Proxy War by Pakistan : Need for Credible Indian Response
Pakistan has been waging a relentless and an intense proxy war against India since 1989 in the form of sponsoring cross border terrorism, infiltrating terrorists across the LOC and providing active, unstinting and open support to militancy in J&K. The hard reality in Pakistan is that the Pakistan Army is the undisputed and the main power centre having a decisive and a dominant say in the country’s policies concerning national security, India (including Kashmir) and Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s much dreaded and feared intelligence agency the ISI is under the virtual control of the Army as all important appointments including the DG in ISI are held by serving Army officers. The Pak Army and the ISI have been nurturing and patronising terrorist groups in Pakistan like Jaish-E-Mohammad, Laskar-E-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen. Such groups are considered as strategic assets to be employed for launching terrorist attacks primarily against India and Afghanistan. The dominance of the Pakistan Army in the affairs of the state is such that even the democratically elected Govt finds itself unable to challenge the Army in any manner.
During the last 26 years as part of the proxy war against India, a large number of terrorist attacks have been launched by the terrorist groups based in Pakistan with the active and collusive support of Pak Army. Besides the recent terrorist attack of 18 September 2016 on the Army Base in Uri (in which 18 soldiers were killed and 30 injured), the major terrorist attacks in the past have been on the Indian Parliament, Army camps in Kaluchak, Sunjwan and Samba, Mumbai (26/11), Gurdaspur police station and Pathankot Air Base. A few aspects that get discerned from the terrorist attacks are =
- Firstly, the attacks besides J&K, have taken place in Punjab and in the hinter land in locations as far in depth as New Delhi and Mumbai.
- Secondly, these attacks under no circumstances could have been launched or executed without the active support and connivance of Pakistan Army and the ISI.
- Thirdly, expect for the response to the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament which resulted in the full scale mobilisation of the Indian Armed Forces against Pakistan as part of Operation Parakaram, no commensurate /appropriate response was initiated for any of the other terrorist attacks.
The restrain and patience exercised by the Political Leadership of India has emboldened the Pakistan Army to continue with its strategy of using terrorist attacks for furthering its Kashmir policy and on number of occasions derailing the peace talks between both the countries. Pakistan has raised the cost for India of fighting the proxy war as India has had to raise a large counter insurgency force, namely the Rashtriya Rifles and erect a fence along the entire LOC as a counter infiltration measure. The time has now come to review this policy of restrain and patience and adopt a policy of effective and credible response which must serve the purpose of deterrence for any future attacks and raise the cost for Pakistan. Along with the diplomatic initiative to get Pakistan declared a state sponsor of terrorism, imposition of UN sanctions similar to what was done in the case of Iran and to ensure Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation in South Asia, the options at strategic level and military options short of war need to be considered for an effective and a credible response.
The strategic options available are – undertaking covert operations in Pakistan to target the top leadership of the terrorist groups involved in terrorist attacks against Indian assets/interests; covert support to insurgency in Balochistan for its eventual secession from Pakistan; creating conditions for insurgency in Sindh Province by taking advantage of the dissatisfaction of the people of Sindh with the Pakistan Govt and the dominance of the Punjab Province in national affairs; being an upper riparian state India could make use of water as a weapon by posing a credible threat of abrogation of the Indus Water Treaty, also, threat of divergence/stoppage of the water of the rivers of Punjab (India) flowing into Pakistan as these river waters are the life line of Pakistan.
There are good and viable military options short of war for an effective and credible response. The objectives for these military options should preferably be in the LOC Sector since invariably it is from here that the terrorist groups are launched and the fall outs/ramifications of the response will be minimal being a disputed area.
The objectives would include Pakistan posts, terrorist camps/launch pads, gun areas, logistics installations, formation headquarters, army camps/bases, communication arteries etc. The destruction of these objectives, casualties of Pakistani troops and capture of certain Pakistan posts designated as punitive tasks are to be undertaken in a calibrated manner so as to control escalation.
The planned retaliation at the level of local commanders like intense and heavy artillery shelling is not being considered here since it is part of an inevitable reaction in the aftermath of adversary’s action. The options for military response short of war that must be considered are surgical strikes, capture of posts being used as launch pads for terrorist groups, employment of BrahMos and Prithvi SSMs with conventional war heads, air strikes (including attack helicopters) on terrorist camps using stand-off/guided ammunition.
The surgical strikes must be undertaken by highly specialised/trained special forces to target specially the terrorist camps and this option will give pay offs out of proportion. The employment of BrahMos and Prithvi SSMs even with conventional war heads no doubt is liable to raise concerns of escalation. However, just because of this concern the employment of these SSMs need not be ruled out in view of their tremendous destructive/psychological effect, also their long ranges which will make it difficult for their identification especially when firing them with artillery.
The option of air strikes as a punitive action on Pakistan posts being used as launch pads for terrorists and terrorist camps in the vicinity must be exercised to send a strong message across that there will be a very high cost to pay for such acts. It will be possible to manage the escalation in such situations. As can be seen all these three options are bold, packing a tremendous punch and capable of delivering results out of proportion. Therefore the element of calculated risk of escalation present should be taken and these options exercised without any concern. There are also military options for the areas opposite the IB in Jammu and Punjab regions. These are offensive actions for capture of shallow objectives just across the IB. The military response no doubt needs to be exercised at the place and time of our choosing but it must under no circumstances be delayed.
The main inhibiting factor in decision making by the Political Leadership for a military response has been the perceived nuclear threat from Pakistan as the Pakistan Army leadership could coerce its civilian govt for use of low yield tactical nuclear weapons as deterrence against the military response by India. As regards nuclear threat one needs to know that a nuclear weapon is a political weapon and is for deterrence. If at all a nuclear weapon is to be ever used in the India-Pakistan context it has to be a full spectrum war and then too as a means of last resort. The nuclear bluff of Pakistan has to be called in the context of the scenario of military response short of war.
Deterrence for terrorist attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan or having Pak support can only be achieved when it is clear that there will be an effective and credible military response in all eventualities and that no terrorist attack either on Indian soil or Indian assets/interests anywhere in the world will go unpunished.