After Terror Strike, Graduate to a Proactive Strategic Approach

Now that the smoke, the dust and the noise of the explosions at the Pathankot air base have settled; India has handed over to Pakistan evidence of the involvement of JeM operatives in the terrorist strike; and the Foreign Secretary-level talks on the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue have been ‘deferred’, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Pakistan army and the ISI will allow the peace process to move forward. To answer this question, it is necessary to go back in time.


The military jackboot has ridden roughshod over Pakistan’s polity for most of the country’s history since its independence. While Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf ruled directly as presidents or chief martial law administrators, the other army chiefs were content by driving backseat. The army repeatedly took over the reins of administration under the guise of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ and, in complete disregard of international norms of jurisprudence, even Pakistan’s Supreme Court mostly played along.

Pakistan Army’s Writ Runs Large
The army determines Pakistan’s national security threats and challenges and decides how to deal with them. Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir is guided by the army and the rapprochement process with India cannot proceed without its concurrence. The army controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the related research and development programme.
Contrary to popular belief that the ISI is an autonomous organisation, the army Chief controls the ISI. Lt Gen Shuja Ahmed Pasha, DG ISI, was given two extensions at the behest of the COAS and General Kayani was himself given a three-year extension.

In keeping with its visceral hatred of India and in order to weaken India, as also to further China’s objectives of reducing India’s influence in Asia and confining it to the backwaters of the Indian Ocean as a subaltern state, the Pakistan army has adopted a carefully calculated strategy of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. This strategy is executed through both overt and covert means.
‘Slow Motion Implosion’
The ISI provides operational, intelligence, communication, training, financial and material support to Islamist fundamentalist terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) to wage war against India.

Pakistan is headed towards a dangerous denouement.  Internal instability, including creeping Talibanisation, the struggle to tame the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan, Shia-Sunni sectarian violence, and the quest of the people of Balochistan for independence, is gnawing away at the country’s innards.
The economy is in a serious mess. The funds are low, the debts are high, exports have dwindled to a trickle and the rupee has fallen to an all-time low of about 100 rupees to a dollar. Pakistan is dependent on US largesse to meet its obligations for the repayment of its burgeoning debt. Some analysts have described the situation as a ‘slow motion implosion’.

Yet, the Pakistan army opposes peace with India. Even though the strike at the Pathankot air base is likely to have been planned before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Christmas Day meeting with Mian Nawaz Sharif at Lahore, the Pakistan army chief could have given orders to call it off. Quite obviously, he chose not to do so as the army wished to send a message to the Pakistan PM: talk peace with India if you wish, but do not cross the line.

Different Strategy
The army lays down ‘the line’ so as not to endanger its own corporate interests. It is acutely conscious of the fact that it will not be able to play its present larger-than-life role in Pakistan’s polity if the dispute over Kashmir is settled and there is peace with India. In order to project itself as the guarantor of the idea of Pakistan, the army will continue to bleed India through a thousand cuts. It will allow the dialogue process to proceed in fits and starts only to showcase to its Western benefactors that it too stands for peace. And, it will continue to sponsor acts of terrorism through the LeT and the JeM and claim that ‘rogue’ non-state actors are operating on their own.


In the light of the Pakistan army and the ISI’s business-as-usual approach, what should the Indian government do? India should pursue a twin-track policy in its dealings with Pakistan. It should continue to engage the elected civilian leadership of Pakistan with a view to gradually resolving the seemingly intractable disputes between the two countries and reducing the salience of the Pakistan army in the country’s polity.
Simultaneously, for every act of terrorism sponsored by them on Indian territory for which there is credible evidence pointing to the involvement of the Pakistan army and the ISI, carefully calibrated military strikes must be launched against the army and its organs which should include covert operations.

Finally, India must graduate from a passive to a pro-active strategic culture. Inimical elements among India’s neighbours must not be allowed to mess around with the country’s national security.

[The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi]