A proxy war

Strategy of restraint has failed

The Statesman | Aug 27, 2000

Favourable prospects for peace in J&K unnerved the Pakistan army and the ISI. Though Islamabad had approved the Hizbul's initial cease-fire move, to score some diplomatic brownie points, Pakistan's military rulers belatedly realised that their control over the militancy in Kashmir would be gradually eroded if the peace talks made headway. The Punjabi dominate Pakistan army, that is the foremost among Pakistan's elite, such as the mullahs and the Maliks, has a vested interest in destabilising India through covert means.

It has been evident for some time that the Jammu and Kashmir issue is stagnating and has reached a strategic stalemate. Armed militancy has passed almost completely into the hands of foreign mercenary terrorists sponsored by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate who are wedded to Islamic fanaticism and live by a shoot-loot-and-scoot philosophy. Indigenous Kashmiri militant outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen have been completely marginalised and they resent this foreign domination of their cause. Barring sporadic incidents of terrorism which can never be completely eliminated, the security forces have succeeded in establishing a reasonable degree of control over the internal security situation and as much normalcy has returned to J&K as is militarily possible.

It is axiomatic that there can be no permanent military solution to an insurgency. It is ultimately a battle of “hearts and minds” and only a political solution can address and eliminate the real and perceived causes of militancy and assuage the feelings of hurt and bitterness fostered by several decades of poor governance and political mismanagement.

Under the prevailing circumstances, Abdul Majid Dar’s unprecedented unilateral offer of a three-month cease-fire on behalf of the Hizbul Mujahideen had come as a breath of fresh air. The dramatic ceasefire offer as well as the central government’s positive though somewhat ambivalent response had been welcomed by the Kashmiri people and J&K’s ruling National Conference. The only note of discord was sounded by the Hurriyat leadership, apparently because Abdul Ghani Bhatt and the other leaders felt nervous about being left out in the cold.


Regrettably, the cease-fire was short-lived because Pakistan panicked at the positive momentum generated by – ‘the first meeting between the Hizbul and the government representatives. Favourable prospects for peace in J&K unnerved the Pakistan army and the ISI. Though Islamabad had approved the Hizbul’s initial cease-fire move, to score some diplomatic brownie points, Pakistan’s military rulers belatedly realised that their control over the militancy in Kashmir would be gradually eroded if the peace talks made headway. Hence, they sabotaged the cease-fire getting Syed Salahuddin to withdraw the offer due to India’s unequivocal refusal to include Pakistan in the talks. Meanwhile, their hired hatchet men in the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammadi and other non-Kashmiri terrorist organisations carried out several brutal massacres to once again terrorise innocent Kashmiris.

The Indian government now finds itself at a strategic cross-roads in Kashmir. Even a small misstep can almost irretrievably set back the cause of peace. Before venturing further on one of several difficult paths; the nation must take stock of the decade-old proxy war and the payoffs of India’s muted response. Since 1993-94, the hub of Kashmiri militancy has shifted to Islamabad, with its forward headquarters at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India has paid a high price for Pakistan’s low-cost, high-payoff strategy of “bleeding India through a thousand cuts”.

Pakistan has sowed the seeds of the culture of violence in CGufi Kashmir and caused immense damage to India’s deep rooted secular fabric. This has generated an inevitable backlash from the fanatical elements on the fringes of the majority community. The Cult of the Kalashnikov and the car bomb IED (improvised explosive device) has gradually spread to almost all the corners of India.

Till end-1999, among the security forces, army casualties alone had amounted to 1,184 killed and 3,394 wounded. in addition; Pakistan-sponsored terrorism has claimed the lives of approximately 30,000 innocent civilians and forced about 2,80.000 persons to become refugees in their own country. The damage to public and private property has been estimated at over Rs 2,000 crores. Throughout this prolonged period of proxy war, India has shown tremendous restraint and immense tolerance in the face of grave provocation.

India’s restrained response was viewed in Pakistan as a sign of weakness and was exploited to gain and consolidate a foothold in the affairs of Kashmir. It is inconceivable that any other nation would have acted with the sense of responsibility that India has in not launching trans-Line of Control operation to eliminate known militant hideouts and training camps and interdict routes of infiltration inside POK even though such operations are sanctioned by national law.

Three issues underpinning the present wave of the terrorism unleashed by Pakistan need to be Clearly understood 1f reasoned responses are to be formulated. Firstly, most of the terrorist now operating In J&K are foreign mercenaries and not Kashmiri “freedom fighters” as Pakistan has been unsuccessfully trying to convince the world. The average Kashmiri citizen no longer supports the terrorists and has seen through Pakistan’s gameplan. He has now moderated his views to lean towards a more sober interpretation of his original concept of azadi.  However, fear of the terrorists’ guns keeps him from providing “actionable” intelligence to the security forces to eliminate them.


Secondly, the present generation of mercenary Fundamentalist Islamists, inspired by Osama bin Laden and the success of the Taliban experiment, is better motivated, better trained and equipped with more sophisticated automatic weapons and explosives than the motley array of uneducated and explosives youth and criminals undergoing jail sentences sent by Pakistan’s ISI to prop up militancy in J&K in the past. Thirdly, sporadic incidents of terrorism against widely dispersed targets by motivated fedayeen (suicide squads) cannot be completely prevented, no matter how many additional battalions of security forces e pumped into J&K. A terrorist willing to die can always strike at a time and isolated place of his choosing. Worse, with some luck, he can hope to get away before the security forces can react.

The mounting casualties and Pakistan’s sustained campaign of terror clearly prove that India’s strategy of restraint has failed to achieve the desired results. The experience gained over the last ten years has shown that a reactive counterinsurgency policy, limited to military action within India’s borders, can only expect to achieve a semblance of superficial control that lasts as long as the security forces remain deployed. in the area. An increase in the deployment of security forces does not produce a corresponding decrease in the level of terrorist incidents. In fact, it only leads to an increase in security forces casualties.

The time has come to review India’s Kashmir strategy and institute stronger steps to neutralise Pakistan’s proxy war. The government needs to follow a two-pronged approach to finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. While it must persist in smoking the peace pipe with all the genuine representatives of the Kashmiri people to find a political solution and win the battle of hearts and minds, it must simultaneously adopt proactive measures to reach across the country’s borders with Pakistan to eradicate the menace of trans-border terrorism from its roots and turn the screws on the Pakistan Army.

It needs to be recognised that the real problem between India and Pakistan is Pakistan’s rough army. The Punjabi dominate Pakistan army, that is the foremost among Pakistan’s elite, such as the mullahs and the Maliks, has a vested interest in destabilising India through covert means. It will never allow the Kashmir issue to be amicably settled, as there would then be no justification for Pakistan to maintain a 450,000 strong force. The only language that Pakistan’s military junta is likely to understand is that of reciprocal violence — directed not against civilians inside PoK but against Pakistan’s army deployed on the LoC.


This can be done by the systematic decimation of forward Pakistani Army posts through which infiltration takes place by massive 155-mm artillery assaults. Unless the regular Pakistan army suffers casualties in ever increasing numbers, it will have no disincentive to stop its covert terrorist operations against India. India must exploit its superior artillery Firepower, so vividly demonstrated in winning the Kargil conflict in 1999, to make the cost of sponsoring a proxy war prohibitive for Pakistan. The Pakistan army could be expected to retaliate in kind but, because of its failed economy, will not be able to match India’s artillery barrages over a period of six months to one dear and will be forced to sue for peace on India’s terms.

The Indian army need not get involved in “hot pursuit” operations with dubious gains. Other trans-Loc, pro-active measures should be launched to raise the cost for the ISI and the Pakistan army to train, equip and infiltrate foreign mercenaries into J&K. In military terms these could include raids on terrorist camps, hideouts and staging area close to the LoC by specially trained surrendered and rehabilitated Kashmiri militants who volunteer for this purpose; the ambushing of army convoys, missile, rocket and artillery attacks on headquarters and administrative installation; and the covert destruction of bridges, culverts, power Stations and other military infrastructure and facilities supporting army deployments.

Such measures may appear to be contrary to India’s pacifist worldview. However, India’s limit of tolerance has long since been crossed. The time has come to talk to a recalcitrant adversary in the only language that he understands. even Mahatma Gandhi has approved of this form of self defence.