When PM Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in 2014, there was fear and trepidation in Pakistan. Given his man-of-action image and fiery rhetoric, they were apprehensive of what he would do next. Much to their surprise, he began with an expansive gesture of seeking peace. He made an outreach to the democratic dispensation in Pakistan and invited Nawaz Sharif to New Delhi. Perhaps his image-makers felt that he must first belie the disinformation and rumours that had been circulated about him by his detractors and go out of the way to cultivate a man of peace persona.
Frankly, this did not really suit Modi’s style. He had castigated the Congress for its weak-kneed policy towards Pakistan. The people expected him to take firm action to rein in Pakistan’s adventurism. Instead, he left people baffled by his high optics peace overtures. The impromptu SAARC gathering in New Delhi to mark his swearing-in was a grand gesture. Sharif had little option but to play along. The Pakistani military owes its centrality and power to the India threat bogey. They were alarmed by Modi’s outreach and even the marginal chance of any outbreak of peace. The army-ISI complex moved swiftly. Gurdaspur, Udhampur and Pathankot followed in quick succession. Pakistan launched the third Intifada in Kashmir by generous injections of hawala funds for stone pelters and made another determined attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
Modi reacted by invoking the struggle of the people in Balochistan, Baltistan, Sindh and PoK. Pakistan’s military now struck sharply. Eighteen Indian soldiers were killed in the Uri attack. A final threshold of tolerance seemed to have been breached. The intensity of the public outrage left the Modi government with little option but to strike back. There were consultations with the army chief and DGMO, which seemed to suggest a rather limited, single-service response at the tactical level. The public anger grew and there were demands for a military reply.
As always happens in times of crisis, the Cassandras of nuclear doom crawled out of New Delhi’s wood work to underline the familiar theme. Pakistan is free to attack across the LoC or international border wherever, whenever it chooses. India cannot react. Any Indian soldier stepping across the LoC/border will invite a rain of Pakistani nukes on New Delhi. Hence our only option is to grin and bear it. Why must Indian citizens be willing victims of endless terrorist attacks—80,000 Indians have been killed in the slow bleed since 1980.
What are the options short of full-scale war? Kargil proved that there is space for limited war between the spectral ends of low intensity conflict and an all-out nuclear war. The fighting in Kargil lasted for three months without any nukes on New Delhi. The fears of the Delhi cocktail circuit are rather exaggerated. The broad matrix of options short of war are:
• Artillery fire assaults on terrorist launch pads and Pakistani posts/infrastructure aiding infiltration. We have the Bofors, Grads and Pikas MBRLs.
• Rocket/missile strikes on terror camps. We have the Smerch, BrahMos, Nirbhaya cruise missiles and even the Prithvis.
• Precision air strikes on terrorist camps, infrastructure (including military) to take out command and control facilities and high-value targets.
• Special forces raids on terrorist camps and infrastructure.
• Naval aviation/cruise missile strikes on terrorist infrastructure and high-value targets along the coast. This could be complimented by Marcos raids. Yes, there will be Pakistani reactions but the trick is ensuring escalation-dominance.
What must now change is the defensive mindset in New Delhi, which surrenders all initiative to Pakistan and confines our military resources to solely protective tasks within our borders. Strategically we have done great disservice to our armed forces by confining them to a costly, self-defeating and defensive posture.
The PM’s address at the BJP National Council Meet in Kozhikode was, therefore, heard with rapt attention, not only in India but across the border as well. It had high doses of ambiguity deliberately injected into it. At this stage of the crisis, it was perhaps understandable. No political leader will unveil his cards before the hand is dealt.
The point is till when will the nation wait for its long overdue catharsis? The diplomatic warriors wanted their shining knights at the UN to dazzle the world with rhetoric. Perhaps that too is all for the good. It must be the whole of government approach that harmonises the actions of all organs of the state for a common purpose. At the end of it, however, we have to speak to Gen. Raheel Sharif in a language that he understands. Unfortunately, that is the language of military force. To be just and proportionate, we will have to first fire a shot across the bow which not just Pakistan but the entire world can see. The consequences of inaction are simply too high.
Maj. Gen. (Retd) G D Bakshi
War veteran and strategic analyst