Limits of restraint

It hasn’t worked. India must craft an appropriate military response to Pakistan

Written by Yashwant Sinha | Published:September 22, 2016 12:33 am
India, Pakistan, India Pakistan conflict, India Pakistan tension, Uri attack, Pakistan sponsored terrorism, India terrorism, Pakistan terrorism, India news, Pakistan news Treaty terms are observed between friends, not enemies. Pakistan is an enemy state of India. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

When I was in school, decades ago, I read a poem by the English poet, Mathew Arnold, on Alexander’s invasion of India. I remember only two lines from it. They are: She (India) let the legions thunder past and plunged in thought again. If Mathew Arnold was alive today, he would probably say this about the current situation in India: “She let the terrorists come and kill and plunged in rhetoric again.”

Over the last few days since Uri, the government has been having meeting after meeting; the TV channels have been having shouting matches every evening in which retired generals have been holding forth on the military options available to India in such detail that even a sleeping enemy would wake up and take counter measures; the retired diplomats have been weighing the diplomatic options and politicians have been indulging in their usual blame game. The famous TV anchors are convinced that India has been able to isolate Pakistan globally and half the battle has already been won. The government is silent after the initial reaction of the prime minister and other senior ministers.

Many Indians, including me, want an appropriate military response from India; not a rash, ill-considered or a hasty one but a cool, well-planned and well-timed response, which will fetch us the desired results. I suggest that the nature of military response and its timing should be left to the armed forces, but it should not be indefinitely postponed. Once the plan of action has been shared with the political leadership and approved by it, the government should get into action, anticipate the likely Pakistani reaction and prepare its response for the next ten steps, which will become inevitable following our action. These will include diplomatic, administrative and economic measures, which will become necessary in case the situation deteriorates further and results in full-scale war with Pakistan.

While the military response is being worked out the government should take two steps immediately: It should abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan with immediate effect and withdraw the Most Favoured Nation treatment it has granted to Pakistan. Readers will recall that while India has granted Pakistan this status, which member countries of the World Trade Organisation routinely give each other, Pakistan has not thought it fit to reciprocate. Even the South Asia Free Trade Association agreement has not helped.

Treaty terms are observed between friends, not enemies. Pakistan is an enemy state of India. It has said so repeatedly. The attacks on our military bases in Pathankot and Uri were not mere terrorist attacks; they were acts of war against the Indian state, sponsored by Pakistan. India will, therefore, be fully justified in abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan.

We should also work diplomatically to ensure that SAARC member countries do not attend the regional grouping’s forthcoming summit in Islamabad and the summit is a miserable failure. I am deliberately not suggesting any more steps at this stage. They should come later depending on Pakistan’s response to the first two steps.

As far as isolating Pakistan diplomatically is concerned, we should remember that the responses of other nations would change dramatically in case India undertakes overt military action. It will be instructive for us to remember what happened when the Bangladesh war took place. The resolution condemning India could not be passed in the Security Council because the Soviet Union vetoed it. But under the provisions of the UN, friends of Pakistan initiated a Uniting for Peace resolution in the General Assembly. They were not only able to get 50 per cent of UN members to sponsor the resolution as required by the rules of the UN but also managed to get it adopted by the General Assembly with an overwhelming majority — 104 voted in favour of the resolution and only 11 countries voting against it. Pakistan is sure to get the support of 57 members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, so those who glibly talk of isolating Pakistan globally should stop and ponder, before misguiding public opinion in India.

India should, however, not be deterred in the pursuit of its goal. I have repeatedly said that the fight against Pakistan sponsored terrorism is India’s fight alone. Others will sympathise with us, commiserate with us, condemn the terror strike and forget about it. We should not. We must remember every wound Pakistan has inflicted on us, every hurt, every humiliation it has caused us and every martyr who has made the supreme sacrifice for the nation. Indira Gandhi showed this courage in 1971, we should show it now.

The peaceniks have come out of hiding. They are warning us again and again of all the dire consequences which could follow a military response and are calling for restraint. Is 30 years of restraint not enough? Do we have to show it for the next 50 years?

History is the most eloquent witness of the fact that appeasement, whether of individuals, communities or nations, does not pay. Weak nations are the biggest threat to peace and if we are on the verge of war with Pakistan today it is the result of our accumulated weaknesses and mistakes of the last 70 years. We, in the BJP, must remember that the people of India will judge us by our standards and our utterances on the strength of which we came to power, not by the standards of other political parties.

This is also the time for us to work out a proper long-term policy on Pakistan. Just as the military response should not be knee-jerk, the diplomatic response to Pakistan today, and in future, should not be knee-jerk.

India’s DGMO has said that the country will respond in a manner, and time, of its own choosing. But the country will be reassured if the prime minister said that India will respond strategically and the manner, place and timing of that response will be decided by India. We all want peace with Pakistan but we must remember that sometimes the road to peace passes through war.

The writer, a member of the BJP, is a former Union external affairs minister

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