The Indo-Pak security conundrum

Sathish Nair Bidanda Chengappa | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 19, 2015

Sporadic cross border attacks, through proxy warriors of Pakistan, is an attempt to derail the National Security Adviser level peace talks.   -  PTI

India must reasonably balance coercive diplomacy and covert operations to tackle cross-border terrorism

The two recent cross-border terrorist attacks in the two border States, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, have political, diplomatic and security dimensions that merit consideration. That these attacks took place soon after the summit meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in Ufa, Russia, provides a political perspective.

The diplomatic dimension arises from the need to stymie the progress in New Delhi-Islamabad ties towards peace and prosperity. That Pakistan seeks to resurrect militancy and terrorism in these two border States suggests an externally fostered internal security threat.

Despite Pakistan’s democratically elected government, it is generally observed that General Head Quarters, Rawalpindi or the Pakistan Army is omnipotent, especially on security-related issues and relations with India.

Targeting the talks?

It would be reasonable to assume that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not have the mandate of the Pakistan army chief when he met Narendra Modi in Ufa.

Evidently, the reference to Kashmir, and the raison d'être of the Pakistan Army, being absent from the joint statement of the two prime ministers would have incensed the army chief no end.

Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that these sporadic cross border attacks, through proxy warriors of Pakistan, is an attempt to derail the National Security Adviser level peace talks planned to take place later this month.

Clearly, the recent terrorist actions are only pinpricks which aim to probe the nature of the Modi regime’s response.

The Pakistan Army is prudent enough not confront India in a conventional military context — but instead opted over the past three decades to privatise the jehad to terrorist groups which would bog down our security forces with rear area security duties — and attempt to score tactical successes from time to time.

To that extent, these sporadic terrorist actions have no serious strategic value other than attempts to preoccupy Indian security forces with mundane internal security duties. This would entail protection of transport convoys, security of military establishments and other such related tasks.

Serious concerns

Whether the infiltration into Indian territory has taken place through the International Border (IB) or Line of Control (LoC) is the moot question. While the Border Security Force is deployed on the IB, the Army secures the LoC in Kashmir.

While Pakistani militants normally infiltrate through the Valley or LoC and the upper reaches of the Rajauri sector, drug smugglers generally cross over in the Punjab sector. This is the shortest most convenient and safest route for them to enter Indian territory.

If these terrorists have infiltrated through the IB in the Punjab sector it is a matter of concern. The IB sector, which is a flat and open terrain and the formidable fence which is electrified with a ‘cobra’ wire, should in the normal course make it difficult for terrorists to cross — if not impossible to do so.

Therefore, the illegal ingress or entry needs to be investigated adroitly to pinpoint responsibility and tie up loose ends. Ever since the Punjab problem was resolved in the early 1990s trans-border infiltration by terrorists has not been reported in this sector.

Therefore, the recent events are worrisome for national security. Recent reports about the rejuvenation of the remnants of the Khalistani militants by Pakistan, to brew trouble in India, may have some relevance, in the light of the infiltration in this sector.

It is quite possible that unarmed militants may have now taken advantage of this window of opportunity and crossed the electrified fence in the garb of smugglers. Thereafter, they would proceed to the rendezvous points to contact their designated guides and proceed to their hideouts.

Then they would have planned on how to execute their terrorist action after choice and place of target which involves a need to reconnoitre the area.

Averting wars

Evidently, the New Delhi-Islamabad political and diplomatic dialogue has not deterred Pakistan from terrorist actions — but has only heightened Indian tolerance to terrorist actions from time to time. In view of these realities should the Indian response be diplomatic or military in nature or an amalgam of both.

Undoubtedly, a conventional military response would be escalation of violence through heavy artillery shelling at this stage may result in calling off the proposed peace talks.

To quote US strategic thinker Bernard Brodie, known as the American Clausewitz: “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment was to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have no other purpose”.

Moreover, India and Pakistan as nuclear weapon states acknowledge this reality in the post-1998 phase of their bilateral relationship. To that extent the nuclear age has altered the conceptual parameters within which these South Asian neighbours formulate their responses to each other.

Perhaps coercive diplomacy or “forceful persuasion” is the only option available to India to check these clandestine violent non-state actors from carrying out further terrorist actions. This would require either the threat to use of force or the actual employment of limited force.

To that extent, India needs to use force to strengthen diplomatic efforts at persuasion. If the Pakistan Army can outsource jihadi terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy, then India too has to respond in a similar manner through covert action.

Nair is former Commandant. Romeo counter-insurgency Force, Rashtriya Rifles; Chengappa teaches international relations and strategic studies at Christ University, Bengaluru

Published on August 19, 2015
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