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Be warned Pakistan, you are dealing with a new reality now

October 10, 2016 15:13 IST

'Since India has to live next to Pakistan, it can't remain under permanent blackmail.'
'A predictable consequence of these fundamental shifts is the fraying of the principle of strategic restraint.'
'It hasn't been junked. But the threshold has been shifted to provide India much greater room for retaliatory action,' says Shekhar Gupta.

Director General Military Operations Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh arrives to brief the all-party meeting, September 29, 2016. Photograph: PTI Photo

Smarting under the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks, the George W Bush administration had its battering ram, Deputy Secretary of Defence Richard Armitage, to summon the chief of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, asking him to dump the Taliban and become a US ally, or else.

The Pakistani general started arguing that there was a history of his country's and the agency's role in Afghanistan and how they had vital interests there. 'History,' Armitage is said to have declared, 'begins here and now.'

It doesn't happen often, but events, leaders, ideologues can sometimes arrive at the same conclusion and when they believe they have the power to do so, make the same assertion.

That's what Narendra Modi has done with his declared strikes along the Line of Control in Kashmir. What exactly happened in the night intervening September 28 and 29, how deep did Indian commandos go, how much success they achieved in terms of death and destruction, or, even, if you allow the Pakistanis a question, did they even go 'in' or just 'fired small arms' from the Indian side killing two soldiers, are all minor, tactical issues.

The substantive, strategic issue is: India made the public statement it did. This redefines the India-Pakistan relationship hereon. It also firmly signals the end of continuity from the Indian side.

This is Modi saying: History begins now.

Since trouble returned to the Kashmir valley in 1989, and terror made its first appearance in mainland India with the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993, certain postulates have evolved over time to define India's responses.

Some, such as India's absolutely neurotic abhorrence of any Pakistani bid to 'internationalise' the 'bilateral' Kashmir problem were older, rooted in the Simla Agreement of 1972.

Linked to this was the second principle, that the Simla Agreement, by renaming the old Cease Fire Line as Line of Control, conferred on it the status of a de facto border, affirming the division of Kashmir along it, which the two countries were to formalise at a more opportune time. Both sides respected it until 1989.

In fact, even India's move to the Siachen Glacier in the spring of 1984 was justified as just establishing presence over a territory not demarcated by the LoC, but left to the interpretation of the notional line from the so-called Point NJ9842 on the LoC, 'running northwards along the glaciers.'

Pakistan contested this and launched many courageous assaults to dislodge India, but failed at great cost to itself.

That the LoC is the de facto border was also the theme central to India's response during the Kargil conflict. It resulted in the entire world endorsing the sanctity of the LoC and was seen as a strategic gain for India.

That's why on the many occasions Indian forces crossed the LoC either for sectoral tactical reasons, for clearing a troublesome Pakistani foothold or even retribution, it was concealed in plausible deniability.

A retiring chief, General Bikram Singh, did say in answer to a question that the army had 'avenged' the beheading of two of its own soldiers on the LoC in January 2013, but gave no details.

Nothing was said even when, not long after Kargil, a formation of four Mirage-2000s carried out precision (laser-guided) bombing to clear a thorny Pakistani foothold. The Mirages had rehearsed that mission deep inside the Shivalik ranges to keep secrecy.

Importantly, the Pakistanis also kept quiet about these, probably to be able to choose their own time and place for retaliation. That history has ended now.

Rather than insist that Pakistan respect the sanctity of the LoC, India itself is now questioning it.

Rather than complain that Pakistan is internationalising Kashmir, India is now game for doing so, packaging the challenge as terrorism backed by nuclear blackmail.

The National Democratic Alliance government may have fielded a junior minister to say this, but Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore saying all of Kashmir is our territory so how can going any place within Kashmir be a violation of any borders is significant.

Particularly so when read with the prime minister invoking PoK, Gilgit and Baltistan. Until now there was reasonable consensus that a final solution of Kashmir will be built around the acceptance of the LoC as the border.

That was the spirit of the Simla Agreement and later of talks between Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf as was the formulation discussed between Musharraf and Manmohan Singh that Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has written about.

The 2001-03 Operation Parakram, called coercive diplomacy, was an extension of this policy.

This is over. If Pakistan used the uprising of 1989 to start dumping the Simla Agreement, India has now done so.

In the Narendra Modi world view, Pakistan was taking what was theirs under the Simla Agreement and keeping the option of fighting for more.

In his political, strategic and tactical moves, he has knocked that comfortable Pakistani presumption.

Rather than demand that Pakistan respect the spirit of the Simla Agreement, Modi is turning the old argument on its head.

If Pakistan, four decades after Simla, can call Kashmir the unfinished business of Partition, why can't India call it the unfinished business of Simla? Sounds brutal?

That is the mind of the first genuine government of the right in India. It doesn't want to protect the status quo, however favourable. It sees national benefit in disrupting it.

A whole new policy is being built around this new central pillar.

The Modi government wants to redefine the idea of 'no escalation beyond' the nuclear threshold. It believes the nukes have become a one-sided deterrent or a kind of umbrella under which Pakistan can carry out low-level activity to bleed India.

The Pakistanis have to appreciate the risks of this brinkmanship and loose talk and so should the rest of the world.

Since India has to live next to Pakistan, it can't remain under permanent blackmail.

A predictable consequence of these fundamental shifts is the fraying of the principle of strategic restraint. It hasn't been junked. But the threshold has been shifted to provide India much greater room for retaliatory action.

In times when the 'point of view', or simply PoV, is confused with considered 'opinion', and any 10-second sound byte or even 140 characters of a tweet are seen as analysis and opinion packaged into one, it is challenging to write anything complicated or layered. Or seek patience for nuance.

Within minutes of the news of the Uri strike breaking early on September 18 morning, I had said the Pakistanis are making a mistake if they think India will let this also pass, as we had now moved on from old strategic restraint.

I continued, however, to plead for strategic restraint as it had benefited India, and many saw a contradiction here. It is nearly impossible in these short-attention-span times to explain the difference between analysis of objective ground reality and prescriptive opinion and how these can be contrary. I was right in reading the former.

All analysis must be based on the new objective reality. There will be another occasion to argue whether it is prudent or reckless, right or wrong.

First, we must acknowledge that this is a new Indian government of the genuine right which, having given the old conciliatory approach a reasonable run, has moved away from the sanctity of the LoC, strategic restraint, coercive diplomacy, and has shifted the old nuclear threshold.

There is no point mourning and missing what is now lost, however sadly.

This is important for Indian analysts and critical for Pakistani policymakers. They are dealing with a new history as it takes shape now.

IMAGE: The Indian Army's Director General Military Operations Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh arrives to brief the all-party meeting about the surgical strikes against terrorist launch pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, September 29, 2016. Photograph: PTI Photo

Shekhar Gupta
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