With the IAF strikes, uncertainty has been brought into the operational planning matrix of GHQ Rawalpindi’s asymmetric war on India.
New Delhi: Early in the morning of 26 February, Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft launched a precision strike on a Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) training camp in Balakot (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan. Previously, the camp had been used by the Hizbul Mujahideen, and had several structures designed to accommodate students, classes and terror instructors. It gets visited repeatedly by Masood Azhar, who was given a second stint in terrorism through his release by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999, as also his family and associates. Situated on the banks of the Kunar river, terror trainees were given instructions in escape through water, by trainers, many of whom had previously served in the Pakistan army or were on leave from the institution that controls the Pakistan state. Training under “Daura-e-Khaas” rules was imparted, in which expertise was honed in field tactics, weapons handling, ways of ambushing security convoys (as was carried out in Pulwama), making and concealing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and equipping vehicles for suicide missions. A high priority was given to survival tactics, especially at high altitudes and in hyper-stress conditions. At least three hours would be spent each day on indoctrination into Wahhabi tenets that stressed the “inevitable takeover of the planet” by followers of the same creed that members of ISIS subscribe to, and which is entirely different from Islam, a religion that has peace, compassion and beneficence at the core of its values. As images of the strike taken from onboard cameras have not so far been released by the IAF, the GHQ Rawalpindi spin machine has been having an unobstructed run claiming that only “empty ground” was hit by precision strikes that used laser-guided, almost fail-safe systems to lock onto their designated targets. The strikes were not condemned by either of the two superpowers, the United States or (surprisingly) China, and every aircraft reached home safely, thereby keeping to what may be termed the “Doval rules” of engagement, which mandate (1) zero losses on our side in combat, and (2) zero collateral damage in the target zone. It is presumed that the latter condition was met as well during the brief operation. The former certainly was.
GHQ ON BACK FOOT
With the week’s precision strikes by the IAF on terror targets in the vicinity of Balakot, uncertainty has for the first time since 1971 been brought into the operational planning matrix of GHQ Rawalpindi’s asymmetric war on India. The assumption that Pakistan’s nuclear capability would prevent a cross-border conventional response by the Indian military to Pakistan-inspired terror attacks within India (principally in Jammu & Kashmir) has become obsolete. In the past, the “international community” (read the US and the European Union) would lean on India to moderate its response to terror attacks, rather than focus on Pakistan beyond a few words of concern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a precedent, which is that India’s response to a Pakistan-inspired mass terror attack could be even more asymmetric than another iteration of GHQ Rawalpindi’s 1980s-origin game plan to enervate the Indian economy and cause societal fissures to widen within the world’s greatest democracy. It is, after all, not Kashmir that is the root cause of Indo-Pakistan tensions but the Pakistan army itself. Even were that terror-supporting force to be handed over Kashmir, GHQ’s non-conventional war on India would continue until this country became weak enough for it to midwife another vivisection on the 1947 Jinnah design agreed to by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. It is difficult to understand what the overall global strategy of the governance mechanism of the Indian state has been over the years, but the goals of GHQ Rawalpindi are transparent. They are to ensure that:
(a) The army remains supreme within the governance system of Pakistan.
(b) Afghanistan be brought back to the satellite status it had under the Taliban.
(c) Keep Kashmir and where possible other insurgencies on the boil so that the armed forces of the Republic of India lack the strength to repeat a 1971 through a conventional war.
(d) Ensure that Pakistan remains India’s external obsession so that possible synergy with other parts of the world does not get effectively tapped for the betterment of the country and its 1.3 billion people.
(e) Milk China and the US to the maximum extent possible through doing odd jobs for both and making available land, people and resources for Washington and Beijing to use as both respectively deem fit.
(f) Use the Pakistan army’s Zia-origin fealty to Wahhabism to ensure financial and other support from Wahhabi networks and regimes across the world and profess to be sincere followers of genuine Islam to non-Wahhabi Muslim majority countries so that they may collectively support Pakistan and (directly or indirectly) participate in its efforts at separating Kashmir from the rest of India, an outcome that GHQ Rawalpindi is convinced will mark the beginning of the second disintegration of India, the first being in the post-World War II period, when a UK, piqued by the what it saw as a tilt towards of the Axis powers of the Congress Party, began removing large areas of land from the control of New Delhi, ending with the 1947 partition that created Pakistan.
NEEDED: LONG-TERM COUNTER-TERROR STRATEGY
Given that it is the chemistry and core objectives of GHQ Rawalpindi that are the cause of that institution’s hostility towards India, it has been (and remains) a waste of time to expend effort on “solutions to the Kashmir problem”, as even if a solution that meets the requirements of GHQ Rawalpindi be accepted by a government in India, the basic motivation for hostility would not go away, but would express itself in some other form and over another cause after an interval of time. The only solution to Indo-Pakistan tensions would be the recovery of civilian authority over the military in Pakistan, a situation that presently is clearly beyond the reach of the people of that country unless major powers step in to assist them to get their freedom from an overpowering and predatory military. This will require silent, separate and systematic work by a combination of countries that are the victims of Pakistan-inspired terror groups, nations that would include those not friendly to each other, such as the US and Iran, together with Afghanistan. Given the disconnect between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Wahhabi schools of thought and activity, Beijing will, hopefully, in the future join the effort at ensuing that Pakistan becomes not an “army with a state” but another of the numerous states with an army. A strategy of precision strikes against terror camps set up by GHQ Rawalpindi has become complicated since 2003, when as a consequence of the fear of a US strike on such bases in Pakistan, many were shifted from the countryside to locations within or close to cities. This was to ensure better camouflage against detection from aerial and space platforms, as well as to deter bombing plans out of concern for the substantial collateral damage, which would ensue were such camps to be hit with bombs or missiles. A long-term solution to the security problem posed by the Pakistan army has to be based not only on a robust military response to terror attacks, but the formulation and actioning of a hidden long-term Counter-Terrorism (CT) strategy based on energising domestic opposition to the militarist ethno-centric state that Pakistan has become. Vacant covert space needs to be filled with a comprehensive strategy designed to cause faultlines to develop that would weaken the ability of the military to force the rest of the country to be its accomplices in GHQ Rawalpindi’s destabilisation efforts regionally, targeting Iran, Afghanistan and India.
BROAD GLOBAL SUPPORT
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from a state known for its globally competitive trading community, has had the advantage of the status of India as the lead buyer of defence and other equipment and materiel (such as mobile telephone systems and petroproducts) from key countries. Such trade has helped ensure that wide international support has been given to the retaliatory moves that Modi has now initiated against the Pakistan military’s terror auxiliaries. Such a broad base of global support for India played a role in GHQ Rawalpindi’s decision—articulated through Prime Minister Imran Khan for GHQ to escape flak from hardline elements in the army as well as terror auxiliaries who sought to keep Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in custody.
Both Iran as well as Israel have been cultivated by Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. In the 50th year of the setting up of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Pakistan failed to achieve what it had succeeded at then, which was to exclude India from a group whose senior permanent officials have been cultivated by the ISI across the years. Standing firm against GHQ-inspired blackmail articulated through the Pakistan Foreign Minister, the UAE stood by its decision to invite External Affairs Minister Swaraj to the OIC meeting, which took place in the midst of India-Pakistan tensions and which was boycotted in protest by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, who was not missed. EAM Swaraj gave a sensitive speech that drew on the millennia of relations between several member states of the OIC and India. The only country that has adopted a stand that is wholly in favour of Islamabad and against New Delhi is Turkey, which seems to have abandoned its Kemalist roots in favour of Wahhabism at a time when Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is moving his hugely influential country away from that philosophy and its restrictive mindset. Both the UAE as well as Saudi Arabia are showing themselves to be friends in need to India, unlike in the days of the IC 814 hijack, when both had a visible tilt towards Pakistan in the matter of dealing with the fallout of what is known as the Kandahar hijack and security debacle. Credit needs to be given to Prime Minister Modi and EAM Swaraj for being able to get a wide base of support (including from China) for a stronger line on GHQ Rawalpindi than India has witnessed for a long while.
Overall, Opposition parties led by the Congress Party have backed the new strong line against Pakistan. Rahul Gandhi has apparently silenced those in his party who reflexively mouth platitudes about Pakistan whenever there are Indo-Pakistan tensions. Such elements have repeatedly in the past handed over through their Pakistan-excusing statements an electoral advantage to the BJP, as took place in the midst of the Gujarat Assembly polls.
The carnage and wreckage of Pulwama indicate, yet again, that the Lutyens Zone policy of pandering to separatist impulses in Kashmir has not worked. Measures that are discriminatory in nature (such as Article 370) need to be removed from the Constitution of India. There is a small and pampered core of de facto Pakistanis living in Kashmir, almost all of whom are in plain sight. India needs to follow the example set by the US, Saudi Arabia and the UK in ensuring that citizenship be revoked in the case of those proven to be harmfully disloyal to the country. Such individuals should be granted their wish to become citizens of Pakistan and sent to live in that country. Fresh terror attacks by groups that have been indoctrinated from the other side of the border need to be met with further precision strikes across the border. Missile and nuclear capability needs to be enhanced, while offers of transfer of production facilities of frontline aircraft (such as the latest F-16s) need to be acted on, as also the signing of the remaining Foundation Defence Agreement with the US. Should Beijing continue on what seems a post-Pulwama trajectory of not intervening to shore up GHQ Rawalpindi in the event of tensions and hostilities with India, Chinese cell phone manufacturers may be given freedom to fully compete in the Indian market but only if there is broad daylight between Beijing and the terror-supporting army in Pakistan. Both the GCC as well as Iran should find in India a ready buyer for their petroproduct exports, while trade with Russia needs to expand, but move away from defence into other sectors.
A major problem with the Lutyens Zone is the absence of follow up of initiatives. Just as the battle against ISI-sponsored networks in Punjab was won in the 1990s through decisive action by dedicated security professionals, the war on such networks operating in Kashmir should be conducted in a coldly rational manner and without the sentimentalism and lack of realism within the policy establishment that has caused the bleed in Kashmir, a state with a gifted people, by the forces of terror for decades. An entire generation of youth has through defective policies centred on Wahabbi appeasement grown up in the Valley not knowing anything except conflict. Before more get Wahhabised and weaponised, they need to be shown through much more effective information transmission as well as alternative study and work opportunities that those from across the border who seek to beguile them are the enemies of the peace they seek as citizens of the world’s next superpower. In such a context, those in other parts of India who seek to do harm or be abusive to Kashmiri youth in other parts of the country act as the “useful idiots” of the ISI. Similarly, whatever rights are enjoyed by Kashmiris in the rest of India should be enjoyed by all citizens of the world’s most populous democracy in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
26 February 2019 must represent not a one-off but a paradigm shift uninfluenced by the Lutyens Zone’s lack of realism and overload of sentimentalism. Political parties need to come together so that terror in Kashmir gets extinguished the way it has been in Punjab.