NO idea has failed India more spectacularly in its relations with Pakistan than ‘strategic restraint’. And yet, it seemed in the past week that this was the road the Prime Minister would take once more. After his speech at the BJP meeting in Kozhikode, strategic restrainers applauded loudly. Men and women who despise Narendra Modi came forward to praise him for not listening to ‘hawks’ (like your columnist) and for changing the narrative of war to one in which the fight in both India and the Islamic Republic next door would be against poverty, illiteracy and disease. A fine thought but one that can only become reality, in our shamefully backward region, if we succeed in convincing Pakistan to invest in peace and not war.
As things stand, the military men who control that country and the religious fanatics they have nurtured know well that if there is peace with India, their time is up. So they have promoted hatred, violence and war by all sorts of cowardly means for decades, and in India, our leaders have repeatedly taken the path of ‘strategic restraint’. They have done this knowing that this road has led nowhere. But perhaps not fully understanding how often ‘strategic restraint’ has been interpreted by Pakistan’s military rulers as cowardice. All of last week, Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif preened before TV cameras, threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons if India dared to do what it ended up doing. It required enormous political will on the part of Prime Minister Modi to order our soldiers to cross the Line of Control into occupied Kashmir to target terrorist camps.
Pakistan responded as it always does, with denial. It is a pattern that we have long been familiar with. In the Kargil war, the Pakistanis who died wore military dog tags that identified them as regular troops but Pakistan continues to refuse to accept this. After the 26/11 attacks, our strategically restrained leaders provided dossiers and voice samples and whatever else was needed by way of proof. Pakistan dismissed these testaments as rubbish. In Pathankot, the men who attacked the Air Force base were identified as having come from across the border and the Indian government thought it had so good a case it allowed Pakistani intelligence officers an inspection tour. It made no difference.
As someone who believes that there will only be peace between India and Pakistan when India shows that it has the political will and the ability to respond aggressively when attacked, I have been ashamed of the strategic restraint we have shown in the past. When media pressure forced Atal Bihari Vajpayee to release evil men in exchange for the passengers of IC-814, I hoped that we would seek out Maulana Azhar Masood and Omar Sheikh and ‘take them out’ as the Americans call it. Why could Indian Air Force fighter planes not have bombed their jeep on the road from Kandahar to Pakistan? Why after 26/11 have we not been able to find Hafiz Saeed in his vast lair on the edge of Lahore and rid the world of a truly evil man?
Indian officials admit privately that we lack the ‘assets’ needed for covert operations, but since they have been saying this for at least 20 years, it is very hard to understand why they have not yet been developed. It is even harder to understand why we allowed men like Maulana Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh to rot in Indian jails for more than five years before we were forced to release them. Is our justice system so defunct that it cannot even speed up justice in cases of jihadi terrorism? The answer to this question probably lies in the shameful truth that it took more than 20 years for justice to be done in the Mumbai bombings of 1993. And even then, justice has not fully been done because Tiger Memon continues to live happily ever after in Karachi. If journalists can track him down so easily, it should be quite easy for trained commandos to track him down, but somehow this never happens.
So Pakistan’s military men, who see India as an ‘existential threat’, treat with utter disdain the strategic restraint of our political leaders. Their disdain has grown as they have seen senior Indian politicians refuse to admit publicly that Islamism has become a huge threat to all the values that make India what India is. The same people incidentally become hysterically voluble when it comes to condemning the activities of cow vigilantes. Since Modi became prime minister, our politically correct media has made more fuss about incidents of cow vigilantism than we have over jihadi attacks.
Meanwhile, I have no hesitation in admitting that last week’s ‘surgical strikes’ pleased me enormously and I hope they signal the end of strategic restraint.