Kashmir beheadings: India has no consistent policy on retaliation and Pakistan is gaining from it
For the third time in seven months, India finds itself holding the mutilated bodies of its soldiers. Each of the three instances in which soldiers have suffered the worst form of death came after the surgical strikes on September 29 last year, when the Narendra Modi government decided to take political ownership of the stealth operation into Pakistani territory.
What now? Is another strike the way forward for a country that is baying for blood? As Modi and his team weigh the response, they must also think through their tactical and strategic options. After the cross border raids last September, the government, through the Director General Military Operations, had claimed to have delivered a devastating blow to the terror infrastructure.
“The operations were basically focused to ensure that these terrorists do not succeed in their design of infiltration and carrying out destruction and endangering the lives of citizens of our country…During these counter terrorist operations, significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who are trying to support them…,” the DGMO had said.
An increase in infiltration and the spike in attacks – including the fidayeen strike at an Army camp in Kupwara last week – have endorsed the point that the surgical strikes have drastically altered the rules of the game. The Modi government – perceived to be one capable of a muscular response will be looking at several options, including the military and the diplomatic.
All of these have been varyingly adopted by successive governments, including by the Congress-led UPA. Both, the UPA and the NDA, have also tried to cajole the neighbour. After the beheading in January 2013, when a soldier was beheaded, Manmohan Singh – in favour of the dialogue route with Pakistan – had said, “It cannot be business as usual.” Sushma Swaraj, then in the Opposition had demanded ten Pakistani heads to avenge the beheading of an Indian jawan.
Inconsistency has been the hallmark of India’s Pakistan policy and the neighbour has exploited that, again and again. After the attack on India’s Parliament in 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee made it clear that the terror strike on its temple of democracy would not go unavenged. The army was moved to the border and is it stayed in an eyeball to eyeball posture for months, Vajpayee also ordered Indian skies shut to all Pakistani planes. The Indian ambassador to Pakistan too was recalled and the high commission considerably scaled down.
Soon thereafter, Vajpayee worked towards a thaw. His successor, Manmohan Singh walked the same path after the serial attacks in Mumbai, when he agreed – through the infamous joint statement in Sharm-el Sheikh – to delink talks and terror.
Modi too has alternated between the carrot and the stick. He surprised many by inviting his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif for his oath-taking ceremony in May 2014, only to cancel the bilateral dialogue a month later after Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s high commissioner in India, held talks with Kashmiri separatists. Towards the end of 2015, Modi surprised his own cabinet and hardcore following when he made an unscheduled halt in Lahore – while on a trip back from Kabul – to wish Sharif on his birthday.
Many hailed Modi for a statesman-like move but that is not how the deep state in Pakistan interprets such gestures – irrespective of whether they were made by Vajpayee, Manmohan or Modi.
Monday’s mutilation may have no connection to the back-channel negotiator Sajjan Jindal’s recent visit to Islamabad, but it is not beyond the realm of the possible that the Pakistani army – the sole custodian of foreign affairs, especially when it comes to India – may have used the battle action teams to send a message that it does not approve of the meeting between Jindal and Sharif.
The ball is now in Modi’s court and he has to decide on what steps to take against a country that has been accorded the Most Favoured Nation status. He chose the surgical strike route after the killing of 19 army soldiers in Uri but did not follow up on a move that stayed in the realm of the tactical.
The fact is that India lacks a coherent and consistent policy that the Pakistani army continues to take advantage of. India has often made the case that it needs to strengthen the hands of Pakistan’s civilian leadership and this column is not arguing against it.
The limited point that bears reiteration is: Be consistent. For as Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu’s put it: Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.