Years of Indian indecision and inaction ends

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

downloadIndia has finally broken out of years of paralytic indecision and inaction on Pakistan’s proxy war by staging a swift, surgical military strike across the Line of Control — a line it did not cross even during the 1999 Kargil War.  Although a limited but unprecedented action, in which Indian paratroopers destroyed multiple terrorist launchpads, it will help to dispel the sense of despair that had gripped India over its prolonged failure to respond to serial Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks.

At the same time, the action represents a loss of face for Pakistan’s all-powerful military, which was quick to deny any such strike. The denial, however, will carry little credibility even within Pakistan, given the military’s long record of refusing to own up to its own actions — from sending raiders into Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 and staging Operation Gibraltar in 1965 to sending light infantry soldiers into Kargil in 1999. When the Pakistani military even denies training and arming terrorists for cross-border missions, how can it admit that Indian paratroopers targeted terrorist launchpads it maintains?

Still, a one-off surgical attack can do little to help reform the Pakistani military’s conduct or deter its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency from staging more terrorist strikes on Indian targets. The critical question to ask is whether India, having shaken off its diffidence, will be willing to stage more raids by its special forces across the LoC — not immediately, but in the months to come, so as to forestall terrorist attacks by keeping the Pakistani military off balance.

However, the proxy war by terror is unlikely to end without India imposing significant costs directly on the Pakistani military and the Pakistani state. Militarily, that is a challenging task.

In general, the purpose of any major military action ought to be twofold: to inflict unbearable costs on the enemy; and, if the action escalates to a full-fledged war, to decisively defeat the foe on the battlefield in order to impose peace on it on one’s own terms.

The current military situation is such that India cannot have full confidence in achieving these objectives. For example, any major military action needs the surprise element to take the enemy unawares and gain a significant early advance. With Pakistan in a state of full combat readiness after scripting the Uri attack, there is no surprise element that can be exploited by India to launch a major offensive.

In these circumstances, applying sustained, multipronged pressure on the enemy’s vulnerable points to inflict pain and punishment through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and special forces is a better option than waging an open war that might not produce a decisive result.

That India managed to stage a daring cross-border raid despite Pakistan’s full military alertness is a reminder that smart application of military force yields better results than a heavy-handed, knee-jerk military response.

Make no mistake: India’s fight to tame a scofflaw Pakistan will be long and hard. The tendency to seek quick results must be eschewed. Indeed, the biggest enemy of India’s goals has been the failure to maintain a consistent Pakistan policy. Rhetoric is no substitute for clear-eyed policy and deterrent action.

Today, from reviewing the lopsided Indus Waters Treaty to staging the raid across the LoC, India is signalling that enough is enough and that it will do whatever it takes to beat back Pakistan’s terrorism onslaught. India must use every lever of leverage and coercion in a relentless, all-out silent war to bring Pakistan to heel.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.