Council for Strategic Affairs

Council for Strategic Affairs

Talk, Don’t Trust

While intensive post-mortem reports are being written by self-proclaimed  strategic experts about the Government of India’s supposed (mis-) handling of the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase, not much has been written on the antecedents of the terror attack and the suggested future course of action. Instead of continuing to self-flagellate and indulge in yet more chest beatings, the focus should be on the way forward for the nation to deal with the continuing terror threats that challenge national security.
Looking at the recent history, it was expected that the state-supported actors of the Pakistani security establishment [read ISI/GHQ/Army/Jihadi complex] will strike soon after PM Modi’s sudden and unplanned stop-over in Lahore for birthday and wedding celebrations. It was not anticipated that the terrorists will strike so soon. By that brilliantly staged photo-op meant for the consumption of international community, India’s reasonable attempts to engage civilian Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif were appreciated all over the world. There was a subtle signal to the Pakistani security  establishment [Read General Rahil Sharif ] that India will continue to engage the civilian leaders and civil society of Pakistan and not emulate the despicable behavior of the US Government in wining and dining the uninvited military leader as it did in November of 2015.  The brief Lahore stop-over did achieve its ostensible goal reassuring everyone that India is not a war-mongering nation and diplomacy will be given full chance while dealing with Pakistan. General Rahil Sharif by sending  Jaish-e-Muhammed terrorists to Pathankot airbase reinforced the notion that Army with the country called Pakistan will not allow peace with India at any cost. The raison d’ etre for this Army that controls the country called Pakistan, is anti-India scare-mongering.  Any putative move towards peace with India generates survival instinct and behavior patterns so as to disrupt the gains of the peace overtures.
All that is history and no amount of intellectual contortions and gymnastics will change the sequence of events in resolving the terror attack. What matters most is India’s posture in dealing with the terror threat and response to complex geo-political situation that the Government of the day is handling very adroitly. US has not decided to change its policy regarding Pakistan despite it having achieved the honor of being terror central of the world. US  will continue to coddle Pakistan. Obama administration will continue to label terrorism as violent extremism as if it will magically disappear by changing the name. Pakistani backers like China will continue to hold UN to ransom by not allowing universal acceptance of a definition of the terrorism. The OIC group led by Saudi Arabia will continue to support Sunni/Salafi/Wahabi terror groups world-wide while claiming to be supporting anti-terror operations. India must reconcile herself that it will remain alone in its fight against the Jihadi terror and will have to continue to fight her own battles single-handedly. – 

For any complex geo-political problem, the solution has to be multi-dimensional and well-thought out. Instead of reflexively calling off the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue or instantaneously mounting a maximal military response the Government of India is advised to initiate a basket of well-calibrated responses in next few weeks to send a message across to Pakistan and to the international community in general that we mean business while we defend the security and sovereignty of India. Our responses need not be sequential and can be done in parallel as they may have more effectiveness if deployed concurrently. The hotline between the two PMs must continue to remain active as both will need to talk. 
A number of diplomatic responses, albeit symbolic, must be taken to express our displeasure at the terror attacks. First and foremost should be the pressure on Pakistani government to take prompt and meaningful punitive action against the state-supported entities and their Military backers. The foreign secretary level talks must be postponed till such action is taken. Meanwhile we can still talk to Pakistan but on NSA level to discuss the Pakistani efforts to control terror groups and attempts to prevent recurrence of similar attacks in future. Pakistan must be asked to submit a detailed action taken report during the NSA level talks. NSA  level terror talks can assure Pakistan that will jointly support them in taking punitive actions against terror groups hiding in their territory.
Meanwhile, a dimarche’ must be sent to Pakistani High Commissioner to visit the MEA and hear our opinion about the this terror strike. We must consider declaring the Pakistani Army and Defense Attache’ posted in New Delhi as a persona non-grata [PNG] as the evidence suggests clear cut involvement of Pakistani military in orchestrating this terror attack. India should recall her High Commissioner from Rawalpindi for further consultations while the Pakistani counter-part goes back leaving the diplomatic missions to be managed by the DCMs. Perhaps, one of the Pakistani consulates outside New Delhi must be closed as a retaliatory measure. These symbolic diplomatic responses from the tool-kit will send the message to Pakistani civilian leadership that while India continues to engage with them, they have an onus to take concrete action to satisfy Indian concerns. The MEA  and the PMO must convey to their counterparts in Pakistan that participation of the PM in the SAARC meeting later this year will be contingent upon satisfactory security environment in the Indian subcontinent in general and in Pakistan in particular.
On an international front, India must engage the UN  and the international community in taking common stance against terrorism. Freezing financial assets of terror backers and identifying Pakistani military handlers for international travel ban are reasonable steps that will help in generating an international coalition against terrorism. Granted that China will sabotage any such efforts and the US  will provide only lip-service. Most of the heavy lifting will have to be done by India by reaching out to all the civilized countries of the world in the next few months.
We must also engage regional countries for a united front against state-supported terrorism emanating from Pakistan. A formal forum for sub-regional mechanism for intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism activities should include countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan [A.I.B.B]. A sub-regional summit against terror must be organized within next three months by the Government of India seeking harmonization and commonality of preventive approaches and response. This mechanism should subscribe to the mantra that terror attack on one country would be considered as terror  attack on all the four requiring joint response. At this stage all these 4 countries are facing with terror challenges of their own, notably with origins from Pakistan. We can continue to engage West and US diplomatically in an effort to reshape attitudes and opinions but action must start from the region. Later on, if needed China, Myanmar and Srilanka can be invited as observers for this anti-terror front.

Since India’s economic leverage with Pakistan is minimal, we cannot rely on economic sanctions at this time. Yet symbolic economic sanctions will include suspension by India of the MFN [most favored nation]  status granted to Pakistan in mid-nineties following our accession to WTO. Any upgrade back to the MFN status should be subject to bilateral, reciprocation by Pakistan. India should fast-track the proposed Iran-India undersea gas pipeline instead of focusing on the TAPI pipeline as it will give economic dividends to Pakistan. India must not show any eagerness to sell electricity to Pakistan while we ourselves are a power-deficient nation. India must caution China about advisability of going ahead with CPEC construction activities in the POK which is Indian sovereign territory. In other words, without Indian participation and approval,  any construction in the CPEC segment in POK and northern territories will be an act of war against India. As part of our economic response, we must fast-track the development of the Chabahaar port in Iran giving us connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Covert action has to be re-deployed along with other appropriate measures to effective send a message to Pakistan. Pakistan has a weak soft under-belly in Baluchistan. Sectarian differences and divide in that country can also serve as a fertile soil for activities against Pakistani security establishment. India, unfortunately, gave up her strategic assets in Pakistan under the infamous Gujral doctrine. Time has come for India to re-establish her strategic assets in Pakistan and elsewhere including the West. India must encourage Afghanistan Government to promptly retaliate militarily against Pakistan for terror strikes against Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharief. Initiating covert actions will act as a warranty against future terror attacks short of full-fledged military response. India must not hesitate to transfer offensive weapon capabilities to  Afghanistan for punitive strikes.
On a more muscular level, India should consider taking preparatory steps for a full-fledged military response if need be. The fact that Pakistan has tactical nuclear weapons should not deter us from taking an appropriate military response. We should not succumb to Pakistani nuclear blackmail and bluff. We should no longer agree to treated as punching bags. We should acquire killer drones from Israel while the DRDO is assigned money for fast-tracking a domestic predator drone development and deployment program. Having that precision strike capability, we should be able to target Maulana Hafiz Sayeed and Maulana Masood Azhar for surgical operations. We do have hypersonic, land-based Brahmos missiles that can be used for precision strikes against the headquarters of Jaish-e-Muhaamed, LET, Al Rashid Trust and similar terror organizations. Since the terror attacks in Gurdaspur and Pathankot breached the international borders we should consider surgical strikes against terror training camps in both POK and elsewhere in Pakistan.
A broad array of diplomatic and other options goes in support of policy of engagement with Pakistani civilian leadership while simultaneously containing and degrading the terror infra-structure in Pakistan with the help of sub-regional allies. It is important to talk to the civilian leadership but we don’t have to trust the Pakistani Army/GHQ/ISI/Jihadi Terror Complex. Dialogue does not mean defeat. Engagement does not exclude containment. Both can go hand in hand. As Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghan-American diplomat  articulates it, we have to deploy CONGAGEMENT strategies against Pakistan.

अपि स्वर्णमयी लङ्का न मे लक्ष्मण रोचते जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी