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Taking the offensive

Taking the offensive

Author: Gopalji Malaviya and Lawrence Prabhakar
Publication: www.newindpress.com
Date: May 25, 2002

Over the last few years, Pakistan has been prosecuting a "low cost, low intensity war" with India, backed up by threats to use nuclear weapons should India attempt retribution across the Line of Control.

The routine killings in Kashmir - and the most recent one on May 14 - have ushered in the latest crisis prompting India to shift to high gears in response to Pakistani actions. The question that arises now is whether India's strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan is inherently ambivalent; is it that India wants to avoid a confrontation?

India's war against terror has been one of the most sustained and bitter ever. But India's political response has been vacillating, ad hoc and often rhetorical with no tangible action on the ground. India's response has never raised the stakes or inflicted unacceptable costs on Pakistan for its sponsorship of terrorism.

India's latest diplomatic Brahmastra has been the decision to pack off Pakistan's High Commissioner to India; combined with full mobilisation along on the border to exert maximum pressure. However, this has not yielded the desired results.

It should be noted that terror attacks often coincide with the visits of high level US delegations to the region - the Shikhupura massacre during President Bill Clinton's visit to India in March 2000 and the Kaluchak attack during the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca earlier this month.

More terror attacks may therefore be expected, coinciding with the planned visits of US officials in the next few weeks. These high powered missions have achieved little beyond the routine protocols and press statements. However the situation is such that much depends on the nature of US pressure on Pakistan to desist from misadventures.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in his quest to legitimise himself as a reformist and "democratic leader," had in a major policy speech on January 12, 2002 promised to rein in the terrorists and dismantle jihadi infrastructure. It is, therefore, ironic that Pakistan is simultaneously promoting terrorism in Kashmir while joining the US in its campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan's northwest.

One should not forget that Musharraf, one of the architects of Talibanised Afghanistan, facilitated the escape of the fleeing Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces into Pakistan. This was done with the grand plan of redeploying them in Kashmir.

India's global diplomatic response has been a "war of words" that amounts to nothing more than empty diplomatic verbiage for Pakistan. For Pakistan, with its status as a frontline state in the war against terror, has been substantially bolstered by US economic largesse and promises of military aid in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Of course, the US has publicly adopted an even handed approach to South Asia exhorting India to continue its dialogue with Pakistan, while asking the latter to crack down on terrorism.

US measures to bolster Pakistan are grounded on the premise that a Musharraf is the lesser of two evils; the idea of a Talibanised Pakistan with nuclear weapons is something Washington does not want to contemplate. The irony is that Pakistan's military-mosque order has thus been allowed to redirect its offensive energies against India.

Pakistan is confident it can sustain its campaign to bleed India by a thousand cuts - without any effective retaliation by India - by periodically harping on its willingness to use its nuclear arsenal. In its endeavour to be even handed vis-a-vis India and Pakistan, the US has been adopting a strategy of nurturing India as a natural ally and strategic partner while simultaneously bailing out its client state Pakistan.

Thus the US-India strategic enterprise is also matched by a US-Pakistan strategic enterprise that involves US forces hunting Al Qaeda and Taliban elements in the NWFP along with Pakistani forces in joint operations. The US in its desire to avoid an Indo-Pakistan conflagration has been advising India on the need for restraint and dialogue even in the face of the worst provocations from Pakistan. For it fully understands the perilous implications of even a limited war between the two nuclear-armed powers.

In pursuit of its policy, the US has been consolidating its partnership with India through cooperative endeavours ranging from technology transfer to arms procurement to strategic dialogue.

While all these have helped to improve the India-US relationship, yet on the issue of Pakistan's provocations in Kashmir India is being asked to adopt restraint. This raises the question: What are the limits to Indian tolerance in the face of Pakistan's provocations?

Should India continue to exercise patience even if Pakistan keeps escalating the war in Kashmir? If 9/11 can justify an all out campaign of retaliation by the US, is there not a similar relative breaking point for India?

Or should democratic India continually plead with the West to merely condemn Pakistan whose fundamental strengths are a dictatorship presiding over a failing State, a haven for terror groups. But with the latest crisis and the shift of gears by India, a decisive phase has been reached in this protracted conflict .

India's options would be best served by a synergised diplomatic, economic and military campaign suitably packaged. It needs to have a sense of mission combined with operational finesse. It should act with a sense of its own autonomy and not be guided by the pontification of others who are only striving to secure their own interests.

While it is difficult to dwell on the specifics of the kind of operations India should go in for, owing to the fluidity and the sensitivity of the prevalent situation, certain broad pathways can be charted out.

India should explore joint forces action against Pakistan ranging from the deployment of its substantial airpower - both manned and unmanned - with focused air strikes along the Line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as suitable retaliation. Such intense, focused air strikes should be backed by sustained artillery barrages.

Should the US question Indian resolve, India should invoke its emergent strategic understanding with the US, urging it to send in its forces in joint operations along with Indian forces against the same mujahideen it is forced to contend with in the NWFP.

The participation of US forces along with India may be a most controversial proposition, yet it would send a clear message to Pakistan that terror is terror wherever it may occur as observed by US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill.

The second element would be Indian naval action in the high seas, especially mining the sea approaches to Karachi. It is well known that Karachi port is the hub of Pakistan's export of its staple crop - narcotics - to the rest of the world. Narcotics commerce is the prime sustainer of Pakistan's failing economy and the critical resource support to Pakistan's infrastructure of terror.

An effective naval quarantine could be implemented by India that would inflict optimal pain on Pakistan. This constitutes an indirect approach in India's strategy, deflected from the actual terrain of operations i.e. the Line of Control. A naval quarantine of Pakistan is the equivalent of the armed forces buildup along the border; it's also a non-offensive response that could exact from Pakistan a high price for its adventurism.

The third would be to deploy a higher space-to-force ratio in areas where terrorists operate; improved surveillance and intelligence capabilities; improved armed forces readiness in terms of substantial upgrades of its weapons stocks and inventory. The fourth would be to improve Indian nuclear readiness to signal to Pakistan that it won't cow down to Pakistani nuclear blackmail.

The fifth should be the activation of political consensus in India, and the mobilisation of public opinion; an early end to the communal frenzy of the Indian variety that has effectively ruined its domestic tranquillity in recent times.

These measures in the right combination would provide a synergistic effect and optimal outcomes that would fall short of a limited war but would significantly escalate the price Pakistan would have to pay to further continue its cross- border terrorism. It is time that the government sheds its inertia, and initiates optimal and tangible actions that are in the critical interests of the nation. As of now, there can be a hot war or a cold peace in Kashmir, hence the imperative for decisive action. As the crisis evolves, it is inevitable that the US will play a crucial role, bringing to bear powerful pressure on the two nuclear-armed powers, specially Pakistan to halt terrorism.

Dr Gopalji Malviya is Professor, Department of Defence & Strategic Studies, University of Madras & Dr W Lawrence Prabhakar is Associate Professor, Political Science, Madras Christian College, Chennai

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