either be leading a volunteer militia force to liberate POK or hold their peace forever and let the people of this region get on with the business of living.
…target the separatist leaders and eliminate them through covert means, something that our intelligence agencies have not succeeded in doing over the years.
This brings us to the question of tackling Pakistan if there were to be another Mumbai type incident or something even worse an incident, for example, involving a nuclear biological or chemical attack of some kind. Public opinion, shaped over the years by jingoistic media channels, would demand an immediate punitive response with overwhelming force. If this response were to be in the form of a conventional military action, it would be worth remembering that direct confrontation between two nuclear weapon armed powers can easily lead to uncontrolled escalation into a nuclear exchange that will leave no winners.
Is that how we would like our five thousand year old civilization to end? Even if it were to remain a conventional engagement, the Pakistani Army is not Hamas and repercussions both in terms of casualties and on the economy would be huge. This option therefore does not appear to be very viable unless we are willing to take risks and that leaves us with two other options for aggressive action.
Firstly a targeted attack on terrorist training camps located in POK using aircraft, drones or special operations forces. Unfortunately, with the limited intelligence that we have and also keeping in mind the fact that these camps are by large extremely small, any attack on them is only likely to result in the elimination of a few terrorists and will unlikely have much deterrent value. The other option could be to target the separatist leaders and eliminate them through covert means, something that our intelligence agencies have not succeeded in doing over the years.
However, the recent announcement by Ayman al-Zawahiri of an India-based affiliate of the Al Qaeda, no doubt at the instigation of the Pakistani Intelligence Agencies, clearly points to the Pakistani establishment being seriously worried about repercussions if another Mumbai type attack did happen. They are clear that the present government will take strong punitive steps, even if Pakistan insists that those involved are non-state actors over whom they have no control. They have thus laid the groundwork so that if such an attack were to happen, it is likely to be fronted by some of Indian origin and Al Qaeda will claim to have struck. This, the Pakistani establishment hopes will not provoke action against them.
…need to enhance our force levels along the LOC and on the International Boundary in J&K to make terrorist infiltration even more difficult.
This therefore leaves us with just one logical solution. We need to ensure that our conventional forces continue to maintain and enhance their existing level of superiority over the Pakistani Army thereby deterring it from indulging in another “Kargil” or worse. Simultaneously we need to enhance our force levels along the LOC and on the International Boundary in Jammu & Kashmir to make terrorist infiltration even more difficult. This along with covert action by our intelligence agencies to neutralize terrorist leaders such as Hafiz Sayyed will ensure that violence within the country is greatly reduced.
In the meanwhile we must focus on the economy which will ultimately make Pakistan irrelevant. If to all this we were also to suggest and accept that the status quo in Kashmir is the only realistic solution to resolve the issue we would not only be seen to be reasonable by the global community but may also find takers for the proposal in Pakistan itself at some stage. Finally, finding a political solution to Kashmir within the constitution is imperative along with an active zero tolerance policy by the government against all communal forces.