Responding to Pakistan’s Challenge

By Brig. Arun Sahgal

Reams are being written about lack of India’s Pakistan policy or more specifically policy to impose costs for waging relentless proxy war through terrorist organizations, subversion in Kashmir and indigenous Indian organizations like SIMI and IM. These terrorist outfits are being subverted by ideologically driven radicalism.

This is coming about in the face of open provocations by the likes of Hamid Gul who are challenging India to respond in kind if it has the gumption. NSA, in his recent remarks in Mumbai has talked about ‘proportionate response’ to Pakistani provocations but the larger question is options in the face of calculated Pakistan strategy of provoking India.

Years of neglect and impervious political decision making has resulted in non development of credible asymmetric capabilities even as Pakistan continues to blame India for activities in Karachi or Baluchistan. There is no point in crying over spilt milk, these asymmetric capabilities will require time and political resolve to develop. This leaves India very much with the option of punitive conventional response. There is a tendency among the strategic community which percolates to policy makers that conventional Indian response that could provoke Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds. This notion needs detailed analysis and Pakistan’s bluff called.

India needs to unequivocally declare that India’s see’s unabated proxy war as breakdown of conventional deterrence and reserves the right to appropriate military response. Mere articulation will not be enough? India’s standoff military or what is euphemistically called “non contact” capabilities must be exploited and demonstrated. This will require close coordination between intelligence agencies and the armed forces. Possible option could be targeting various elements of terror network and their support structures which can be internationally highlighted as state sponsored. No doubt there will be noise and brinkmanship by Pakistan and even some military action, it will be important for Indian state to not only ride these out but inflict retaliatory punitive costs. What is being proposed is cross border strikes on targets (not merely camps) which India believes supports the terror network.

Second is developing capability and capacities for “Myanmar Raid” like operation. Action will be required to degrade surveillance and communication systems, backed by credible force insertion capability. Without going into too much details idea is to demonstrate will and resolve. These actions must be initiated in the backdrop of limited mobilization of conventional forces and quick response if so required. There is no doubt that Pakistan will respond by some sort of military action however surprise and speed of action backed by credible retaliatory capability will provide requites payoffs. This will require orchestration of operations both at military and national levels including diplomatic shaping of environment. The notion that Pakistan is operating on interior lines is a myth. With recent redeployments in Northern and Western commands adequate forces are available for quick response backed by credible and deterrent air power, which must be the backbone given are relative air superiority.
There are many other options which can be considered to demonstrate Indian will and resolve. These no doubt have escalatory nuances, but what is the point of raving about conventional superiority if it cannot be leveraged. There is perception in Pakistani military elites whom the author has been meeting in Track II Dialogues over last three years that India has no response to proxy war and conventional escalation can be checkmated by battlefield nuclear weapons. It is this myth India will have to challenge and debase. No doubt it carries a risk but sooner than later Indian state will have to demonstrate this resolve if it does want to be subsumed by rising tide of radicalism and Pakistan’s state sponsored terror. If any lessons are to be drawn we should look at what happened in 1971 war and how Pakistani forces capitulated against Indian manoeuvre and resolve. The doctrine of ‘retribution’ already stands vindicated in the NATO and American air strikes against ISIL in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Perception of Sino – Pak collusion is overplayed particularly the two front war. Chinese are pragmatic; they realize the scenario of ongoing India – Pakistan confrontation is going to be harmful to its one road – one belt policy on which hinges its economic development and extended sphere of influence. Any precipitate action by Chinese will surely and firmly push India into American camp a development which will be grievous to its Asian and global ambitions. Pakistan it must be realized is a bit player with nuclear weapons, who’s utility in the “Great Asian Game” at best is marginal. From Chinese perspective strong Indian economic and military power which is antagonistic to China will be antithesis to its ambitions. Therefore it will be nuanced player which can be balanced by broader Indo – Pacific partnerships that India is attempting to evolve. Put simply there are limits to which China will go in supporting Pakistan?

So coming back to Pakistan, I am afraid in the developing scenario, India should go through the current round of bilateral negotiations with Pakistan impressing upon them the consequences of its support to cross border terror and the proxy war. It is very unlikely Pakistan will take heed, knowing a little about their thinking and mindset. It is when they try and exploit our perceived weakness India should retaliate suddenly, resolutely and without respite. Message of retribution and costs must be driven home.

Last word; such a policy or option cannot succeed without bipartisan support. This is an imperative. In its resolve to take military action perpetrated by Pakistan; nation must stand firm and united. Unless we develop such credible response capability and political resolve India will continue to bleed not only in J&K or Punjab but across its length and breadth. Indian dream will be truly and fully become unrealizable.

Brig Arun Sahgal, PhD (Retd)
Executive Director
Forum for Strategic Initiative
E Mail – brigarun.sahagl@gma

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