The most formidable challenge confronting Pakistan since its birth 70 years ago is its failure to carve out an identity for itself. It has hence tried to define itself in being anti-Indian in most respects. To project itself in a positive light, it has done its best to weaken India politically and economically and tried all means to bring its stature down in the international reckoning.
The urge to undercut India became more pronounced after the severe drubbing it received in December 1971 with the dismemberment of its territory and the ignominy of the surrender of 93,000 of its soldiers to India in Dhaka in East Bengal/ Bangladesh. Since then, it has been plotting, directly and indirectly through its agents, to sow discord and violence in different parts of India, starting with Punjab in the 1980s and thereafter moving on to focus full time on Kashmir from 1989 onwards. Envy and dismay at India’s growing strength and global clout has further aggravated passions and exacerbated resentment of Pakistan’s army and spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to create obstacles in the path of India’s economic rise and peaceful development.
While Pakistan has always looked upon India with hostility and as an enemy state, India has been ambivalent on how to conduct its relations with this inimical neighbour. The reason for this lack of clarity is that India desires peaceful and cordial relations with Pakistan. India, under successive governments, even when Pakistan was extending covert and overt backing to militants and terrorists under the euphemistic garb of diplomatic, political and moral support to so-called “Kashmiri freedom fighters”, has tried to maintain normal bilateral relations with its western neighbour.
An important reason for India’s keen desire to have stable relations with Pakistan is India’s interest in ensuring secure borders so that it can concentrate on improving the living conditions of its people.
Moreover, after both countries became nuclear powers in the late 1990s, Pakistan has been irresponsibly brandishing the threat of using its nuclear weapons against India to make up for its lesser strength in conventional armaments. Possibility of escalation of a limited military engagement to a nuclear conflagration imposed an intolerable restraint on India’s political leadership to respond to Pakistani terrorist strikes in a befitting manner.
Another reason was that India has been wary of internationalising the Kashmir issue by providing an opportunity to Pakistan to raise the matter on various global platforms. Although India has an impeccable track record and arguments to rebut all of Pakistan’s fulminations on the issue, it seemed to have taken the stand that discretion is the better part of valour, and decided to absorb the violence and mayhem unleashed by Pakistan rather than respond in a more muscular and robust manner.
Lack of effective action by India had emboldened Pakistan’s armed forces, political leadership and media, who painted India as an inept nation which will continue to absorb ever-increasing punishment without mounting an effective response. Pakistan’s army and ISI who determine and implement the country’s policy towards India has over time finessed and perfected terrorism as an instrument of state policy to implement the call of “bleeding India by a thousand cuts”, enunciated by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the early 1970s.
This principle of “strategic restraint” was inherited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he assumed the reins of governance of India. Even before assuming power, he confounded his worst critics as well as his ardent admirers by propounding the “Neighbourhood First” policy according to which relations with India’s neighbours would be given much greater attention and higher priority than was the case in earlier dispensations. This was demonstrated in action when Modi invited all SAARC leaders as well as the Prime Minister of Mauritius to his swearing-in ceremony on 26 May 2014.
As Modi was to amplify in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September that year: “India desires a peaceful and stable environment for its development. A nation’s destiny is linked to its neighbourhood. That is why my government has placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with her neighbours.”
On the subject of relations with Pakistan, he said in the same address: “I am prepared to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan in a peaceful atmosphere, without the shadow of terrorism, to promote our friendship and cooperation. However, Pakistan must also take its responsibility seriously to create an appropriate environment for it.”
As clearly affirmed by Prime Minister Modi, the only condition that India has imposed on Pakistan for a fruitful dialogue is that Pakistan abjure abetting and supporting terrorism against India. India had obtained such a commitment from Pakistan on 6 January 2004, when the then-President Pervez Musharraf in a joint statement with former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee promised not to allow use of Pakistan’s territory for terrorist acts. This commitment was an implicit acknowledgement that Pakistan has been allowing its land for terrorist strikes against India.
From the inception of his tenure, PM Modi went out of his way to reach out to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to initiate a bilateral dialogue, lessen the trust deficit and establish stable relations with that country. Modi used all possible opportunities to maintain active channels of communication by telephoning Nawaz Sharif on several occasions, ranging from extending greetings on Muslim festivals like Eid, wishing good luck for the cricket World Cup, expressing sympathies and condolences on natural calamities or terror attacks in Pakistan, conveying good wishes for speedy recovery after Sharif’s heart surgery, and several more.
After the rather frosty interaction between the two leaders at the Kathmandu SAARC summit in November 2014, Modi picked up the pieces at the SCO/ BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia in July 2015, to start the bilateral dialogue focused on the issue of terrorism. Pakistan, as has happened multiple times in the past, did not abide by its commitment to hold National Security Adviser (NSA) parleys in August 2015, because of strident criticism in Pakistan of the Ufa statement as the K-word did not figure in it. Modi again took the initiative to reach out to Sharif at the COP 21 meeting on climate change in Paris on 30 November 2015. This resulted in an out-of-the-media-glare meeting between the NSAs and Foreign Secretaries of the two countries in Bangkok on 6 December 2015. This paved the way for visit by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad in December 2015, when it was agreed to launch the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue to settle all outstanding issues.
PM Modi stunned the world, and at considerable personal risk to his self and standing in the country, flew in for an impromptu, unscheduled visit to Lahore on 25 December 2015 on his way back from Russia and Afghanistan to greet Sharif on his birthday and bless his granddaughter on her wedding. This provided a strong impetus to push bilateral ties in a positive direction.
The favourable impact of the unanticipated stopover by Modi in Lahore was however shattered to pieces by the attack by Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e- Mohammad (JeM) on the Pathankot air base on 1 January 2016. Although Nawaz Sharif conveyed his condolences and India took the most unusual step of inviting a team from Pakistan to visit the site, no forward movement on identifying the masterminds behind the attack was discernible. To rub salt on the wound, some members of the Pakistani investigation team said on return that the attack was planned and executed by India. No invitation for a reciprocal visit by the Indian investigating team, which had been agreed to in advance, was forthcoming. India still kept channels of communication open, hoping that Pakistan would see logic and discontinue support to terrorist outfits. However, further attacks in Pampore and ceasefire violations continued unabated.
Pakistan army’s declaration after the Peshawar school attack in December 2014, in which 140 children were massacred, that it would stop distinguishing between good and bad terrorists was, not surprisingly, discovered to be hollow. It is now evident that in the much hyped Zarb-e-Azb Operation, the Pakistan armed forces fought against only Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) i.e. those terrorist groups which were inimical to Pakistan and Chinese security, while it continued to nurture groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad and Haqqani network which are active in India and Afghanistan.
The audacious and dastardly attack on the Uri army camp in Jammu and Kashmir in which 19 Indian soldiers were martyred proved to be the last straw on the camel’s back. This generated a wave of anger and revulsion throughout the country demanding that appropriate muscular response be given to the continuing spate of terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan. In a measured statement, the head of the military establishment in J&K stated that the Indian army will respond at a place and time of its own choosing.
The Indian response came in the form of surgical strikes on the night of 29 September when seven launch pads, within a range of 2-4 kilometres from the Line of Control, housing terrorists waiting to sneak into India before the winter snows set in, were destroyed and more than 30 terrorists liquidated. The operation was carried out so meticulously and with such finesse that all Indian commandos returned without suffering any damage.
The purpose of surgical strikes was manifold: one, to satisfy the domestic public which was becoming increasingly restive and wanted some visible and strong action against Pakistan for its unending attacks against Indian strategic assets and common citizens. Pressure on the government to demonstrably act was perceived to be much greater as it had won the election in 2014 on the plank that it would take tough action against all perfidious and treacherous actions by Pakistan-based terrorists.
The second objective was to inflict pain on Pakistan so that it would think several times before undertaking such actions in future. Academics, scholars, analysts and professionals in India have strongly advocated for long that Pakistan should be punished and should feel the hurt for its actions so that it did not indulge in future attacks with impunity. It is well recognised that a single surgical strike will not stem the rot of future attacks from across the border. But the strike will make Pakistan think several times before it indulges in such extremism in future.
Thirdly, it was considered necessary that the operation should be of such intensity that it did not automatically lead to escalation. Also, action by Indian forces should be against operatives who are responsible for carrying out terrorist activities and not against Pakistan army regulars. It is in this context that the Director General of Military Operations called up his Pakistani counterpart on 30 September morning to inform him about the strikes against the terrorist launch pads. It was clarified that it was not the intention of Indian security forces to conduct any further operations for the time being.
Lastly, the message was to the international community that India had the right to defend itself when attacked and that its action had been directed against terrorists who were getting ready to cross over into India and not against Pakistani armed forces. By announcing that it had no plans to carry out more attacks for the time being, India categorically signaled to the whole world that the onus of escalation depended squarely on Pakistan.
With the action on 29 September, India has announced to Pakistan and the whole world that India will do what it takes to protect its security and lives and property of its citizens. The theory of “strategic restraint” and treating the LOC as sacrosanct, never to be crossed come what may, has been dumped. With this action, India has also called Pakistan’s bluff that it will have to face Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if it were to launch an offensive operation against Pakistan. A new doctrine was enunciated with this action which will stand India in good stead in the coming days.
Since then, terrorist attacks have occurred at Baramulla and Handwara. Indian forces need to be ready for any adventurous, ‘’spectacular’’ attack from across the border.
The attack in Uri was preceded by the worsening situation in the Kashmir valley since the killing on 8 July 2016 of Burhan Wani, a terrorist commando of the proscribed Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, sponsored and supported by Pakistan. Several parts of the valley had to be placed under prolonged curfew restrictions because of stone pelting by young protesters who were openly incited by Pakistani agents. This disrupted the normal life and resulted in the death of several common people and security personnel.
The use of pellet guns by security forces came in for considerable criticism because of their harmful effects including blinding of several victims.
The change in Nawaz Sharif’s stance from one of cooperating with India to blindly following the directions of Pakistan military needs to be understood in the context of the rapidly changing internal dynamics of Pakistan. Pressure on Nawaz Sharif due to his name figuring in the leaked Panama Papers alleging his purported involvement in several underworld financial dealings explains his submissive attitude towards the army. While the clout of the Pakistan army and its chief Raheel Sharif has risen over the last few years, that of Nawaz Sharif has dipped steeply because of questions raised on his integrity, competence and dealings with India. Raheel Sharif’s tenure is due to expire on 27 November. It is being speculated that further deterioration of ties with India could result in a widespread demand for his continuation beyond retirement.
Along with the surgical incision, India has also skillfully and adroitly isolated Pakistan in all regional and international fora. The charge was led frontally by Prime Minister Modi even before the Uri attack when at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China (4-5 September) and at the East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos (6-8 September), he strongly took up the issue of isolating Pakistan during his bilateral and plurilateral meetings. He advised President Xi Jinping of China that it should not look at the issue of terrorism through the prism of politics. He told the G20 gathering that all countries sponsoring and supporting terrorism should be isolated and sanctioned. At the UN General Assembly in New York, it was stated by the young Indian diplomat Eenam Gambhir in India’s right of reply to PM Nawaz Sharif’s Statement on 21 September: “The land of Taxila, one of the greatest learning centres of ancient times, is now host to the Ivy League of terrorism. It attracts aspirants and apprentices from all over the world. The effects of its toxic curriculum are felt across the globe.”
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in her address to UNGA on 26 September, responded to Nawaz Sharif’s contention that Pakistan wants to have a dialogue with India but India has imposed unacceptable conditions. She asserted that the only condition that India had imposed was that Pakistan should abjure terrorism against India from its soil.
The boycott of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November 2016 by India, followed by all other members, on account of insecurity due to terrorism, confirmed Pakistan’s total isolation in South Asia. Pakistan’s isolation from the international community became complete with the strongly worded statement emanating from the BRICS summit in Goa on 16 October, in which all BRICS members including China agreed to take strong steps against the growing menace of terrorism. Strong action against the scourge of terrorism was also reiterated at the BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit.
The invitation by India to BIMSTEC countries instead of SAARC members for the Outreach Summit with BRICS leaders denied Pakistan the advantage of sharing the prestigious international platform with world leaders.
The purpose of isolating Pakistan is to put pressure on it to mend its ways. The growing isolation appears to be having a salutary effect as several newspapers, media channels, civil society and political activists in Pakistan have started questioning the stand of the army and political establishment in supporting LeT, JeM, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and others. A recent report in Dawn newspaper graphically described the verbal altercation between the Director-General of the ISI and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary on support by the Pakistan army to terrorist groups and individuals. So far, Prime Minister Modi’s government has acted with exemplary synergy, flair, aplomb and finesse to internationally isolate Pakistan. India needs to improve and step up its vigilance at the borders to make its security foolproof, so that no terrorists are able to slip in from Pakistan and accomplish their nefarious designs. Pressure on the diplomatic front for continued isolation of Pakistan needs to be continued and sustained.
In addition, both central and J&K governments need to take all appropriate measures to reach out to the common people, create a peaceful and conducive environment, promote skill development, expand educational opportunities, generate employment so that the people feel that they have a sympathetic and supportive political dispensation which is keen to work for their security and prosperity. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that Pakistan is only one of India’s neighbours, albeit the most troublesome and destructive of them all. We need to quickly move beyond Pakistan in our quest for strong relations with other neighbours and strategic partners like Russia, USA, Japan, Europe, Africa and several more. Spending too much time on Pakistan also runs the risk of being hyphenated again with that failing state. This needs to be avoided at all costs.
The challenge confronting the country post 8 July can be converted into an opportunity by taking far reaching measures to bring peace, stability, security and economic development to the people of J&K. The country has been able to admirably achieve its objectives on the international front. It is now time to show the same deftness, agility and unity of purpose and intention on the domestic front as well.