Army soldiers near the site of suicide bomb attack at in Pulwama district of J&K, on Feb. 14, 2019. (Photographer: S Irfan/PTI)

India Has To Solve The Pakistan-Sourced Terrorist Problem By Itself 

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Owing to the image Prime Minister Narendra Modi has projected of himself and his government as strong and decisive, many media commentators are of the view that a telling response to the blowing up of 40 Central Reserve Police Force troopers in Pulwama is on the anvil. They appear to be influenced more by his rhetoric than his actions, but shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for an Indian counter.

India Has To Solve The Pakistan-Sourced Terrorist Problem By Itself 

Nothing very much is likely to transpire by way of meting out condign punishment to Pakistan despite the near-universal condemnation of this terrorist act and of Pakistan’s role in facilitating it and the United States government signaling its acceptance of Indian retaliation as self-defence. The last matters because successive Indian governments in the 21st century have cravenly sought Washington’s permission before doing anything remotely adventurous.

Recall that after the 2001 attack on Parliament – a far more serious provocation because it was targeted directly at India’s sovereignty, the U.S. Embassy handed over to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime detailed aerial maps of the Jacobabad air base with portions of it that housed U.S. military assets clearly marked out. 

The implication being that India was free to hit any other part of that Pakistan Air Force base it wanted to. In the event, India did nothing, even after general mobilisation for war and the two armies eyeballing each other for six months before Delhi and Islamabad called it quits. It was a sheer waste of time and resources. To believe that in the present situation, Delhi will act differently, forcefully, is to expect the untoward, which won’t happen.

Delhi’s idea of coercive diplomacy is to get other countries to do something about the Pakistan-sourced terrorist problem that it won’t do itself, such as prosecute seriously punitive actions and impose costs. Thus, the Ministry for External Affairs is reportedly burning the wires to convince friendly countries to pressure Islamabad to rein in terrorist outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Nursed by the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence to fight its proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, JeM, in this instance, uploaded to the net the video of the suicide bomber Ahmed Dar’s last testimonial for the jihadi cause filled with stock Jaish fulminations.

There are two factors that have emboldened Islamabad to stay with its enormously successful strategy of covert warfare against the Indian state.

  • Because it needs Pakistan to be the frontline state anchor for its policy of military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States will not risk alienating it by pushing the United Nations too hard in declaring the country a “state sponsor of terrorism”.
  • China has stood four-square behind Pakistan for decades now, having nuclear missile-armed it and cultivated it as a near perfect foil to India’s regional ambitions and as a means of keeping India militarily preoccupied with the subcontinent.

With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, moreover, Beijing is realising the expansive contours of its expansive Belt and Road Initiative that affords Chinese trade and military all-year access to the warm water port of Gwadar on the Balochistan coastline, and pleasing Islamabad is one of Beijing’s major aims. It thus avers with a straight face that Masood Azhar, the Jaish leader, does not fit the UN standard of terrorist and nor does Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The overlapping of U.S. and Chinese interests means Pakistan is immune to any external pressure that Delhi is able to mobilise and, in any case, can continue prosecuting its covert war in Kashmir using terrorist proxies.
A  shipping container sits  at the Gwadar port in Pakistan. (Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg)
A shipping container sits at the Gwadar port in Pakistan. (Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg)

Also read: Carnage In Kashmir: Price Of No Policy On Pakistan 

As Delhi has lacked the wit over the years to utilise open trade and commerce with Pakistan to build-up stakeholders in the Pakistani Establishment for an entente cordiale with India, Modi’s decision to rescind the Most Favoured Nation status for Pakistan will have little impact because the bilateral trade of some $3-plus billion is small compared to its potential – $30 billion. There’s no other ready leverage that Delhi can wield considering the two countries are virtually on par as far as deployable conventional forces and their nuclear arsenals are concerned.

What is left is the dirty option of mounting intelligence operations to physically terminate leaders of anti-India terrorist outfits, such as Hafiz Sayeed and Masood Azhar.

Such precision targeting to eliminate the terrorist leadership by covert means will have cascading effects on the morale of the radicalized youth in the Srinagar Valley who are in the forefront of the so-called intifada in Kashmir. This is a doable strategy that Delhi, for unknown reasons, seems loath to implement. The other is to pay Pakistan back in the same coin: Stoke the ambitions of the mainly Pakhtuni Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan and its impulses to fight the Pakistan army and state. Indeed, TTP’s fighting qualities are sufficiently developed and effective to simultaneously fight the Pakistan army in Pakistan and the U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. It is an asset for India to support and grow with moral and materiel support, and to develop as a bargaining card when the two sides do sit down across the table to talk and hammer out a mutually acceptable solution for Jammu & Kashmir once the 2019 general elections are out of the way.

Bharat Karnad is Professor for National Security Studies, Centre for Policy Research, and author most recently of ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Bloomberg Quint or its editorial team.