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Will military action teach Pakistan a lesson?

By Vivek Gumaste
September 29, 2016 15:27 IST
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Uri attackk

'For India, the phase of pure restraint has passed.'
'Restraint has failed to reform Pakistan or rein in terrorism,' says Vivek Gumaste.

The ghastly and audacious terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri that martyred 18 brave jawans is another blunt and disturbing reminder of an immutable reality that we have yet to comprehend in its entirety even after 70 years and after countless terrorist attacks.

Pakistan's penchant for malevolence will never change; it reigns as the monarch of terrorism. For Pakistan, terrorism is a celebrated and inalienable instrument of State policy that affords it deniability even as it unleashes mayhem and bloodshed within our border.

As devastating and shocking that this attack is, it must compel us to look past the transient, predictable banalities -- the immediate political rhetoric, the indignant high decibel moral outrage and the effulgent eulogies to take serious stock of the situation in order to formulate a long overdue and fitting response to this ongoing scourge.

What is it that keeps us entrapped within a cocoon of overwhelming catatonia despite this continued vicious assault on our sovereignty?

What lies at the crux of this never ending paralytic quandary?

And is the fear of precipitating a nuclear war valid and reason enough to keep us shackled to inaction forever?

At the heart of this conundrum is a lack of firm political resolve that stems from a flawed psyche; a state of mental dichotomy that fluctuates capriciously between idealistic morality at one end and impotent rage at the other, admixed with a significant dollop of pusillanimity and what-ifs which culminates in a state of diffident indecisiveness conveniently termed as strategic restraint.

Strategic restraint has a place in conflict resolution, but only to a degree. It is not an end in itself; nor an eternal policy bereft of guiding stipulations.

It must be time bound and result oriented. Without these caveats and practiced mindlessly, strategic restraint degenerates into a moral profanity: A camouflage for plain cowardice even as it offers up innocent victims as sacrificial lambs.

This has to change.

Reasonable restraint followed by decisive military action is a more morally robust and practically tenable option. For India, the phase of pure restraint has passed: Restraint has failed to reform Pakistan or rein in terrorism.

India needs to move into the second phase to retain its credibility. Additionally, it is morally incumbent on India to ensure the safety of its citizens by effectively countering terrorism.

Restraint without teeth becomes a hollow attribute sans morality sans purpose.

Next, is the fear of precipitating a nuclear war a valid reason for inaction? The answer is no.

First, the bogey of a nuclear war is a bogey and nothing more despite raucous threats emanating from Pakistan. In the aftermath of the Uri attack, Pakistan's Defence Minister Khawaja M Asif warned: 'If Pakistan's security is threatened, we will not hesitate in using tactical (nuclear) weapons.'

This reckless, irresponsible and empty posturing discounts the fact that India too is a nuclear power and that the consequence of a nuclear battle cuts both ways.

This is a reality that India must become aware of to allay its exaggerated concerns of unilaterally triggering a nuclear war.

Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and a former chairman of the national security advisory board, clearly laid out the cost to Pakistan of indulging in nuclear waywardness. In a policy speech in 2013, he cautioned Pakistan (The Times of India, April 30, 2013):

'India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.'

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, an adjunct fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, further drives home this point in no uncertain terms (Regional Insight, June 30):

'For Pakistan, the destruction of even a smaller number of carefully selected targets could mean that Pakistan would cease to exist as a State.'

Former chief of the naval staff Admiral Arun Prakash too downplays the threat of a nuclear war ('Look before you escalate,' The Indian Express, September 26): 'We must reject this thesis, knowing full well that every Pakistani general loves his life and would hate being vaporised in an Indian second strike.'

So, for all intents and purposes and as long as Pakistan maintains a semblance of civility, talk of a nuclear war is an academic exercise and not a ground reality.

If, however, control of Pakistan's nuclear armory falls into jihadist hands, then all bets are off.

More importantly, India needs to address another pressing question that begs for an answer in the light of the Uri attack. A terrorist attack executed with diabolical finesse and with such a deadly outcome in close proximity to an army headquarters is worrisome.

Is our vulnerability the direct result of military (I use the term broadly to encompass all security establishments) inadequacy -- lacunae in our military intelligence, our shoddy preparedness and our limited capabilities both immediate and long term as well as internal and external?

While the 1962 defeat at the hands of China jolted us into awareness and sent us scurrying to enhance our military capabilities, the 1971 victory on the other hand seems to have lulled us back into a state of dangerous complacency.

Let me clarify. A cold, objective appraisal of every major incident post 1971 warranting military intervention has resulted in an outcome that is less than satisfactory.

The Indian Army's foray into Sri Lanka as a peace keeping force ended disastrously. Kargil was the mother of all intelligence failures despite the valiant rear-guard action by our brave jawans who salvaged a discomfiting situation; and the display of pathetic inertia when IC-814 stood idling on the ground at Amritsar for 40 minutes demonstrated a lack of urgency that is hard to justify.

The less said about 26/11 the better; the delay and incoordination were embarrassing. Pathankot and Uri reiterate the same narrative that put a big question mark on our military capabilities.

Arun Prakash concurs (The Indian Express, September 26): 'However, it must also be borne in mind that the Indian system -- in its present form -- is not geared to deliver 'bolt from the blue' retribution. Non-availability of up-to-date intelligence and accurate targeting data are just two of the many impediments.'

Nevertheless, he concludes that only a 'military Brahmastra will bring this rogue nation to heel' and proceeds to outline five corrective measures that India must implement post haste.

Topping the list is a security doctrine and standard operating procedure in the event of a hijacking, kidnapping or terrorist attack to stave off unnecessary delays and to mount a prompt response.

Other issues include the replenishment of depleted arsenals, designation of a chief of defence staff, and better coordination between the various security establishments

In conclusion, there can be no buts or ifs. A considered, calculated and comprehensive response that includes military rebuttal as a key component is imperative and must be carried out at a time of our choosing but within a reasonable time frame.

Indefinite waffling or so-called strategic restraint is no longer acceptable. The danger of a nuclear war is over-rated and should not be a limiting factor.

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