The Kashmir Challenge This Summer20 April 2010
Srinagar: This year Kashmir is going to witness a hot summer. The level of infiltration and other assorted occurrences - including meeting of terror groups in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, statements of Hafeez Sayeed - point to an increase in terrorist activity after a relative calm of the last two years. According to estimates of the state police and security agencies, there are at least 2,000 terrorists of whom around 400 are already in launch pads across the border waiting to be pushed in. The situation is somewhat similar to the mid 90s or early 2000s. It is said to be forewarned is to be forearmed. But are we capable of putting up a credible defence to meet the challenge? The neighbourhood In all practical purposes, we are not. Simply because terror strikes in mainland India - more so in Jammu and Kashmir - is a function of the ability of the Pakistani army to manouver in the region and continue to use terrorists and terror as state policy. There has been a sudden dip in terror strikes in India in the last two years precisely because of this reason. The Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency were on a tight leash since 9-11. And, perhaps realising this hard fact, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram a few months ago (before the Pune strike) said there has not been terror strikes because he was just 'lucky'. But, the situation is changing fast, and the aces seem to be piling on the other side of the border. The USA is looking for a 'Good Taliban' to chart out an honourable exit from Afghanistan. The Pakistan army will be at the centre of such an effort. In the 80s it was used to run a proxy battle against the Soviets. In 2000s it will be the proxy battle to keep the Mullahs from striking Europe and America. What Pakistan and the Mullahs do in the region may not be of much concern to either US or Europe. The crisis in Greece has already put a question mark on the economic viability of the European Union. Sensing this, the Pakistan army is already feeling victorious. And, it is increasingly becoming evident from Pakistani official statements on J&K, river water sharing with India and the manner which they are treating the 26-11 probe in Pakistan. Clearly, Pakistan is reviving the Kashmir issue and also moving away from the road that former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf had tried to take: That of moving ahead in fronts like trade, people to people to contact and eventually, perhaps, move towards joint sovereignty. What then are the levers that India can use to deter or put enough pressure on Pakistan to prevent it from using terror? Internal options India's options internally are not only limited but, perhaps, nil. The option of flowing in more forces in J&K is not going to help. There is that much the forces can do and no more. Given the terrain and other difficulties, the law of averages says if 500 terrorists are pushed in instead of 100, at least 50-odd are likely to escape the security net as against the previous ten. Second, the wee bit of normalcy that has been achieved by using civil instruments - like using the state police as first line of defence against terrorism as against the paramilitary or the military - seem to be paying off somewhat. And it may not be a good idea to jeopardize the situation at this juncture. Third, the UPA government more or less closed the track two initiatives with the Hurriyat and other stake holders rather prematurely. In his last days as the National Security Advisor, J N Dikshit tried to undo the error. But his successor M K Narayanan did not attach much importance to the process. As a result, the hardline faction led by Geelani has emerged as the most credible. Others have been largely discredited for engaging New Delhi without having anything to show. Fourth, India has no desire and, perhaps now, no capability to use covert executive action as a credible deterrence either against terror groups and their leaders or those in the establishment. Covert action has been used earlier on at least three occasions. Para-commandos were regularly launched to guide artillery fire to terror launch pads and camps. But that was before India and Pakistan entered into a cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control. Commandos were also used to strike villages across the LoC to send a message to the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) and the Pakistani Army. There are also reports that it was an Indian covert executive action that neutralised elements like Shahid Bilal of the Harkat-ul-Jihadi, responsible for several terror strikes in India, inside Pakistan. Covert executive action has been suspended fearing a backlash and escalation. But it has not prevented Pakistan using non-state actions against India. Global support India's options and more importantly its ability to rally the global community to put pressure on Pakistan also seems not only limited but in serious doubt. India has been largely kept out of the dialogue to decide on the future of Afghanistan despite having substantially contributed to process of rebuilding that country. India was not invited to Istanbul. And in the London Conference, India's position of not negotiating with the so-called 'Better Taliban' ignored. Instead, that very idea was accepted with the enthusiastic support of Islamabad. As things stand, it is matter of time before a 'Good Taliban' emerges from nowhere and negotiations begin with Islamabad at the centre. And, in all likelihood, the arrangement will be the same as the 80s and 90s. The US and Europe will provide material and moral support to Islamabad to play prefect. And this time round, India does not even have an Ahmed Shah Masood equivalent in Afghanistan to even partially safeguards its interests or counter Pakistan and the growing might of Taliban. Talks with Pakistan have been held out - periodically - as way forward. But talks can yield results only if Pakistan believes India to be a credible power capable of taking swift and decisive action. Credible deterrence Days after 26-11 attacks, the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, promised exactly that. India would act decisively and quickly if there was to be another terror attack - indicating, perhaps an all-out strike is well within the matrix of consideration of New Delhi. The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, in his last visit to India said: 'It is not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience will be limited were there to be further attacks.' A strong and well-equipped armed force no doubt is a credible deterrence. Are the Indian armed forces capable and equipped enough to deter Pakistan from being adventurous? Even after the 26-11 strikes, India did not use the option of a limited punitive action even in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, from where terror camps were known to be operating. A full-scale war was never ever considered. According to reports, there were two considerations that weighed on the minds of the political leadership: The international fallout given the fact that India had, after negotiating a minefield, just been given access to civilian nuclear energy. And, more importantly, India's own military ability to handle a Pakistani counter-strike leading to a full-scale war between the two countries was in doubt. India has the third largest standing army and the largest paramilitary force. But the devil, as always, lies in the detail. Modernisation of the armed forces is lagging behind by almost 15 years. Indian tank battalions are largely blind at night, air defence systems behind by at least a decade. The Navy has aircraft for carrier operations but no carrier to take-off from. The sluggish procurement process has not changed. The deterrence that a strong armed force can provide appears to be fast slipping away from India. Napoleon succinctly put it all those years ago: 'God is on the side with the best artillery!' But unfortunately for the political leadership, appearing clean is bigger priority. And being powerless before am errant and malevolent neighbour is acceptable. In sum, till India finds the means to put pressure on Pakistan, Kashmir will not only be hot this summer and in the 2010 winter, but Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and many other Indian cities too, will have to get ready to bury their dead.