India’s critical test on Pakistan


Brahma Chellaney

AFTER militants attacked an Indian Army base on Sept. 18, killing 19 soldiers in disputed Kashmir, India shed years of inaction over terrorism and retaliated with surgical strikes on terrorist launchpads across the LoC. In a lightening operation, Indian Special Forces hit multiple targets located several kilometres deep inside Pakistan. By signalling a likely end to the era of Indian inaction, Sept. 29 commando operation has put Pakistani military on notice that India could henceforth respond to terrorist attacks in punitive and unpredictable ways.
However, the military action has done little to change the fundamentals of India’s strategic dynamic with Pakistan. A single military operation, however successful at the tactical level, cannot by itself impose sufficient deterrent costs on the Pakistani military or demonstrate India’s strategic resolve, which has been found wanting for years. New Delhi has a long way to go before it can hope to alter more terrorist strikes.
Still, the benefits accruing from the Indian action can easily be frittered away if New Delhi does not stay the course and squeeze Pakistan in a calibrated but ever-increasing manner to force it to sever its ties with terrorist groups. The risk of India squandering the gains is real. After all, the biggest shortcoming in India’s Pakistan policy is the country’s inability under successive govts to maintain a consistent Pakistan policy.
Thus far, India has taken no direct action to penalise the Pakistani state, other than suspend meetings of the commission set up under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty and cause the collapse of the SAARC summit in Pakistan. India has neither downgraded its diplomatic relations with Pakistan nor withdrawn the most-favoured-nation trade status it has granted Pakistan on a nonreciprocal basis for the past two decades. New Delhi has also made no move to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism or to declare bounties on the heads of prominent, UN-designated terrorists operating openly in Pakistan. How can India expect the rest of the world to isolate Pakistan while it maintains full diplomatic relations with that country and shies away from imposing sanctions on it? In fact, with Pakistan’s principal benefactors, China and America, continuing to prop it up, it will not be easy for India to internationally isolate Pakistan. China, by repeatedly vetoing UN sanctions on Pakistan-based Masood Azhar since 2014, is culpable in killing of Indian soldiers, not just recently but also in a militant attack on an Indian air base early this year. To make matters worse, Modi, by letting China double its trade surplus with India on his watch, has weakened his bargaining position with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The United States, for its part, enforces sanctions against a host of countries, from Russia and North Korea to Sudan and Syria, yet shields from sanctions Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As the American academic C. Christine Fair has said in a recent essay in the journal National Interest, the US, by exerting diplomatic pressure on India after each terrorist carnage to exercise restraint, “rewards Pakistan in numerous ways,” including “from the consequences of its illegal behaviour” and by implying that “there is a legitimate dispute and that both sides are equally culpable for the enduring nature of this dispute.”
The White House recently went to the extent of shutting down an online petition calling for designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, after the petition had garnered 625,723 signatures. A motion calling for similar action against Pakistan, however, is pending in the US House of Representatives. Against this backdrop, the onus is on the victim, India, to act against and discipline Pakistan. India needs to pursue a doctrine of graduated escalation, applying multipronged pressure on the adversary’s vulnerable points through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and its special forces. Consistent with this doctrine, India should impose costs in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner.
India’s goal is narrow: To halt Pakistan-aided terrorist attacks. Realising this objective calls not for overt belligerence or brinkmanship but for a silent war, employing multiple tools of leverage and coercion, for however long it takes to bring Pakistan to heel. But if, in a year’s time or so, New Delhi — in yet another flip-flop — returns to “peace” talks with Pakistan, it will be crystal clear that India’s biggest enemy is India. The writer is a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.
— Courtesy: The Japan Times