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Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 23, 2010

    In the aftermath of the disastrous meeting between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan on 15 July 2010, there is an all-pervasive air of despondency if not frustration as India seems to be running out of options. Five other developments in the last week may worsen the atmosphere for India.

    First, Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed a trade pact that specifically bars Indian exports to Afghanistan via Wagha or through Pakistan. Second, the US State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley has said, “the US expects India to fulfil its responsibility” while reiterating that it would continue to work with India to combat terrorism. This extraordinary statement was in connection with the remarks of the Indian Home Secretary that, in a matter of fact manner, disclosed the close links of Pakistani Army and the ISI with the planning and execution of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. The US did not want India to make Headley’s disclosures public. Third was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement of the USD 500 million assistance to Pakistan and an assurance that the USD 7.5 billion aid over the next five years would remain unaffected. Fourth, is a news report which says that the US Congress’s approval for General Atomics Company to sell ‘unarmed Predator Drones’ to Pakistan. Fifth, General Kayani has been granted an extension of service of three years.

    In India, the reactions have been somewhat muted. While one opposition party has criticised S.M. Krishna for publicly humiliating the Home Secretary, others are expressing dismay at the Pakistan Foreign Minister’s obnoxious behaviour. C. Raja Mohan says (Indian Express, 20 July 2010) that “the road to Rawalpindi runs through Kabul and that India has no options but to engage with the Pashtuns, including the Taliban, on both sides of the Durand Line.” He, however, does not give a clear direction. Pratap Bhanu Mehta of CPR says (Indian Express, 22 July 2010) “that two regimes bankrolled by US funds, can sign a trade pact at the cost of India is a wake-up call.” Two other eminent persons, a former foreign secretary and another senior journalist said something astounding in a TV debate. The first said that “Pakistan is a nuclear power and that restricts India’s options.” The journalist said, “It is preferable for India to lose around 3500 lives to Pakistan supported insurgency to losing Delhi in a nuclear attack.” If this is indeed the general feeling in India, then it becomes clear that India is totally deterred by the so-called low nuclear threshold of Pakistan; and that is a pity.

    Before venturing to suggest some options, it is essential to define where exactly the threat/challenge lies. Pakistan is only a pawn, albeit working in its self-interest, in the hands of its two major benefactors: China and the US. It is the latter that matters much more as it is Pakistan’s usefulness in pulling American chestnuts out of the Afghan fire that constrains it from withdrawing its support. It is likely that the US also does not want to let India off the hook, lest it became a bigger nuisance to its larger game plan in the region. It has inveigled India into doing its bidding by granting it the civil nuclear deal but its benefits are largely negated if Pakistan also gets a similar deal from China. The US has also shown the red flag to India improving its relations with energy rich Iran. It continues to insist on India signing various agreements before it allows access to cutting edge technology. It is also well known that China’s recent hard-line approach is perhaps the direct result of India’s burgeoning relations with the US. Many foreign observers also openly display their dismay at India’s self-imposed restraint and feel that it has no red-lines. While India’s pursuit of economic progress is lauded, the continuing turmoil is slowly but surely affecting the investment climate. The question then is one of tackling the Obama administration and not just Pakistan. Pakistan is not just China’s ‘cat’s paw’ but with military and other aid fast becoming its ‘sword arm’.

    India thus has to act and quickly or else its general credibility would be seriously eroded.

    It must be reiterated that while war may not be an option, Indian armed forces and intelligence agencies are eminently capable of taking a variety of actions short of war after due deliberations and consultations. Air power is one such instrument for limited and calibrated compellence/coercion and is not escalatory as it can be easily halted and restarted. The US and Pakistan have after all used it effectively without bothering too much about public opinion or world reaction.

    What then can India do?

    • Once again proclaim to the whole world that Kashmir is not negotiable and the only issue that needs resolution is Pakistan’s illegal occupation of large portions of the Indian State of J&K or POK.
    • Issue a warning to Pakistan that any future ceasefire violation, infiltration attempt or cross-border terrorist act would invite strong and immediate Indian retaliation.
    • Declare that all those suspected and found guilty of complicity in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, including criminals like Dawood Ibrahim, would be treated as proclaimed offenders and India reserves the right to take whatever action necessary to bring these elements to justice.
    • In light of Pakistan’s nuclear sabre rattling, India would be compelled to revisit its nuclear doctrine.
    • Cancel the proposed purchase of arms and equipment from the US as it is India’s money that is indirectly going to Pakistan which in turn supports cross border terrorism.
    • Announce a review of all CBMs with Pakistan including India’s water use, people-to-people contacts and the liberal visa regime, between the two countries.
    • Also, advise the separatists and other local leaders in the State of Jammu & Kashmir that unless a visible and verifiable change in their behaviour is forthcoming, the Central Government will be compelled to deploy more army and security forces in the state and withdraw the numerous concessions and special provisions that they and the people of J&K enjoy including personal security.
    • Declare that India would henceforth not countenance any mischief on the part of Pakistan and that it would not resume the dialogue unless it actually stops cross border violence.
    • Inform the Americans that their consistent support to Pakistan clashes with India’s national interests and India therefore sees it unhelpful to improving bilateral relations between the two democracies.

    It is clear that Pakistan would continue to bleed us unless India takes a tough line with the US.

    Procrastination or inaction would adversely affect future prospects of the ruling coalition and also strengthen the hands of local insurgent and Maoist leadership to launch new attacks on the government forces.

    It may also embolden elements fighting for regional, religious and ethnic issues to repeatedly break the law and further destabilise the socio-political and economic climate. NGOs and Maoist sympathisers would also have a field day and further intensify their attacks on the government.

    Some may see these views and options as alarmist. These may also be seen as unnecessarily vitiating the external environment at a time when India’s internal situation including the threat of Maoists and other insurgents, inflation, rising food prices, erratic monsoon, and the general political climate are a cause of serious concern to the government.

    On the other hand, those in favour of some concrete steps may rightly feel that a policy of drift is in fact detrimental to India’s democratic system and strengthen the resolve of forces inimical to India.