How do you solve a problem like Pakistan?

In Kashmir, there’s an external factor on the other side of the border that needs to be handled diplomatically

WrittenBy:Lt Gen H S Panag
Article image
  • Share this article on whatsapp

Let me at the onset settle the core issue that worries every Indian. Nations with stable democratic governments, professional Armed Forces and nuclear weapons do not part with their territory. The state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is an inalienable and inseparable part of India. It is and will remain central to the idea of India. The only issue before us is to thwart the challenges and threats to this idea. The problem in J&K has an external and an internal dimension. The external dimension is Pakistan and the internal dimension is the insurrection in J&K. Both are interdependent.


Support Independent Media

The media must be free and fair, uninfluenced by corporate or state interests. That's why you, the public, need to pay to keep news free.


Pakistan’s strategy

Pakistan, due to primordial religious emotions, the deprivation of J&K in 1947 and its dismemberment in 1971, considers India an adversary state. It has an unambiguous India-centric National Security Strategy backed by a political, public and military consensus. Its essential features are:

  • Wage a deniable Fourth Generation War (4GW) in J&K and hinterland of India exploiting its fault lines.
  • Deter/dissuade the Indian threat with conventional and nuclear capability
  • Avoid a conventional war and if it is forced upon it, stalemate India with conventional capability, ‘irrational’ nuclear brinkmanship, and actual use of tactical nuclear weapons if required.
  • Quid pro quo response to Indian threat below threshold of war in the form of surgical air/drone/missile strikes and Special Forces (SF) operations.
  • Control India-sponsored 4GW (as Pakistan perceives it) in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the hinterland and expose it diplomatically.
  • Neutralise India’s influence in Afghanistan by facilitating Taliban’s return to power.
  • Back the above strategy with diplomacy and special relationship with China, Islamic countries and USA.

Analysis of Pakistan’s Strategy

Pakistan has been eminently successful in implementing its strategy. With effect from 1990, it has continued with its 4GW in J&K, which peaked in 1998-2003.  Indian Army has successfully controlled the military situation through a protracted model campaign.  However, Pakistan considers this as a tactical setback and is confident that it can revive the 4GW. Its influence on the masses due to religious affiliation, anger over poor administration, bloodshed of last 26 years, frustration of a failed movement and resented presence of security forces, is largely intact (as is evident from the recent protests).

In the past, Pakistan has exploited ‘intifada’ and based on recent experience, it will exploit it even more to deny India the moral space it occupies internationally. Pakistan has successfully launched major terrorist strikes in the Indian hinterland using Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controlled non-state actors or Indian terrorists. International pressure following the 26/11 attack and Indian internal security measures have forced Pakistan to review this strategy, but it retains the capability and will continue to exploit the same   in a calibrated manner. The insurrection in Balochistan/FATA/Karachi and persecution of minorities by vigilante Sunni groups with perceived active Indian involvement, is considered the most dangerous threat. However, Pakistan is confident that it can control the situation. It has successfully deterred India from waging a limited war, exploiting its relative conventional superiority by a combination of diplomacy, upgradation of conventional capability and nuclear brinkmanship.

A proactive limited war initiated by Pakistan in Kargil, based on the premise that the nuclear backdrop will prevent a major Indian military response and its resultant humiliation, was a one-off situation and Pakistan is unlikely to repeat this blunder again. It has initiated and responded in a quid pro quo manner to all operations below threshold of war. India’s aggressive diplomacy has to some extent isolated Pakistan and forced economic setbacks, but not enough to deter its strategy. Using China and the Islamic countries card, Pakistan has been able to limit the damage. Its Afghanistan policy, despite forcing the USA to pull out, has suffered a setback but it hopes to make amends by assisting the Taliban to seize power. In nutshell, Pakistan continues to pursue its strategy and is prepared for a prolonged struggle to achieve its political and military aims.

India’s Strategic Options

India’s political aim with respect to Pakistan is very simple — prevent Pakistan from interfering in internal affairs through a 4GW and if it does so, maintain good relations for common good. Despite India’s best efforts, Pakistan has adopted an absolutist and uncompromising approach. There is extreme public resentment in India against Pakistan which has been compounded by political rhetoric and jingoism, without taking into account the strategic compulsions. Governments, including the present one, have wisely refrained from hasty strategic actions driven by tactical events. However, lack of a declared National Security Strategy and resultant ambiguity without official clarifications continues to fuel public imagination and clamouring for punitive action against Pakistan. This has ominous portents and may deny the government strategic freedom in future.

Two fundamental points must be made. First, nuclear weapon-armed states do not and, I dare say, cannot fight a full-scale conventional war of annihilation or even absolute defeat of the adversary. However, space exists for a limited war — limited in time, space and aims — before nuclear weapons and international pressure comes into play. Second, wars and even covert or overt operations below threshold of war are waged to achieve political aims. A war of retribution if it does not compel the adversary to peace on your terms is a war without a political aim, and best avoidable. Above notwithstanding, India has the following strategic options with respect to Pakistan:

  • Engage Pakistan diplomatically to work out a mutually acceptable solution within India’s constitutional framework and without change in territorial sovereignty. Simultaneously, use diplomacy and soft power offensive to isolate Pakistan and expose it as a sponsor of terrorism, leading to adverse and unacceptable diplomatic and economic cost.
  • Surgical strikes on targets related to prosecution of 4GW by Pakistan.
  • Wage a counter 4GW exploiting Pakistani fault lines.
  • Wage a proactive limited war to compel Pakistan to stop 4GW in India.

The above options can be exercised in a standalone mode or as a combination.

Analysis of India’s Strategic Options

Diplomacy has been the mainstay of India’s strategy as far as Pakistan is concerned. Successive governments, irrespective of their ideology, have continuously engaged Pakistan directly and covertly. The biggest stumbling block in this regard is the Pakistani military and the emotions of Indian politicians, media and public. We take one step forward and are forced to take two steps backwards. It is prudent that we continue to engage Pakistan. We may not find a solution, but will have a framework for the same when the strategic situation changes. We must continue to pursue ‘peaceful compellence’, using our diplomatic clout.

 Operations below the threshold of war are always a tempting option to punish an adversary waging 4GW. These can be in the form of surgical strikes using precision guide munitions delivered by aircraft, cruise missiles or drones. Targets selected are related to terrorist infrastructure and leadership. The same could also be launched from the sea. Trans – International Boundary/Line Of Control raids with SF is another method. Such strikes can be as a response to terrorist action or initiated with moral surprise. The intent of limited action can be declared. A prerequisite for such an action is overwhelming technological military edge that prevents quid pro quo or makes a response prohibitive in cost. USA has this edge and has effectively used this option in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. India does not have such an edge and Pakistan is capable of and will respond in a quid pro quo manner for which we have to be prepared. The danger of escalation is omnipresent. However, this is a low cost option and a good bet to assuage public anger and punish an adversary. If India can create the technological military edge necessary, this is a viable option.

Waging a counter 4GW exploiting the adversary’s fault lines always remains a viable option and is as old as the history of warfare. This option hurts the adversary the most, but since it cannot be publicised, it rarely satisfies an emotional public fed by political jingoism. With turmoil in Balochistan, FATA and persecution of Shias, Ahmadiyas and other minorities, Pakistan is tailor-made for 4GW. Since this subject is in the covert domain, it is beyond the scope to discuss whether India can or should exercise this option. However, a cursory glance at Pakistani media shows that India is the villain for all internal troubles. All that is required is organisation, funds and the attack is directly at the Achilles heel! In my view, this is the best option.

The scenario of a limited war under a nuclear backdrop between India and Pak worries the world the most. For India, this would be an option of last resort. We have already experienced one such war (Kargil in 1999) and in it, India restricted its political aim to restoration of status quo. India did so with a declared intent, enhancing its international prestige. Nuclear brinkmanship was preempted. But can India with its international standing as a moral emerging power be seen as proactively waging a limited war?

We did mobilise after the attack on Parliament in 2001, but did not go to war. With Pakistan in disarray, it was a great opportunity to punish it. ‘Coercive Diplomacy’ was a mere fig leaf to cover a strategic fiasco. We could not go to war due to a combination of international pressure, political dithering, slow mobilisation and an unsure military. We again did not exercise this option after the 26/11 attack. We did not exercise this option when 4GW was at its peak. What is it that can make us exercise this option now? A major terrorist action can trigger this option, but that trigger is under Pakistani control. So why would it oblige India? I do not visualise the situation in J&K going out of hand to give us a casus belli. Be that as it may, war has to be fought for political aims and not to satisfy an emotional public.

In context of Pakistan, our political aim is simple: stop interfering in our internal affairs. To achieve this, we must capture sizeable territory and destroy Pakistani economic and critical combat potential. All this has to be done in 10-15 days and the nuclear threshold has to be kept in mind. If we want to exercise this option, our higher decision-making has to be reformed with greater sync between Armed Forces and the government. Major structural and organisational reforms would be required in the Armed Forces. This option is best exercised based on strategic moral surprise – the adversary does not expect that you will attack – and not as an immediate response to an incident. It must be executed with a high tempo-based on material surprise – the adversary knows everything but is psychologically  paralysed  due to multiplicity, simultaneity, speed and intensity. If we exercise this option without enacting reforms, it will lack finesse and is unlikely to achieve the political aims. However, the probability of an even a limited war in the current strategic environment is very low.

India must prepare to exercise all its options. Diplomacy and soft power remain fundamental. Deniable 4GW is a low cost quid pro quo option and the strategic situation prevailing along Pakistan’s borders with Iran and Afghanistan border as well as internally in Pakistan makes it the most viable option. Surgical strikes and SF operations, and limited war, are progressive options of last resort. Last but not the least, India needs a formal National Security Strategy to prevent emotions from running away with national decision-making.

This is the first instalment of a two-part series on Kashmir. Next week, Lt Gen HS Panag will focus on the challenges posed within Kashmir.


Power NL-TNM Election Fund

General elections are around the corner, and Newslaundry and The News Minute have ambitious plans together to focus on the issues that really matter to the voter. From political funding to battleground states, media coverage to 10 years of Modi, choose a project you would like to support and power our journalism.

Ground reportage is central to public interest journalism. Only readers like you can make it possible. Will you?

Support now

You may also like