Home Audacity of the Absurd: Calling Pakistan's Bluff

Audacity of the Absurd: Calling Pakistan's Bluff

The famous aphorism by George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” aptly fits the Indian psyche. We have become so immune to the audacious actions of our western neighbour that repeatedly leaves us in a state of bewilderment at the absurdity of its pronouncements and actions. Two important episodes; reported arrest of a retired Naval officer on charges of espionage and a volte face of its admission to involvement of its nationals in Pathankot terrorist attack, have to be seen in the context of Pakistan’s belligerent mindset of deceit and denial refined over six decades of its existence.

The invasion of Jammu and Kashmir by use of Pashtun tribes as its proxies in the summer of 1947 was the germination of the idea on use of irregulars to forcefully annex territory across border. Peter A Kiss in an abstract on ‘The First Indo-Pakistani War, 1947-48', sums it up as “First modern war in which one of the belligerents (Pakistan) relied on artificially created and nurtured insurgency in the target area to realize its political goals". He concludes by stating that “the experiment - partly due to lack of doctrinal foundation and lack of experience had only limited success, but its results encouraged Pakistan to rely on insurgents and irregular militias in the enemy’s rear in its later war. This short and limited war is a fascinating story for several reasons. Its most significant element is the employment of non-state actors as combatants in service of a state’s interests. The employment of non-state combatants was only partly successful, but the events have shown how a modern state can deploy the principles, tactics, techniques and procedures of asymmetric warfare against another, much stronger state”.

The audacity of errors continued with the launch of ‘Operation Gibraltar’ in August 1965 by infiltrating thousands of Razakars and Mujahids, assisted by soldiers as local youth, with the aim of declaration of independence of J&K. Failure of the operation led to launch of ‘Operation Grand Slam’ by Pakistan. Eventually, it led to the defeat of Pakistan and loss of 1920 square kilometers of territory, which was returned post the Tashkent Declaration.

Pakistan’s appetite for absurdity did not diminish in spite of three emphatic defeats, and it helped foster Sikh militancy in Punjab and followed in 1988 to launch its new offensive to “bleed India with thousand cuts” by instigating insurgency in J&K through use of politico religious proxies, nurtured and equipped, using terror as an instrument to achieve its goals.

In 1999 India was again in for a surprise when it discovered that Kargil heights had been illegally occupied by Pakistani troops in guise of mercenaries. It later turned out that Operation ‘Al Badr’ was indeed a meticulously planned operation, planned over the preceding two years, using troops from Northern Light Infantry and Special Forces. Pakistan was forced to withdraw its troops in response to Indian resolve to evict Pakistan from its territory and US admonishment of its Prime Minister during a meeting with President Clinton on 4 July 1999.

Rand Corporation in its assessment of Kargil Operations assessed that “Kargil fiasco does not appear to have extinguished Pakistan’s belief that violence, especially as represented by Low Intensity Conflict, remains the best policy for pressing India on Kashmir and other outstanding disputes” and “violence in various forms remains a legitimate—if not the only—means to achieve Pakistan’s political objectives in Kashmir. Pakistan believes that one of its few remaining successful strategies is to “calibrate” the heat of the insurgency in Kashmir and possibly pressure India through the expansion of violence in other portions of India’s territory. Security managers and analysts widely concur that Pakistan will continue to support insurgency in Kashmir, and some have suggested it could extend such operations to other parts of India”.

Terrorism and violent incidents have continued in the state of J&K for the last two decades with tacit support of Pakistan and brought untold misery on people of the state. The prophesy relating to expansion of terrorism to other parts of India has been bang on and Pakistan has continued with its belligerent attitude of using ‘state managed covert operations’ to damage Indian interests, beginning immediately after Kargil in December 1999 with hijacking IC 814 to Kandahar to secure release of four prominent terrorists in exchange for civilian hostages. The new millennium began with an attack on J&K State Assembly followed by attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. Major other terrorist attacks, prominent amongst them the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and lately Gurdaspur and Pathankot, have been carried out by Pakistan based outfits Jaesh-e-Mohammed and Lashker-e-Toiba. Pakistan has denied its involvement but could do little to when Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national, admitted to his Pakistani nationality. Similarly, the Joint Investigation Team sent by Pakistan to carry out joint investigation admitted to involvement of its nationals in the attack but on return to their country retracted from their stand.

The case of apprehension of Cdr Kulbhushan Jadhav (Retd) is even more bizarre. Pakistan claimed it had apprehended a serving naval officer for espionage and he was engaged in subversive activities in Baluchistan. The facts turned out to be otherwise. Cdr Jadhav, an ex naval officer, was working in Iran with valid documents. He was probably abducted by one of the insurgent groups close to ISI once his credentials were known, to be used as a pawn, coinciding with visit of Iranian President to Pakistan. Once warned of the negative consequences Pakistan asked all references to Iran to be omitted revealing a sinister design in apprehension of ex naval officer.

Pakistan has continued with its aggressive anti-India activities with little regard to consequences of its actions. It has used most brutal and repulsive forms of violence such as attacks on innocents, beheading of soldiers, targeting civil areas etc. to unleash terror. Unfortunately its activities within its own territory are no better where it has continued to suppress legitimate demand of the Balochis and unleashed violence against the locals in Gilgistan-Baltistan region. It is actively engaged in destabilizing Afghanistan where ISI continues to promote proxies, making the situation volatile. Its relations with Iran are also strained primarily due to intra religious conflict between Shias and Sunnis.

The moot question is how to deal with such audacity and belligerence? It is time for a rethink and in Indian interest to combine its soft power with some real politic and use the state craft and its tools to protect itself from unrelenting onslaught of terrorism being unleashed from across its borders especially when deniability of its actions has become the hallmark of its state policy. Pakistan, a nation hovering around the imminent status of a failed state, is unlikely to mend its ways. India needs to adopt matching policy shifts that are more pro-active politically, diplomatically, and security-wise, as a military conflict "under a nuclear umbrella" may not be a viability, at least in foreseeable future. In this context, the important advice contained in Rand Corporation’s assessment for India post Kargil is relevant. It states, “the most important lesson learned by India was that it must be prepared to counter a wide range of Pakistani threats that may be mounted by what is essentially a reckless but tenacious adversary. India must therefore develop the robust capabilities it needs to thwart surprise and to win even if surprised by Pakistan. Another lesson is that if India is obliged to respond forcefully in future episodes, covert rather than overt action may be preferable”.


Brig NK Bhatia, SM (Retd) was the Chief Instructor at Military Intelligence School.

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Brig NK Bhatia

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