The Nagrota terrorist attack was not a surprise and more terror attacks sponsored by Pakistan will not be surprises either. Forty years ago Pakistani dictator Zia ul Haq conceived the plan of slow retribution against India in response to the disgrace the Pakistan army suffered in 1971. No military-guided civilian government of Pakistan is ever going to reverse that tide.
The friendly terror groups are well entrenched at Muridke and Bahawalpur as partners of the Pakistan army, seeking opportunities to up the ante each time a situation can be grabbed in Jammu & Kashmir or elsewhere in India. The aim is J&K’s severance through the ongoing ‘hybrid war’ already 27 years old, which astutely combines low intensity conflict involving LoC actions, terror strikes in the conflict zone and well beyond, sponsored street turbulence, financial turmoil through counterfeit currency infusion, psychological operations against the populace and a diplomatic campaign of denial in an attempt to paint India as villain of the piece.
The Indian counter-strategy has been afflicted by a primary deficit, the failure to perceive that this is a slow and long war in different domains. These domains demand sub-strategies of their own and a degree of pro-activity to prevent only being responsive.
An unfortunate notion has formed that the surgical strikes were the last and ultimate solution to the entire issue of cross border terror. This is the reason why the public gets dismayed and disheartened each time there is loss of Indian lives. These lives are costly and dear to us but the adversary is professional and cares little. It is the information domain which remains the most deficit-prone.
It is there that we have failed to communicate to Pakistan the futility of its unwinnable campaign and to prepare our own public for the long haul. Nagrota is not the first and not the last terror strike. India has to realise that it is in a state of virtual war and in such a war we will be hurt almost continuously.
The LoC is alive with exchanges of fire and the border population is getting hurt too. We will have to bear this and respond in kind, steeling ourselves in resolve and ameliorating the sufferings of people as best as we can. We have done very little in this domain, misled by the ceasefire which for all practical purposes is buried.
The government is seeking to be pro-active in other domains. The Balochistan factor will need to be taken further; it has caused enough concern in Pakistan and even China’s pet CPEC project will remain threatened by the quid pro quo. There need be no backing down from this. The diplomatic offensive must also continue without reprieve and in every capital city and institution of the world. The contribution of smaller nations in opinion building must not be underestimated.
The Nagrota attack is more than just a farewell message from Gen Raheel Sharif; it is to tie his successor Gen Bajwa in a bind, to continue exactly the same policy of hybrid warfare against India. The new army chief, an old PoK hand, is expected to either escalate the already high temperature or temporarily call a halt to review his strategy.
Either way wholesale change cannot be expected from a well-entrenched strategy conceived 40 years ago. To pull back from the escalatory path Pakistan is also attempting to exploit the Heart of Asia Conference to recommence talks and dilute India’s diplomatic campaign to isolate and shame it. India needs to be clear that there cannot be a meandering policy of talks and terror with Pakistan.
As a guideline, if Pakistan wishes to engage diplomatically then at least a six month hiatus with a reprieve from terror related activity has to be displayed as certification of seriousness of intent. India may then consider diplomatic engagement.
The question being freely asked is what India achieved from the surgical strikes and how will we handle future challenges that the deep state will inevitably throw at us. Without any rhetoric there is enough scope in the LoC and IB zone to keep the kinetics going and that includes the trans LoC zone; the LoC remains just a line.
The army need not be cautious as it is receiving full backing from the government. Escalation is no longer a major factor for restraint. All army, police and BSF installations and garrisons all over J&K and Punjab need to be placed on a war footing, nothing less.
Infiltration is a phenomenon which will never be reduced to zero, but to prevent penetration and ingress into garrisons an offensive approach will need to be adopted. If finances have to be invested in better infrastructure and surveillance equipment let it be done now, because the threat from Pakistan may temporarily dilute only to escalate again later. Admittedly we erred in lowering our readiness in the depth areas after the scaling down of the so called ‘fidayeen’ attacks after 2006.
There is no solution to Pakistan’s aggressive intent and strategy except to hurt it more than we get hurt. Days of gentlemanly soldiering are perhaps over. Hybrid war is a dirty game and the more we muddy our hands the more we will secure ourselves.
By Syed Ata Hasnain,
The writer, a retired Lieutenant General from the Indian Army
Courtesy: Times of India