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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Indo-Pak Relationship: New Rules of Engagement

Unarguably Modi government's latest engagement with Pakistan marks a clear paradigm shift in the Indian establishment's policy towards it's unreliable neighbour. In a multi-pronged offensive including surgical strikes on terrorist launchpads inside PoK, diplomatic isolation, move to take away MFN status and using Indus Water Treaty (IWT) as stick to warn Pakistan is a stark message to Pakistan to stop sending in militants from across the border to carry out terror attacks on Indian soil. Denial by Pakistan of any such raid having been carried out by Indian Army hints at its reluctance to retaliate which makes this a tactical victory for India but the what can be expected in this new paradigm is yet to fully make itself clear. 

The strategic shift in military operation is not really the raid to eliminate terrorist infrastructure on the other side of the border, there have been instances in the past, the difference this time is that India has owned up the operation and called out Pakistan's nuclear bluff. It has also served the purpose of boosting the morale of the army as well as bringing some sort of closure to the Indian masses outraged by the killing of 19 Indian soldiers in an attack by Pakistan backed fedayeen on an army base in Uri. Indian Army's DGMO press briefing stating that Indian special forces had carried out surgical strikes on terrorist launchpads along LoC and not only was the operation over but also that he had informed the same to his Pakistani counter-part seemed to send out the single message that Pakistan's nuclear blackmail was no longer going to deter Indian Army from carrying out overt operations across LoC to neutralise threats in limited military operations.

 If this is to be regular response is a question of little significance,the message that Indian Army "can" is the real answer. The junior Defence Minister terming the operation as anti-terror operation rather than one targeted against the Pakistani military and in territory which legally belongs to India was a sound statement that should allay fears of India trying to escalate hostilities between the two nuclear rivals, at least to the global leaders. 

Further, what has helped India come through this publicised strike across the border without a single word of criticism from community of nations is the diplomatic isolation Pakistan finds itself in. The biggest diplomatic setback to Pakistan has come in the form of cancellation of the SAARC Summit after five of the eight members of the regional council pulled out of it citing terrorism in the region as the reason. Afghanistan and Bangladesh have been particularly more scathing in their attack on Pakistan while boycotting the summit by citing Pakistan's role in exporting terrorism to their countries. ISI's role in orchestrating terrorist attacks in Bangladesh is a charge it has been levying since a long time but Pakistani lawmakers' overwhelming condemnation of execution of 1971 war criminals has not gone down well with Bangladesh. As for Afghanistan, Pakistan's support to terrorist groups, especially Taliban has virtually eliminated the possibility of national reconciliation and stability in the war torn country. 

However, Pakistan is unlikely to refrain from entirely giving up terrorism as an instrument of its state policies because it would mean it's army relinquishing its hold over the state's foreign policy and thus become secondary to the civilian administration. This is not something Pakistan Military would be agreeable to. After all it is the biggest shareholder in Pakistan's stock exchange, owning a whole range of commercial interests from airlines,banking to grocery stores. It is thus unlikely to allow any change in status quo that would hurt it financially and leave alone abandoning even scaling down its military-jihadi operations would do more than that. 

Further, regional isolation may hurt Pakistan politically but it does not appear to believe that it is globally isolated and there may be some truth to that. It's important ally, the US appears frustrated with Pakistan for not doing enough and even shares India's concern on it being a breeding ground of terrorism but it has so heavily invested militarily that it is unlikely to pull out of the military arrangement in the next few years. In fact the strain in US-Pakistan relationship has brought the latter closer to its all weather ally China which shares its animosity towards India. Further, US concern that destabilisation of Pakistan or a coup may result in the country's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of jihadi terrorists only plays into Pakistan's nuclear blackmail. Since taking away Pakistan's nuclear capability is impossible, does it not imply that it would continue to cooperate with the Pakistani establishment ? 

Given Pakistan's geo-strategic importance to world powers, even in future we can expect condemnation from international community which would hurt it politically but in a country whose foreign policy is strictly in the hands of the military,it is unlikely to be such a big deal. The strategic shift India has taken in its Pakistan policy may change the rules of engagement, there is little chance that Pakistan army would desist from continuing to attack India through fourth generation warfare (4GW) which it has been following for decades. It has been also accusing India of doing the same through by sponsoring insurgencies in its territories but since Pakistan's behaviour has remained unchanged perhaps the cost inflicted on it has not been substantial enough. The recent overt military strike has added another dimension to it, that of overt operations and propaganda for psychological advantage. 

It is imperative that decision makers on both sides recognise the notion that the very characteristic of 4GW is that they are long term campaigns involving low intensity conflicts, desire for immediate results, to placate their domestic constituency, even if it leads to escalation is not in the interest of either states. It has to be a war fought through "other means" (4GW). In case of India, it has already started psychological war which, in the long term can inflict psychological setback on its opponent provided it maintains a cohesive and mature narrative and not over-indulge as seen in case of some television studios and social media trolling. Further, India may also need to reevaluate its cyber-security, though it has been victim of NSA surveillance which led to the formulation of National Cyber Security Policy 2013 which is yet to be tested.

 However, India hasn't seen the kind of cyber-warfare that countries like the US, China, Russia and Iran have witnessed as well as waged. Russian cyberattacks on Estonia and during its invasion of Georgia make good case studies of how cyberattacks can be carried along with conventional war. India has faced cyberattacks originating from China and Pakistan but they haven't been damaging enough. But in light of recent developments it shouldn't be surprising if future tactical operations of the adversary is as unconventional as cyber-warfare. 

Finally, Pakistan has been able to successfully exploit turmoil in Kashmir valley which is really India's weakest point,there being a direct a direct co-relation between tension in the valley and infiltration attempts by terrorists across the LoC. The obvious response would be to make an all out effort to bring peace to the valley through any means possible. At the same time India should exploit the inbuilt and numerous fault lines in Pakistan to wage a counter fourth generation warfare,if possible with help from Afghanistan and Iran, to inflict heavy cost on the Pakistan military which is probably the only way it can be made to shift its focus from its cross-border terror operations and come to table with options that is agreeable to India.