Reverse swing: Five lessons from Pathankot

What India must do—and not do—in its war against terrorists

Written by Tunku Varadarajan | Published:January 10, 2016 12:24 am
Pathankot attack, pathankot air base attack, pathankot attack, pathankot attack investigation, punjab sp car abduction, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Pakistan pathankot attack, modi in lahore, mazar-i-sharif attack, indian consulate attack, mazar-isharif indian consulate attack, india news, indian express column The operations at the Pathankot Air Force base continued for almost 48 hours, that left 6 terrorists, 1 civilian and 7 security personnel dead. (Source: PTI Photo)

The terrorist attacks on the Pathankot airbase and the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif just days after Narendra Modi’s chai-pe-charcha with Nawaz Sharif in Lahore have prompted predictable responses in India: calls by hardliners to cancel talks with Pakistan, and by pragmatists and liberals to keep those talks on track, not to mention the usual paroxysms of patriotism on Arnab Goswami’s TV show.

Here are five lessons to be learned (or as is customary in India, ignored) from the incidents.

1. There’s a connection between Modi’s visit to Pakistan and the terrorist attacks, but not a fundamentally causal one. Rather, the visit was a trigger for carefully laid plans in a pre-existing terrorist playbook. The idea to attack Pathankot didn’t first arise on December 25, when Modi touched down unexpectedly in Pakistan. Such attacks are months in the making. India needs to be alive to the probability that Pakistani terrorists and their ISI handlers have plans to attack every major military installation within range of Pakistan. There are also plans, surely, for assaults on Indian nuclear installations and naval bases, as well as Indian diplomatic missions from Ankara to Bangkok.

Does India have blueprints in place to protect each of these installations and missions? If Pathankot is any indication, India’s readiness — on a scale from Israeli-level preparedness to Inspector Clouseau — is just a notch above the bumbling Frenchman.

2. Pagdi sambhal, jatta. Punjab is a cesspit of corruption and drug smuggling, ruled by a venal family and party that have brought India’s most dynamic province to its knees. India cannot afford such mismanagement of a strategic border state. Corruption not only distorts the local economy and politics, it destroys morale, creating the perfect conditions for terrorist infiltration and attack. Now that it’s apparent that terrorists (and the ISI) have widened their incursive focus beyond Kashmir, India cannot let any of its western border states be so rotten.

3. Modi’s Bollywood-style visit to Pakistan was wonderful theatre, in keeping with his increasingly personalised mode of diplomacy. But one man, however charismatic, cannot be a substitute for a rational system. India’s Pakistan policy needs to be less mercurial. Talks between foreign secretaries (and India’s is a particularly able man) are scheduled for January 15. They must not be suspended. A clear deadline and table of Indian expectations should be given to Pakistan: “You have until [date] to give us satisfaction.” 

4. While India’s right to keep diplomatic channels open with Pakistan, it must also continue to pursue extra-diplomatic policies that hurt its errant neighbour. There must be no softening of its refusal to play cricket with Pakistan. This point may be difficult for non-Indians (and non-Pakistanis) to grasp, but cricket is the most eloquent way to make clear that there can be no normal relations with a state that harbours terrorists.

5. Finally, if further proof were needed that the United States is the best thing to have happened to diplomatic Delhi in a decade, it has been furnished after Pathankot. Washington has condemned the attack in robust terms, and has made clear that Pakistan must take decisive action against the group involved. The U.S. has grown tired of Islamabad’s game of “good terrorist, bad terrorist,” and is the only world power with the incentive and will to help India secure itself against terrorists from Pakistan. India must now activate its diplomacy in the U.S. to get the Obama administration to act tougher on Pakistan, especially as relations with India enjoy bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress.

 

 

The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. | Twitter: @tunkuv

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  1. M
    Malik
    Jan 12, 2016 at 8:48 am
    I think that in stan there are some people who are deathly opposed to India, but that most people there are concerned with their own lives and their struggles to earn a decent living. India must develop a strategy to defend our bases and possible targets in a very robust fashion and also develop a capacity "for special forces" like the US has, to attack and destroy any of these adventurers who come over thinking they can create havoc with a few casual jihadi's.
    Reply
    1. K
      K SHESHU
      Jan 10, 2016 at 7:02 am
      The security in India continues its pathetic state riddled with corrupt officers in the states as well as central police and armed forces. These lapses amount to big security risks.
      Reply
      1. A
        Aditya Banerjee
        Jan 11, 2016 at 8:04 am
        Stop the water when another attack takes place. Be prepared to do it within 12-24 hours of the attack. Resist all world pressure to do anything for 3 days. Have the prime minister, home minister and army chief blast in public that we are teaching a lesson to a terrorist nation. Then release the water after 3 days. stan will be a changed nation.
        Reply
        1. H
          Harikrishnan
          Jan 10, 2016 at 3:01 pm
          The articles reminds of the people who claim that they have predicted an earth quake, after the quake only. Things are still unclear as to who and how the strike was done. However expert suggestion from Tunku have already come as above.
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          1. B
            bala Raja
            Jan 10, 2016 at 4:33 am
            The author repeats the same cliched statements about maintaining the talks, cricket and the US. The point is, India has to show that it has a backbone and the ability to respond fiercely when attacked. The same Israel cited above would not have sit idle. The sad fact that India lacks the ability to carry out pointed strikes within Pak border, and the endemic corruption in India that mortgages national security to selfish interests means that the citizens have to pay with their lives each time. The Pak army seems to have mastered the art of inflicting pain anywhere within India with smaller strikes through organizations it controls. There is no point in talking to the "civilian Govt" of Pak, since the Govt means nothing. The Pak army, of course, will "condemn" attacks, will tell US it is doing everything it can, that it is also a victim of terrorism, even while planning other attacks on India. The only solution is to show resolve by punishing Pak at every instance with a response that makes sure they will not try something again. But first, India has to grow a spine.
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            1. B
              Bijan Mohanty
              Jan 11, 2016 at 6:23 pm
              Indo Pak engagement should be more on the basis of national priorities than personal gimmicks as exhibited by our Hon'ble Prime Minister recently through unscheduled Pak tour. India must upgrade its administrative ability on frontier districts through good and corruption free governance so that local youth are weaned away from terrorism.
              Reply
              1. K
                kumar
                Jan 10, 2016 at 7:03 am
                The problem is that our Armed Forces do not give the confidence to the Defence Minister and the PM that they can do a similar surgical strike in stan. Didnt we see the fighting capabilities of our Armed Forces in our own land? I am sorry the PM and DM are simply helpless.
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                1. G
                  Girish
                  Jan 10, 2016 at 2:36 am
                  and what is with this dating and satisfaction? what makes you think Indo-Pak relations have gotten that close?
                  Reply
                  1. G
                    Girish
                    Jan 10, 2016 at 2:34 am
                    dude don't insult Inspector Clouseau. by the end he solved the case.
                    Reply
                    1. R
                      Rangaesh Gadasalli
                      Jan 12, 2016 at 2:00 am
                      Good article. We should talk and talk ,drink and eat wit them and depending on their beahavior take out favors which we did as good neighbors. let us say that playing cricket with them is a dead issue. Let us close couple of consulates in India and let us take out some privileges to pak officials and ban them from going to some states and meeting with some people. let us cut down exports and imports from stan. We have to use our good relations with many countries and play the game.id some country says, for us both India and pak are same, say good bye to them. let them know the difference and come back.
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                      1. G
                        G M
                        Jan 15, 2016 at 1:42 pm
                        It is no secret that stan is playing shock and awe game with India unmindful of loss and gain in the process as there are not many gain in friendship and no significant loss for stan in animosity ever since stan going nucleardia was already a nuclear power way back in 1974 by doing Pokhran test by Mrs. Indira hi led government just after defeating stan and creation of Bangladesh. That is why Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee triggered neuclear testing in 1998 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 thendia is bleeding profusely ever since.
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                        1. H
                          Harihar Mani
                          Jan 10, 2016 at 6:01 pm
                          Uncle Sam has long memory.He does not forget Ben Gurian,Ayub Khan,Vk Krishnan menon.We did everything possible to hurt USA duing cold war times.stan for all its fault was a trusty friend then.Now of late India stopped poking in the eye of USa,but Uncle Sam will take its time to trust India again.That's way it IS.Sorry.Pay the piper.Stop bad mouthing USA.Thunku V. is correct.Pay heed.
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                          1. H
                            H.Balakrishnan
                            Jan 10, 2016 at 4:12 am
                            Sir, " Finally, if further proof were needed that the United States is the best thing to have happened to diplomatic Delhi in a decade, it has been furnished after Pathankot. Washington has condemned the attack in robust terms, and has made clear that stan must take decisive action against the group involved" The security analyst, (late) B.Raman had written an Article 9 years ago, enled : " 'US Will Never Act Against stan' In the Article, he gives a number of instances where Uncle Sam 'cheated' India. He concluded by writing : " After my retirement, I would often narrate to R.N. Kao and others how the Americans cheated us by destroying the timer. Once, Kao said: "How were you so naive in trusting them and handing over the timer to them? One should never trust the US in matters concerning stan. The US will never act against stan for anything it does to India." Couldn't agree more with Raman. Regards
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                            1. J
                              jagar
                              Jan 10, 2016 at 12:13 pm
                              They are capable but will the political leadership dare give green signal?
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                              1. A
                                ashok
                                Jan 10, 2016 at 6:10 am
                                Pagdi sambhal jatta is spot on. Denmark smells fragrant compared to Punjab.
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                                1. M
                                  Murthy
                                  Jan 10, 2016 at 1:19 pm
                                  Well meant article that is a good contribution, but on the last point where the author urges greater reliance on the USA to put pressure on stan, I disagree. When it comes to stan, USA cannot be relied upon. The post by "H. Balakrishnan" is quite revealing.
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                                  1. M
                                    Mayuri Choudhary
                                    Jan 10, 2016 at 2:58 pm
                                    " United States is the best thing to have happened to diplomatic Delhi in a decade, it has been furnished after Pathankot. Washington has condemned the attack in robust terms...". Hahahahaha......finally I had a hearty laugh today. Absolutely hilarious statement. US cares only about it own citizens..dia can be of use only if it in anyway helps in protecting US citizens from Jehadi attacks. While 26/11 was happening entire 4 seasons hotel in Mumbai was packed with US officials who descended like vultures while the mayhem was on....for what? To get ALL the info' they could get from the events as they were unfolding -- so that similar incidents don't happen on US soil. So our top officials were busy briefing them even before the operations to eliminate the stani terrorists ended. Having got what they needed, packed up and left - and couldn't be bothered one way or other if the masterminds in stan roamed free.
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                                      nirode mohanty
                                      Jan 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm
                                      stan has marginal interest to Indiadia gains nothing in talking to stan's foreign secretary. stan will not give MFN status to India, no transit route to Afghanistan and trade with India for its benefit. It is trying to eliminate India's influence from Afghanistan and is including China in its talk with Afghanistan. Its main interest is to grab Kashmir and other disputed issues. India should postpone the meeting until stan does not allow JeM to operate from its territory.
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                                      1. R
                                        Ramesh Nittoor
                                        Jan 10, 2016 at 7:14 pm
                                        Harihar Sir, US relates to India differently compared to stan. stan opted for cold war bloc, India chose a deeper and dignified quest. India based the US relationship on twin objective of preserving world peace and enlargement of freedoms; as stated in Oct 13,1949 speech of Nehru. India, aware of being among top 8 industrial nations then, aware of her deep historical heritage; sought co-equal status and friendship founded on commonality of political values and Consutional congruity. This road not taken earlier by any other nation, has now brought the two great nations closer a historical convergence in the post-Cold war era. It is necessary to take a broader and also deeper legal value of Indo-US ties for enlargement of freedoms; be those political, cultural or economic remains unfinished business both in domestic and near-abroad contexts.
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                                        1. R
                                          Ramesh Nittoor
                                          Jan 10, 2016 at 2:42 pm
                                          The premise that terror elements, JEM and stan security structure are co-terminus would have been valid before agreement was reached between the two NSAs. This time it seems to be the case of tail wagging the dog. How stan deals with this breach of discipline and treats it as subversion of their state is what India and after US communique, western nations are observing. It is not an easy matter to deal with for stan. Think India is waiting for credible initiation of the legal process, and is quite realistic about what needs to be done and can be done. India has a backbone, there is no need to open the shirt Salman style to show it at present, until and unless insincerity is manifest.
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                                          1. R
                                            ravi
                                            Jan 10, 2016 at 12:45 pm
                                            Disagree with PDP stance. It shows Ram Mdhav is shallow in politics. He should have offered support to new leadership of PDP only after PDP should have approached them for continuing the Govt. all 4 xonditions are Anti-Indian and should not be accepted. All important portfolios should be kept with BJP only. All money pumped all these years should be accounted for. There has to Dy. CM position only for BJP candidate from Jammu. Very poorly handled by RSS. RSS Should learn few lessons from BJP on politics
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