Getting on the right side of that paradox

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.

19 thoughts on “Getting on the right side of that paradox”

  1. Pingback: Phatic Communion
  2. Sri B. Raman has been arguing for re-instating COIN/Special Forces operations inside POK/Pak for quite some time. It played an important role in ending the Khalistani terrorism in Punjab along with with some effective counter-terror ops by Sri KPS Gill. It was later dismantled by Chief Wagah Candle Kisser IK Gujral during his short tenure as PM.

    On a more civilized note, the MEA comment on Balochistan has seriously irritated Pak. Since they cry “Kashmir” in every international fora, we too now have a stick to beat them with. I think they should keep issuing statements till things calm down there. Ofcourse bloggers can provide moral and diplomatic support. 😉

  3. Nitin,

    The big problem with our nukes is that they’re duds, especially as bargaining chips. Sure, we can say “IF you attack we will respond” but we cannot hold the threat of escalation to a nuclear level because of the stupid NFU(esply against nuke states!) that our Peacenik PM imposed after Pokhran 2.
    How malleable would a Pakistani General’s position be, if we held the threat that beyond a certain point we will press the nuclear button?
    All our leaders(oppn. included) are very good at such reduction of their options(to act), and thereby reducing our security.

    That’s something I cant quite fathom.

    The conventional superiority is also of little use because we cant go to a full fledged war in this age, without wrecking our economy significantly – and with little idea of whether it can be stopped before Pakistan crosses the nuclear threshold(again thanks to the ludicrous NFU).

    It is astonishing that we dont use our Special Forces much, more so since foreign armies come to train at our camps!!

    The story of Chanakya (where he removes the blade of grass which trips him, right from its roots) perhaps needs to be retold to our netas until they understand how it applies to terrorism as well.

    The talk of India not having made tangible conditions is IMO stupid. Musharraf would never have let the mythical “peace-process” get this far if he did not see tangible concessions from India.

  4. Cynic,

    I dont know about other sites, but on orkut’s forums, us Indians have elevated usage of the B-card to a fine art! 😀

  5. Nitin,

    This analysis is one of the best I have read for its clarity.

    I think within the next ten years, India would have to take a call on fighting a decisive war.

  6. Nitin,

    But that is the dilemma.

    How do you fight with a half crazy enemy, without getting lots of bruises.

    I know you are not very enthusiastic about breaking up of Pakistan, instead prefering democratic Pakistan. IMO later is an oxymoron , so first should be tried, may be when America sees imminent collapse of Pakistan, it will secure its weapen, effecively eliminating what you fear.


  7. A democratic and stable Pakistan is in India’s interests AND the impediment is the politico-military nexus in Pakistan.

    We can get rid of that nexus by a full scale war. In the process, we will hurt our economy, spend tonnes of money, kill a lot of their and our people as well as risk nuclear holocaust.

    We need to map paths to regime changes in Pakistan as well as China. Most people consider these changes as inevitable because of the authoritarian nature of the current regimes. We do not have the means to do this by military force. We will not be the drivers of these changes either, but we can nudge them along by giving them “moral” support.

  8. Musharraf clearly has no interest left in the peace process. He is doing all he can to make it fall apart and as usual blaming India as the culprit in the process.

    First I wondered – is the government of Pakistan and the general so good at media handling that they can always make India look bad. In retrospect, the only news agencies that give such love to Musharraf are BBC and all Indian English newspapers. The cynicism and poor judgment of these Indian journalists is a matter of shame.

    Could the general admit his control over the islamic terrorists of Kashmir any more explicitly?

  9. Gentlemen,

    Remember what an American General said: “My job is not to lose my best and the brightest men but rather to make the enemy lose his”. We cannot afford to send our best jawans of the Special Forces in response to every terrorist attack. We should’nt rule that option ofcourse.

    Rather we should seriously encourage internal division within Pakistan. In reality the federal structure of Pakistan is extremely weak, the power and wealth is concentrated within a few elite Punjabi families. These elites would always want to keep it this way. The change has to come from outside. The uniting factor which the elites have created among the Pakistani masses is its rabid hatred of the big bad India.

    Balochistan is burning with almost no Indian help. This is a God-send. It is half the area of Pakistan, random hit-and-run attacks by Balochi freedom fightes can draw in the Pakistan army and spread them thin. Once they are kept busy massacring their own, they’ll have less resources to fund and train jihadis. In the meanwhile, we should bring attention to this genocide (already happening) in every international fora wheather they care or not. It will put tremendous pressure on the Pak elites putting them in an extremely defensive position vis-a-vis India. This does not mean Balkanization of that country, if it happens it will be a side-effect.

    best regards,

  10. Cynical Nerd,

    As Gaurav alludes to, I have long argued that a Balkanised post-Pakistan poses unknown and potentially greater risks than now. India’s interests lie in helping bring about a democratic, internally reconciled Pakistan. The Pakistani military establishment stands square in front of this. For that reason, India must strike at the military establishment and bring about its collapse (maximally) or strike at its handmaidens (the jihadis) in order to deter acts of terrorism (minimally).

    While I agree that Indian troops must not be needlessly exposed, the fact remains that many of them already are. Indeed, the objective of the forward policy is to use force to bring down losses of life overall.

  11. Yes, I agree with your assessement on confronting the Pak military. But only partially.

    It is not only the military elite but also the business elite who would want to maintain the status quo. The latter, a few dozen of mosltly rich Punjabi feudal families control an immense majority ~60+ % of the Pakistani wealth. Most of the intellectual elites will not go against them. So IMO there are very few elements within this Pakistani civil society to bring about this change. Indeed had they managed to bring about land reform/redistribution after Independence, they would’nt be in the mess they are at present.

    Even the latest trouble in Balochistan was started by the above two groups:
    – Kalabagh dam construction to immensely benefit the rich feudal landlords (in upper riparian Punjab province) denying water to Sindh and Balochistan

    – Massive investments (partly funded by Chinese) in the Gwadar area in constructing new Army barracks, contontments followed by mass migration from other Provinces (Punjab again but also Pashtons) making Baloch people a minority in their own lands

    If the oppressed non-Punjabi peoples can be empowered by encouraging unrest, I’d saw more power to them. Note that this does not mean Balkanization, but rather a societal change for the benefit of all (except the Pak military + feudal elites )

    Always a pleasure to comment here.

  12. Nitin, I think you are overly concerned about the after effects of Pakistani break up. It is in Indians best interest to enable it, if it comes to that. The smaller break away provinces will be unstable but they can’t create more trouble than the existing terror networks are currently creating in homeland India. I’d say ignore calls for democracy, which the Pakistan Army will never allow it to happen in the first place, and push for break up of Pakistan into smaller states so that India can manage atleast some of the new states. And this will be major foreign policy relief for India.

    But I doubt the Americans will allow it to happen. More likely they will supply what ever weapons are necessary to Pakistan army to crush any rebels to keep Pakistan together. I won’t be surprised if our Indian netas suggest it.

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