He needs to call the bluff of those who cry out that Kashmiris must be given full rights across India, but other Indians must not have the same rights in Kashmir.
The myth that only pressure from the “international community” has prevented GHQ Rawalpindi from using the nuclear option against India continues to operate, the way it did in 2001, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to assuage (through Operation Parakram) growing domestic disquiet over lack of retaliation against Pakistan for the Kathmandu hijack and the attempt to kill MPs in the precincts of Parliament. US Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill sought to administer a killer blow to the economy of the country he was accredited to, by forcing every US citizen to leave India “because a nuclear war was imminent between India and Pakistan”. Of course, the masochism (where national rather than personal interest is concerned) that so pervades the Lutyens Zone ensured that Blackwill was put on a million dollar retainer by the Government of India after his retirement from the State Department. Given the relatively narrow and exposed geography of Pakistan, plus its much lower population, any resort by GHQ Rawalpindi to the nuclear option would certainly result in a weaker India, but it would at the same time destroy Pakistan. Unlike the terrorists they train in such large numbers, the generals in Islamabad are not suicidal. Even should the entire territory of Pakistan get occupied by Indian forces in a conventional military conflict, that country could seek to recover the same through the irregular warfare that it has become expert in since inception, when such methods were used in 1947 to try and capture the whole of Jammu & Kashmir. In contrast, should there be a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, there would be nothing left of the former to occupy or to recover. While talk of the nuclear option has been incessant across the border, that this is bluff has been understood only by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as the head of a nuclear state used combat aircraft in an attack across the border with another nuclear state for the first time. Every other Prime Minister in the post-Chagai blast era, whether it be the BJP’s A.B. Vajpayee or the Congress party’s Manmohan Singh, allowed his response to GHQ Rawalpindi’s use of terror against India to be of the milquetoast variety that has become a global laughing stock in private conversations even while world leaders compliment the Lutyens Zone for its “admirable restraint” in public.
Now that Pakistan’s nuclear bluff has been called, there will be pressure on every future Prime Minister to respond in a kinetic rather than a cosmetic manner to mass terror attacks sponsored from Pakistan. Very little was done after Pathankot (besides giving ISI operatives a guided tour of the facility). There was a stronger response after Uri, although the surgical strike was conducted through “keyhole surgery” and therefore did not leave much of a mark. Pulwama has resulted—for the first time since 1998—in a relatively robust armed response, followed up by the shooting down of an F-16 when the PAF sought to do what the IAF had done a day after the latter crossed over the International Border to attack terror sites. While the PAF used its frontline Chinese and US-built aircraft, the IAF utilised its least combat-capable aircraft, the MiG-21, although piloted by some of its bravest pilots, such as Wing Commander Abhinandan. The sooner we acquire at least 200 more frontline military aircraft (at prices that are affordable for the economy), the better for national security. Next, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) need to change in the neutralisation of terrorists in Kashmir. Because of the dominance of a civilian mindset in national security planning in India, a “zero collateral damage” mentality has developed that was operational in retaliatory steps taken after the 14 February Pulwama attack. Neither the US nor China nor Pakistan nor any other—repeat, any other—major military power has adopted a “zero collateral damage” during military operations rule, for the reason that such a stipulation results in a multiplying of one’s own casualties. Too many men and women in uniform have been lost because of the refusal of those in charge of national security to follow the example of the US, Pakistan and China by blowing up any location where terrorists are known to be taking refuge in. Faulty SOPs introduced in 2003 and retained since then resulted in Pulwama. Giving preference to the lives of those in uniform has to be a prime objective of policymakers, and needed changes must be made in SOPs to ensure this. The nation should not stand by and see any more deaths of the bravehearts in uniform caused as a consequence of the Lutyens Zone officials who insist on micro-managing military operations as they did so disastrously during the 1999 Kathmandu hijack and the 2008 26/11 Mumbai attack.
Prime Minister Modi has called the bluff that for long ensured a weak Indian response to terror strikes masterminded from across the border. In the same way, he needs to call the bluff of those who cry out on a daily basis that while Kashmiris should be given full rights across the rest of India (as indeed they should), other citizens of India should not be given the same rights in Kashmir. Pandering to the continuance of separatism-breeding laws and regulations will ensure that the bleeding in Kashmir continues. In Punjab, it was only after K.P.S. Gill struck at terror with an unyielding fist that he succeeded where milder predecessors had failed. There must be somewhere in the state, a Kashmiri K.P.S. Gill. The Prime Minister must find and empower him or her, so that Kashmir soon becomes as peaceful as Punjab (ably captained these days by Amarinder Singh) became after correct steps were taken in the 1990s to neutralise those funded from across the border, who were intent on wrecking the future of a vibrant state. Given that it was the Congress party that brought peace to Punjab, it is expected of Rahul Gandhi that he will fully back moves by the present government to restore peace and stability to Kashmir in the only way feasible, by eliminating terror networks and their overground support system that bad policy has allowed to flourish in Kashmir despite its wonderful culture and people.