Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2019-03-05 07:13:49 Published on Mar 05, 2019
Better sense must prevail and both India and Pakistan must avoid serious conflict that will hardly help either. True progress will happen when Pakistan starts to wind up its terror factory
Stifle the jihadi network

It was the military disaster of 1971 that forced the Pakistani establishment and its military, which runs the country for all practical purposes, to face up to the fact that they could never win a conventional war against India. If Pakistan was to avenge its humiliation and cut India down to size, it had little choice but to fight through proxies and bleed India through a thousand cuts.

This idea must surely have germinated from its successful employment of Islamic militants — the forerunners of the Taliban — to oppose the rule of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) that had deposed former President of Afghanistan Mohammed Daoud Khan in what came to be known as the Saur or April Revolution of 1978. It was this Pakistani-fomented insurgency that finally led to the Soviet intervention and occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Incidentally, while conventional wisdom would have us believe that it was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that came up with the idea of using militants to fight the Soviets, facts show that it came to the party much later and only added its considerable resources to the techniques perfected by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in the use of irregulars for its own ends.

Thus, from the early 1980s, Pakistan commenced its support for secessionist elements within India that were involved in fighting against the state. First, the Khalistan Movement and subsequently, with greater success, in Jammu & Kashmir. It clearly had advantages as there was credible deniability and the economy of effort with the dirty work being done by proxies, keeping the Indian security forces tied down and finally, the most important of all, creating fear and anxiety within the general population that impacted every aspect of our democratic way of life.

There is, of course, one major disadvantage of using proxies. They tend to have a mind of their own and often times, respond inappropriately or work at cross purposes to what its mentors may be wishing to achieve. The Pulwama suicide attack falls in this category. There have been numerous statements over the past four years that have made it clear that Pakistan prefers to deal with Indian Governments run by the more “liberal and secular” parties, compared to having to deal with the more conservative, Hindutva-driven Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With elections around the corner and with the BJP facing the very real likelihood of a serious decline, if the recent State elections were any indication, it would have been in Pakistan’s best interest to maintain a low profile.

Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) supremo, obviously had a different view. Not only did his organisation carry out the suicide attack that led to the death of 44 CRPF jawans but also went on to take credit for the action. Thus, in one thoughtless act, he not only destroyed the Pakistan Government’s attempts at deniability but also made Imran Khan’s call for India to provide credible evidence infructuous.

Most importantly, the timing of the devastating attack left the Modi Government with little choice but to respond overtly and with speed, if it was to still retain any hope of doing well at the hustings. There was also a possibility that if India responded in an effective manner to the outrage, the Government’s stock would go up rapidly and that would enhance Modi’s reputation and chances of return to power, just as the earlier cross-border strike helped the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh elections. This could hardly have been to Pakistan’s advantage and in the event the attack was facilitated by the Army, then General Bajwa has certainly made a serious miscalculation.

Regardless of the number of casualties that the Indian Air Force’s attack on terror camps deep inside Pakistan may have caused, the very fact that the Indian Government displayed the intent to take on terrorists inside Pakistan has clearly changed the narrative prevalent for the past four decades. It has also shown up Pakistan’s repeated threats of a nuclear riposte as sheer hyperbole and bluster.

More importantly, the initiative has finally shifted in India’s favour along with world opinion, which has had enough of Pakistan’s duplicitous behaviour. Moreover, any escalation above a perfunctory retaliation, which was to be expected to assuage domestic opinion, by Pakistan would destroy the fig leaf of deniability it has used over the years. Crucially, it would force their military into a direct confrontation, something that the proxy war waged by them over the years allowed them to avoid.

In this context, one can only hope better sense will prevail and we will be able to avoid serious escalation of the conflict, which can hardly help either side, given the huge challenges we face in lifting vast swathes of our population out of the twin evils of poverty and illiteracy.

However, it must be emphasised that true progress will only occur as and when Pakistan starts to wind up the jihad factory it has built over these years. In any case, the Indian cross-border raid cannot be a one-off affair and we must be willing to do all that it takes to neutralise the jihadi network and its vast army of financiers, managers and facilitators.

Finally, while all our attention may be taken in dealing with the issue at hand, the fact as to what led to the Pulwama attack must not be lost sight of. For this serious lapse on the part of our intelligence services, it is imperative that heads must roll. There have also been clear indications that despite increasing numbers of militants being neutralised in the Valley, the Army and other security forces were being increasingly marginalised, especially in south Kashmir, because of popular discontent.

They had consequently lost their ability to dominate the countryside, thereby losing out on intelligence. These aspects continued to be ignored by the Central Government and the military hierarchy. Little thought was given to the necessity for reviewing either counter insurgency strategies or tactical procedures and the leadership continued to be swayed by tactical successes with little attempt to resolve the growing disillusionment and radicalisation within the population, especially the youth. This must certainly change.

This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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