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This article was first published 7 years ago  » News » Former R&AW chief: How we can fix the Pak problem

Former R&AW chief: How we can fix the Pak problem

By Vikram Sood
Last updated on: September 28, 2016 13:17 IST
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'The response to terror is not always reciprocal terror, nor is launching a conventional response the best response.'
'The best response is to make the sponsor pay a price he cannot afford,' says former R&AW chief Vikram Sood.

A soldier at the LoC

IMAGE: A soldier near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/


The Uri terror attacks certainly originated from Pakistan occupied Kashmir or Pakistan and were sponsored by Pakistan. Eighteen brave men, mostly from the Bihar Regiment and Dogra Regiment, were killed. A readout of their names shows that they had come from all over India.

Clearly, this was war on India. This was terror at its ugliest. It also must be admitted that the jihadists had much better intelligence about their target, were well equipped and had some local help.

One has only to read what Pakistani leaders have been saying about India over the years and this does not mean only 'leaders' like Muhamed Saeed or Masood Azhar, but even many of their democrats like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto or eminences like A Q Khan, and then understand their visceral hatred for India.

For this lot, and many more, they were the rightful heirs to the throne in Delhi after the British left and today's Hindu BJP majority is a particular anathema. This attitude pervades the thinking in their army, civil service and the political circles although some may be too suave to say so.

This is what we are up against when we deal with Pakistan.

Shop in Kashmir

IMAGE: A shop during relaxation of curfew in Srinagar. Photograph: PTI Photo


There are many in India who persist with their belief that political circles in Pakistan have a different point of view on India in comparison to the army's stance on India.

When it relates to India, the Pakistan army, ruling politicians from the Punjab, the civil service and civil society have the same view.

They may have differences when it comes to handling Balochistan, Sindh, the MQM, the economy, education policies, freedom of the media, but not about India and Pakistan's claim on Kashmir.

It is naive for us to hope that if we are sufficiently nice to Pakistani politicians, make concessions, this could drive a wedge between the politicians and the army and lead to a more conciliatory approach by Pakistani politicians and civil society.

Both are under the yoke of the Pakistan army and this is the State within the State that has to be tackled.

An olive branch in response to each depredation is viewed as a sign of weakness, not statesmanship as some of us would like to believe.

One of the most incongruous hopes and contradictory approaches has been the recommendation that we treat the Hurriyat as being representative of the people of the Kashmir valley and therefore authorised to decide for the entire state.

We also pay tax payers' money for their security, upkeep and medical benefits amounting to crores while they retain their secessionist stance. This is absurd logic.

This bunch represents no one except themselves, cannot win an election and are the mouth-pieces of Pakistan. It is only the elected representatives in the state assembly who represent the people.

Besides, we have tried this approach for the last 70 years, but it has not worked. It is time we tried a different approach.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

IMAGE: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Photograph: Umar Ganie


Separate Kashmir from Pak relations

The domestic issue of Kashmir must be separated from our relations with Pakistan and both must be tackled separately.

Pakistan's avowed policy is the dismemberment of India, and Kashmir is the route. Kashmir is not the end. They would follow their war of attrition, their thousand-year war, with a thousand cuts, in the hope that India will succumb one day.

Kashmir is in this state today, not just because of Pakistan, but also because of the politics of our dynastic politicians who have ruled the state. Every periodic crisis means the politicians turn to the security forces to help bail them out.

In the process, it is the army which gets the blame whereas the real fault lies with the political leaders who have never made good use of the interregnums to sort out issues among themselves.

When Pakistan launches its terror attacks, it has a fair idea how we and the world will react and it knows that it can prepare for the next attack with impunity.

The more reasonable nuclear powers consider nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Pakistan, being an irresponsible State, openly considers its nuclear weapons as a strike weapon against enemy India and uses its cover to continue its jihadi warfare against India.

Despite the best arrangements, acts of terror will take place. But when a terror strikes in the same region with similar tactics, routes and targets, this is not just a security breach, but a systemic failure.

Obviously, where the security systems and the intelligence systems are not adequate or imperfectly coordinated, the chances of terror are higher.

When an attack takes place, the first priority is to neutralise the attack, save lives, move the injured to hospitals, and not to look for causes. High decibel debates and fists punched in air, are just that. So much air.

What India needs is sustained action taken at a time of our choosing, all things considered and in cold calculated rage.

Srinagar on Eid-ul-Zuha this year

IMAGE: Srinagar on Eid-ul-Zuha this year. Photograph: Umar Ganie


A terrorist is a terrorist

We must get our narrative right and this is highly important because the battle is psychological and one of perceptions.

Therefore, a terrorist is a terrorist; he is not a misguided youth, a freedom fighter, nor a gunman, non-State actor, enemy of humanity, rogue elements.

Troubles in Kashmir are not intifada because the Indian Army is not an occupation force. Let us also not delude ourselves.

There is no such thing as rogue elements in the ISI or in the Pakistan army. These are ploys designed to fool the gullible or make it acceptable to those wet behind their ears or introduce deniability, helplessness and confusion.

Reactions in New Delhi after the Uri attack were also true to form. One section went hyperbolic in its condemnation, with politicians giving the usual fire and brimstone sound-bytes.

Discussions on national channels were on similar lines while some political parties and even television channels seemed to enjoy the seeming discomfiture of the government.

Equally bizarre were those open discussions on special operation capabilities and comparative strengths in intelligence capabilities by persons not well qualified to comment.

The US is far too involved with its own elections and the Manhattan bombings to say anything more than what it has. The suspect arrested in the Manhattan bombing, Ahmed Raham Khan, has the inevitable Pakistan connection having spent a year there. Yet, the US will not do anything more if we remember that it did nothing to Pakistan even when it was steadfastly duplicitous with the US.

The John Kerry-Nawaz Sharif joint statement in New York was sufficiently anodyne and Pakistan did not get a public rap on the knuckles. True, it has condemned Pakistan for this act of terror, has downgraded its relationship with Pakistan for its own reasons and in judgement of its interests, not because of us.

It will still expect India and Pakistan to amicably resolve this issue.

Sushma Swaraj at United Nations

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addresses the United Nation General Assembly in New York, September 26, 2016. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/India Abroad


Defend ourselves

No other country will do more for us than we ourselves do to defend our interests. The West will remain appropriately condemnatory in its commentary. The Chinese have issued some neutral statement and it has only been Putin's Russia which had the courage to stand by its friend, despite our recent dalliance.

All major powers have condemned this attack in Uri. Even the OIC has said so too, but their stance on Kashmir has not changed. That is as far it will go; for us, therefore, this episodic condemnation may be satisfying but the actual battle has to be fought by us.

Nevertheless, it seems to be our moment internationally with some excellent work done by our diplomats. We should capitalise on this international sympathy. This would be done, not by being the good boy all over again, but by pushing forward some hard realism.

Respond at right time

The response to terror is not always reciprocal terror, nor is launching a conventional response the best response. The best response is to make the sponsor pay a price he cannot afford.

So far, in our national reactions we are like a bamboo forest that bends with the wind, but when enraged we burn fiercely. The embers, however, cool fast enough.

Instead, we need cold rage and not looking over our shoulders all the time.

In our actions all these years, we kept wanting to look good and seek international approbation instead of pursuing our national interest more single mindedly.

Finally, the response has to be long term strangulation of the disease, not dramatic gestures.

The Uri Army camp

IMAGE: The Uri army camp, September 20, 2016. Photograph: PTI


This requires the following attributes. A long term policy that is sustained by successive governments. Only then can we have a strategy to deal with this.

From this follow, tactics and to deploy these tactics we need abilities -- of intelligence, weaponry and a mobile effective special operation and unacknowledged covert capability.

To make these effective we need the political will to sustain a policy despite setbacks and not get swayed by domestic political gamesmanship. We need greater media responsibility that looks beyond TRPs.

Until we develop these doctrines, capabilities and political will, we would continue to see more and more terror attacks in India.

It is of doubtful utility if we simply keep creating new structures by cannibalising existing one instead of strengthening the ones that exist.

We may be the world's largest importer of defence equipment, yet it seems to be perennially short of essential equipment of different kinds.

Obviously, there is a huge disconnect in the system and unless this is corrected we will remain ill equipped to handle threats which cannot be tackled by sentiment alone.

There are some options available to us. Unless we want to continue to pussy-foot and expect the world to do something for us and that something is not we have the courage to do ourselves.

Let us remember that the US policy will remain ambivalent on Pakistan-India relations in keeping with its age-old policy of not allowing any regional power to become strong enough to challenge US interests in the region.

There is a dichotomy here, but the US policy is full of such regional contradictions. So India should be strong enough to challenge China and strong enough to overwhelm Pakistan.

The Russians have a renewed interest in South Asia after their successes in West Asia and the failure of US policies. They seem to have retreated from their earlier policy of getting too close to Pakistan at least for the time being. Maybe it is a signal to us.

One can visualise a renewed great power interest in our immediate neighbourhood. The Russians with their successes in West Asia would like to consolidate its presence in Afghanistan, Iran and India. The Chinese look at the entire region as their preserve and the US is the status quo power.

Clash of interest is inevitable, as in the South China Sea. India must therefore move quickly to safeguard its interests.

Cross border raids and infiltration by Pakistani terrorists have the Pakistan army's backing and it stands to reason that our response should be relentless trans-border bombardment all the way from Poonch-Rajouri to Saltoro. This would be the immediate response to terror from across.

The danger of army action across the international border is that if it is too successful, it could trigger a nuclear war. And action limited to PoK presents military difficulties because of the terrain, and also may not be sufficient to compel the Pakistanis to shut down their jihad factories.

Air strikes are a tempting option. However, India lacks the intelligence and surveillance capabilities that will ensure the targets struck are actually terrorist camps.

Nevertheless, Pakistan believes that India is now on the path towards stepping up covert activities in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan and it may be useful to keep deepening the Pakistani neuroses here as a bargaining chip to get it to shut down its jihadi shops.

Pakistan remains China's catspaw against India and is fast becoming China's vital geo-strategic thrust into the Arabian Sea and West Asia. We are in reality in the midst of a two-front undeclared war.

Meanwhile, China is concerned about its unimpeded access to Gilgit-Baltistan through which the Karakoram Highway passes. Without access to this region, China's entire strategy for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor falls down. Pakistan would also suffer if all that CPEC promises do not materialise.

Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif in Lahore

IMAGE: Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, December 25, 2015.


There are other long term options if we accept that the problem is going to be with us for a long time. In all its pronouncements from the time of independence, Pakistan's leaders have treated India as a Permanent Enemy.

It exhibits its policy through constant jihadi activity. Since Pakistan considers us as its enemy, we should accept this by declaring Pakistan as an Enemy State.

Parliament should pass a resolution declaring Pakistan as a State sponsor of terrorism. No one else will do this unless we do this. This would entail sanctions and maybe our traders will suffer more. This is a price we will have to pay.

That being so, we are entitled to examine each and every treaty that we have signed with Pakistan. This means we revisit some, abrogate others. This would include the Indus Waters Treaty, Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan and others relating to trade.

Pakistan has carried out jihad against India under a nuclear umbrella. And has openly declared its four-part low threshold for use of nuclear weapons against India. It does not believe in a 'No First Use' policy that we hold dear to our hearts.

This needs a rethink and ideally Pakistan should be made to adopt a similar policy. We would therefore need to engage the international community as a responsible power trying to make a dangerous juvenile delinquent see reason.

We need to bring China into this as Pakistan's abbettor as the supplier of nuclear technology and material to that country.

We may not succeed in completely isolating Pakistan internationally, but on our part we should reduce all interactions with that country, including any regional multilateral events that are hosted by Pakistan. The urge to play the astute diplomat should be resisted for some time.

Strategically, we should pull out all stops and get the Chahbahar Project in Iran into high gear. Japan has shown interest in this and we should consult the Iranians, Afghans and Central Asians to get the Japanese on board.

We should work more closely with Myanmar in the development of our north east and their northwest and north. This would lead to access to South East Asia.

On the Baloch issue, there could be greater coordination with Afghanistan and Iran although we have to be careful about Iranian sensitivities.

Indo-US Yudha Abhyas

IMAGE: A US soldier teaches his Indian counterpart how to fire an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Photograph: Staff Sergeant Samuel Northrup/US Army photo.


Chinese vulnerabilities

We should have a close look at Chinese vulnerabilities too. India's China policy would need a rethink especially on issues of trade where China would be vulnerable.

Its vulnerabilities relate to its banking system, large inventories, and rising labour costs leading to actions by India that say that a free ride in the Indian market is over.

We need to intensively examine the embedded cyber technology that China has been using in key manufactured products exported to India in the power and telecommunications sectors. We have to get aggressive and resilient here.

Finally, there is the traditional covert option. Since it is covert, it is totally deniable and not open for discussions.

Vikram Sood, former chief, Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, is currently Adviser, Observer Research Foundation, where this article first appeared.

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