An Indian army soldier near the LoC
Recent cross-border shootings on the line of control between India and Pakistan raise curious questions about country strategies and their timing. In 2014, the United States of America will downsize if not withdraw troops from Afghanistan; the year will also see the general elections in India that the ruling United Progressive Alliance has so far done everything to ensure losing — which would be after the elections have possibly taken place in Pakistan in 2013.
What could Pakistan have sought to achieve by cross-border firings with killings and mutilation of Indian soldiers? Is it aiming to force India to dedicate more troops to the Pakistan border and reduce its flexibility of action in Afghanistan? Pakistan had developed nuclear weapons to deter India from military action in Pakistan. ‘Guerilla’ war was the preferred strategy intended to destabilize India, foment communal disharmony, and tie down Indian forces and funds. Is Pakistan repeating the same strategy to curry favour with voters and win the forthcoming elections?
Pakistan, by its genocide in erstwhile East Pakistan, invited India’s intervention when around 20 million refugees crossed over to India. Bangladesh was a consequence. Surely, Pakistan would not again wage formal war with India. Instead, Pakistan’s State policy was (as Zia-ul-Haq put it), to “beg, borrow or steal” nuclear technology and develop nuclear weapons.
The Kargil invasion by Pakistan was an aberration by Pervez Musharraf. He dubbed the invaders militants. Pakistan even refused to accept its dead soldiers’ bodies. In Kargil, Pakistan did not take account of India’s determination, its willingness to expend the maximum resources of people and weapons to defeat the invaders, and the will of the international community. Having lost all its wars with India, Pakistan cannot be intending the present conflict along the LoC to enlarge into anything more.
Pakistan has Chinese support in actions against India. The strategy is to tie down India’s troops to the Pakistan border and in Kashmir, contain India’s power in Asia, and prevent a role for India in Afghanistan. Both China and Pakistan, like India, have plans to exploit Afghanistan’s natural resources. China also wants safe transit of oil and gas from Central Asia. Pakistan sees Afghanistan as its natural sphere of influence. By arming India’s Northeastern militants and Maoist rebels, China is directly aiming to destabilize India through frequent ‘cross- border terrorism’ in Kashmir, and over time, in the rest of India. Pakistan sent into India from its training camps well-trained ‘jihadists’ from among Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis, coached in fundamentalist Islam, all happy to be martyrs. Indian retaliations are not publicized, making Indians criticize its government and armed forces as ‘soft’.
Pakistan, unlike India, has not subscribed to a “no first use” commitment on nuclear weapons. India has therefore refrained from retaliation by bombing terrorist training camps in Pakistan or chasing terrorists and soldiers across the border. Fear of nuclear war may have made India too cautious. India protested but seemed to accept incursions by fundamentalist ‘martyrs’ and only tried to stop them at the borders. Pakistan took advantage of this ‘softness’. India is now publicizing retaliatory heavy shelling of Pakistani troops and posts across the border. This is new and perhaps the Congress’s preparation for the 2014 elections.
India must fear total breakdown of the Pakistani State. Its economy survives on handouts from the US. Wealth is mostly held in foreign bank accounts. It is a feudal state. Landlords and the military control land and productive assets. The educated have boltholes abroad. Islamic fundamentalism affects almost everybody in one way or another. The State has no control over its border provinces. Years of indoctrination about India as the enemy will make a fragmented Pakistan dangerous as neighbour.
Cross-border terrorism has led to immense Indian army presence in Kashmir, and to treating Kashmir as occupied territory. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act gives the Indian military forces the kind of immunity enjoyed by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
India has dealt similarly with other militant movements. The presence of large armed forces and less focus on development and on legislation to protect the rights of the local inhabitants exacerbated militancy. Economic growth, declining poverty and social welfare programmes helped livelihoods and human development. Pakistan neither unravelled Indian society, nor diminished resources for restraining Pakistan. While communal disharmony did not destabilize India, Pakistan failed in stimulating either its economy or offering social welfare. Pakistan must urgently revive its economy and the power of the State.
It seems inconceivable that Pakistan would start warlike adventures with India instead of benefiting from India’s growing markets and cheaper goods. It might be warning India away from Afghanistan. India would be foolish to withdraw. Pakistan would be better off dealing with terrorists within Pakistan, taming fundamentalist Islam, raising religious tolerance and improving women’s lives.
India may not have played a passive role in these developments. Pakistan accuses India of initiating recent incursions and the killings across the LoC. The Research and Analysis Wing is accused of funding militants in Pakistan and Taliban attacks in Pakistan.
India’s objectives must be to protect our borders, maintain communal harmony, ensure us a share in Afghanistan’s natural resources, control access to northern Afghanistan and hence to central Asia and Iran by land, prevent fragmentation of Pakistan, keep China to a minimal role in Afghanistan, and help stabilize Pakistan’s economy.
The beleaguered Congress may believe a seemingly tough approach to Pakistan would favour it. But India needs domestic stability and economic growth. Our Pakistan policies must be consistently firm but not belligerent.