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Speak softly but carry a big stick

India should have a two-pronged strategy to address the growing threat from Pakistan’s military and jihadi forces, writes Arvind Virmani.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2013 23:14 IST
Arvind Virmani
Arvind Virmani
Hindustan Times

Passions run high whenever Pakistan is in the news. Some argue against any talks with Pakistan, while others are for strong retaliation. Still others say that talks are an essential part of diplomacy. Neither the use of force nor diplomacy can work if we are confused about our strategy and objectives. The basis of ‘strategy’ is an unsentimental understanding of the opponent and his strategy and objectives.

After the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Pakistan military developed a two-pronged strategy to deal with India: Acquire nuclear weapons and use these as a shield to carry out jihad against India. Much of Pakistan’s policy was driven by this obsession of revenge against India and was supported by the elites of Pakistan.

The first question is whether there is any change in this dual policy towards India? The 9/11 attacks have set in motion a process of learning among Western policy-makers. The erosion of the international carte blanche for Pakistan forced a rethink by the globalised English-speaking elites of Pakistan. But inside Pakistan they are a shrinking minority. With the advent of democracy, the leaders of the major political parties have realised that their interests are not identical to those of the Pakistan military and appear to be willing to consider changing the anti-India policy.

Unfortunately, as the old (English educated) elite has begun to see reason, the new Urdu-speaking (Sunni) elites appear to back the terrorists. General Zia ul-Haq imposed a policy of state-led Islamisation and under his regime, the Ahl-e-Hadith version of Islam, was introduced in schools as a result of which, ‘An entire generation of Pakistanis studying in public schools has grown up viewing not only non-Muslim minorities but also Muslim minorities as ‘the other’, as ‘unpatriotic’, and as ‘not Muslim enough’.’ This is manifested in the murder of anyone daring to challenge the views of the Sunni fundamentalists, who also believe that the United States, Israel and India are their main external enemies.

In this context, the Indian government should have a dual strategy to deal with Pakistan. First, increase the costs to the Pakistan military’s anti-India jihad strategy. This includes a diplomatic effort to impede the flow of aid to the military; a semi-automatic and forceful military response to ceasefire violations; targeted attacks on valuable assets by a commando force in response to terrorist incidents; and, taking the fight to anti-India jihadi organisations across South Asia, by developing covert assets, in retaliation for their training and nurturing of terrorists in India.

Second, identify, discuss and implement economic, cultural and other policies that are good for the people of both countries. Evidence points to the fact that normal trade, transit, investment backed by good trans-border and trans-Asian infrastructure would be in the interests of both countries and their people. Asymmetric concessions are unnecessary. Similarly, genuinely open and symmetric social and cultural policies would be mutually beneficial and can and should be pursued without interruption.

Arvind Virmani is a former chief economic adviser to the Government of India and currently heads

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Nov 17, 2013 23:12 IST