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Ceasefire violation: How India is misreading the 'suicidal logic' of Pakistani army

Author: Sreeram Chaulia, ET Bureau
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: October 12, 2014
URL: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ceasefire-violation-how-india-is-misreading-the-suicidal-logic-of-pakistani-army/articleshow/44784759.cms

The week-long exchange of heavy artillery and machine-gun fire between the armies of India and Pakistan, causing 30 civilian deaths and displacing tens of thousands of petrified people, has rewound the clock to habitual animosity and fear. Craters and blown-up roofs of homes have erased the euphoria about positive vibes between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in May this year. The sparring and poking that historically govern bilateral relations have sadly reasserted themselves.

Despite the plethora of Pakistan watchers in India and India experts in Pakistan, the tragedy of the latest flare-up along the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border (IB) is that neither party knows which factors are really driving the other side to behave so fiercely.

 DK Pathak, director general of the Border Security Force (BSF), has expressed puzzlement to The Times of India as follows: "We have inflicted heavy damage on them, but they keep firing. I do not understand why." In a mirror image, the Pakistani major general commanding the forces, Javed Khan, is quoted by the BBC as saying, "I just want to know the reason from the other side. We are not finding the answer."

 Whenever the ceasefire agreement of 2003 is battered by an uptick in cross-border firing, India and Pakistan resort to boilerplates for explaining the violence. Pakistan connects our belligerence with domestic elections and the competitive patriotism of ruling and opposition parties in India. We focus on the civil-military balance of power in Pakistan and believe that its mighty armed forces use periodic confrontations with India to straighten elected politicians who may stray in quest of amity.

 Indeed, the last few months have witnessed a steady erosion of Nawaz Sharif's authority under the pressure of so-called civil disobedience campaigns of opposition parties of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri, both of whom enjoy tacit blessings of the Pakistani military. By relying on the Army for securing critical state institutions against the protesters' threats of physical takeover, Sharif conceded that the military is Pakistan's ultimate arbiter and saviour.

 To use a perceptive classification of the Pakistani intellectual Babar Sattar, the "de facto system" that struts in khakis has taught a lesson to the "de jure system" of Parliament and the elected prime minister. Raising the tempo at the LoC and IB, with Nawaz Sharif donning an embarrassed silence, is a way of reconfirming that Pakistan's India policy will not be allowed to transfer from the military headquarters in Rawalpindi to the prime minister in Islamabad.

 Here, it is imperative to recall the psyche of the Pakistani military. Georgetown University's Christine Fair's recent book, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, argues that its strategic culture is a Kamikaze-like will to weaken "Hindu-dominated" India, come what may. Fair writes, "Pakistan will suffer any number of military defeats in its efforts to do so, but it will not acquiesce to India." For the Generals, any accommodation with India is "genuine and total defeat."

 Warnings by India's leadership in the wake of the border clashes — that "times have changed" and that we would raise the costs of Pakistani adventurism to "unaffordable" levels by hitting back strongly — misread the suicidal logic of the Pakistani army. Pakistan is certainly inferior in conventional military terms and economically broke vis-a-vis a rising India, but expecting the former to respect this power disparity and back off from provocations is to forget former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's dictum: "Even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bombs" to match India.

If the Pakistani state is not guided by rational costbenefit thinking, the belief that we can somehow pummel and compel it to become benign is misguided.

 Even Israel, which enjoys massive advantages over Hamas and Hezbollah in conventional military means, has not succeeded in silencing the guns of its rivals by means of disproportionate force. Be it Pakistan or combatants in the Middle East, the death-defying jihadist mindset is not cowed down by conventional superiority of the opponent.

 So, what might actually produce the "credible deterrence" from attacks that Indian defence minister Arun Jaitley is touting? It has to be a mix of unconventional covert missions that blunt hardline Islamists and their allies in the Pakistani military, combined with routine political dialogue.

 Much of the bad blood at the LoC is linked to infiltration of jihadists into India from Pakistani terrain under the cover of official army shelling. India has to take the battle to the launching points and supply-chain trail of these mujahideen inside Pakistani territory.

 This would entail a westward shift of the point of kinetic action away from the LoC and IB, sparing innocent civilians in precarious border areas who are presently bearing the brunt of the two armies.

Simultaneously, dialogue channels with Sharif and some sections of the Pakistani military are essential, even if no solution or settlement is likely. Negotiation with intractable and camouflaged foes is necessary to glean valuable insights into bargaining tactics, bottom lines and authority structures of the adversary. As winter sets into Kashmir, the high-calibre weapons will head for their seasonal rest. The intelligence operations and diplomacy must go on.
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