New Delhi: Former national security advisor (NSA) and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon has told a TV channel that “India-Pakistan relations are one of the few major failures of Indian foreign policy”. Mr Menon, who was NSA and foreign secretary during the previous UPA government, has also said the likelihood of tactical nuclear weapons being used by Pakistan against India has increased which, in turn, has increased the possibility of an all-out nuclear war when India retaliates against tactical nuclear weapons with massive retaliation of its own, according to a statement issued by the TV channel.
In the TV interview, Mr Menon also claimed that in the immediate wake of 26/11, he had “pressed for the immediate visible retaliation of some sort, either against the LeT in Murdike or their camps in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir or against the ISI, which was clearly complicit” and that at that time he had believed that retaliation would be “emotionally satisfying” and would also go “some way toward erasing the shame of the incompetence that India’s police and security agencies displayed in the glare of the world’s television lights for three full days”. But, he added that “on sober reflection and hindsight” the decision not to retaliate militarily was “the right one”. Mr Menon was the Indian foreign secretary during the 26/11 attack.
Mr Menon said that the September 29, 2016 surgical strikes — carried out under the Modi Government — were inevitable. However, he wondered whether the term surgical strikes was the right one. He seemed to suggest they should be called limited retaliatory action. But he pointed out that going public with the surgical strikes was not in India’s interest. It was designed to appease domestic opinion and not to advance a desired outcome with Pakistan, he said. Going public meant that Pakistan was forced to deny the strikes happened and, at a later point, to indulge in a stepped-up cross border violations, he maintained.
Mr Menon also said he believed that there is no foreseeable end to cross-border terror from Pakistan, adding, “India must be prepared for the long struggle to continue without decisive military solutions. Temporarily silencing the cross-border terrorists is the best we can hope for.” He also said he believes that Pakistan actually cannot control terror, asserting that “terrorism is hard-wired into Pakistan’s society and polity”. He said, “I am not so sure that it’s any longer within Pakistan’s capacity to stop terrorism”.
Mr Menon said that Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons, which will be devolved to lower ranking officers at the battlefield level, who will be “younger officers in an Army that is increasingly religiously motivated and less and less professional and that has consistently produced rogue officers and staged coups against its own leaders”.
But he however maintained that any suggestion that India should give up its no first use nuclear policy would not be in India’s interest both in terms of the strategic deterrent role of nuclear weapons as well as their role as weapons of war. According to news agency reports, after defence minister Manohar Parrikar had stoked a controversy over India’s “no first use” nuclear policy, Mr Menon said the defence minister does not have the right to voice his personal opinion on nuclear policy in public, especially when it contradicts the official policy of the country.
According to the TV channel’s statement, Mr Menon said that India’s nuclear weapons are no guard and no deterrent against Pakistani terror. Threatening a nuclear response to a terrorist attack from Pakistan “would be like threatening to kill a mosquito with a shotgun and would be unlikely to be understood by India’s own people let alone the international community”, he said.
Mr. Menon said that as Foreign Secretary, he had advised then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that India should retaliate and be seen to do so. Mr. Mukherjee, he said, “seemed to agree with me”, according to the statement issued by the channel. Mr. Menon however did not reveal then PM Manmohan Singh’s response but in the end India didn’t retaliate militarily.
However Mr. Menon said that “on sober reflection and hindsight” the decision not to retaliate militarily was “the right one” and gave several reasons for this. First, military retaliation would have converted a Pakistani terror attack on India into a India-Pakistan war or another instance of Indo-Pak rivalry. Second, retaliation against LeT targets would have had limited utility and very little effect on the organisation. Third, retaliation would have caused huge collateral civilian damage. Fourth, retaliation would have united Pakistan behind the Pakistan army and altered the balance between the Pak army and the civilian government at a time when the civilian government was trying to be friendly to India, he said.
The interview was given to the TV channel to mark the launch of his forthcoming book which will be officially launched on December 2 by former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh.