The Modi government is understood to have given the army, its diplomats and its spooks a cautious go-ahead for some kind of calibrated, but not brash, response to the Pakistan-backed terrorist attack in Uri, which killed 18 soldiers. Nothing wrong with this, but it will achieve little. None of this has worked in the past, and none of this will amount to much beyond political optics even now or in the future. This is because underlying all this is a reactive approach, and hence our actions can be easily anticipated by the world’s original Islamic State, aka Pakistan.
The truth is countering Pakistan’s death-by-a-thousand cuts terror policy needs a long-term strategy, not a tactical reaction to events. But despite have seen over three decades of Pakistani perfidies, we do not have a coherent strategy. If we had one, by now the costs of Uri could have been clear to Pakistan. That we are still debating what to do, with media speculating on options loudly, means Pakistan is ready to face whatever we throw at them. Whatever we do will thus be ineffective.
What we have been doing so far is blundering through with a non-strategy. Consider these points:
1. A sitting ducks strategy
Whether it is terror against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir or the army, our approach is defensive and non-purposeful. The truism is that a terrorist has to succeed only once, while the defence has to win all the time to be successful. While we can certainly protect our army camps and airbases better, dealing with terrorists who have the element of surprise with them needs a more flexible and mobile strategy, which means creating a light, effective and disciplined commando force that blends with the population to both feed intelligence and take direct action against jihadis when they are discovered. Our National Security Guards are busy protecting politicians instead of our security assets. We need a force that works under the army or the central police forces, but which is mobile and effective.
2. Learn-no-lessons strategy
Pakistan constantly adapts to new conditions based on how the last one worked or failed. When 26/11 made Pakistan a global pariah, it shifted strategy to target the army and police, as strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney notes, but even after Pathankot we have not changed our strategy to meet this threat. This is why Uri happened.
3. The hugs-and-kisses strategy
This is where we allow hope and naivete to trump good sense. We are always ready to hop onto a bus to Lahore or hug a Pakistani Prime Minister when the Pakistani army and Deep State have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not willing to give up their enmity or terror assets. Hugs-and-kisses are fine for global optics, but they can never substitute for realism driven by hard power and firepower. WE don’t have to abandon the optics or even talks, but we have to have an underlying iron-fist-in-velvet glove strategy. We should be able to bare our fangs whenever we choose to.
4. The outrage-and-bluster routine
Every time there is a terror attack, we get angry as though this is the first time we have been stabbed in the back. We demand solid responses from a pusillanimous government, and we get promises of action. But a few weeks later, we forget all this and are back to business-as-usual. Media bluster and political statement-mongering will get us nowhere.
5. The playing-by-our-rules strategy
Indians are particularly foolish to think that our opponent will play by our rules, or ever play fair. When you are in a war of long-term attrition, you have to know your enemy. You can’t fight with bow and arrow when the enemy has guns. But we spend very little time asking ourselves what the Pakistanis are going to do next, what atrocity they are going to commit to provoke us. If we do not learn to think like the enemy, if we are not regularly studying alternate scenarios on what the Pakistani generals will be upto next, we are going to be surprised every time. We need a permanent war-room under the National Security Advisor that will constantly ask itself what it would do if it were in the ISI’s or Pakistani army’s shoes, and prepare for that eventuality. We might still get surprised, but at least we can learn from our mistakes. War is not a play-by-my-rules affair. You have to make your rules only after understanding what rules the opponent follows. Your rules depend on knowing your enemy.
6. The dossier strategy
Every time there is a terror event, we build dossiers on Pakistan’s involvement. Nothing wrong in this, but we have to understand who or what this dossier is for. It is to show the world, and build a domestic case for trials in case the persons named happen to get caught in India. Giving these dossiers to Pakistan is like giving them ultimate pleasure. They will dismiss it as “literature” and throw it in the dustbin and then ask for more evidence. Nothing pleases the Pakistanis more than to let us do all the work and then throw it into the trash can. Why are we doing this repeatedly?
7. The diplomatic isolation gambit
Once again, this is useful in order to build global opinion against Pakistan. We should continue doing so, and also repeatedly brand Pakistan as the oldest and most dangerous version of Islamic State. ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has no nuclear weapons. It can be bombed out of existence. Pakistan cannot. So the purpose of diplomacy should be to make Pakistan a pariah, but it won’t reduce terrorism from Pakistani soil. The only country which has leverage over China is Pakistan, but China is happy to covertly support Pakistani terror in order to keep us permanently off balance. If at all diplomacy is to work, our strategy should be to drive a wedge between China and Pakistan by giving the former evidence of terrorism against China being plotted by Pakistani jihadis.
8. The turn-the-other-cheek strategy
This is pure stupidity, and entirely homegrown. Our media will keep telling us that India as the big brother must tolerate some Pakistani perfidy, and even provide justification for it, by showing how Pakistanis are good people, who even pay for visiting journos’ lunch. It is true that civil society people can be warm towards Indians, but it is not Pakistani civil society that we are fighting with. It is the army and ISI. Turning the other cheek and playing benevolent big brother to the Deep State is not an option.
9. The look-at-root-causes strategy
This also masquerades as the look-at-our-own-mistakes strategy. Or we-brought-it-on-ourselves rationalisation. Doves in the media and analysts will routinely tell us that we goofed in J&K, and that Pakistan would not find traction if we only won the Kashmiris over. While it can be no one’s claim that we did all the right things in Kashmir, it is rubbish to suggest that the current wave of violence is all our own doing. Remember, Pakistan was a key player in Islamising the Valley and played an active role in the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits. Once the Valley became 100 percent Muslim, Kashimiryat was over. Where earlier Pakistan had to send jihadis over, now jihad is home-grown with a self-radicalising population which thinks Islamism is the answer. De-radicalisation should be our goal, but we still have to fight Pakistan in this battle.
10. The good boy strategy
India seems keener to get good certificates of tolerance and restraint from the global community than to protect its strategic interests in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. Many Indian media writers feed this narrative by saying India should not support war-mongering. Anyone demanding effective action against Pakistani terror can be dubbed a warmonger, and we keep fighting shy of this tag. The fact is every nation has a duty to protect its interests, and retaliation against terror is not war-mongering. A rising global power cannot decide its actions based on what other people will think. We can explain our point of view to the world cogently, but we cannot let them decide what is in our interests, even if they think less of us in the bargain. The US, Russia, China, Israel, UK and no country worth its salt decides on strategic actions based on what the world will think. We should not either.
Our real problem is this: there is something in the Indian cultural DNA that shies away from conflict, avoids hard decisions, and offers a rationalisation for inaction and cowardice. Not standing up to a regular bully is passed off (by us) as some kind of peace-loving Indian attitude when internally we are seething with anger over repeated humiliations by a terrorist nation.
The Pakistanis have figured this out about us, which is why they target us with impunity, knowing how we will respond. Isn’t it time we showed them we can be different? We owe it to ourselves and the future of Indian nationhood to show them we are not what they think we are: sissies afraid to stand up for our national interests.