On December 25th, 2015, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi made a surprise stopover in Lahore on his way back to India from Afghanistan in a move that was hailed by many as a major initiative to normalize Indo-Pak relations. A week later, India was under a terror attack when terrorists attacked Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in Punjab by Jaish-e-Mohammed led by Masood Azhar who India released after the IC814 hijack in Kandahar.
It is hardly surprising that a terror attack took place after an Indian attempt to look for elusive peace with Pakistan. In July, Indian PM met with his Pakistani counterpart in Ufa in Russia following which there was an attack in Gurdaspur in Punjab and another in Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir. Ceasefire violations and attacks on Indian security forces continued unabated. 26/11 attack happened while the then Prime minister of India Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf nearly negotiated a deal on Kashmir. Going back a little further and we had serial train blasts in Mumbai in July, 2006 while back channels talks were on. Kargil war happened just after the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus ride to Lahore in a move to bring peace between the two countries.
Yet with all this history, India has continued at various intervals to talk with Pakistan and find ways to resolve all outstanding issues only to be stabbed in the back in return.
Many argue that India should not back away from the peace process even though there are provocations from Pakistan. They blame it on “rogue” elements and people who don’t want peace between the two countries. That India would reward and possibly galvanize these hard-liners by calling off the peace process. This argument doesn’t hold water. The rogue elements they talk about are extension of the Pakistani military which it has nurtured over the years to wage war on India under deniability. India has been attacked while it was talking with Pakistan under the composite dialog process and after highly symbolic gestures of peace like the bus ride by PM Vajpayee in the past and now the Lahore stopover by PM Modi.
The other argument is that India must do everything to talk to the civilian leadership of Pakistan to strengthen it and that backing out will weaken it. This argument is false as well as history civilian leadership’s policy towards India from its inception till date has been anything but comforting from Indian point of view. Many analysts in India have written that the Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif is sincere in his attempt to pursue peace with India and is only held back by the Pakistan military and that he needs to be given time. Kargil war happened during his time while he feigned ignorance about it, General Musharraf the mastermind of the Kargil war has said the Nawaz Sharif was fully briefed about the operation.
Nawaz Sharif led PMLN that governs Pakistan’s Punjab province whose Chief Minister is Nawaz Sharif’s brother, sanctioned 61 million rupees in the official budget of Punjab to the UN designated terror organization Jamaat ud Dawat the frontal organization of Lashkar e Toiba which carried out the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Such grants have been made in the past as well. These fly in the face of those who say civilian leadership of Pakistan especially under Nawaz Sharif are serious about tackling terror against India and work towards peace.
This author has said in the past that on relations with India, the civil and military leadership of Pakistan are on the same page and work in tandem as it is driven by the ideological leanings of the state of Pakistan and the reason for its formation. After the 1971 war, the then civilian leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto promised a 1000 years’ war with India. His daughter who Benazir Bhutto cried Azadi for Kashmir at every international event she attended. Asif Ali Zardari echoing the words of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in January 2010 said, “If needed, we will fight India for thousands of years to end the occupation of Kashmir”. He went on to say that this was a war of ideologies and would last for generations. Even his son Bilawal said they will fight to take every inch of Kashmir from India.
Pakistan army considers itself as the protector of the faith and Pakistan as the fort of Islam and it considers its duty to wage holy war with India. In all the wars that Pakistan has fought with India, the Pakistani generals have called it Jihad and calls its soldiers Mujahideen or those engaged in jihad or holy warriors. Driven by the fabricated Ghazwa-e-Hind Hadith which calls on Muslims to conquer India, Pakistan army is in an ideological war with India.
As Pakistan realized it could not win wars with a militarily superior India, it adopted terrorism to bleed India through a thousand cuts. It uses terror to pressure India on Kashmir and other issues. When 26/11 happened, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contemplated strikes on Pakistan but backed out after being told by the army that it is not fully prepared for a full war if matters escalate.
Pakistan has since then kept all terror attacks below a threshold that won’t lead to war as another 26/11 type terror attack will certainly lead to a war. Gurdaspur and Pathankot attacks are examples of what Pakistan thinks are terror attacks that are below the Indian threshold of war and will continue to test India with such attacks especially with Indian political leadership showing commitment to talk despite the terror attacks. India will have to show to Pakistan that there is no such threshold and that it is willing to give swift retribution for any terror attack.
Pakistan uses peace process and talks to keep India off balance on how to deal with Pakistan. Terror attacks while talks are on allows it to get away with it without any punishment because the Indian political leadership is always willing to give peace a chance and not risk war.
There is considerable pressure on Pakistan this time to deliver on its promise to eliminate terror against India. The US has issued multiple warnings. However indications are that nothing may change apart from token action. Already the Pakistanis have said that they want concrete evidence from India to take any action against the masterminds of the Pathankot terror attacks. It’s a line that India has heard several times in its pursuit to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 attacks to justice.
Pakistan launched Zarb-e-Azb to eliminate terrorists that were acting against its interest and claims to have killed over 3400 of them without releasing any info on who they were or any pictures. When it comes to terrorists who act against India, it wants more and more evidence despite being given all such by India and also by the US while UN designated terrorists like Hafiz Saeed roam free and deliver fiery speeches against India.
India will have to adopt a multi pronged policy against Pakistan. Deterrence against attack & punishment for any attack.
As the Indian political leadership somehow feels compelled to talk with Pakistan for reasons internal and external, any talks should be from a position of strength. For Pakistan, this strength comes from its sponsorship of terror under the nuclear umbrella. India will have to adopt means to counter this and show inclination to punish Pakistan in one way or the other while showing resolve to talk with Pakistan. Indian politicians across the spectrum have to be united in tackling Pakistan without trying to seek political brownies against the government of the day so that a unified front is put up which allows the government a freehand in dealing with Pakistan.
Or India can adopt a policy to not talk or have any engagement with Pakistan and deny Pakistan the cover of talks to stop any Indian retaliation for its terror attacks on India.
One thing is certain, Indo-Pak hostilities given the state of mind in Pakistan are not going to cease. India will have to strengthen its internal security, external & internal intelligence to keep the country safe from terror attacks while strengthening its military to punish Pakistan for any misadventure.