India must consider unconventional military offensives against Pakistan’s terrorist infrastructure
The Pakistani military establishment knows that at least on three occasions over last two decades it was able to use the threat of a nuclear response to dissuade India from launching pre-emptive or punitive strikes against its nuclear and terrorist infrastructure. India considered offensive military action in 1987 (Operation Brasstacks), 1990 (in response to Pakistan’s launch of a proxy-war in Kashmir) and in 1999 (Kargil). During each one of these crises, Pakistan threatened to use nuclear weapons and India, not willing to challenge Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, backed off.
Nuclear weapons did prevent an outbreak of war between India and Pakistan. But Pakistan was left with the knowledge that it can continue to challenge the status quo in the subcontinent without fear of being punished by India’s overwhelming military superiority. Throughout the 1990s, it escalated the proxy war in Kashmir. In a way, the Kargil war set the upper limit to what Pakistan could do without running the risk of serious retaliation by India and inviting the negative attention of the United States and other international actors. In the academic parlance, they call this Snyder’s “stability/instability paradox“.
There is another way…
Although not defeated in war, the Indian government took a defeatist reading of the situation. Operation Parakram apart, the Indian government began to accept that it had no credible means of deterring Pakistan supporting anti-India terrorism. The reliance on American diplomatic intervention had episodic results. Border fencing is at best a tactical measure. The ultimate result of this defeatist strategy can be seen in India agreeing not just to negotiate with Pakistan over Kashmir but also tacitly yielding to Pakistani positions in order to demonstrate progress in the peace-process. This left Gen Musharraf with no incentive to permanently stop terrorism. Not just that, the jihadis became all the more useful to Musharraf after the peace process started, for he could (and did) use them to prod India along.
So far at least, Indian policymakers have been dismissive of the concessions India has already made — pointing to the fact that none of them are tangible. But these concessions are still irreversible. For example, India cannot suddenly demand that the passengers on the Kashmir bus use passports without sparking an outrage everywhere. It is even allowing Pakistan and Hurriyat to engage in absurd talk of self-governance for Kashmir. It should be (alarmingly) clear where all this is headed — far from converting the Line of Control into an international border, India will be forced to accept one of the various ‘models’ of condominium over Kashmir.
But even after this, India will be still not be free from being at the unfortunate end of Prof Snyder’s paradox. Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex has a bigger agenda. An ‘autonomous’ Kashmir, where ‘borders are irrelevant’ is likely to turn into a springboard for ‘charitable organisations’ to direct their attention towards India (if not, where will they go?). However many times India steps back, it still cannot escape the instability/stability paradox.
…it will work because it is unimaginable
The reason India finds itself in this unfavourable position is not because it decided to develop nuclear weapons (for Pakistan would have done so anyway), but because of its defeatist reading of implications of those weapons. The fact is that the stability/instability paradox applies to both India and Pakistan. India can just as well exploit the gaps below Pakistan’s conventional threshold without much risk. Not high-profile actions like Operation Parakram but lower profile operations involving covert action and special forces, targeting the terrorist-infrastructure and leadership. The new army doctrine is along these lines. That’s not enough. The doctrine must be put into practice.
As Pakistan itself has shown, it is possible to sustain such a forward policy at a low-level while engaging in a peace process on one hand, and deterring war on the other. The strategic objective is to both deter Pakistan from continuing the anti-India jihad and counter its coercive tactics on the negotiating table. Undoubtedly, sending special forces to take out terrorist camps will be such a major departure from tradition in New Delhi to be considered unimaginable. But being patient and rational makes it too predictable. That’s why India is losing.