Disclosure: I was a panellist on a discussion organised by Rajeev Chandrashekhar, MP, on 26/11/2016 to publicise his private members bill. My participation was out of my conviction that this bill needs to be supported. I was neither paid for participating in the panel discussion, nor was I requested by the MP to write anything anywhere in support of this bill. I am writing in support of the bill on my volition and out of my own conviction.
Since Independence, the one thing that has been constant in Indo-Pak relations is the relentless export of terrorism and imposition of a proxy war by Pakistan on India. Starting with the ‘tribal invasion’ in 1947, going on to the infiltration by guerrillas who were Pakistan army regulars in 1965, followed by the open support to Islamist terrorists in the 1990s until today, Kashmir has of course been the main focus of Pakistan’s ‘dirty war’ against India. But this war has remained limited to Kashmir. Given the scandalously fickle and even short memory of India as a nation and Indians as a people, Pakistani sponsored terrorism has been reduced to a single incident – the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. In the process we seem to have forgotten the havoc that Pakistan has visited India: in the North-East in the 1950s and 1960s, in Punjab in the 1980s and in rest of India – Jaipur, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Varanasi, Ahmedabad, Pathankot, Hyderabad – since the turn of the century.
Despite all the terrorism that Pakistan has spawned, supported and sponsored in India, the response from India has been mostly defensive. Worse, even though India has never hesitated from blaming Pakistan for sponsoring and exporting terrorism, India has not devised any legal or diplomatic mechanism for actually holding Pakistani citizens or officials to account for their murderous acts against Indian citizens. Indian politicians and commentariat have been quick to demand that the United States of America declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, but have been chary of doing something similar on their own. In fact, even as they issue calls to the Americans to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, Indian politicians are happy to allow holding of candlelight marches, mushairas, musical concerts, cricket matches and exhibitions of Pakistani merchandise in India. It is almost as though when it comes to Pakistan, India suffers from a sort of schizophrenia where terrorism is entirely detached from maintaining a song and dance relationship with a country that is not just inveterately opposed to India, but is also unreconciled to the reality of India.
For the first time, however, an initiative has been taken by an independent Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who has introduced a Private Member’s bill that seeks to declare states as sponsors of terrorism. Although the bill isn’t specifically aimed at Pakistan, it is very clear that if the bill becomes an act of parliament, the first country that can, will and should be designated as a terror sponsor will be Pakistan. The bill provides a fairly comprehensive definition of terrorism, a state sponsor of terrorism, and the consequences that will flow not just for the country that is designated a state sponsor of terrorism but also for Indian citizens who enter into any financial or commercial dealings with such a country. As it exists, the bill for the first time ever provides a solid legal framework for imposing sanctions and prosecuting citizens and officials of any country that engages in egregious acts of terrorism against India.
Obviously, even though the bill is a great initiative, one that holds the potential to completely change the way India deals with Pakistan, the fact that it is a private members bill makes its passage a lot more difficult than if it was sponsored by the government. Despite there being a general political consensus in India that Pakistan is not a friendly country, the political class has been unable to come together and apply their minds on how to deal with Pakistan. This bill offers an opportunity to the politicians to transform an existing consensus into a law that really takes the whole Pakistan policy out of the ambit of political point scoring. The big stumbling block however is that not just governments, but also politicians are very chary of any legislation that binds their room for manoeuvre, more so on an issue that is invariably a pet hobby of every party that comes into power at the centre. It is therefore an imminent possibility that the bill will not be considered by either of the Houses of Parliament with the degree of seriousness that it deserves. Of course, if a debate was to happen on the bill, it is entirely possible (perhaps even desirable) that some of the loopholes or lacunae in the bill (in terms of implementation) were plugged, and some new measures introduced to expand the scope of the non-kinetic measures and penalties that India can take against Pakistan, and as such a more comprehensive national policy duly legislated by Parliament can be put in place.
Admittedly, it is one thing for a hyper-power like USA to designate any country a state sponsor of terrorism – a power that America has used quite sparingly – and for a mid-level power like India to do the same. In terms of effectiveness, perhaps any unilateral move by India to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism will have a far more limited impact than if such a measure was taken by the US. But to make this a central argument against the bill is to not really understand what the bill seeks to achieve, which is a coherent and consistent national policy on Pakistan, a policy that has the backing of the entire political leadership. In many ways, the single biggest reason why India has failed to tackle a country which is culturally, diplomatically, economically, militarily, and in every other respect is much weaker than India and yet has managed to bind India in knots is the failure to forge a consistent policy for not just punishing but also forcing compliance on Pakistan. Every single government that assumes office in New Delhi invariably tries to reinvent the wheel until it realises that the futility – and foolishness – of its approach towards Pakistan. The bill to declare Pakistan a terror sponsor could well be the start of a new policy which will not change with a change in government. What is more, the bill will send a very strong message to not just Pakistan, but also the rest of the world that India is just not willing to take Pakistani export of terrorism as business as usual.
Beyond the messaging, and notwithstanding the fact that there is no comparison between the pain and punishment that US sanctions can inflict on Pakistan as opposed to what a similar step by India can inflict, there is a lot India can do directly and indirectly to impose economic, diplomatic and financial costs on Pakistan. For instance, India can leverage its market and the interest in its fast growing economy to put in place a series of measures that deny companies that do business in Pakistan or deal with entities in Pakistan engaged in sponsoring terrorism in India any access to the Indian market. There are many other such steps that can be taken, but suffice to say that all these will require bringing into play India’s comprehensive national power to turn the screws on Pakistan.
To be sure, this will not be a costless or riskless venture. But the time for costless and riskless measures is long gone. In any case, not doing anything, or for that matter reconciling to business as usual, hasn’t really been either costless or risk free for India. This is so in large part because Pakistan has felt encouraged to continue to resort to terrorism as an instrument of state policy because it has convinced itself that because India has more to lose – Pakistan is a basket case anyway – India cannot afford to take a very aggressive stand against Pakistan. In other words, Pakistan’s proceeds on the assumption that because Indians are averse to sacrificing the good life to protect themselves against Pakistani attacks that stay below the threshold of tolerance, they can continue with this policy indefinitely, steadily chipping away at India’s defences until India becomes defenceless. Unless this assumption is busted and Pakistan is convinced that India will go to any extent and will take the risks that Pakistan feels India won’t ever take, Pakistan will continue with its inimical policies towards India. Pakistan also believes that, like in the past, it can continue to merrily sponsor terrorism in India with relative impunity, and at the same time beguile, seduce and even disarm India by talking of normalising relations and opening trade, something that Nawaz Sharif has been doing since he assumed office in 2013.
But India has changed. If there is one thing that the Modi government has demonstrated, whether it is through the ‘surgical strikes’, or through the demonetisation scheme, or even through the robust response of the ‘fire assaults’ on Pakistani positions along the LoC, it is the ability and willingness to take calculated risks. This is something that opens the game completely and takes the enemy out of his comfort zone by leaving him second guessing about how India will respond to any dare or what action India will take next to raise the costs for Pakistan. The time has perhaps come for the Modi government to take yet another calculated risk and lend government support for the bill to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a step will go a long way in the formulation of a long-term, focussed and consistent national policy to snuff out the challenge posed to India’s security by Pakistan.