'As India and Pakistan observe the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, the one lesson that ought to have been learned by Pakistan is how vulnerable its heartland is to a sudden attack. The only alternative to this inherent geographic weakness is to have a policy of peace with India.'
'In an extreme scenario, India can destroy Pakistani strategic targets by just artillery shelling, crossing of the border is not even necessary,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).
India and Pakistan's national security advisors are slated to meet on August 23-24 in New Delhi. According to the agenda set by the two prime ministers, the two NSAs are to discuss terrorism. There has been the usual political slugfest between the ruling party and those in the Opposition.
In the noise and din, a central point that has been lost is that these are basic contacts meant to keep the communication going and are NOT any kind of negotiations. But with the latest twist of Pakistani invitations to Kashmiri separatists, it seems that the talks may well not take place at all!
I am of the firm view that even under the most trying circumstances, communications between the two nuclear-armed countries must continue. At the same time I am opposed to any kind of negotiations/broad-based talks with Pakistan till the time that country does not halt its sponsorship of terror in India.
Going even further, India must stop even cultural and sports exchanges since these have failed to have a desired effect. Cultural ties and people to people contacts have made no difference to widely held Pakistani misperceptions about India.
Those with short memories and supporters of cultural and sporting ties need to be reminded that the boycott of apartheid-practicing South Africa was never questioned. In fact my own studies of the South African conflict have shown that this was one of the reasons for the collapse of the racist regime. Many South African leaders confirmed this to me during my visit there.
NSA level contacts are of a different kind and more akin to the 'hotline' between the United States and erstwhile Soviet Union or the regular secret contacts these countries maintained in Warsaw, Poland, even at the height of Cold War tensions.
The purpose of these talks was that tensions and minor crises should not spiral out of control and lead to escalation to nuclear weapons use. The purpose of the current NSA level talks is similar. If there is one point on which both India and Pakistan agree is that nuclear war must be avoided at all costs.
The current bout of cross-border firing and shelling has the potential to escalate to the international border not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but even Punjab. Here the dice is heavily loaded against Pakistan. Compared to it, Indian territory along the border is much less densely populated and hence the collateral damage is greater in Pakistan.
In addition the area of Pakistani Punjab that is affected by the firings is also the recruitment area for the Pakistani army ranks. Thus the families of soldiers are directly affected. One can clearly see the reason for the Pakistani initiative.
The Pakistani NSA needs to understand that the fundamental reason for the current crisis in relations is directly linked to Pakistan's inability to appreciate the political change that has taken place in India. Narendra Modi came to power with a clear mandate and is no believer in the policy of turning the other cheek.
Instead of adjusting to the new reality of a more assertive India, Pakistan continued in its old ways of cross border pin-pricks and support to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba-led proxy war in Kashmir. Instead of moderating its actions and rhetoric, we have had the spectacle of an ex-ruler like Pervez Musharraf threatening even the use of nuclear weapons. Musharraf is a loose cannon, but cannot be dismissed like Hafiz Sayeed of the LeT.
In the 1980s, when Pakistan was still an undeclared nuclear power, The Washington Post quoted a Pakistani general as saying that though Pakistan is indeed weaker than India, we are the 'mad mullahs' and therefore the onus of 'rational decisions' and restraint is on India. Well, we now have a doctrine of the 'mad sanghi' to counter that.
It seems that the Pakistanis are yet to realise that the 'mad mullah' doctrine of deterring India has crossed the 'use by' date and needs to be abandoned. Pakistan also cleverly exploited the internal political dynamics of India wherein politicians with an eye on the minority vote bank, perceived that being soft on Pakistan paid electoral dividends. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are free from this constraint.
One has to admit that there is some merit in the Pakistani argument that it has very little control over some jihadi elements. This would have been acceptable if the Pakistan government was seen to make an effort to counter the jihadi mindset. But what we see (and I had a firsthand experience of this during my visit to Pakistan almost a decade ago) is that the poisonous propaganda continues unabated.
The Kashmir File programme on Pakistani television strings together decades-old violent footage and presents it as if this happened yesterday. No wonder the common perception in Pakistan is that Muslims are being killed in broad daylight in India. Pakistan's argument that this is its 'sovereign right' holds no water for the repercussions of this madness results in the jihadi mindset.
Finally, Pakistan has to realise that no amount of Chinese help and even its nuclear weapons can offset its geo-strategic weakness. That weakness is that the 'strategic heart' of Pakistan, the thickly populated Punjab province and all its strategic targets are within less than 50 to 70 kilometres from the Indian border.
Its much vaunted nuclear assets at Kahuta are less than 70 odd kms from Balnoi in the Poonch sector of J&K. This is well within extended artillery range. Lack of strategic depth for Pakistan ought to lead to the need for peace with India.
Since India is a status quo power, there is no real threat to Pakistani Punjab if there is no aggression from the other side. It is time India called the Pakistani bluff.
As India and Pakistan observe the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, the one lesson that ought to have been learned by Pakistan is how vulnerable its heartland is to a sudden attack.
The only alternative to this inherent geographic weakness is to have a policy of peace with India. In an extreme scenario, India can destroy Pakistani strategic targets by just artillery shelling, crossing of the border is not even necessary.
The outcome of the forthcoming talks will depend on this basic fact of Pakistani strategic vulnerability.
Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian ancd commentator.