Countering Pakistan’s war: Tactical assertiveness, strategic restraint

CLAWS Scholar Warrior | Aug 4, 2017

While the strategic restraint shown by India despite grave provocation enabled the country to keep the level of conflict low and sustain a high rate of economic growth, it failed to create any disincentives for Pakistan s deep state. The remaining roots of the militancy in J&K are now in Pakistan and PoK. The only way India can ensure that Pakistan's war is brought: 2 quick end is by dismembering Pakistan.

Till the terrorist attack at Uri on September 18, 2016, India had conducted its counter-insurgency campaign against radical extremists sponsored by Pakistan within its borders and on its own side of the Line of Control (LoC). Sustained operations helped to stabilise the situation and create a reasonably secure environment to enable socio-economic development to take place. Neither after the attack on Parliament in December 2001 nor after the multiple terrorist strikes at Mumbai in November 2008, did India choose to inflict punishment on the perpetrators of terrorism in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

While the strategic restraint shown by India despite grave provocation enabled the country to keep the level of conflict low and sustain a high rate of economic growth, it failed to create any disincentives for Pakistan s deep state. The terrorist attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot on New Years Day (2016) could be deemed to have once again crossed India’s red lines. Despite that, the Indian government gave Pakistan yet another opportunity to make amends by inviting an investigation team to come to Pathankot to evaluate the evidence of Pakistani involvement that India had provided. The attack at Uri on 18 September was the proverbial last straw. The Indian response was proactive and the rules of the game have now changed.

On the night of 28 September, 2016, several teams of the Special Forces of the Indian Army crossed the LoC through gaps in the forward defences of the Pakistan Army. The highly-trained commandos walked quietly over several kilometres across some of the most difficult terrain in the Himalayan mountains under the very nose of the Pakistan Army. Their targets were terrorist training camps in PoK. They struck with deadly effect and, as quietly as they had come in, they exfiltrated back across the LoC.
In his briefing after the attack at Uri, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) had said that the Army ‘reserves the right to respond to the terrorist strike at Uri at a time and place of its choosing. It took ten days to plan the operation, which was based on accurate intelligence.

In carefully measured words, the DGMO said during a press briefing on 29 September that India’s Special Forces had ‘inflicted significant casualties on the terrorists and their infrastructure in surgical strikes the previous night.

The operations were meticulously planned and brilliantly executed. According to media reports, the surgical strikes were launched at six to eight terrorist camps across the LoC and about 40 Pakistan Army personnel and terrorists were killed. In an operation that was conducted with the utmost professionalism, the personnel of the Special Forces did not suffer any casualties.
While the credit for the success of these complex operations goes to the officers and jawans of the Special Forces of the Indian Army, the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the National Security Adviser (NSA) deserve to be complimented for giving the go-ahead to the Army to launch trans-LoC raids at six to eight points across a frontage of about 250 kilometre. For the first time since the 1971 War with Pakistan, the political leadership of the country has exhibited firm national resolve. The surgical strikes came as a huge surprise to the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In keeping with the national psyche, the Pakistan Army opted to deny that the surgical strikes took place. However, the blame game began in Pakistan soon afterwards.

It was reported by Cyril Almeida in the Dawn on 6 October 2016, that India’s surgical strikes had emboldened Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Cabinet colleagues to ask the Army and ISI to put an end to their sponsorship of terrorism to avoid international isolation. Morever, General Raheel Sharif prevailed on the Prime Minister to deny that any such instructions had been issued. Also, in a television interview, Imran Khan was severely critical of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s leadership. He said he ‘will show Sharif how to respond to Modi’. Pakistan’s leaders find their country diplomatically isolated both in the region and beyond. True to form, they once again began to indulge in their favourite pastime of nuclear sabre-rattling. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif has once again held out a nuclear threat to India. He said, ‘Pakistan is open to using tactical (nuclear) devices against India if it feels its safety is threatened. It is a patently awed approach as, in response to a nuclear attack on its forces, India will execute its doctrine of massive retaliation and Pakistan will cease to exist as a functional nation-state. Surely, that is not the end state that the Pakistan Army is prepared to accept.

Pakistan’s Strategy is Unlikely to Change

As had probably been anticipated, since these trans-LoC raids, the Pakistan Army has not reacted except to launch isolated terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets, which have been successfully foiled except the one at Nagrota on 28 November 2016. However, the Pakistan Army will wait for a suitable opportunity to avenge the losses that it has suffered. In all probability, it will launch its Special Services Group (SSG) to destroy what it considers a soft and vulnerable target. It could possibly be a Border Outpost (BOP) on the Jammu-Pathankot sector of the International Boundary (IB), which Pakistan calls a ‘working boundary’ and where the Army is not deployed.

The Pakistan Army and the ISI—known as the ‘deep state —have been waging an asymmetric war against India as part of their strategy of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. Pakistan’s war began in the early 1980s when the deep state backed militancy in Punjab. The War was intensified in 1989-90 when the Pakistan Army and ISI began to support an uprising in Jammu and Kashmir through what they claimed was only ‘political, diplomatic and moral support.

With hindsight, it was wrong to have labelled Pakistan’s strategy to bleed India a ‘proxy war’. It is clearly a war being waged by one state against another through asymmetric means. The terrorists being sent into India by the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT) and the Jaish-e- Muhammad (JeM) are sponsored, financed, armed, trained, and indoctrinated by the ISI. They are provided covering fire to help them infiltrate across the LoC by the Pakistan Army and are helped across the IB by the Pakistan Rangers, a border guarding force. During a strike operation, the terrorists are routinely guided by their ISI handlers. Hence, it should be seen as a war that Pakistan is waging against India and not a proxy war.

Despite internal instability, creeping Talibanisation, a failing economy, international isolation and vitiated civil-military relations, Pakistan will continue to profess that Kashmir is the ‘unfinished agenda of the partition’. Its advocacy of the need to wrest Kashmir from India at all costs will become shriller though the strategy to achieve that aim may be finetuned to avoid culpability. Nor will Pakistan give up its quest to control the destiny of Afghanistan and dictate its strategic choices.

Pakistan’s deep state is unlikely to back down from its strategy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts and waging an asymmetric war through terrorist organisations like the LeT, JeM, and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). The Army under General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), will continue to raise the bogey of 7 existentialist threat from India as hostility with India is necessary to justify the Army’s disproportionately large strength and the funds to equip and maintain the war machine.

Unpredictability in the Strategic Calculus

India’s response to individual incidents of terrorism had so far been predictable; blame Pakistan, but avoid reacting overtly. Now, by launching surgical strikes and taking other proactive actions, India has introduced an element of unpredictability. Pakistan can no longer be sure about Indias likely response. As this writer had noted over a year ago (India will a to Pakistan, but only about terrorism, The Quint, 27 August 2015), Early contours of the emerging Modi doctrine can be discerned… aggressiveness on the LoC will meet with a firm response.’ Clearly, here onwards, India will be proactive in framing its responses to terrorist incidents with their origin on Pakistani soil.

India’s strategy should be based on a realistic assessment of the threat and carefully formulated to achieve related national security objectives. It should be a national priority to reach out to the people of Kashmir and stabilise the situation. If instability in Kashmir continues till the next summer, Pakistan will exploit it to the hilt. The Army should be prepared to confront an Operation Gibraltar-like influx of Mujahideen a la 1965, but on a reduced scale.

By launching trans-LoC strikes with its Special Forces, India has sent several messages to Pakistan. First, the present Indian government will not tolerate the wanton killing of innocent Indian civilians or soldiers by state sponsored terrorists from Pakistan. Second, the surgical series are a warning to the Pakistan Army that if it does not put an end to -ross-border terrorism, it may expect an even more vigorous Indian response.

Political-Diplomatic Measures to Isolate Pakistan

The remaining roots of the militancy in J&K are now in Pakistan and PoK. The only way India can ensure that Pakistan’s war is brought: 2 quick end is by dismembering Pakistan. This is neither desirable, as India will have to suffer the consequences and deal with the fallout; nor is it militarily achievable as a large-scale war simultaneously on two fronts is not winnable.

Hence, India’s objective should be to gradually raise Pakistan’s cost for waging a war against India with a view to eventually making it prohibitive. It should also be a national security and foreign policy objective to work cowards reducing the salience of the Pakistan Army in the country’s polity. With these limited aims in view, it should be possible to synergise the political, diplomatic and military aims, and formulate appropriate strategies.

India has exercised a range of political, diplomatic, economic, and military options in response to the terrorist attack on Uri. The aim of Indian diplomacy should be to isolate Pakistan in the international community and work towards having the country branded as a terrorist state by the UN Security Council. Before approaching the United Security Council to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, India should do so unilaterally. India should also call upon its neighbours in South Asia to do so.
By boycotting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit that was to be held in Islamabad and through deft diplomatic manoeuvres, India has succeeded in isolating Pakistan ‘in South Asia as well as internationally. The shift in emphasis from SAARC to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTECH) will also provide handsome dividends in the long term. In this age of real politik, on the politico-diplomatic front, India has many other cards that it can play. The expression of overt support for the long-oppressed people of Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan has galvanised their movements and caused acute embarrassment to Pakistan.

One more arrow in the quiver is for India to express its support for the Afghan position that the Durand Line is no longer relevant and the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be demarcated afresh. This move will give a major fillip to the nascent movement for Pakhtoonkhwa and completely unsettle a sensitive province of Pakistan. It will also further boost India’s image with the Afghan people.

Before holding a threat to opt out of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, India must first make arrangements to fully utilise quota of water, part of which is flowing unharnessed into Pakistan. This action will have a major impact on the availability of water in Pakistan. Afghanistan is also not able to fully utilise its share of the water of the Kabul river and its tributary, the Kunar river. Now that India has successfully completed and handed over the Salma Dam hydel project, we should offer to build dams on both these rivers, the water of which flows into the Indus river.

Making Military Costs Prohibitive

The aim of imposing economic costs should be to choke Pakistan’s economy. India should withdraw the Most Favoured Nation (MEN) status accorded to Pakistan in 1996, which Pakistan has failed to reciprocate. Later, if necessary, India could consider banning overflights for Pakistani aircraft, but this is an option that hurts both countries.

Military measures should be designed to inflict punishment on the Pakistan Army and its organs to systematically degrade their war-waging potential. The aim should be to inflict punishment on the Pakistan Army deployed on the LoC for every act of terrorism on Indian soil for which there is credible evidence of its involvement or the involvement of its organs such as the ISI. For each subsequent act of terrorism, the scale and the intensity of the dose should be increased by an order of magnitude.
However, military operations should be carefully calibrated to reduce the risk of escalation.

The surgical strikes conducted across the LoC were the lowest rung on the escalatory ladder. It will take much harsher military measures to make it prohibitive for the deep state to wage a war. Military operations designed to inflict punishment should include artillery strikes with guns firing in the ‘pistol gun’ mode to destroy bunkers on forward posts, with minimum collateral damage; stand-off Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) strikes on Brigade and Battalion Headquarters (HQ), communications centres, logistics infrastructure, ammunition dumps and key bridges; and, raids by Special | Forces and Border Action Teams (BATs). Every Pakistani post through which infiltration takes place should be reduced to rubble by artillery fire assaults.

Operations against the Pakistan Army deployed on the LoC should be supplemented by covert operations. Since Pakistan is not inclined to bring to justice the leaders of terrorist organisations like the LeT and JeM, terrorists whom they call ‘strategic assets’, they must be neutralised through covert operations. When the Pakistan Army begins to hurt and bleed, gradually he deep state will realise the futility of its nefarious designs on India. While Pakistan may not give up its claims on Jammu and Kashmir, it will be forced to come to the negotiating table to discuss a long-term solution to the dispute through peaceful means.