By Vinay Kaura
On October 20, the Indian army claimed to have destroyed terror launch pads located inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in response to the death of two Indian soldiers and one civilian following a ceasefire violation by Pakistani troops in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district. A week before, two Indian army soldiers were also killed in incidents of firing from Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) in Baramulla and Rajouri.
India carried out artillery strikes to destroy the terror camps.India had last hit on terror launch pads active in Pakistan’s Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in February this year after the suicide bombing in Pulwama killed 40 personnel of the CRPF. In 2016, the Indian Army had sent in special forces to destroy launch pads across the LoC. The latest strike by India is not comparable to the surgical strikesor the airstrikesas it was a step lower in the escalation matrix.However, the strikes will not deter Pakistan from further provocations as there has been no fundamental change in Pakistan’s strategic thinking about the effectiveness of cross-border terrorism against India.
There is no doubt that India’s airstrikes in February have led to a lower threshold for military engagement between the two adversaries. But there is a danger which cannot be overlooked: In order to show resolve, India will continue to retaliate in some measure every time there is a provocation or terrorist attack on Indian soil. Since Pakistan has an extremist and revisionist strategic mindset – something that should not be a trait of a nuclear country – it has little incentive to grasp the implications of India lowering the threshold.
One of the reasons of Pakistan’s reluctance to fundamentally alter its behaviour is the perception in Rawalpindi that the 27 February counter-strikes by Pakistani air force in response to India’s Balakot strike has re-established nuclear deterrence in South Asia. Many in Pakistan’s strategic circle believe that by responding aggressively, Pakistan military not only demonstrated its resolve to climb the escalation ladder but also shattered the myth of India’s technological and conventional military superiority since India chose not to cross either the LoC or the international border after February 27.
New Delhi revoked the autonomous status of India’s only Muslim-majority state by splitting it into two by separating its Ladakh region. Despite usual protests from Pakistan, which controls one-third part of the disputed state, the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into Indian union seems irreversible. Those who have believed that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would help undermine the raison d’être of terrorist groups completely misunderstand Pakistan’s strategic thinking. Grievances over Kashmir may have contributed to the rise of extremism in the Valley, but it would be a mistake to presume that the resolution of the dispute (for Rawalpindi, this means forcible absorption of Indian-administered Kashmir) would rob Pakistani sympathisers including the terrorists of their main rallying point. In any case, it will not lead to terrorist groups giving up their fight against India.
Longstanding frustration with previous government’s inability to punish Pakistan for supporting Islamist radicals has meant that the Narendra Modi Government will keep on enjoying strong domestic support for its actions in Kashmir. However, nobody can predict what would be the medium-term and long-term consequences because the conflict in Kashmir is no longer over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir which had acceded to India at the time of independence in 1947. The conflict has multiple and overlapping dynamics.
The street reaction in the Kashmir Valley is yet to be known. It is anyway difficult to gauge how the people in the Valley will respond because of the ambiguity of what they really want. For obvious reasons, India can accept neither plebiscite nor independence. If the demand for “azadi” has worked more as a medium for expressing anti-India grievances than a genuine agenda, then it is time for Kashmiris to frame a new demand and coin a new slogan. But since the socio-psychological behaviour of Kashmiri society is undergoing unpredictable transformation since August 5, it is not easy to prevent the centrifugal tendencies among the youth gripped with a sense of helplessness.
Pakistan has intensified its diplomatic offensive against India, especially in the Western countries. After India’s latest counter terrorism action in the PoK, Pakistan again performed the drama of taking foreign envoys from various countries on a ‘tour’ of the affected areas, and of showing that India’s strikes against terror launch pads were nothing but a sham.The military-backed Prime Minister, Imran Khan, observed ‘Kashmir Day’ on October 18, ostensibly to express solidarity with the Kashmiri people. This is part of Pakistan’s strategy to disrupt India’s efforts to ‘normalise’ Kashmir’s full-fledged integration in India. Pakistan’s efforts to drum up international support against India and the terror designs by its proxies will continue to be aimed at inflicting continuous damage on the foundations of India’s military, political and diplomatic prestige.
Indian policymakers will continue to face hard choices over the nature and scope of its counter-terror operations inside Pakistani territory’s adaptable terrorist groups exploit their linkages with Pakistani state institutions. We may deem military strikes a sub-optimal but necessary option when terrorist threats are tough and diplomatic solutions are not viable. However, surgical elimination of terrorists without the political defeat of the ideology and the state that sustain them will continue to provide favourable conditions for anti-India terrorism. Fighting Pakistan’s hegemonic designs and its occupation of Kashmir requires strengthening India’s geopolitical clout as well as the military preparedness.
Given the nuclear dynamics in South Asia, the interest of outside powers in encouraging talks between India and Pakistan is understandable. But it has been highly problematic in the sense that it incentivizes predatory behaviour by Pakistan.The international community needs to be made aware that a terrorist attack in India is not an India-Pakistan crisis.
Despite failing to convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, that it is taking sufficient steps, Pakistan has been given breathing space till February next year. However, the current debate about putting Pakistan in the ‘blacklist’ of FATF overlooks one underlying reality: Pakistan is already on the ‘grey list’ because of pursuing the policy of distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists in the first place. Any external intervention that does not factor into pushing Pakistan to disarm its terrorist proxies is a sheer waste of time and energy.
The author is an assistant professor of International Affairs and Security Studies and Coordinator, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice.