For India, Pulwama should be the last straw
For long we have said in official and non-official forums that India will be compelled to respond robustly if it suffered another large scale terrorist attack with Pakistani connivance. Presumably, all possible options to deal with such an eventuality have been discussed over time and contingency plans prepared. The prime minister’s unusually strong statements would suggest a condign response to the Pulwama attack.
A telling response is required, particularly now when the forces behind Pulwama are gaining strength in our neighbourhood. Taliban’s ghastly terrorist attacks have ironically earned it legitimacy as a political force in Afghanistan, compelling the US to negotiate with it. The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which is behind the Pulwama attack, has links with the Afghan Taliban. That the JeM has publicly owned the Pulwama attack would suggest a sense of immunity, possible only because it feels protected by the ISI. Now that Pakistan has recovered ground with the Americans by facilitating talks with the Taliban, it probably sees an opening to step up its terrorist pressure on India. If we fail to respond strongly to the Pulwama attack now, we will face a worse situation in the future.
Two misleading and self-defeating arguments of some in India need refutation. One, that because of our failure to stabilise Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) we remain vulnerable to Pakistani sponsored terrorism. This suggests that we have invited terrorism from Pakistan because of our policy failures in J&K. In reality, terrorism is one more instrument Pakistan has used since 1989-90 to further its disruptive agenda in J&K. To link our policy failures in J&K that critics could date back virtually to our independence to Pakistani-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir decades later would be a false analysis. Kashmir cannot be stabilised unless Pakistani interference ceases there. If internal fractures and instability in a country make it vulnerable to terrorism from outside, India should have been promoting terrorism in Pakistan. But India is not a semi-rogue state like Pakistan that uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy. This is the problem, not in our policy failures in J&K.
The other argument is that Pulwama is the product of our hardened policies in J&K and our failure to talk to Pakistan. We have been talking to Pakistan since independence. From the mid-1990s we have had several rounds of a composite dialogue with terrorism and Kashmir on the agenda. Even as we were talking to Pakistan, it continued to stage terrorist attacks against India, even outside J&K. This argument also implicitly endorses the use of terrorism against us as a legitimate response to our operations in Kashmir to eliminate those resorting to violence in J&K.
A number of steps should be taken post-Pulwama in J&K and against Pakistan. Internally, we should end cross LoC trade and transport links in J&K. The state security provided to the separatists has been rightly withdrawn and they should be interned outside J&K. Externally, withdrawing Pakistan’s MFN status and raising tariffs by 200% on Pakistani exports to India has symbolic significance but will not materially affect Pakistan because our trade exchanges are very modest. However, it ends any talk about normalisation of trade ties after our elections. Use of air power against identified targets deeper inside Pakistan than the last surgical strikes is possible. However, all this will not break Pakistan’s back or change its strategic calculus against India.
On the diplomatic side, briefing the FATF on Pakistan’s continuing support to terrorism and pressing for the designation of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist by the UN would be useful, but not forceful, steps. We need to use an instrument against Pakistan to which it has no easy answer, just as it has left us with limited options on how to deal with its sponsorship of terrorism. We should announce the suspension of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) until such time as Pakistan eliminates India-directed terrorism from its soil by verifiably putting Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar out of action. Pakistan must also reiterate its commitment to the Simla Agreement and the Islamabad Declaration on not allowing the use of territory under its control for terrorism against India. If, despite larger international interests being involved, the US can abrogate the ABM Treaty, withdraw from the INF Treaty and the Paris Climate Accord, not to mention the Iran nuclear deal, and China can repudiate its obligations under the Law of the Sea as it has done in the South China Sea, why should we feel committed to a bilateral unequal IWT? The flow of water from India to Pakistan should be linked to the flow of terrorism from Pakistan to India.
Pulwama should be the last straw that broke the Indian camel’s back.
Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary
The views expressed are personal