Establishment in Pakistan is fully aware that use of nuclear weapons against India would draw immediate retaliation and Pak would be wiped out of the world map.
India has suffered thousands of cuts inflicted by the Pakistan army through its surrogate terrorist outfits such as Jaish e Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar e Tayyaba, Hizbul Mujahedeen and several other similar groups in the past four decades. India, in response, just cried but did nothing to punish Pakistan for its misdeeds in spite of having much larger and better equipped armed forces. So called defence specialists and strategic analysts in India and around the world sanctified the Pakistani narrative that any retaliatory action by India would force Pakistan to defend itself by using nuclear weapons, leading to mass causalities in India. This is a totally fallacious narrative that has been peddled by vested interests.
One wonders if nuclear weapons could be used by any country in the absence of extreme existential threats posed by another country. The land boundary between India and Pakistan is fully demarcated, with not an inch being a disputed area. Even the Line of Control is fully demarcated on maps bearing signatures of the Chiefs of Army Staff of both countries. India and Pakistan have publicly undertaken not to change the status of the LOC by force. India never threatened Pakistan with comprehensive annihilation, even when the most heinous terrorist crimes such as the attack on Parliament or the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 were carried out under Pakistani sponsorship. India has talked of only limited action against the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan which could never be a justification for nuclear action by Pakistan in retaliation.
Car-borne suicide bombing of a CRPF convoy, killing over 40 personnel on 14 February at Pulwama proved to be the last straw for India to tolerate Pak sponsored terrorist actions. On 26 February, by conducting an aerial bombing of the Jaish e Mohammed (JeM) sub headquarters in Balakot (located not in POK but in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), India sent a clear message to Pakistan and the international community that it would no longer hesitate to retaliate militarily against these terrorist groups located in Pakistan. Contrary to its usual bluster threatening India of nuclear strike for such action, Pakistan just dropped a few conventional bombs at the LOC in response to Indian aerial action at Balakot. Thus, India has conclusively debunked the nuclear blackmail being resorted to by Pakistan for the past four decades. Establishment in Pakistan is not suicidal and is fully aware that use of nuclear weapons against India would draw immediate retaliation and Pakistan would be wiped out of the world map. In the aftermath of Balakot, even China did not condemn Indian action and was rather supportive of it, forcing Pakistan to initiate some visible action, though very cosmetic against terrorist outfits like JeM and LeT. After Balakot, the international community is likely to increase pressure on Pakistan for dismantling its terrorist infrastructure, without distinguishing between “good” and bad terrorists.
Post Balakot, Pakistan would have to keep these groups on a tight leash. While these groups may not immediately carry out any major action in India, but they are likely to incite their cadres in Kashmir for indulging in extensive low-level terror incidents, in both Kashmir and the hinterland. Pakistan may also motivate terrorist commanders in Kashmir to increase the recruitment of the local youth and intensify unrest in the province.
An increasing number of Kashmiri youth joining the terrorist ranks especially in the past two-three years is a matter of worry. India must realise that a substantial section of Kashmiri Muslims psychologically never accepted a Hindu majority India as their country and were indifferent to it, without nursing any hatred for India. It is an acknowledged fact that Kashmiris below 40 years of age had grown in the shadows of the Army, which was visible all around Kashmir and were constantly fed with the propaganda of India being the enemy of their community. This psyche had made them vulnerable to machinations by Pakistan, exhorting them to join a “liberation struggle”. Strong arm policies pursued by the present Union Government in Kashmir have converted their indifference to hatred for India and that’s why the ranks of the terrorists are increasing. While India cannot afford separation of Kashmir for reasons of national unity, security and ideals of secularism, attempts to assimilate Kashmiris into the mainstream by use of force are unlikely to bear fruit. However, the Kashmiris’ alienation could be moderated through a realistic and different approach. It was the duty of senior bureaucrats and advisors to apprise the Prime Minister of the pitfalls of pursuing a hard and harsh policy in the state, given its special background.
To normalise the situation in Kashmir, the visibility and engagement especially of the Army on the streets of Kashmir must be reduced, without reducing their strength in the valley. Intervention by Central forces is not necessary for every civilian protest. The absence of a perceived “enemy” on the streets in itself is likely to dampen the spirit of the agent provocateurs and would reduce the unrest. Our first priority should not be the number of terrorists neutralised but to ensure the reduction of casualties of Central forces to the barest minimum, as that would be the biggest setback for Pakistan inspired terrorists. India and Pakistan should also understand that cross border firings are just a waste of ammunition and except causing disproportionate pain to innocent civilians inhabiting near the border, serves no purpose and should be immediately stopped by both countries.
Rajinder Kumar (IPS, Retd.) is a former Special Director, Intelligence Bureau.