HW English
Abhinav Pandya

India needs a robust strategy to counter Pakistan’s proxy war

On every occasion of Pakistan’s ceasefire violation, we are found fumbling in our response except for our hyper-nationalist media going overboard in abusing Pakistan. Since 2003 ceasefire agreement, there have been numerous instances of ceasefire violations (CFVs). In the first two months of 2018 alone, India reported 633 violations and Pakistan reported 400 violations. Days before, once again Pakistan displayed barbarity, tortured an injured jawan and returned its badly mutilated body.

Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain in his essay, “The Counter Proxy-war Strategy for Jammu and Kashmir” (Kanwal Gurmeet The New Arthashatra-A security Strategy for India) scathingly critiques this shortage of expertise on Pakistan’s proxy war in our strategic establishment, and my understanding of his thoughts boils down to the conclusion that so far India’s response has been ad-hoc, reactionary and lacking a long-range vision.

First and foremost, India must have a clear understanding that it has been at the receiving end of the proxy-war with Pakistan since 1989. Though in effect, the proxy-war started with the birth of Pakistan and had existed since then in some crude form but with Zia’s strategic insights and efforts, it became organized and systematic. And, so far Pakistan is winning that war.

Venturing beyond the superficialities reveal that ceasefire violations are not random incidents of misadventure, but they are calculated strategic moves under the bigger umbrella of irregular warfare. The recent ceasefire violations have occurred in the Jammu region. The violations are aimed to terrorize the Hindu community that still has a strong presence in the Jammu region. The Deep-state (read ISI) wants to intimidate the Hindu community living there forcing them to emigrate out of J&K. Further, the ceasefire violations make sense when seen in the light of the central government’s intentions to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pundits in the valley. Scare-mongering is aimed at demoralizing the government and Kashmiri Pundits and obstruct their homecoming. The broader objective behind such shenanigans is to usher in a demographic change in J&K by a gradual and sustained ouster of Hindus from the state, weakening India’s moral and territorial claims to the state. Further, there is also a strong possibility of such demographic experiments in Ladakh also to dilute the current-Buddhist nature of the region. In a recent visit to Leh and Kargil, this analyst came across the phenomenon of increasing religiosity merging with radicalization among the Shia community. Many young students visit Iran for religious studies. It is very common to come across the hoardings of Aytollah Khomeneh in Kargil and Leh. One can easily come across communal frictions between Shias and Buddhists. Further, there is also a strong possibility of Wahabbi activities in Leh region, in response to a rise in Shia activism.

Additionally, the ceasefire violations in Jammu region have strong potential to deepen the mistrust between the Hindus and Muslims, and between the Jammu region and the valley. The PDP-BJP government symbolizing an alliance between Jammu and Kashmir is a big leap towards the integration of the Kashmir valley with India. The deep-state wouldn’t tolerate it in the least bit, as it jolts Pakistan’s Kashmir ambitions from within. Apart from this, such ceasefire violations are also aimed at eroding the electoral support for the Modi government, which is abhorred by Pakistani establishment beyond imaginations for the reasons more than evident. Further, ceasefire violations also aim at providing momentum and a morale boost to disruptive activities in Kashmir valley or diverting attention for some large-scale infiltration attempt or executing any other completely unrelated social-political unrest in other parts of the country.

The better terminology is irregular war with Pakistan as proxy-war is just one of its several dimensions. The “irregular war” with Pakistan is a very complex, subtle, refined and a nuanced phenomenon. It is a study in itself which needs to be done from diverse stand-points, i.e., intelligence, demographic, military, and sociological, economic and diplomatic. Pakistanis have mastered the art of irregular warfare after years of experiments in Afghanistan and refined it in its diverse aspects, i.e., strategic, operational, tactical and sub-tactical. They devise innovative and timely interventions to infuse life in the event of the militancy floundering in the valley. They control the irregular warfare like a water-tap. The events such as the Kargil intrusion, recent civil unrest/stone-pelting in Srinagar, terror attacks in Uri and Pathankot, frequent ceasefire violations and bomb-blasts in other parts of India must be analyzed in the broader context of Pakistan’s irregular warfare. Seeing them in isolation isn’t entirely helpful in crafting the right response. In fact, there is also a need to explore the seemingly unrelated and remote events like Dalit unrest, environmental protests, communal riots and the left-wing radicalism even, regarding their subtle connections with the overall-objectives and planning of the deep-state.

Understanding Pakistan’s irregular warfare is a study-in-itself and well beyond the scope of this article. However, it must be clear that our options to counter Pakistan’s irregular warfare are limited. The way Pakistanis have their assets here, India, unfortunately, does not have that advantage in Pakistan, for the reasons that may not necessarily be mentioned keeping in mind the considerations of the political correctness of the piece. To build deep assets that could be used for covert actions and long-range irregular warfare, a country needs a sustained effort with clarity and continuity of purpose, high-morale of the concerned intelligence agencies, competence, muscle and skills, and a strong political will. Unfortunately, we have none. In Pakistan, the military has been reigning over the security and foreign policy for the last 70 years with clear policy objectives and sustained efforts. On the contrary, with every new election, the policy, personnel and the ideology changes in India. Further, our agencies lack enough authority, are highly bureaucratized, suffer from inter and intra-agency rivalry and work in a democratic culture which may not be the most friendly work-culture for a spy agency. Lastly, India lacks a “strong strategic culture.” We have never engaged in aggressive psywars and aggressive military action. Remember, it was Pakistan that attacked India four times, not India.

So, what do we do?  Shockingly, the option of being a silent spectator to civilian and military deaths in ceasefire violations have also appealed some great human rights workers and internationally-acclaimed intellectuals who even shamelessly argued that demolition of Babri Mosque turned a peace-loving Maulana into a terrorist Masood Azhar. However, such breed hardly matters to India.

While thinking of a counter-move, the first and foremost thing that needs attention is the fact that India’s edge over Pakistan has always been in a conventional war. Precisely this was the reason they made strategic and tactical nukes, to use them as a deterrent in case if India’s threshold for tolerance is crossed in the irregular war and India resorts to a conventional attack.  We have acted naively in taking Pakistan’s boastful nuclear rhetoric at a face-value.  Our strategic community has come to believe and, without much thought that Pakistan is going to retaliate with a full-scale atomic attack in case of a strong response by India to its terror tactics. This precisely has been the deep state’s trap, and foolishly, we fell into it and thriving in it for more than two decades now, with cuts in India’s body-politic fast exceeding General Zia’s dream number of 1000.

How baseless and unfounded our fears have been, is amply demonstrated by Pakistan’s timid response to India’s surgical strikes. Resorting to nuclear options will be a greater disaster for Pakistan and Pak army is a highly rational actor and understands the fact stated above, well. In fact, Pakistan does not have a response mechanism in case India retaliates with an aggressive military action, short of full-scale war. Pakistan knows that it cannot use the nuclear option and therein lays the chink in the armour of Pakistan. Hence, the option of a full-scale war may be unrealistic, disproportionate and unwise but something like a step short of it may be a sensible idea to explore. We may call it a sub-conventional military response.

India could explore the option of regular bouts of aggressive, high-intensity counter-offensive sustained over a long period with no immediate end in sight. The objectives must be clear- destroy the terror infrastructure including terror camps like Lashkar’s headquarter at Muridke, make civilian life hellish in Pakistan’s border areas and break them psychologically. Ceasefire violations should happen from our side on a regular basis. Along with this, we must activate the Afghan border also, indeed within the bounds of good taste !! The strategy must be to confuse them- two steps ahead and one step backward, i.e., an aggressive action followed by an informal proposal/statement indicating a genuine intent for ceasefire or even a declaration of unilateral ceasefire or a dialogue or some versions of track 2,3,4 diplomacy. Such moves must be followed, after a period, by another bout of aggressive military action on the border. India needs to create smokescreens where aggressive military action becomes a norm, but it does not look like a conventional attack. And, if it appears that Pakistan’s threshold is getting narrower, then India must guard itself with a nuclear threat. Finally, this is the best time to do it because the morale in Pakistan’s strategic establishment is low because of India’s tough approach in the valley and on the border, in the last four years. Besides, internationally Pakistan is under tremendous pressure as the world community sees Pakistan as a more or less a terrorist state. US-Pak relations are highly strained and Pakistan increasingly faces American pressure to act against Haqqanis. In June, FATF is most likely to declare greylist Pakistan for finding terrorism. In such circumstances, even China is least likely to stake its international credibility by defending Pakistan.

The pressure has to be on the border rather than in the valley. The remote control, i.e., Pakistan should feel hemmed in and broken, militarily and psychologically. The idea is to bust their morale. An aggressive action during the month of Ramazan or prayer times can also be a great idea to crack down their confidence.  The valley has to be a witness to the goodwill gestures, economic activity, and civil liberties. The tourism must be actively encouraged, and it will always be welcomed.

While dealing with Pakistan, India needs to care a little less about ethical aspects and its image of a responsible and a democratic actor in the international community. And, in the long-run we India can devise its hybrid-warfare strategy. My essay on India’s hybrid war strategy can be a useful document for India’s strategic community.


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