Post-Uri Response by India
The September 18, 2016 attack on a Brigade Headquarters in the Uri sector of Jammu & Kashmir by terrorists belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad completely unravelled the special efforts made at the political level by Prime Minister Modi to improve relations with Pakistan ever since his government came to power. The incident jolted important members of the international community and some of India’s neighbours into officially condemning the attack. It was felt in many quarters in India that the Modi government should take early coercive military action, and expectations were raised on this score due to earlier pronouncements by the leadership about being decisive in the context of relations with Pakistan as well as given the international consensus against Islamist extremism.
While hopes of immediate military action were belied, what has emerged over the past two weeks is a well calibrated strategy meant to increase the costs for Pakistan of continuing its policy of supporting cross border terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Not only has India been on a major diplomatic offensive, there has been speculation over the pros and cons of squeezing Pakistan economically. And, most recently, shrugging off self-imposed “strategic restraint”, Indian Special Forces conducted surgical strikes targeting terrorist “launch pads” across the Line of Control (LoC) in the early hours of September 29.
At the political level, the leadership at the highest level made it apparent in no uncertain terms that the new provocation by Pakistan was unacceptable. Prime Minister Modi, soon after the terrorist strike at Uri, averred that those behind the attack would “not go unpunished.” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stated that the sacrifice of the soldiers “will not go in vain”. Home Minister Rajnath Singh called Pakistan a “terrorist state”, which should be “identified and isolated”. At the diplomatic level, the government skilfully masterminded an onslaught against Pakistan at the international level.
Exercising the right of reply to the Pakistan Prime Minister’s address at the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), an Indian diplomatic representative highlighted the issue of Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism and underscored the fact that the consequences of such a policy have reverberations which are felt not just in the South Asian region but globally. Subsequently, the hard-hitting speech delivered by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the UNGA called for isolating Pakistan given its propensity to export terrorism, a scourge which is causing suffering globally. India has been successful in isolating Pakistan at the regional level, as it pulled out of the SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November citing the lack of a “conducive” atmosphere due to “interference” in its “internal affairs” by a member state.
India was soon followed by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, leading to the cancellation of the Summit. This raises questions about the future of SAARC and its ability to bring about the much coveted aim of regional economic integration, given the prevalent low levels of intra-regional trade and the increasing interest in other regional groupings like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The High Commissioner of Pakistan to India has not only been reminded about Pakistan’s commitment to not allow its territory to be used for terrorism against India, but has also been provided with evidence about Pakistan’s complicity in the Uri attack. The Government has also been careful to manage the fallout by keeping foreign envoys in the loop, especially after the surgical strike conducted on September 29.
At the economic level, questions have been raised about the sanctity of the Indus Waters Treaty which has withstood wars and conflicts between India and Pakistan and has been upheld as one of the most important Confidence Building Measures between the two countries over the years. Revoking the Treaty may not be an easy option given that fact that it was brought about by the good offices of the World Bank, and may impact India’s credibility. Discussions on the optimum utilisation of the Indus Water by India is an important indication of the intent of the Indian Government, and would bring to the centre stage Pakistan’s fears about India causing harm to its economy by affecting the flow of river waters. Such action could, however, be constrained in the near future by inadequate holding capacity on the Indian side. As regards discussions about reviewing the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for Pakistan, even though the volume of trade between the two countries is negligible, the fact that India had given unilateral concessions to Pakistan and could be thinking of stopping the preferential treatment accorded to that country could create political pressure on Pakistan.
At the military level, the Indian Director General of Military Operations has been in contact with his Pakistani counterpart. Not only has he shared concerns regarding Pakistani markings on some items found at the military base at Uri but has also spoken to him after the surgical strikes conducted by India. While India has made it known that it will limit its action to this operation, Pakistan has officially denied that the strikes happened and has preferred to refer to the phenomenon as cross-border fire, which gives it the leeway not to respond immediately under pressure of public opinion. Yet, that does not mean that it is not prepared, as is evident from the utterances of the Pakistani political leadership and the confabulations held at the highest levels of government and military in Pakistan post-Uri. While it is difficult to presume that a serious escalation will take place soon, it is also not easy to believe that the feeling of humiliation and embarrassment in Pakistan will not provoke it to undertake some retaliatory action.