India’s Anti-Terror Strategy Lies Beyond Surgical Strikes 

India’s Surgical strikes and other pro-active actions, has introduced an element of unpredictability.

5 min read
The DGMO confirmed that India had carried out surgical strikes across the LoC in PoK. (Photo: Reuters)

Future Pakistan Policy

  • After the Indian army’s successful surgical strikes across the LoC, India has introduced the element of unpredictability in its actions.
  • Since the strikes against terror infrastructure in PoK, India will be proactive in framing its response to terror attacks.
  • The Indian government must reach out to Kashmiris and stabilise the situation, otherwise Pakistan will exploit it to the hilt.
  • Dismembering Pakistan is neither desirable nor is it militarily achievable as a large-scale war is not winnable. India’s objective should be to gradually raise Pakistan’s cost for waging a proxy war and to eventually making it prohibitive.
  • India must work towards reducing the Pakistan army’s salience in the country’s polity.
  • India should withdraw the MFN status to Pakistan and imposing economic costs would choke Pakistan’s economy.

The surgical strikes conducted successfully by the Indian army’s special forces (SF) across the Line of Control on the night of 28 September 2016, in response to the terrorist attack on the Uri brigade headquarters sponsored by Pakistan’s ‘deep state’, came as a huge surprise to Pakistan’s army and the ISI.

So far, in keeping with its policy of strategic restraint, India’s response to individual incidents of terrorism has been predictable: blame Pakistan, but avoid reacting overtly. Now, by launching surgical strikes and taking other pro-active actions, India has introduced an element of unpredictability. Pakistan can no longer be sure about India’s likely response.

Pro-Active Framing of Response

As I had noted over a year ago (‘India will talk to Pakistan, but only about terrorism’, The Quint, 27 August 2015), “Early contours of the emerging Modi doctrine can be discerned… aggressiveness on the LoC will meet with a firm response.” Clearly, here onwards, India will be pro-active in framing its response to terrorist incidents with their origin on Pakistani soil.

However, India’s counter-proxy war strategy should be based on a realistic assessment of the threat and carefully formulated to achieve related national security objectives.

Despite its internal instability, failing economy, international isolation and vitiated civil-military relations, Pakistan will continue to profess that Kashmir is the ‘unfinished agenda of Partition’.

Its advocacy of the need to wrest Kashmir from India at all costs will become shriller though the strategy to achieve that aim may be fine-tuned to avoid culpability. Nor will Pakistan give up its quest to control Afghanistan’s destiny and dictate its strategic choices.

Pakistani Strategy Will Continue

Pakistan’s ‘deep state’ is unlikely to back down from its strategy of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’ and waging a proxy war through the LeT, JeM and HuM.

The army will continue to raise the bogey of an existentialist threat from India as hostility with it is necessary to justify its disproportionately large strength and the funds necessary to equip and maintain the war machine.

It should be a national priority to reach out to Kashmiris and stabilise the situation. If instability in Kashmir continues till next summer, Pakistan will exploit it to the hilt. The army should be prepared to confront an Operation Gibraltar-like influx of mujahideen a la 1965, but on a reduced scale.

Dismembering Pakistan Undesirable

The remaining roots of the proxy war are now in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. The only way India can ensure that Pakistan’s proxy war is brought to a quick end is by dismembering Pakistan.

This is neither desirable, as India will have to suffer the consequences and deal with the fallout, nor is it militarily achievable as a large-scale war simultaneously on two fronts is not winnable.

Hence, India’s objective should be to gradually raise Pakistan’s cost for waging a proxy war against India with a view to eventually making it prohibitive. It should also be a national security and foreign policy objective to work towards reducing the Pakistan army’s salience in the country’s polity.

With these limited aims, it should be possible to synergise the political, diplomatic and military objectives and formulate appropriate strategies.

Long-Term Dividends

By boycotting the Islamabad SAARC summit and through deft diplomatic manoeuvres India has succeeded in isolating Pakistan in South Asia as well as internationally. The shift in emphasis from SAARC to Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) will also provide handsome dividends in the long term.

In this age of realpolitik, on the politico-diplomatic front, India has many other cards that it can play. The expression of overt support for the long-oppressed people of Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan has galvanised their movements and caused acute embarrassment to Pakistan.

Before approaching the United Nations Security Council to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, India should do so unilaterally after the next major incident of terrorism. India should also call upon its neighbours in South Asia to do so.

Position on Durand Line

One more arrow in the quiver is for India to express its support for the Afghan position that the Durand Line is no longer relevant and the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be demarcated afresh. This move will give a major boost to the nascent movement for Pakhtunkhwa and completely unsettle a sensitive Pakistani province. It will also further boost India’s image with the Afghan people.

Before holding out a threat to opt out of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, India must first make arrangements to fully utilise its quota of water, part of which is flowing unharnessed into Pakistan. This will have a major impact on the availability of water in Pakistan.

Afghanistan is also not able to fully utilise its share of the water of the Kabul river and its tributary Kunar. Now that India has successfully completed and handed over the Salma Dam, we should offer to build dams on both these rivers whose waters flow into the Indus.

Imposing Economic Costs

The aim of imposing economic costs should be to choke Pakistan’s economy. India should withdraw the most favoured nation (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan in 1996, which Pakistan has failed to reciprocate. Later, if necessary, India could consider banning overflights for Pakistani aircraft.

As for military measures, the aim should be to inflict punishment on the Pakistan army and its organs and systematically destroy its war-waging potential. However, military operations should be carefully calibrated to reduce the risk of escalation. The latest surgical strikes were the lowest rung on the escalatory ladder.

Likely Pakistani Action

As probably anticipated, since the cross-LoC raids the Pakistan army has not reacted except to launch isolated terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets, all of which have been successfully foiled. However, the Pakistan army will wait for a suitable opportunity to avenge the losses that it has suffered.

In all probability, it will launch its Special Services Group (SSG) to destroy what it considers a soft and vulnerable target. It will take much harsher military measures to make it prohibitive for the deep state to wage a proxy war.

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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