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Why containment of Pakistan is better than war

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
September 21, 2016 21:21 IST
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The Uri camp

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

'Terrorism is merely a symptom of a deeper disease in Pakistan's body politic,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

The Uri base attack by suicide attackers on September 18 ought not to have come as a surprise to us or the world. A few days before this attack, a similar attempt on the Poonch garrison was foiled by our troops.

That said, no country can afford to continue to turn the other cheek when repeatedly slapped, Gandhian philosophy notwithstanding. For that is to undermine national morale and further encourage terror attacks.

Having been on the ground in Uri several times, one has to appreciate the basic fact that preventing suicide attacks every time on a base close to border is a statistical impossibility. Even a super-efficient State like Israel has been unable to do so.

When the Japanese launched Kamikaze attacks on American ships towards the end of World War II, the Americans had no real answer to it.

The only counter to a suicide attack is to intercept the attackers before they reach the target.

In India, the problem is further compounded by the media and judiciary who label collateral damage as human rights violations. We want to apply provisions of the Indian Penal Code to a proxy war situation where the rules of war prevail.

We have failed to appreciate that the soldier is simultaneously facing an insurgency as well as a proxy war.

The hypocritical West that heavily influences our thinking has double standards on this issue. 'Ours' is collateral damage, yours are human rights violations has been the Western mantra.

In this age of information, these shenanigans cannot but affect the soldier who faces automatic bullets from AK-47 rifles.

While we deal with the aftermath of the Uri attack appropriately, we ought to keep in mind the larger picture.

Writing a preface for my book on Kashmir (Let the Jhelum Smile Again, May 1997), the late Lieutenant General Eric Vas prophetically wrote:

'Many political observers have come to realise that the mini Cold War that has prevailed between India and Pakistan will end just as the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West ended: with the sudden internal collapse of the irrational militant theocratic elements ruling Pakistan.'

'No one should doubt that when true democracy returns to Pakistan, the people will realise that it is meaningless to continue fighting a proxy war with India.'

'Then perhaps with soft borders with safeguarded procedures for free movement, commerce and cultural exchanges across the Line of Actual Control may evolve without either side losing honour or their respective sovereignties; these ideas have been mooted and find a response on both sides.'

'Till that happens, we must keep our guard, keep cool, rational, provide good government and maintain a dialogue with Pakistan.'

Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, an erudite Pakistani diplomat wrote in the Dawn newspaper on September 2 that Pakistan eschews longer-term approaches largely because it is an elitist and class-based security State. We have the paradox of an unjust status quo-based ruling elite pretending to seek a just solution to the Kashmir dispute.

It is the feudal and theocratic nature of the Pakistani State dominated by the army that is the real problem.

Terrorism is merely a symptom of a deeper disease in Pakistan's body politic. The best long-term strategy to wait out this transformation in Pakistan is the strategy of 'containment' on the lines of what the US employed against the Soviet Union.

American diplomat and historian George F Kennan defined it as 'a policy of creating strategic alliances in order to check the expansion of a hostile power or ideology or to force it to negotiate peacefully; containment of Communist expansion was a central principle of United States' foreign policy from 1947 to the 1975.'

This will ipso facto take care of the nuclear dimension of the subcontinent.

India has been premature in opting for détente with Pakistan. The first step before we think of détente is the acceptance of 'peaceful co-existence' by both sides. Here historically, Pakistan has put pre-conditions like a 'solution' to Kashmir problem etc.

The clue to this mindset is the fact that Pakistan considers itself to be the heir to the legacy of the Mughal empire. Even within that legacy, Aurangzeb, the orthodox and intolerant ruler, is idolised while a tolerant Akbar is labeled as a traitor to Islam.

Taking the historical analogy further, it must be noted that when the Marathas under Shivaji offered a reasonable compromise and sharing of power, Aurangzeb rejected it and instead opted for a long drawn out struggle with the Marathas.

In Pakistan it is conveniently forgotten that their 'hero' finally lost the contest and lies buried in Maharashtra, far from his capital in Delhi/Agra. In his obsession with defeating the Marathas, he ended up destroying the Mughal empire.

Maybe future historians writing the obituary of Pakistan will note that its 'magnificent obsession' with the Kashmir valley sealed its fate.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian.

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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)