Pressure has to be applied on Pakistan in a sustained manner at diplomatic, economic and strategic levels.


The latest terrorist attack in Pulwama that killed over 40 jawans of one of India’s paramilitary forces, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), raises the question of how India might best deal with Pakistan’s constant support for such attacks. The suicide attack on the CRPF convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway was carried out and claimed by a suicide bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar, of the Pakistan-based and globally recognised terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Pulwama is the biggest terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir since the Uri terror attack in September 2016.

Threatening a military strike on television or tweeting and promising to wipe out every terrorist inside Pakistan may be great as sound bites or social media machismo. It is, however, not a long-term strategy for a country that seeks to be a great power. India needs a sustained pressure strategy for Pakistan, not knee-jerk jingoism.

Every time there is an act of terror inside India, there is a cyclical response. There are voices that demand a military response through another surgical strike or seek to cut off the supply of water as per the Indus Waters Treaty. If elections are due, as happens this year, the Central and state government machinery as well as the intelligence community are attacked for not being able to prevent such an attack from occurring.

There will also be voices demanding that the international community, especially the United States, apply pressure on Pakistan to act against terror groups operating from its soil. Finally, there will be those who ask for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. There has been little change in this phenomenon over the last few decades.

What India needs is a sustained pressure strategy for Pakistan at diplomatic, economic and strategic levels. A strategy that convinces Pakistan’s security establishment that its policy of using jihad as a lever of foreign policy is hurting Pakistan diplomatically, economically and strategically. India’s attempts on all these fronts have been episodic and one-off, with small tactical successes being viewed as strategic victory.

Terrorism is not new to India. India has been the target of terrorism for decades. The key jihadi terror groups that operate inside Kashmir and in other parts of India have roots in and links inside Pakistan. Right since Partition, Pakistan has nurtured a hardline “Kashmir bazor Shamsheer” (Kashmir by the sword) lobby that portrays India as an existential threat to Pakistan—a view also supported by the country’s politically dominant military. Each of the four India-Pakistan wars (1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999) was initiated by Pakistan, which tends to maintain an “all or nothing” approach on the Kashmir issue that surfaces soon after periods of dialogue.

Since the 1971 India-Pakistan war that led to the breakup of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, Pakistan’s establishment has consistently supported insurgent and terror groups that have targeted India in the hope that this would help “cut India down to size” and ensure that India is unable to undo Partition. Unable to maintain parity with India on the conventional military front, asymmetrical warfare was viewed by the Pakistani deep state as the cost-friendly and yet potent alternative against a larger neighbour.

In addition to helping groups in Kashmir, the Pakistani military and intelligence have, over the decades, also supported Khalistani outfits and sympathisers, as well as insurgent groups in India’s Northeast.

As the inheritor of a 5,000-year old civilisation, as a status quo oriented power and a democracy, Indian leaders have always believed that the future of India and South Asia would benefit from an integrated subcontinent. Hence, every Indian Prime Minister from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi has sought to make improvement of ties with Pakistan one of their legacies.

Every time a civilian Prime Minster comes to power in Pakistan, hopes are raised not just in India but in countries around the world, that there will finally be peace and the Kashmir dispute will be resolved. Since their separation in 1947, India and Pakistan have held dozens of rounds of talks, including 45 meetings at the head of state or head of government level and signed several agreements.

India’s hope has always been that Pakistani leaders share a similar worldview and that at the end of the day Islamabad and Karachi would also want what Delhi and Mumbai do; better people to people relations, ease of travel and tourism and an economically integrated South Asia. Pakistani civilian prime Ministers may want what their Indian counterparts do. However, Pakistani civilian Premiers who seek to change their country’s foreign and security policy are an endangered species.

India’s response to countering terrorism emanating from Pakistan has been on the one hand to build its intelligence capabilities and military defences and on the other to demand action from Pakistan. India has done a good job over the years in building its intelligence capabilities, but more needs to be done. The first line of defence of any democratic country is always the local police and then the paramilitary forces. Unfortunately, India has not yet invested enough in their training and equipment. Further, India’s abysmally slow acquisitions and purchase process has slowed down its plans for military modernisation.

We must remember that no country can thwart every terror attack. As the Irish Republican Army (IRA) warned British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher after the failure of their attempt to assassinate her and her Cabinet in the Brighton hotel bombing in 1994, “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, India pursued a policy of periodic dialogue with Pakistan. The hope was that these comprehensive dialogues—that covered everything from Kashmir to Siachen and economy to visa regime—would build a mechanism that would resolve both the larger and smaller issues. Despite periodic terror attacks this dialogue process continued till the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Over time, however, New Delhi felt that Pakistan only sought a dialogue when it was in a weak position, only to reinstate conflict once its hand became stronger. In recent times Delhi has become insistent that if Pakistan seeks to improve relations with India it will need to act against jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and individuals like global terrorists Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar.

India has also sought to secure the support of the international community and especially the countries on the United Nations Security Council like the United States in this endeavour. Unfortunately, not only has the UN been unable to agree upon a global definition of terrorism, but countries like China, India’s neighbour and rival for power in Asia, have been reluctant to apply pressure on Pakistan. For example, China has consistently vetoed any attempt by the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee to designate Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, as a global terrorist.

India has also sought to use the intergovernmental organisation that seeks to combat global money laundering, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to apply pressure on Pakistan to end financing for terrorist entities. India achieved limited success in 2012, 2013 and 2014, with Pakistan being viewed as a “high risk” country. However, international pressure was never sustained, and Pakistan was able to claim it had made significant progress in building its legal and regulatory framework. This February, India has another chance as Pakistan is already on FATF’s grey list and the European Union has proposed to place Pakistan on the “black list”.

India must bear in mind that the aim of its policies should be the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan, not the Pakistani people. As a democracy, India supports the democratic rights of all South Asians and in the past India supported Bengalis during the civil war of 1971. While India should fully support the democratic wishes of the Pakistani population, India should refrain from openly championing the breakup of its neighbour. India and Indians believe in an economically integrated and prosperous South Asia and India does not seek to alienate or antagonise the 200 million odd Pakistanis.

Aparna Pande is Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington-DC based Hudson Institute. Her books include Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy (Routledge, 2011) and From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy (Harper Collins, 2017)


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