Reaping the Whirlwind: Pulwama and After

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Deepak Sinha                                                                                                         01 Mar 2019

It was the military disaster of 1971 that forced the Pakistani establishment, the military which runs the country for all practical purposes, to face up to the fact that it could never win a conventional war against India. If it was to avenge its humiliation and cut India down to size, it had little choice but to fight through proxies, bleed India through a thousand cuts.

            This idea must surely have germinated from its successful employment of Islamic militants, the forerunners of the Taliban, used to oppose the rule of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) that had deposed President Mohammed Daud Khan in what came to be known as the Saur or April Revolution of 1978, It was this Pakistani fomented insurgency which finally led to the Soviet intervention and occupation of Afghanistan in Dec 1979. Incidentally, while conventional wisdom would have us believe that it was the CIA that came up with the idea of using militants to fight the Soviets, facts show that they came to the party much later and only added their considerable resources to the techniques perfected by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in the use of irregulars for its own ends.

            Thus from the early Eighties Pakistan commenced its support for secessionist elements within India that were involved in fighting against the State, firstly the Khalistan Movement and subsequently, with greater success, in Jammu and Kashmir. It clearly had advantages as there was credible deniability, economy of effort with the dirty work being done by proxies keeping Indian Security Forces tied down and finally, the most important of all, creating fear and anxiety within the general population that impacted every aspect of our democratic way of life.

            There is of course one major disadvantage of using proxies, they tend to have a mind of their own and often times respond inappropriately and at cross purposes to what its mentors may be wishing to achieve. The Pulwama suicide attack falls in this category. There have been numerous statements over the past four years that have made clear that Pakistan prefers to deal with Indian Governments run by the more “liberal and secular” parties compared to having to deal with the more conservative, Hindutva driven BJP. With elections around the corner and with the BJP facing the very real likelihood of a serious decline, if the recent state elections were any indication, it would have been in Pakistan’s best interest to maintain a low profile.

            Masood Azhar, the Jaish- e- Mohammed supremo, obviously had a different view. Not only did his organization carry out the suicide attack that led to the death of 45 policemen, but also went on to claim credit for the action. Thus, in one thoughtless act he not only destroyed the Pakistan Government’s attempts at deniability, but he also made Imran Khan’s call for India to provide credible evidence infructuous. Most importantly, the timing of the devastating attack left the Modi Government with little choice but to respond overtly and with speed, if it was to still retain any hope of doing well at the hustings. There was also the possibility that if India responded in an effective manner to the outrage, the Governments stock would go up rapidly and that would enhance Mr. Modi’s reputation and chances of return to power, just as the earlier cross- border strike helped the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh elections. This could hardly have been to Pakistan’s advantage and in the event it was facilitated by the Army, then General Bajwa has certainly made a serious miscalculation.

            Regardless of the number of casualties that the Indian Air Force’s attack on terror camps deep inside Pakistan may have caused, the very fact that the Indian Government displayed the intent to take on terrorists inside Pakistan has clearly changed the narrative prevalent for the past four decades. It has also shown up Pakistan’s repeated threats of a nuclear riposte as sheer hyperbole and bluster. More importantly the initiative has finally shifted in India’s favour along with world opinion which has had enough of Pakistan’s duplicitous behaviour. Moreover, any escalation above a perfunctory retaliation, which was to be expected to assuage domestic opinion, by Pakistan, would destroy the fig leaf of deniability it has used over the years. Most importantly, it would force their military into a direct confrontation, something that the proxy war waged by them over the years allowed them to avoid.

            In this context one can only hope better sense will prevail and we will be able to avoid a serious escalation of the conflict which can hardly help either side given the huge challenges that we face in lifting vast swathes of our population out of the twin evils of poverty and illiteracy.  However, it must be emphasized that true progress will only occur as and when Pakistan starts to wind up the Jihad factory it has built over these years. In any case the Indian cross- border raid cannot be a one- off affair and we must be willing to do all that it takes to neutralize the Jihadi network and its vast army of financiers, mangers and facilitators.

            Finally, while all our attention may be taken in dealing with the issue at hand, the fact as to what led to the Pulwama attack must not be lost sight off. For this serious lapse on the part of our intelligence services, it is imperative that heads must roll. There have also been clear indications that despite increasing numbers of militants being neutralized in the Valley the Army and other Security Forces were being increasingly marginalized, especially in South Kashmir, because of popular discontent. They had consequently lost their ability to dominate the countryside, thereby losing out on intelligence. These aspects continued to be ignored by the Central Government and the military hierarchy. Little thought was given to the necessity for reviewing either counter insurgency strategies or tactical procedures and the leadership continued to be swayed by tactical successes with little attempt to resolve the growing disillusionment and radicalization within the population, especially the youth. This must certainly change.


The writer, a military veteran is a Consultant with the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai.

This article was also published in the Pioneer Opinions expressed in the article are those of the author alone.

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