Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
Snapshot
  • If the Pakistan-backed terrorist attack at Uri does not lead us towards long-term strategic action, we might as well resign ourselves to becoming the punching-bag for that terrorist state.

If the Pakistan-backed terrorist attack at Uri yesterday (18 September), which killed 17 armymen, does not lead us towards long-term strategic action, we might as well resign ourselves to becoming the punching-bag for that terrorist state, with negative consequences for us in the long run.

In the wake of the attack, we saw strong words from the Prime Minister, who said the attack “won’t go unpunished”, and even stronger rhetoric from Ram Madhav, party spokesman, who said: “for one tooth, the complete jaw.”

But with Modi’s Pakistan strategy in tatters, talk is not enough. Nor is blind rage or short-term action the answer. A week of retaliatory firing on the border, or some attack on terror camps in Pakistan is not good enough. What Uri should prompt us to do – if we have not already started doing so – is to prepare for a long-term war of attrition where the costs to Pakistan will be greater than ours. Small retaliations right now will serve no purpose. For punitive action to work, the one doing the punishing has to have disproportionate strength against the weaker opponent. But this is not the case, Pakistan which can match us firepower for firepower, nuclear warhead for nuclear warhead, and then some. We have to think deep and strike deep. We cannot afford to be just reactive. We have to take the war where it needs to go – inside Pakistan.

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If we would have understood the Pakistani threat for what it is, we would not have stumbled along for so long. First, Pakistan, as I have noted earlier, is the original Islamic State. It became one in the 1940s, when Islamism was not the norm across Muslim countries. Second, Pakistan is China’s attack dog, a vassal state; it has no shame doing China’s dirty work, for its national focus is enmity towards India, not the upliftment of its own people. China has no qualms using Pakistan for its dirty work, for it helps it to pretend it is above the battle. Third, Pakistan’s enmity is not about Kashmir; it is about Islamism and defeating “Hindu” India. This is why it has Islamised Kashmir, by driving out the Pandits.

The stone-throwing young people of Kashmir have grown up seeing no Pandit in the Valley, which means they have no memories of Kashmiri identity being anything but Muslim. The old leaders, even those in the Hurriyat, have no meaning any more to the young. Yet, we have scores of “useful idiots” in our media and political parties telling us to “talk” to the Hurriyat cowards, who are actually being protected by us against jihadis. The Hurriyat is implacable not because it is strong-willed, but because it is afraid it will be killed for showing any moderation.

This understanding calls for a long-term counter from India, not short-term, meaningless action which will do nothing to deter Pakistan’s terror network from targeting us.

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The strategy should include many of the following initiatives.

First, we have to consistently raise military spending by up to 1 percent from current levels. Over a decade, or more, this will force Pakistan to match it, and help it implode economically. The Soviet Union imploded not because of military failures, but because the US upped its military spending under Reagan, which a poorly performing Soviet economy could not match.

Second, linked to the above, we have to simply develop a formal military-industrial complex with both private and public sector participation. In a decade or more, we have to be self-reliant militarily, even if it means accepting lower quality stuff initially. You cannot build domestic capability to defeat Pakistan (and deter China) if we are going to be perennially dependent on the US or Russia or France or Europe for basic war equipment and aircraft. Building up our military-industrial complex has to be the core of Modi’s Make in India. Security equipment will always fall outside WTO, and this is where we need to invest heavily in the coming years. We have to act against the corrupt defence establishment, which is used to making loads of money from foreign defence salesmen.

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Third, we have to pursue active diplomacy based on strategic goals. For example, if we are planning to rake up Balochistan, it makes no sense to do so without involving Iran. We share no border with Balochistan, but Iran does. If Iran can be convinced about its interests being protected, or even expanded in Balochistan, we can work together. Russia also needs to be in the loop on Balochistan. With China, our diplomacy should be about explaining the future costs of giving Pakistan full backing for Islamism, and link it to its own problems in Xinjiang, where the Uighurs are sullen and ready for jihad. It won’t work immediately, but China will get the message slowly, when Uighurs start arming themselves actively. As far as the US is concerned, a Donald Trump would be better for us than a Hillary Clinton, who carries the baggage of old-style state department anti-India attitudes. She will offer more comfort to Pakistan than us. But we can’t dictate US electoral outcomes; if Clinton wins, we just have to work harder to convince her. Our geopolitical alliance will be US, Japan, Vietnam and Israel, with Russia and Iran being an important secondary partners.

Fourth, we have to actively consider a second front against Pakistan, from Afghanistan. We need not jump into this, as the US failure to win there shows, but we need to develop a covert network with segments of the Afghan tribal population and the Afghan government to threaten Pakistan from the west. This will impose real costs on Pakistan, and force it to worry about its exposed back in Afghanistan.

Fifth, we have to consider developing tactical nuclear weapons, not just to deter Pakistan, but also China. We cannot rule out Chinese adventurism in Tawang on Ladakh if it feels India is stretched in dealing with Pakistan. We have to throw a hint that India’s nuclear arsenal is focused on deterring a bigger power, and not a minor vassal state.

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Sixth, we clearly need to develop stronger covert action and guerrilla capabilities inside Pakistan, apart from intelligence. If it is so easy to ship across a few terrorists every month from Pakistan to India, why is it so difficult to do the opposite, to go behind enemy lines and target the same terrorists and the Pakistan army? This capability may take time to develop, but should be one of the major options we should be considering. Terrorists cannot be stopped by the army alone; you have to send small groups after them to do unto them what they do unto us.

Seventh, with China our tools have to be economic - apart from building nuclear and military capabilities. Given the huge trade disparity, we should start developing non-tariff barriers and national security clauses to stop the surge of Chinese products into India. We need to look actively for cyber snooping and malware coming with Chinese electronic goods and use this to examine and delay the shipment of every single item imported into India.

It surprises me how careless we are in allowing China to take over large segments of our smartphone, computer and electronics markets. When the “internet of things” develops, every white good or brown good will be using embedded software coming from China. This is a huge security threat, as every gadget can contain coded malware, which will aid Chinese cyber snooping and a built-in capability to disable our systems. We have to be conscious of this Chinese game, and develop cyber counter-threats. We have to spend hundreds of crores in this warfare.

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Eighth, we have to simply stop apologising for Kashmir. India has too many weak-minded intellectuals and media commentators who are all-too-willing to paint us as the villains. We keep asking ourselves: surely we must have done something wrong in Kashmir that Pakistan is able to fish in troubled waters? The answer is, sure, we must have done some things wrong, but no global power ever apologises for errors and ties itself in knots when it comes to protecting its national security interests.

The US has made countless mistakes from Afghanistan to Iraq to Vietnam and Syria, but it is learning its lessons quietly and doing what it needs to do. There is no unnecessary breast-beating. Tony Blair led his country to war in Iraq without any evidence to back his claims on weapons of mass destruction, but the UK is never going to apologise for this. China and Israel and Russia probably made more mistakes in how they dealt with their ethnic problems, but they do not let this affect their strategic resolve. So why are we reducing ourselves to crybabies and self-flagellators? India can never become great by trying to pin the blame for anything that goes wrong on ourselves. We just have to learn the lessons from our mistakes and move on.

We have a long war ahead, perhaps lasting decades. We have to develop nerves of steel to win it. We should not defeat ourselves by endless searches for our mistakes. We have, in fact, made far fewer human rights mistakes than any other country in the world when faced with similar threats.

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We have to learn the value of hard power – how to acquire it, how to use it, and how to stop browbeating ourselves into inaction.

Pakistan is worse than Islamic State. If Islamism is the next Fascism or Nazism, Pakistan is the HQ of this violent movement, and not the Islamic State. The latter will be bombed out of existence soon, but Pakistan is a recognised state, and it cannot be dealt with like IS. This has to be our core statement to the world: Pakistan (not the people, but the Deep State) is the real Islamic State, the scourge of humanity.

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