The India-Pakistan seesaw on terror and dialogue continues. Euphoria over another round of bilateral dialogue comes crashing down following a Pakistan-sponsored terror attack. The attack on a major airbase at Pathankot, close to the international border in the midst of military strike formations, exceeds even the Mumbai attacks in strategic value. After three cross-border attacks the Punjab international border (IB) is now as threatened as the Line of Control in J-K.
Analysts say it is high time that the deep state in Pakistan realised that there was no long-term value in terror attacks to disrupt the possibility of the two countries sitting across a table. Actually, the value of these attacks has multiplied. It certainly achieves its purpose, considering that India shuns dialogue each time. It tests India’s readiness, capability and political will to retaliate — something that we mouth after each attack. Nothing could have pleased the sponsors more than the complete disarray in command, strategy and control in Pathankot while neutralising the perpetrators.
The Pathankot attack created an ideal situation for India to take immediate retaliatory action. Being an exclusively military target, India was well within its rights to act. It would have demonstrated the will of the government to act, and strengthened Narendra Modi domestically, and in dealing with Pakistan. It could have strengthened Nawaz Sharif in exposing the disastrous nature of Pakistan’s civilian-military divide.
Under these circumstances, would it be any surprise should Pakistan escalate matters further and launch a punishing foray across the international border, much as the Chinese did in Tawang in 1962? The ease with which the JeM terrorists entered the Pathankot airbase using the drug-smuggling cross-border networks demonstrates that terrorist groups have built up sufficient equities in India. We can expect them to use them with impunity all along the IB. India’s weak underbelly in Punjab, where many youth are captive to drugs and there’s rampant penetration by the BSF, is a recipe for disaster.
With sleeper cells of the Indian Mujahideen, and arrests of Islamic State adherents in cities and towns the hypothetical situation of the Pakistan Army crossing the IB to teach India a lesson has become real. In such an eventuality how can Indian forces stop such an advance?
In 1962 the Chinese taught us a lesson we cannot ignore. The Pakistan Army’s seizing of 108 bunkers at Kargil was not heeded as a wake-up call. Pathankot forces us to review our crisis management procedures with well-thought out scenario-building to delineate responsibilities for command, control and coordination between our forces covering the international border apart from the LoC.
Rajendra Abhyankar, a former diplomat, teaches at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington
The views expressed are personal