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The Aggressor Will Always Get Away

Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • January 10, 2013

    One of the biggest weaknesses of India’s security discourse is the failure of the Indian leadership to truly understand the nature and psyche of its Western neighbour. Pakistan, like any other country, does not like to lose face, is always ready to up the ante, initiate audacious and precipitous action, make noise, co-opt its benefactors especially the United States and China, demand international intervention and establish a sort of moral and psychological ascendancy and superiority over India. Once the dust settles down, it is business as usual including demands for a dialogue to resolve the core issue of Kashmir before bilateral relations can be improved. The rest is cosmetics. The Indian leadership seems to repeatedly fall prey to such ruses.

    India, on the other hand, mistakenly believes that because Pakistanis talk, eat, speak and very often behave like us they are indeed like us; our long lost brothers whose wayward behaviour can only be corrected through sustained and sincere peace building as well as disproportionately large concessions because India is after all a big country which is focused on its economic development and can ill afford to be distracted by resort to arms. India is also convinced that Pakistan’s benefactors will not let that country sink beyond a point and intervene to ensure its survival. There is much truth in this assessment but history tells us a somewhat different story.

    Right from the time of its birth, Pakistani leaders including Jinnah had convinced themselves that India had somehow cheated and short-changed Pakistan with British help and that is how Jinnah got a ‘moth eaten Pakistan’. Although legal, the accession of Jammu & Kashmir was also seen as another case of Indian treachery conveniently forgetting that it was brought on by Pakistani aggression and attempts to wrest control of the state by force. India committed its first blunder by prematurely taking the issue to the United Nations and compounded the folly by choosing the ‘wrong’ article/clause of the Charter, thus allowing Pakistan to become an equal party to the ‘dispute’ when in fact Pakistan was simply the aggressor and nothing more.

    Thereafter, through the last 65 years, Pakistan has tried to settle the matter by resort to force whenever its leadership felt that the circumstances were propitious and favourable. A major mistake that Pakistan has always made and continues to make even today is to underestimate the resolve of India’s leadership and the capability of the Indian military. The defensive defence policy that India has followed in preference to military retaliation has unfortunately emboldened Pakistan, which continues to believe that it can always get away. Repeated attacks by Pakistan at Haji Pir, Kargil and Chhamb are examples of such aggressive behaviour.

    Worse, every time Pakistan lost the battle its resolve became stronger to somehow avenge the previous defeat. The wars of 1965, 1971 and 1999 were followed by more aggressive and violent behaviour. India’s shooting down of a Pakistan Navy Atlantique, which had violated Indian air space, was followed by the hijack of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 in December 1999 as well as various terrorist attacks including KaluChak, Delhi’s Red Fort and the Indian Parliament. India did not retaliate to any of these provocations. It must not be forgotten that in the run-up to bigger hostilities, Pakistan always began with sustained heavy shelling of border posts and towns, as in Kargil in July 1998, to gauge the Indian reaction. In all of these incidents Pakistan’s losses were minimal simply because India had consistently demonstrated self-imposed restraint but to no avail.

    The recent case of cease-fire violation and Pakistani barbarity should be seen against this backdrop. Once again a pattern is discernible. Pakistan has reportedly violated the 10-year long ceasefire on many occasions but since 01 December 2012 alone the number of such violations has gone up to 22. India has repeatedly been telling the world that the Pakistan Army resorts to unprovoked firing across the Line of Control (LoC) to facilitate infiltration of terrorists but somehow refuses to take action with the result that the world at large does not believe the Indian story. If it is true that Pakistan lost a soldier (Lance Naik Aslam) in the exchange of fire in Mendhar on Saturday last, India should have expected a tit-for-tat response from Pakistan. In 1996, when a Pakistani helicopter carrying a Brigadier was allegedly shot down by India over the Siachen heights, Pakistan lost no time and shot down an Indian Mi-17.

    The brutal Pakistani response came on Tuesday simply because it had to avenge the loss of Aslam. It reportedly chose Mendhar because here the border fence is well within Indian held territory and Indian army patrols move along and inside the LoC but still on the other side of the fence hence making it easier for Pakistan to mount a raid across the LoC. Foggy conditions further helped Pakistani designs but it is not understood why the so-called Area Domination Patrol was moving so close to the LoC in such poor visibility and that too in the aftermath of the Saturday incident and when the Intelligence Bureau had warned of possible Pakistani action. What sort of area domination was achieved when the Pakistani intruders in fact return unscathed?

    It is also noteworthy that the Pakistan Army was not satisfied with merely killing the two Indian soldiers and injuring others in the well planned ambush but had to leave a tell-tale signature, a sign of victory, by beheading and mutilating the body/bodies of the Indian soldiers in the medieval practice of victors building a pyramid out of the heads of slain enemy soldiers right outside their tents. The main aim of the exercise was never to hide the barbarity but to explicitly tell the Indian Army to not mess with Pakistan. Why else would Pakistan have returned the mutilated bodies of the brave Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia and the six Indian soldiers during the 1999 Kargil Conflict? This is the psyche that India needs to understand. No amount of cajoling or appealing to their better sense is likely to change this characteristic of the Pakistan Army. The Pakistani message is clear; “We have done what we had to; you want to escalate, do so at your own peril. Pakistan has thrown the gauntlet, try if you have the guts”. Pakistan knows full well that there will soon be a chorus from world leaders demanding restraint and cooling of tempers from both sides. Pakistan knows it can get away unscathed. This time, however, India cannot blame the Jihadi terrorists for wanting to provoke hostilities between the neighbours because it is Pakistani regulars who have perpetrated this atrocity.

    The tragedy is that many among Indian decision makers are experienced and intelligent enough to understand perfectly well the real import of such brutal and barbaric behaviour but are unable or unwilling to devise appropriate responses in the vain and forlorn hope that Pakistan will somehow mend its ways and reform itself into a ‘normal’ member of the international community.

    It is time India reviewed this thinking. Instant, hard and yet calibrated military, diplomatic and political response is needed since mere warnings and protestations have proved grossly inadequate to change Pakistan’s behaviour. It is not surprising that the Indian Government spokesperson is ‘perplexed’. While India cannot afford to respond in anger it must also not make the mistake of allowing others to meddle in its affairs but, in fact, show to the world that it is perfectly capable of taking care of these pinpricks and teaching its recalcitrant neighbour(s) a hard lesson if need be. To do this, India must, however, shed its misplaced and grossly exaggerated fears of escalation into a two front war if such limited military action was initiated; in fact, the world will welcome it.

    The Indian Jawan is a simple man who is trained to obey orders but his morale should not be undermined by continued inaction and India’s faith in high sounding principles of international behaviour. The constant demand to withdraw the AFSPA from parts of Jammu & Kashmir when the Indian Army is repeatedly attacked by the so-called militants is already causing the Jawan avoidable anguish. He still routinely walks into harm’s way without a moment’s hesitation simply because he has vowed to defend his sacred land. But his unquestioned obedience must never be taken for granted nor should he ever be allowed to feel defenceless against such atrocities.

    It is not as if India lacks the wherewithal to safeguard its borders. Intelligence gathering mechanisms, armed and attack helicopters, Special Operation Forces, specially trained Commandos and above all plenty of electronic air and space based means are available to accurately identify and strike at the enemy in a highly calibrated response with little or no collateral damage. But for such actions to be successful India needs to first show strong resolve and equally importantly initiate without any further loss of time a truly ‘joint’ planning process that includes all arms/agencies of the state. While politicians and diplomats will do their job by informing other countries of India’s concerns and limits of patience, let the military devise ways to ensure a permanent stop to future provocations from across the borders.

    It is also time India considered the use of ‘drones’ or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) fitted with suitable weapons and missiles to punish the enemy; merely possessing them will however not help. There is a chance that such declarations of red lines and open preparations for military retaliation will raise a storm of protest and criticism by India’s neighbours and other countries simply because they are not used to India taking any action but that should not be allowed to dissuade us. By constantly resorting to legal action such as exchange of dossiers of universally known international criminals, India has been sending a wrong message to the world. What India must urgently consider is a declaratory national security policy that includes as a first step the recovery of India’s lost territories to its neighbours or national reunification even if it means waging a long struggle. The absence of such an articulated aim has in fact weakened India’s case. A bold yet calm declaration of red lines is the only way India can put the onus of peace on the other side. The Indian soldier is enjoined to not only defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty but more importantly its honour. We must not be found wanting in this sacred duty by neglecting the soldier’s honour.

    Views expressed are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.