Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Countering Terrorism
The 'Core Issue' is Pakistan

Peace through Strength, and outlast them1

The Indian response to terrorism has swung abruptly from one extremity of pacifism and conciliation, to the other, of jingoism and threats of – indeed, after December 13, 2001, massive mobilisation for – war. While the brinkmanship of the military mobilisation under ‘Operation Parakram’ was unprecedented, the pattern of vacillation and policy reversal is firmly established. Indeed, even as troops were being pulled back from the international border after, as the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chose to express it, "the armed forces had, with great distinction, achieved the objectives assigned to them,"2 a new government in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) was already back to a policy of appeasement of terrorists and their front organisations under the clichéd slogan of ‘winning hearts and minds’.

Despite the fact that Pakistan has, for decades now, sustained a corrosive sub-conventional war against India – a war that has undermined India’s developmental prospects, its political stability, and the character of its social life and communal relations, even as it has inflicted tens of thousands of fatalities – it is interesting to note that, after all that has happened, we still have leading Indian strategists arguing that "Pakistan’s integrity, stability and prosperity are in our national interest."3 This is a position that has long defined the over-arching context of India’s policy on Pakistan, and there is little evidence to suggest that it has undergone significant transformation since the Nehruvian era – as was evidenced in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s recent ‘musings’ regarding the need to improve trade, economic cooperation and ‘people to people contacts’ between the two countries.4

It is apparent that there is, in the Indo-Pakistan confrontation, no theory of closure, certainly on the Indian side, but also in the perspectives of the ‘international community’ that seeks to intervene with, at best, an exceedingly imperfect and entirely deceptive theory of closure that ends with some sort of dissection of territories, but fails entirely to address the fundamental nature of the conflict. This is the reason why the ‘search for solutions’ has remained episodic and unrealistic: great hopes were invested in the recent State Assembly elections, with no elaboration on how, precisely, these were expected to stem the tide of violence, or bring an end to what India has long claimed to be a movement almost entirely sustained by Pakistan; implicit faith is expressed, repeatedly, in the prospects of ‘talks’ and a ‘political solution’ to be ‘negotiated’ with discredited coalitions of lapsed terrorists and with terrorist front organisations, even as their linkages with, and almost complete dependence on, Pakistani support are exposed and derided; the ‘Mizoram model’ of resolution, through the corruption and outright purchase of the militant or dissident leadership, appears to be the most favoured ‘solution’ among Indian politicians and the state’s covert agencies, ignoring the realities of the ground, the fact of a global radical pan-Islamist terrorist movement and Pakistan’s persistent, ideologically driven, geo-strategic ambitions.

The result has been a policy of appeasement and vacillation that has created the space within which Pakistan can bare-facedly and repeatedly argue that it will de-escalate its terrorist campaign or reduce infiltration into J&K, and that, for this ‘cooperation’, not only the world but the target of its terrorism for over a decade and a half, owe it a ‘reward’ in the form of concessions on its various demands. Even more amazing is the fact that such unashamed criminality of conduct and perspective finds so many advocates across the world, especially among those who are apparently committed to the values of democracy and the global war against terrorism.

It is imperative that we understand, now, that there are cultures of accommodation and there are cultures of hate. To try to apply the norms of an accommodative culture to a culture of hate is to place the accommodative cultures at a definitive disadvantage, and to yield all initiative to the more vigorous, belligerent, determined and violent side. This has been, and remains, the defining character of Indo-Pakistan relations, to the lasting detriment not only of India, but, eventually, of Pakistan as well, to the extent that the latter has been encouraged to adopt an increasingly suicidal pattern of politics and international relations.

It is now more than time to call Pakistan’s bluff, and to define a clear strategy that will cut at the very roots of terrorism – the roots of Pakistan itself. This strategy needs to be defined with a stark understanding that this is a country without options, on the brink of bankruptcy and chaos, and entirely lacking in the sinews of power – its nuclear arsenal and standing armies notwithstanding. A country without strong working institutions and a strong production base can never be anything more than a paper tiger. The sudden infusion of international and American aid and financial relief packages may allow Pakistan to, at best and only temporarily, assume the character of a ‘rich beggar’ – but it is nothing more. And beggars can't be choosers, unless an extraordinarily perverse order allows them to be.

The gravest error of Indian responses in the past has been that they have been caught up in the moment, and have failed to evolve an internal consistency and coherence that can weaken and eventually destroy the source of terror – the quasi-feudal military-mujahiddeen complex in Pakistan. This can only be done through a competitive strategy that extends over the decades. This, then, is the first imperative of the war against terror – to orient policy to an extended time frame and an objective assessment of the enemy’s resources and behaviour; to evolve a strategy that capitalises on the opponent’s weaknesses, instead of reacting to his strengths.

Terrorism on Indian soil cannot be defeated by striking deals with Pakistan, or with its sponsored terrorists and their front organisations in India. The core issue of instability and violence in South Asia is the character, activities and persistence of the militarised Islamist-fundamentalist state in Pakistan, and no cure for this canker can be arrived at through any negotiations or by local counter-terrorism operations in J&K (though such operations remain a tactical and strategic necessity as long as terrorism continues to afflict the State). It is only by altering the fundamental power-equation between the two countries that a solution will eventually be reached. This demands a strategy that is actually ‘multi-pronged’ and ‘proactive’ – expressions much in favour in political rhetoric, but usually lost in the translation into executive action. What is required is a strategy based on "continuing, essentially endless, military-economic-political competition,"5 that would help "impede or disassesemble the organisations and institutions that oppose us."6 We are to determine, in other words, how the enemy’s economic and political system can be debilitated – and if necessary, destroyed – to ensure that terrorism becomes an unaffordable option; to define the processes through which Pakistan can be forced to abandoned its disproportionate and over-reaching geo-strategic ambitions, or, failing this, that Pakistan itself is ‘de-constructed’.

What is proposed, consequently, is a ‘competitive strategy’ that – in its broadest contours – would seek to integrate and emulate elements of the American long-term policy against the Soviet Union:

Superpower status demanded Soviet parity with the USA in all areas of military prowess. Although the Soviets showed they could compete with less technologically sophisticated weapons, the competition ultimately turned round the escalating costs of the electronic infrastructure. Once President Reagan launched the Star Wars initiative in 1983 the stakes were raised yet again. By the mid-1980s, it was becoming clear to the circle around President Gorbachev that the Soviet Union could not simultaneously maintain a military parity with the USA while also raising living standards for the Soviet citizenry. Ultimately, glasnost became an economic imperative. The Soviets had fallen foul of the economics of technological intensification.7

With a coherently formulated and consistently implemented competitive strategy on India’s part, Pakistan could easily and systematically be ‘hollowed out’ over the next few years – certainly within five years – economically, socially and institutionally. Pakistan has chosen the war over Kashmir as the raison d’etre of its existence and its national politics, but it will die because of this politics. From a geo-strategic perspective, as far as India is concerned, Kashmir is a holding operation, even in the absence of an effective competitive strategy. If India holds on to Kashmir for another fifteen or twenty years, Pakistan will destroy itself, even without India doing anything substantial to secure this end. This is a widely shared strategic assessment, and it is interesting to note that in its projections for Asia 2020 the US Department of Defence comes up with four alternative scenarios for Pakistan’s future: ‘near collapse’; ‘paralyzed’; ‘anarchy in Pakistan’ followed by its ‘incremental accession’ to India; and ‘Pakistan disappears’ with the emergence of a ‘South Asian superstate’.8 Pakistan is, in other words, not seen as a significant player – if at all it still exists – in this region less than twenty years hence. Similar, and occasionally more devastating, projections have been made by other US and Western governmental agencies and think tanks. The truth is, the "(t)raditionless, dysfunctional, and unstable"9 state of Pakistan is a country without a future, unless it completely reverses the character of its politics and civilizes itself. And that is a very remote possibility.

There is, however, ample scope for accelerating the processes of transformation or disintegration in Pakistan, and for inflicting unbearable costs on it for its continued support to terrorism. Crucially, the present is perhaps the best time to initiate such a strategy, considering Pakistan’s increasing isolation and the widening recognition of its culpability in creating and supporting international Islamist terrorism. The minimal elements of a strategy to secure the ends outlined above would include:

  • The imposition of a completely new time frame of resolution. Over thirteen years have been lost to the deluded search for a ‘quick solution’, a ‘formula’ on Kashmir which will make the problem disappear. But the conflict in Kashmir is based on deep rooted structures of governance and social organisation in Pakistan, and on an ideological confrontation with India that cannot be resolved by ‘concessions’ or even by a redrawing of the map. The latter, in fact, will only encourage infinitely more violence and destabilisation in the region. Strategies are, consequently, required to transform or destroy the fundamental structures and ideologies on which the conflict is based, and this is not going to happen in the weeks or the months. Any lasting ‘solution’ to Kashmir will only emerge from a coherent strategy planned and consistently executed at least over the coming decade. Indeed, India’s Kashmir policy must be based on clear projections of what South Asia is to look like in the year 2025, and must set specific goals on Kashmir for 2013. As David Andre expresses it in another context, "The notion of ‘enduring’ strengths and weaknesses involved dealing with things that, by their very nature, were hard to change, at least in the near term to mid-term – thus the need to look out 15-20 years or more."10 Pakistan’s ‘enduring strengths and weaknesses’ must be the target of our counter-terrorism strategy.
  • The core of India’s strategy of response must be to impose unbearable costs on Pakistan. This can be done through major defence expenditure and upgradation that forces an unsustainable competition on Pakistan; and through a parallel thrust to strengthen the Indian economy – and weaken Pakistan’s. Economic initiatives would also require a point-to-point competition with Pakistan on its strongest economic products, exports and services, in the international arena.
  • We must radically alter the international perception and agenda on the Indo-Pak conflict. Pakistan has been immensely successful in peddling its doctrine that Kashmir is the ‘core issue’ of this conflict. This propaganda must be neutralised, and the more accurate assessment, that it is Pakistan’s two-nation theory and pan-Islamist agenda that underlies the conflict, must be credibly projected. The world must understand that, unless, the structure of the military-jehadi complex in Pakistan is completely dismantled, there will be no peace in South Asia.
  • A model of aggressive diplomacy has, willy-nilly, emerged in India, and this must be immensely strengthened to carry a more consistent message within the context of the country’s long term interests, and not constantly be diverted by or yoked to emotional responses to each terrorist outrage, or every new – and increasingly frequent – televised address by Pakistan’s military dictator, or perceived shifts in US and Western perceptions.
  • Crucially, in all this, India must adopt every measure to project strength and stability, and entirely reject the brinkmanship of the recent past. If it seeks to be taken seriously as an emerging ‘Great Power’, it must learn to behave like one.

In the final analysis, it is the fundamental balance of economic and military power between the two nations that will determine whether Pakistan continues or abandons its covert war against India. It is only in a situation of decisive superiority on both these parameters that India can hope for peace and an end to terrorism in the region. Finally, as K.P.S. Gill expresses it:

There is… one general principle that must guide our explorations, perspectives, plans and projections: The primary and most effective strategy to avoid war is to prepare for it. It is one of the ironies of the human condition that, if you love peace, you must be ready and willing to fight for it. The weak, the vulnerable, the unprepared and the irresolute will always tempt the world and call misfortune and ruin upon themselves. This is tragic; but it is the inexorable lesson of history. It is strength that secures respect and dignity; conciliation, appeasement, and a desperation to avoid confrontation at all costs – these will only bring contempt and aggression in their dower.11


  1. Pat Buchanan in Jamie Glazov, "Appeasement Then and Now", Frontpage, December 13, 2002,
  2. Sandeep Dikshit, "Government orders withdrawal of troops from IB", New Delhi: The Hindu, October 17, 2002.
  3. Jasjit Singh, "Watch the signals from across the border: The commando speaks," New Delhi: The Indian Express, May 29, 2002.
  4. "India, Pak should promote trade, economic ties: PM,", December 31, 2002,; also, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, "Let this be every Indian’s New Year resolve: We shall triumph against terrorism!", January 1, 2003, PMO Information Centre,
  5. David J. Andre, "Competitive Strategies: An Approach against Proliferation," in Henry D. Sokolski (Ed), Prevailing in a Well Armed World: Devising Competitive Strategies Against Weapons Proliferation, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Undated, p. 7.
  6. Dave McIntyre, "We need to study war some more," The Journal of International Security Affairs, Number 3, Summer 2002, p. 15.
  7. "Death of the Command Economy,"

  8. "Asia 2025," Under Secretary of Defence (Policy), 1999 Summer Study Final Report, Organised by the Advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Net Assessment, July 25 - 4 August, 1999, Newport, Rhode Island, pp. 81-91.

  9. Robert D. Kaplan, "The Lawless Frontier", The Atlantic Monthly, September 2000,

  10. David J. Andre, op.cit., p. 8.
  11. K.P.S. Gill, "The Fundamental Idea", in Freedom from Fear: Occasional Writings on Terrorism & Governance, South Asia Terrorism Portal,

(Edited version published in Defence & Technology, Volume II, No. 9, January 2003, pp. 35-38.)





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.