India Vs Terrorism Post-Balakot

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I remember listening to a sabre-rattling statement by a senior political leader of ours in the aftermath of the Pokharan II nuclear tests during 1998, warning Pakistan that they better be behaving now – or else? I could not imagine how anyone with even an elementary knowledge of Indo-Pak equation in conventional military strength could make such an idiotic statement. Do we need nuclear weapons to beat Pakistan? All he achieved was to sabotage even the remotest possibility there was for poor Nawaz Sharif to avoid pushing his impoverished country into a nuclear arms race, by adding fuel to the jingoist clatter already going on there.

It is perfectly understandable that as a country born out of mistrust towards India, and one ruled by a military junta that has to keep stoking the flames of India-hatred to justify its existence and excesses, Pakistan has to perpetually dwell in anti-India rhetoric. What I don’t understand is why should we, who pride ourselves as a strong and civilized nation founded on sound principles and aspiring to be a world leader, stoop so low to indulge in slanging matches with such a miserable neighbour. Let’s get it straight; Pakistan is a failed state surviving on global charity and borrowed time and hardly poses a threat to us militarily, unless you want to be taken in by the so-called nuclear threat (which we will discuss a while later). Therefore, why should we, the government, media or public at large be so much Pakistan-centric, elevating that country to a status it doesn’t deserve? Ignore Pakistan, except when we choose to punish it for its terrorist misdeeds in our territory. That brings me to the Balakot airstrike.

I would say that it was a welcome change. Having heard the hollow rhetoric of ‘Enough is enough’ and ‘We are going to teach Pakistan a lesson’ and what-have-you from our leaders for a long time, this one indeed made one feel better. At least we did something; and the hyperbolic jingoism that it generated is understandable to an extent. Nevertheless, we are belittling ourselves tom-tomming about it so much. It sounds so much like our country of a billion plus people getting over-excited when one of our athletes wins a bronze at the Olympics (mercifully we have begun winning some gold as well now). A small country like Israel has been doing Balakot-like stuff for years as a matter of routine; but they don’t go town about it! Please, let’s act a bit more dignified. On the flipside of the coin is a section of our media and pseudo-intellectuals going out of their way to assert that the Balakot airstrike never took place or it didn’t achieve anything, almost identical to what Pakistan claims. It really beats me to fathom what motivates these ‘intellectual’ scum to play into enemy’s hands and berate their own country in front of the whole world, unless they are traitors to the core!

Does it really matter what damage the airstrike caused to the terrorist camp or how many terrorists were killed? Aren’t they trivial factors? Look at the broader picture: We have delivered an unequivocal message to Pakistan and the world at large that India will no more take things lying in case of terrorist attacks on her territory or people. By striking inside Pakistan territory, we have shown a willingness to escalate tension if needed. Forget about Pakistan’s ruse that the Indian Mirage 2000s never made it to the target. These are the descendants of the same lot who dismissed the photos of mass exodus of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan to India in 1971 as fabrications to malign them. In any case, if there was no strike and the PAF succeeded in chasing away the Indian planes, why did they attempt a retaliatory strike? The fact is that the strike put the fear of God into the Pak establishment. There were clear indications that they feared further strikes by IAF or the Indian Navy when they closed their country’s airspace for all traffic and their vessels were ordered not to venture out of Karachi Harbour. We didn’t close our airspace or restrict our vessels. And we have jokers in this country suspecting the veracity of the airstrike! Let’s not forget that our pilots risked their lives flying into the enemy country to carry out a punitive strike. Do these people imply that those young men and their chief who claimed a successful strike are liars? The Air Chief categorically stated that we hit the given target, but we don’t count the dead. How much more authentic can it be? What our rabid media and their armchair experts need to be sensitive about is that a soldier fighting at the front does it because he believes that his country trusts him to and he, in turn, would naturally expect the country to trust him, not a lot of people to berate his deeds. Nowhere in the world, but in India, we find such cynical elements who bask in painting their own country as a loser.

Having said all that, was Balakot enough? The answer is a firm no. We need to keep hitting them and not with the gap of a fortnight after a terrorist attack as it happened in this instance of Pulwama bombing. If we are slow in our reaction we would miss the boat as far as the global support for our action goes. We have seen it at every instance of a terror attack there is a groundswell of international solidarity with us, major players suggesting that India is absolutely justified in retaliating in whatever manner she chooses; but that’s a very narrow window. Within a couple of days, they mellow down their stance and start calling for restraint by India and Pakistan. Therefore our action should be spontaneous and swift, a standard riposte for every terrorist attack Pakistan mounts. For that to happen we need to streamline a mechanism wherein suitable targets are identified and units to hit each are designated in advance. Airstrikes would be ideal but ground or naval actions could also be incorporated.

Such intense retaliatory strikes are bound to escalate the tension with Pakistan triggering widespread national and international consternation about an impending nuclear holocaust. This is where we need to steel ourselves to call Pakistan’s bluff. If only we composedly gauge whether that country, howsoever imbecile a regime it may be under, can afford to risk annihilation by carrying out a nuclear strike on India, we would realize that nuclear option is no option at all for Pakistan as much as it is for us. It is just what it is, a ploy they found handy all along to browbeat a dithering Indian establishment into inaction against their misdeeds. Therefore, it would not be wishful thinking to imagine we can safely ignore the nuclear threat from Pakistan, unless we do something drastic like overrunning their country.

Retaliatory strikes however could only be part of the broader strategy. We need to seriously look at the possibility of eliminating the terrorist leadership thriving in Pakistan. Let’s not be standing in ceremony with idealistic concerns. State-sponsored assassinations has become an accepted norm in dealing with terrorists. Look at how Israel took out the entire lot of Munich killers or how the US knocked off Osama Bin Laden. It is time our intelligence and espionage agencies earned their pay. They don’t seem to be doing much, going by the way we were caught with our pants down on every occasion, be it Kargil, 26/11 or Pulwama. I cannot visualize that going after Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership ensconced in Pakistan could be such a formidable task. None of them rough it out like Velupalli Prabhakaran did, living in jungle surrounded by diehard bodyguards. These guys live in luxury and should make comparatively easier targets.

We could start with Masood Azhar, whose release at Kandahar still rankles as the most humiliating moment in India’s recent history. If only we had shown the gumption to hang him and call the hijackers’ bluff, indeed risking 186 Indian lives, the world would have sat up and taken notice of us as a nation. It is of course easier said than done. No leader can take a bold decision in a country where grown-up men beat their breasts like nannies in front of the Prime Minister’s residence clamouring to obtain release of their relatives held hostage at all costs. I rake up this point because building up a national resolve to deal with terrorism has become as much a requirement as our military and intelligence preparedness towards that end. What is the guarantee that there won’t be another Kandahar? What are we going to do if it happens? Meekly submit to the terrorists’ diktats once again?

Talking of national resolve, there is a whole gamut of issues we need to urgently address if we wish to put an end to terrorism. Recently I have had occasion to listen to a senior bureaucrat who served in Jammu and Kashmir for many years, whose comments revealed a little-known facet of the Kashmir imbroglio. While India pumps into Kashmir ten times the amount Pakistan spends on POK, hardly any of this money reaches the common man in the Valley. The consequent disillusionment, poverty and unemployment are the ideal manure to breed terrorism. Interestingly the situation is not much different from what is happening in the Northeast. The Northeast Insurgencies are dead; the Indian Army has killed it long ago. Nevertheless, a nexus of politicians, businessmen and fixers ensure that they appear dormant with occasional flare-ups, so that the central funding to the states are not curtailed, which they can merrily gobble up, none of it reaching the needy. They then allure the impoverished and unemployed youth with easy drugs and booze to masquerade as insurgents. What we see as insurgency in the Northeast now is rank rowdyism, which a committed police force can very well handle. In fact, the state of Tripura did prove it. Unfortunately, even the army does not openly admit that there is no insurgency worth fighting there; that would mean losing another field posting and the associated medals and benefits. In Kashmir the situation turns further complex with the influx of jihadists from across the border and the incessant propaganda they foster through social media. It is time we put a mechanism in place to effectively counter this propaganda and wean the Kashmir youth out of its venomous effect.

There is nothing more repulsive than the animosity shown by some wanton elements in some parts of the country towards Kashmiris. We are playing right into the hands of jihadists if we do that, because that’s what exactly they want – alienate the Kashmiris from us. Kashmiris are our people. We have no business to hold a grudge against a community just because some misguided youth among them joined the ranks of the militants. Do not forget that a large number of youth from Kashmir take pride in enlisting in the Indian Army or other services. Attacking Kashmiris is akin to the violence perpetrated by some goons in Delhi on persons from the Northeast some time ago. It sabotages our best efforts to draw people from insurgent-prone regions to the national mainstream. Unless we, as a people can rise above the parochial mindsets of region, religion, caste and whatever else is India’s curse we have no future, let alone beating terrorism. Our redemption might very well rest with compulsory military training for a minimum period for all young men and women of the country before they take up their preferred career. The armed forces seem to be the only organizations that truly reflect the pluralistic ethos of the nation.

There is yet another dimension to cleansing South Asia of the terrorist menace, which we know has its epicentre in Pakistan. That however is not in the domain of the armed forces. We need to think out of the box. India must actively promote the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan wherever and in whatever form they exist through people-to-people interaction. I do not subscribe to the idea of shutting all our doors on Pakistan. Notwithstanding the heavy demand on our security setup, we must keep the channels open so that the man on the street in Pakistan is reminded of our shared values and is weaned off the anti-India venom different military regimes have been injecting into him from his childhood. Bolywood movies are rendering yeoman’s service on this score, their contribution is unsung though. Cricket is another avenue which we could exploit if only we could view things from a broader perspective and let India-Pak matches go on. Our intelligence agencies, diplomatic corps, intelligentsia, media and every other segment needs to play a conducive role in a lateral manoeuvre to help the hapless Pakistani citizenry find their footing. We never know; one day they might just shake off the yoke of military dictatorship and turn a friendly neighbour!

Capt. D P Ramachandran
Capt D P Ramachandran is a war veteran & military history enthusiast who writes about Indian Army’s battles of the past.
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