Breaking The Terror Cycle

A full engagement with Pakistan cannot withstand major terror strikes.

Written by Vivek Katju | Published:January 14, 2016 12:02 am
flag meeting, india pakistan flag meeting, indo-pak flag meeting, latest news, loc, border, border tension, poonch, J&K, kashmir Pakistan has turned the conventional approach to contest among nuclear states on its head.

In a recent and relatively sober television debate, both the BJP and Congress representatives emphasised that the India-Pakistan engagement should continue despite the Pathankot attack. However, neither dwelt on the nature of such engagement. Without precision, the word “engagement” in the context of a sensitive bilateral relationship lacks value.

Bilateral engagements stretch from the maintenance of routine diplomatic contact to intense political interaction as well as the establishment of problem-solving and cooperative mechanisms. India and Pakistan have gone through all these phases: From intense engagement to routine contact. However, nothing has persuaded the Pakistani establishment to abandon the pursuit of terror — though it has always calibrated its use.

Pakistan’s acquisitions of nuclear weapons added a new dimension to the use of terrorism. All states with nuclear weapons, except Pakistan, have refrained from grave and violent provocations on others’ territories. Nuclear powers have engaged in harsh and violent contestations, including through promoting insurgencies, but in other countries. This was witnessed especially during the Cold War.

Pakistan has ignored this precaution. Indeed, it turned the conventional approach to contest among nuclear states on its head. Nuclear weapons became the licence to undertake terror through its proxies. Its object was strategic — at a minimum, to keep India continuously on the defensive.

The Indian political class and strategic community considered Pakistan’s promotion of insurgency and use of terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir as a major strategic challenge. However, as it became increasingly evident through the 1990s that the situation was contained, their thinking on the nature of the challenge changed. No longer was it thought of as strategic but as political. This, notwithstanding the continuing heavy deployment of forces.

The 1999 Kargil attack was not a terrorist operation. It was a full-scale military undertaking by the Pakistan army that was sought to be disguised as a mujah-ideen operation. It involved the capture of territory and its object was to upset the strategic calculus. India’s response was full and successful.

The Parliament attack of 2001 was designed to inflict grave damage to the political leadership of the country. It could not but be considered strategic in design and conception, and the response was so. Forces were deployed at the border. Since then, all terrorist attacks either in J&K or elsewhere in India have only led to diplomatic or political responses, confirming that they are considered as only political embarrassments. These include the 26/11 Mumbai attack, too. The Modi government’s response to the Pathankot airbase is being put in the same category even though a major military facility had been targeted.

The underlying approach is that these provocations can be taken in the nation’s stride. Political parties and the media make noises, and the bitterness towards Pakistan increases, but, in time, tempers cool sufficiently for the bilateral engagement to be intensified till the next grave
terrorist operation.

The hope that full engagement with Pakistan can withstand major terrorist attacks is misplaced. Political pressures and the need to show action inevitably lead to disruptions. The time has come to seek to break this cycle not by overlooking Pakistani terrorism because it no longer has strategic consequences but because the loss of innocent lives matters even if cynical strategic thinkers overlook this aspect.

The question to be considered by our strategic community is this: What should a nuclear-weapons state do if a nuclear neighbour uses terrorism as an essential part of its security approach? This is a unique problem faced by India. The answer surely cannot lie in engagement, for it has not worked, and nor has its opposite.

This Indian problem is unique and has not been considered seriously by Western strategic thinkers. Western governments have always advised India to be restrained. This is in their interests. But Indian strategic thinkers must articulate this issue as a conceptual problem to their Western counterparts, draw attention to it.

Countries have the right to self defence under international law. But as long as India relegates the problem of terrorism to that of political management alone, the chanting of meaningless mantras of continuing dialogue will continue and no resolution will be forthcoming.

The writer is a former diplomat

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  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Jan 14, 2016 at 10:03 pm
    Talking to the army, ISI or politicians. Who controls stan. Distrust Hatred of Hindu India and,continuation of terrorism in Kashmir is what keeps stan Army and the very state of stanalike and kicking. Conflict is the drug that stan is hooked to ,be it towards India or Afghanistan. So what will the talks achieve. We have been talking and fighting for decades. Pathankot will go Mubai attack way. stan will continue to slap I dial and we will continue. To turn the other cheek, I sanity is defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.
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    1. R
      Robert
      Jan 14, 2016 at 12:23 pm
      India must regret the missed opportunities to hit the terrorist eny where it hurts. India must first understand that she is a besieged country, with two nuclear powers and proxies from stan waging a cowardly war. It is undoubtedly a war but undeclared. India must first shed her good girl atude , abiding by the pleas of the international communities, as it serves no purpose of India. China may for once condemn the attack and the USA will stall the s of F-16 fighter planes. They are certainly temporary measures and to sooth the Indian tempers. China will stand by stan and her good terrorists and the USA will offer the F-16 eventually. However, Indian failures to build up the anti terror infrastructures is worst for country that suffers the ignominy often. India must react unleashing her wrath at least once on selected target would certainly shake the foundation of terror outfits and its mentor. A swift thrust to inflict colossal damage and pain to the terror infrastructures inside the stani territory has become a demand more than necessary. India can also design a covert operation to cross into PoK to carry out a secret operation. This what all countries did and India must do . India still can continue to talk as the stani intend, but teaching a lesson by taking the war into stani territory is the need of the hour. Even a worm has turns. but Indian behavior is worse than a worm, without reactions, and contrary to all norms of sovereignty and attempting to win wars through sympathy form world body. Even China is now showing sympathy towards India. such is the extend of Indian resilience to the consistent blood bath perpetrated by stani terrorists on Indian soil. Said that India certainly not prepared for such a thrust, a tragedy that the country experiencing for decades. India will remain as she is now even if the Parliament is attacked once again.
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      1. K
        K SHESHU
        Jan 14, 2016 at 10:36 am
        Security is of paramount importance. Peace talks can be persued but the issue of security must addressed first.
        Reply
        1. G
          G M
          Jan 14, 2016 at 6:13 pm
          Blame Atal Behari Vajpayee for this mess as he is admired in stan for giving chance to become nuclear by triggering nuclear test by doing Pokhran test.
          Reply
          1. G
            G M
            Jan 14, 2016 at 6:07 pm
            That is why, Vajpayee triggered neuclear testing of Pokhran 2 is always blamed for providing stan opportunity to get status of legible nuclear state by doing Chaigai Hill nuclear test .Now stan is having hundreds of atom bombs. Courtesy-ATAL BEHARI BAJPAYEE. Otherwise stan was about to sign nuclear non proliferation treaty and was almost agreed to become non -nuclear country for ever. Now stan being a terrorist especialist state is nuclear state and stan's atom bombs is more deterrent to India than India's to stan despise flurry of terrorist attacks on India since then.
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            1. G
              Gram Massla
              Jan 14, 2016 at 3:12 pm
              I am confused by this article. What, exactly, is Mr. Katju advocating? One can talk or one can fight. What are the other alternatives? To engage in terror with stan? Fight fire with fire? This seems to be a sorry tale; of lethargy and infinity. The woes of India and stan seem to carry on endlessly, with no solution and no end in sight.
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              1. J
                Jatin Sutaria
                Jan 14, 2016 at 9:05 am
                Thats excellent as always Mr. Katju. My take is the western powers have not enough reasons to consider India's problem as their s and rightly so. What India lacks is the backbone to come up with a strategy that can be put into motion to deal with a nuclear armed stan. We can not be always reactive and neither can we defend ourselves unless we get our hands 'dirty'
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                1. A
                  ashok
                  Jan 14, 2016 at 8:58 am
                  Avoiding major terror attacks is, at least from India's perspective, a big part of the rationale for talking to stan. If these occur, reciprocal action should follow.
                  Reply
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