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No room for knee-jerk responses

There is something deeply absurd and dangerous about predicating national policies and responses to terrorism on the incidence of major terrorist outrages. This, regrettably, has been a trend that was adopted after the attack on Parliament, and then again, at a much higher level, after the Kaluchak massacre. The brinkmanship that followed these two incidents, with massive mobilisation of military force and explicit threats of military retaliation, has been projected by the national leadership as a model of successful ‘coercive diplomacy’, but its drawbacks are now increasingly evident.

The international focus on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in J&K may have afforded some satisfaction to India, but the world’s apprehensions of an Indo-Pak war and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust – however unfounded – clubbed both countries into an area of instability and reinforced the tendency to impose a parity of status between them. The economic consequences of these perceptions will be realised over time, as international trade and investors review the prospects of India’s stability and peace in the region. There is, moreover, no reason to believe that US policies on Pakistan – the primary target of India’s antics – have significantly been altered by the theatrics of India’s military mobilisation. If anything, the international pressure for third party mediation to ‘resolve the Kashmir issue’ – an option explicitly and consistently rejected by India – has palpably increased.

The absurdity of this approach is manifested in several other factors. First, international leaders are now directly linking Indian responses to the occurrence or otherwise of such major terrorist attacks – and when these do not occur for a few weeks, begin to proclaim a ‘decline in terrorism’ and to argue for ‘concessions’ by India to placate Pakistan, and the Indian government – as the decisions to pull back naval deployment, to allow overflights by Pakistani airliners, and to appoint a new High Commissioner to Islamabad demonstrate – appears to accept the logic of this argument. There is something deeply offensive in this. The logic appears to be that if a mass murderer agrees – even temporarily – to stop murdering our people, we owe him something by way of reward. This is a position that the Indian government should have rejected with utter contempt. But India’s political leadership – engaged as it is in numerous negotiations with mass murderers and terrorists – can hardly be expected to be sensitive to ethical niceties. Worse, we now find that the Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf, while proclaiming his ‘frontline’ status in the war against terrorism, has sought US and international guarantees against Indian ‘overreaction’ in case of a major terrorist attack in India by groups that he ‘cannot control’.

The aftermath of the Kasimpura massacre of July 13, 2002, demonstrates another problem. There was high public expectation – encouraged by the brinkmanship of the post Kaluchak period – that there would, again, be a ‘dramatic’ response from the government. But that card has already been exhausted, and cannot be played again and again, unless India is actually willing to go to war. But war is an eventuality that can safely be ruled out, even if the nuclear deterrent is not considered, by the fact that India lacks decisive military superiority over Pakistan, and the payoff from such an engagement is extremely uncertain. The government is, consequently, now floundering about to project a ‘credible’ response to Kasmipura.

The worst aspect of the entire situation is that the ‘dramatic incident’ approach distorts the entire character of the terrorist threat and misdirects national responses. Horrifying as Kaluchak and Kasimpura are, terrorism in J&K is a far greater beast than these alone suggest. At least 453 civilians and 192 security forces personnel have been killed in J&K between January and July 14 this year. In no month have civilian casualties been below 50. 1,067 civilians and 590 SF personnel lost their lives to terrorism last year. This is the real magnitude of the challenge. Indian democracy and the integrity of the state are not just threatened when Parliament is attacked, or when twenty or thirty people are killed in a single day. They are undermined each time terrorism finds a victim on our soil, and this has been happening on a daily basis for over 12 years in J&K.

The gravest error of Indian responses is 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 military-mujahiddeen complex in Pakistan. This can only be done through a competitive strategy that extends over the decades. This 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; 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. 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, in reality, ‘multi-pronged’ – an expression much in favour in political rhetoric, but usually lost in the translation into executive action. Minimal elements of such a strategy would include:

  • The imposition of a completely new time frame of resolution. Over twelve 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, the Kashmir policy must be based on clear projections of what South Asia is to look like in the year 2025, and must set clear goals on Kashmir for 2012.
  • 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 required a point to point competition with Pakistan on its strongest economic products, exports and services with its international clients.
  • 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.

(Edited version published in, August 2, 2002.)





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