By Poonam I Kaushish
It’s been a sluggish dull political season brightened by two news, one from black money haven Switzerland that Indians bank deposits have risen by 50 per cent in 2017 to Swiss Francs 1.01 billion (Rs 7,000 crore), reversing a three-year downward trend amid India’s clampdown on suspected black money stashed there. So much for Modi’s boast, “I will bring back all the ‘black’ money in Swiss Banks & put 15 Lakhs in each Indian bank A/C…. Main na khata hoon na khane doonga,” which we now know was a ‘jumla’.
Two, glint of video clips of the surgical strikes in POK 28-29 September 2016 in retaliation for the Uri terror strike which killed 19 soldiers. The attack destroyed nine terrorists’ launch pads, bunkers and terrorists and marked a huge strategic and tactical shift in India’s policy, accentuating an-eye-for-an-eye, and tooth-for-a tooth plot, which stunned Pakistan.
Predictably, despite two years lapsing, our politicians still can’t stop bickering about them, accentuating how deep the political fault line runs. Recall, a few weeks after the surgical strikes Opposition leaders raised doubts of them ever taking place. Rahul accused Modi of politicising the operation and playing politics with soldiers’ lives.
Today, the Congress and Opposition accuses the BJP of making soldiers’ blood and sacrifice a vote-getting tool in the run-up to the general elections next year, to distract people from its Government’s failures and failing to provide direction and vision to deal with Pakistan.
Undeniably, the timing of the video release raises suspicion that the BJP intends playing up its nationalistic leanings, heightened national security challenges, draw unprecedented mileage out of the strikes and portray the Opposition as doubting the Indian army’s capabilities to garner votes.
Diplomatically, the strikes not only created both a physical and psychological impact but also underscored New Delhi’s paradigm shift in its Pak policy that past precedents were not binding on it in its dealing with recalcitrant Islamabad and its terrorists’ army. Yet, it did not deter Pakistan from supporting terrorism.
Raising a moot point: Did the strikes achieve the objective of neutralising Pak-based terror? Did they change anything on the ground? And if so what? Have terror killing declined in Kashmir, no. Is there a decrease in infiltration and stone pelting, zilch. Worse, Kashmiri youth continue to join militant ranks. Yet, India sent a larger political message — don’t mess with us. It enhanced Modi’s credibility of being more pro-active on the national security front.
Alongside, the Government’s, no compromise with terrorists policy and publicly stating to help Balochistan rebels, NaMo signaled a change of looking at alternatives to a united Pakistan and inclination to help in its break up.
Moreover, the ‘surgical strikes’ were the first trans-LoC operation to be owned politically. Of course, strikes had taken place in the past but they were neither publicly declared nor acknowledged militarily, instead were wrapped in a shroud of silence. Primarily, because the limited aims and slow tempo of such campaigns allows both sides time for diplomatic gestures and stock-taking in the hope that someday their paths would converge on smoking the peace pipe.
But all this changed in September 2016 when the operations overt political ownership was declared. This not only broke new operational ground but put greater stress on Pakistan to institute LoC management measures. True, violence within the Valley has increased, but the impunity with which Pakistan’s terrorists attack army base camps and installations has decreased. An invisible lakshman rekha has been drawn.
Internationally, Modi’s got firm US backing as Washington did not criticise India and the world maintained a stoic silence. Pakistan’s friends like China did not back it. In fact, when India exposed Pakistan’s doublespeak on terrorism at the UNGA, China, though unhappy with New Delhi’s tone and tenor, admitted that its “all-weather friend” encouraged terrorism.
Besides, it changed the set pattern of India-Pakistan diplomacy. After every major terror strike, there would be the usual cycle of anger, heightened rhetoric, India would blame Pakistani Establishment, ISI and non-State actors for the attack, followed by scaled down diplomatic relations, summoning the Pakistan’s High Commissioner to lodge a strong protest, disruption of links and dialogue along-with raising the issue at international foras. And, after some time, a fresh round of engagement would begin, which totaled zero.
Certainly, try as we might we cannot shut the terror tap in the Valley and the situation is fast hitting rock bottom. This merits immediate introspection from every side wherein we need a sagacious approach starting with small steps. New Delhi and Srinagar need to calm the streets, normalise the situation, talk to people and regain their confidence and provide good governance,
Not a few worry things are going to get worse vis-a-vis alienation whereby one is forcing Kashmiris to think as Muslims. India has to regain political and emotional control of the State and engage Islamabad to end cross-border terrorism, while increasing covert capacities of surgical strikes to raise costs for Pakistan. We need a diplomatic maneouver to move forward on Kashmir and Pakistan.
In the long term, New Delhi’s decision to make a media spectacle of the Indian Army’s strike across the LoC might turn out to be an imprudent one. Far from testing the Pakistan military’s threshold of escalation, it might have unwittingly served to lower it, as cross-border strikes by a country must not be seen as mocking the authority and political resolve of another Government.
By making public the strike video it could create uncertainty for Pakistan, as this was not business as usual and might not rule out other asymmetrical and unanticipated Indian responses in the future. Islamabad has got caught between a rock and hard place. The ball is now in its court and not playing, is not an option.
Consequently, India cannot let its guard down given a hurt Islamabad might be licking its wounds, but is readying to fight another day. New Delhi new assertiveness would need all the wisdom and restraint to ensure that it remains in control of the Indo-Pak script. One way is to adopt the Israeli Defence Forces strategy to cause the opponent more damage (quantitatively and qualitatively) than the opponent causes it in the same time span. The fear of punitive retaliation would delay the next conflict and restrain the enemy’s ambitions.
Certainly, in this zero sum game, muscle-flexing and one-upmanship will continue till the core issue of Kashmir is resolved. Our leaders must understand the nature of the threat they face and adopt a strategy that is more in tune with the demands of the situation. Military, foreign policy and strategic plans are not a one-shot affair but require long-drawn cohesive planning, calibrated force and diplomacy.
The worrying possibility of a military flare-up hasn’t disappeared unless terrorism completely and miraculously disappears. Till then NaMo cannot give up that option. He knows only too well staying ahead is the name of the game. For that he needs crystalline faith that India is on the right path and that Kashmir is worth defending.
Remember, the nation which survives is the one that rises to meet the moment, which has the wisdom to recognize the threat and the will to turn it back, and does so before it is too late. Modi has made plain: Let not any one kick India around with tall talk of bleeding India with a thousand cuts! —- INFA