Was the Pathankot Attack a Message From Pakistan Army to PM Modi?

If Modi wishes to retain credibility, he must act purposefully and take the country in confidence, writes Vivek Katju

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
An army soldier is seen during a search operation in a forest area outside the Pathankot air force base in Punjab on Sunday, January 3, 2016. (Photo: AP)

Only the naive and the gullible will believe that the Pakistan army had no role in the Pathankot attack. It conforms to the pattern of actions they undertook through their terrorist proxies in Herat in May 2014 and in Gurdaspur in October 2015.

The generals’ obvious intention is to make it clear to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they are the masters of their country’s India policy; that Modi’s Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif cannot be an effective interlocutor. There may be a more insidious objective to show that Modi is full of bluster and rhetoric but when push comes to shove, he is no different from any of his predecessors.

Security forces patrol inside the Indian air force base in Pathankot,  Sunday, January 3, 2016. (Photo: AP)
Security forces patrol inside the Indian air force base in Pathankot, Sunday, January 3, 2016. (Photo: AP)

How Will the Prime Minister Respond?

The question now is how Modi will respond to this grave provocation. Will he flounder as all his immediate predecessor and others did? They broke off the dialogue only to resume it subsequently at a later stage when the Indian anger had cooled down. The generals who have no interest in an engagement to “try and turn the course of history” clearly feel that Modi too, at the maximum, may do just that. That will not faze them at all even if Nawaz Sharif and sections of the Pakistani political class and civil society may have mixed feelings.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is received by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif upon his arrival in Lahore, December 30, 2015. (Photo: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is received by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif upon his arrival in Lahore, December 30, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

If Modi wishes to retain credibility as a strong and determined leader, he must act purposefully and take the country in confidence. He met his policy advisors, including National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, and Foreign Secretary, Jaishankar, on the night of 3rd January. The line being put out is that terror and talks cannot go together. That might be old hat, but it is necessary at this point. Along with this, however, a demonstrable action is needed.

Snapshot

Does India Need to Re-Strategise?

  • Terror attack in Pathankot cannot happen without Pakistan army’s go-ahead, with an intention to show India who is in-charge
  • So far, Modi’s predecessors have chosen blow-hot-blow-cold strategy, breaking off the dialogue only to resume it later
  • Sources are asserting that Doval will speak to the Pakistani National Security Advisor Lt Gen (Retd) Nasser Janjua
  • What is expected, however, is that Pakistan’s NSA will distance the ruling establishment from the attack, thereby agreeing to participate in a probe
  • The nature of engagement with Pakistan has to be explained in the wake of cross border terrorism

Doing Away With The Rhetoric

Sources are also asserting that Doval will speak to the Pakistani National Security Advisor, Lt Gen (Retd) Nasser Janjua. Doval got along well with Janjua in Bangkok less than a month ago, and he must have missed him in Lahore on Christmas day. What will Doval demand that Pakistan do? Take action against the Jaish-e-Mohammad and its chief Maulana Masood Azhar.

If the past is any guide, Janjua will first and foremost distance the Pakistan establishment from the attack. He will thereafter show a willingness to examine all the evidence that India may provide and take action in consonance with Pakistani laws. He may also trot out the old tired theme of Pakistan itself being a victim of terror. All this will be couched in a language of reasonableness and assurance that both countries are confronting vicious terrorists.

Security personnel during their operation against the militants who attacked the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on Sunday. (Photo: PTI)
Security personnel during their operation against the militants who attacked the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on Sunday. (Photo: PTI)

Will this be sufficient even if Janjua expresses a willingness to come to Delhi to meet Doval? Unlikely as this is, it may be the point being emphasised by the US and others to the Pakistani generals as a way of saving the Modi initiative. Modi may be tempted to proclaim this as a great achievement. The government may recall that while the Pakistani civilian government was willing to send the Director-General of the ISI in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the then Pakistani Army Chief had turned this down.

Shadow on the Dialogue Process

This scenario may be a beginning but it should lead to action against the Jaish as well as against other terrorist groups, especially the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Jaishankar is scheduled to travel to Islamabad in the middle of this month to work out the modalities of the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. Many observers of India-Pakistan relations are arguing, even while the Pathankot operation is going on, that the dialogue process should not be called off. The question, however, is not whether there should be engagement at all, but what its should nature be. Clearly, as long as cross border terrorism continues, that should be the focus.

That is what was decided at Ufa, Russia, between Modi and Nawaz Sharif in July last year. The generals objected and Modi had agreed to their demands as demonstrated by the Bangkok meeting. The generals think that concessions are a sign of weakness.

This is a time for Modi to show strength and resolve.

(The writer is a former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs.)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!