By Bharat Karnad
The situation after the daring terrorist attack on the army camp in Uri is a symptom of a basic malady of the Indian government’s and the Indian military’s inability to come to grips with reality that the State is in full-fledged covert war with Pakistan. Have always maintained that Pakistan, as an equal legatee of the doctrine of ‘kutayuddha’ (covert warfare) expounded in the Arthashastra, is a far more adept practitioner of this form of asymmetric conflict than India has ever been.
This is so, I have argued in my writings and books (especially ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’) because Pakistan (like Israel) enjoys a very small “margin of error” and therefore is more proactive where national security is concerned, as its safety rests on keeping the bigger, better endowed, adversary unbalanced with strategems and tactics, such as periodic attacks on the latter’s military capabilities, less to hurt them grievously than to keep the enemy permanently unsettled. Whence, the seaborne terrorist infiltrators struck the shoreline hotels in Mumbai in 2008 rather than take out the bulk of the Western Fleet then at anchor a short distance away, in other words do a “Pearl Harbour”.
It reflected and still does as the Uri incident shows, a fine-tuned Pakistani strategic sensibility — provoke India sufficiently to make a point but not so much as to trigger a war that would cost Pakistan plenty.
The main problem is Indian rulers’ traditional-historic complacent attitude nurtured by geography that there’s so much landmass to withdraw to that, as in the present case, NSA Ajit Doval’s “offensive defence” is always feasible. Any time defence is propagated in any guise, it is a guarantee of do-nothingism. India’s record bears this out.
The Vajpayee regime’s decision to do nothing after the terrorist attack in December 2001 on Parliament — the symbol of sovereignty, mind you, and the attack on the Kaluchak camp in the midst of the “general mobilization for war” (Op Parakram), other than mumble appropriate retribution, which has ever since become the stock non-response of GOI and haas never been prosecuted, a wrong signal was sent out to the Pakistan Army. It confirmed GHQ Rawalpindi’s long harboured assessment of ‘Hindu Lala’ India as too cowardly and callow to respond decisively, even when international law and the UN charter completely legitimated retaliation as an act of “self-defence”. (Article 51 states: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”.)
Terrorist strikes have thereafter been launched periodically and with increasing impunity (Pathankot in January this year, and now Uri), with New Delhi each time reacting in the same manner: there’s a muffled threat to hit Pakistan at a time of India’s choosing, there’s the attempt by GOI — that will fail — to garner international support in order to “isolate” Pakistan, and a sudden burst of activity in terms of intensively manning military posts in J&K, etc., and once the temper cools and the ardour for action lost, things settle down to the usual.
This leads one to wonder what the Indian Army units believe their role in J&K is exactly?
This is in light of the fact there is no effective perimeter security worth the name around their own encampments and depots — the minimum one would expect?
It reflects the complacency now deeply entrenched even, and especially, in the Indian armed services. How else to explain the fact that the security at military bases is so lax and that too in J&K — a live area of military operations — despite the continued threat from terrorists and, hence, an open invitation to any armed group to saunter into any camp, open fire, and repeatedly inflict an appalling exchange ratio — three terrorists finishing off 17 soldiers at Uri. Oh sure, the para-commando elements held as Northern Army reserve, will now wear their black patkas, daub black paste under their eyes, and go out on night-time retaliatory kill/destroy culvert here, blow up a bridge there missions, even as intended targets — the LeT and JeM camps and their inhabitants have been moved to safety to hinterland areas. And there the matter will rest. Until the next terrorist incident.
In the wake of Pathankot, the AOC was transferred — presumably, with no ill effects on his forward career progress, and this time the commander, Uri camp, will likewise be relocated. This will about sum up India’s reaction!
In the civil society meanwhile there are the predictable noises about the need for forbearance and measured response or, at the other ideological end, there’s the RSS General Secretary Ram Madhav — the Modi government’s go-to-guy for foreign policy advice, spouting vengeance and demanding Pakistani “jaw” for an Indian tooth, but being satisfied with the PM’s promise of severe action.
Will wait and see what this action will be but be advised to not hold your breath.
The reason why Vajpayee did not order immediate retaliation — of an aerial strike on PoK targets in 2001, and Modi won’t do so now is because — you guessed it — our new found friend, ally, and strategic partner — the United States of America, which does not tolerate even the slightest terrorist provocation itself but is ready to counsel patience and conciliation on friends, and back it up with punitive means. If there’s any doubt that Washington will not countenance a violent and telling Indian military reaction, New Delhi should see what happens if Modi girds up his loins and actually orders massive and lesson-teaching military actions. But, of course, GHQ-R has covered that (nonexistent) possibility. It will indicate movement of nuclear missiles, which will be enough to freeze Modi in his tracks amidst the media hub-hub for caution, which the PM will use as pretext for doing nothing. Remember the previous BJP govt’s succumbing to “public opinion” to negotiate with the Indian Airline flight IA 814 Afghan Taliban hijackers in December 1999? New Delhi will once again be satisfied with the US wagging its finger at Islamabad, which will be heralded as a great diplomatic victory for a “responsible” power — India. One can imagine the Pak Army brass rolling around in mirth.
In the event, stirring calls for action such as by the well-meaning retired Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal as per his “four pronged” strategy, which can be found here, involving aerial and artillery strikes on PoK targets, covert ops against Pak Army capabilities and military infrastructure, but continued engagement with the civilian leadership and civil society in Pakistan amount to nothing more than the usual knee-jerk “do something” plea whose operative parts GOI will feel free to ignore.
Bharat Karnad is a senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
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