India's Reactive Strategic Culture must Change

Alexander of Greece, the Scythians, Genghis Khan, Mahmud Ghazni (17 times), Mohammed Ghori, Timur the Lame and the Mughals, among others, all invaded India through the Khyber Pass. But, like it is said of the Bourbons of France, though the Indian rulers forgot nothing, they learnt nothing. The motley array of princelings who ruled India woke up from their drunken orgies only when the invading hordes had reached Panipat and were knocking on the gates of Delhi. Even after over half a century since India 's independence, the 'Panipat Syndrome' still permeates India 's strategic culture. 
For over a decade and a half Pakistan has been waging a 'proxy war' against India in Kashmir and elsewhere. At least for the last 10 years the proxy war has been almost completely rooted in Pakistan and POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). However, India has voluntarily opted to confine its counter-insurgency operations against the terrorists to its own soil. While India's strategic restraint has won it diplomatic accolades from the international community, the so-called mujahideen from across the western border continue to strike terror almost at will in the hearts of its hapless civilians. 
Incidents like the Purulia arms drops, serial IED (improvised explosive device) blasts at Mumbai and Delhi, the assassination of political leaders in Kashmir, attacks on army camps and logistics installations, election related violence and the prevalence of the law of the jungle in over 130 districts where the Maoists call the shots, dampen the enthusiasm of multinational investors to jump on to the bandwagon of India's growing economy. Other acts of violence such as the daylight massacre of Border Security Force (BSF) personnel by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and the BDR's proclivity to suddenly fire upon and kill or injure innocent civilians working in their fields, show up India as a weak and timid nation that is either uncaring of the security of its people or incapable of direct retaliatory action even when the provocation is acute or, perhaps, both. Some Western analysts have observed that the Indian leadership appears to take a perverse delight in being called a soft state. 
The opportunity cost of the unstable external security environment and the rapidly deteriorating internal security situation has been estimated at a one-quarter per cent slowing down of India's annual rate of growth. For the full genius of the Indian people to flower, like it has done in the case of those who have made Western countries their homes, and for their real potential for entrepreneurship to develop unhindered, the first requirement is to ensure physical security. Neither external nor internal forces that are inimical to India must be allowed to depict India as a nation that is riven by violence and always in flames – no matter what it takes. 
What it will take is a pro-active national security strategy and a vigorous response to future incidents of terrorism sponsored from across the border. India's response should be initially limited to trans-LoC strikes and later, if things do not improve to the satisfaction of the government, action across the international border. Every single act of terror must meet with a calibrated response. Even if the suspicion is not too strong and the links of terrorists with organisations across the border have been established only tenuously to begin with, retaliation must be swift and accurately targeted to deliver the message that India has shown enough restraint and that from now onwards, India will act when struck. For example, if the LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayebba) was suspected to have engineered the Diwali blasts in New Delhi in 2005, it would have been appropriate to first target its headquarters at Muridke south of Lahore and then ask General Musharraf questions about the gap between his promises and his deeds. 
Those who worry about the repercussions in international law should scrutinise Israel 's stated policies and the retribution that it inflicts on the terrorist organisations that sponsor attacks on its soil. They should also study the action taken by other members of the United Nations when their vital national interests are so blatantly threatened – for example the intervention by the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan after the al Qaeda inspired 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. 
If a resurgent, nuclear-armed and self-confident India acts with strength and precision in its national security interests, neighbours like Pakistan and Bangladesh will soon get the message and will genuinely clamp down against terrorist organisations operating from their soil, instead of merely pretending to do so while actually encouraging them to operate with impunity. Will it lead to war? It could and India should be prepared for that eventuality. Is war in India's interest? It certainly is not, but neither is a daily dose of terrorist incidents that sap the people's morale, tie down the army and other security forces in counter-insurgency operations that serve to alienate the people, inflict huge economic costs and damage India's reputation as a suitable investment and tourism destination. Will such a response result in the breakdown of the ongoing rapprochement with Pakistan? It might, but so will the lack of a pro-active response, as Pakistan will continue to deny that terrorist organisations based on its soil are sending mercenary marauders to destabilise India and, eventually, the Indian government will have no option but to call off the composite dialogue process.
India must graduate to becoming a nation that is safe and secure for all its citizens – a nation that takes its national security interests seriously and is pro-active in dealing with emerging threats. The best policy is to nip emerging threats in the bud rather than allow them to become festering sores that will eventually lead to gangrene on a large scale. Only in a secure environment with good governance can India make rapid economic progress to lift its less fortunate countrymen out of the morass of poverty, hunger and homelessness – before the revolution of rising expectations that has begun to rear its ugly head takes all its citizens in its sweep. 
Gurmeet Kanwal: The author is Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.