With firing continuing unabated on the borders following Pakistani provocation, the situation in the Kashmir Valley still tense since and diplomatic ties with Pakistan on a rapid downslide, former com
Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
in this email interview about what he sees ahead for India-Pak ties amid the volatile situation in the Valley.
With firing continuing unabated at the LoC and International Border (IB) in J&K, what is the way forward Do you see peace returning gradually, as happened in 2014, or else further escalation We have seen the phenomenon of LoC/IB firing too many times in the past. These are the most convenient places which offer Pakistan the scope to keep the J&K issue in the focus of the international community and the powers that matter. This time it is also about displaying solidarity with the street protesters. It will eventually taper off because stamina on Kashmir’s streets will also dilute but peace as such may not return. The LoC/Jammu IB will remain tense. Clearly, deterioration of the bilateral political climate adversely affects the military situation too. I do not foresee scope for improvement in the political climate for quite some time. The informal ceasefire which came about on November 26, 2003, is under more serious threat than ever before.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has spoken of a “new normal” wherein India will not suffer in silence any more and will inflict heavier costs on Pakistan. How do you see this new strategy of the Modi government No doubt this government has been very resolute on both fronts. It first took considerable risk at re-initiating the peace process and Narendra Modi risked even personal reputation through his Lahore visit. However, since the deep state in Pakistan was not willing to seize the hand of friendship extended by the Modi government, the latter has shown that it can display the will to respond in other ways too. The surgical strikes were necessary and they were meaningless without political ownership. It will create a dilemma for Pakistan and force a rethink on the “threshold strategy” it follows.
Ties have further dipped even diplomatically, with India and Pakistan recalling their diplomats but diplomatic relations have not yet been snapped. What’s the role for diplomacy in such a hostile situation I doubt diplomatic relations will be snapped; they may be marginally and temporarily downgraded to communicate strategic messaging. Remember, Pakistan is in the grip of its military along with its unpredictability and irrationality. The civil society and the elected government are both extremely weak and forced into anti-India utterances. Our diplomacy must play to these and prove the rogue status of the Pakistan Army to the world as also to the Pakistani public.
How do you see the situation in J&K now amid the continuing shutdown where there is a gradual sullen limping back to normalcy after three months of violence, especially since it was this that triggered the latest round of India-Pak hostilities First, the round of India-Pak hostilities was initiated by Pakistan to express solidarity with the street hooligans of the Valley in the hope that this time, unlike 2008-10, the protests would have continued into winter and even beyond. However, the timely move of the Army’s two brigades into South Kashmir and the correct concept of operations that 15 Corps has followed has stemmed the rot to a great extent. The CRPF and the J&K police too have played no mean role. The toll on the social milieu of the Valley has been much larger than in 2008-10. Vigilantism by adolescents is currently the norm in the towns and villages. So, there is a tenuous calm while the calendar of protests continues with less fervour. We are still far from normalcy. The process of getting the J&K police to its original confidence must continue. I am also glad to see that the state government is not standing between operational necessities and political compulsions.
How do you read the internal situation in Pakistan after controversy over the civilian-military rift and with Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif all set to hang up his boots. Will he go quietly About four weeks ago, it seemed Gen. Sharif was setting up a situation for his inevitable continuation. That seems to be changing although it’s yet reasonably uncertain. He has a fairly positive image in Pakistan and may not like exiting with a kind of whimper having given the Indian Army an opportunity to roar. So what we may be witnessing at the LoC and the Jammu IB may be Gen. Sharif’s idea of redemption before he hangs up his boots. I doubt he is going to follow (the previous Pakistan Army Chief) Gen. A.P. Kayani into oblivion.
The Quetta attack in Balochistan on the Pakistan Police Training College has convinced the Pakistanis that there is a “grand plot” by India and Afghanistan to destabilise them, instead of realising that they are reaping the bitter harvest of terrorism. Has Pakistan learnt any lessons from the Uri misadventure and India’s surgical strikes at the border Pakistan is a master at the psychological game. It has convinced its public that every terror activity inside Pakistan has the hand of India behind it. Privately, most educated Pakistanis admit that India too has an obsession but that obsession is about its economic development and improvement of social parameters. We have been unable to project that to Pakistan’s public. This is where our security establishment has always been found wanting, the information and the psychological game. A focused campaign to convince the Pakistani public and important elements of the international community is the need. Who will do it, whose role and responsibility is it in India Given the abysmal state of civil-military relations in India the effect is most felt at the national strategic level.
Pakistan has said that ties cannot improve during the tenure of Mr Modi whom they see as more than willing to hit back both diplomatically and militarily. Do you think the policy of diplomatic isolation of Pakistan has worked First, I don’t think Mr Modi has, in any way, shut out dialogue or improvement in relations. For a leader who wishes to see India in the highest league will be the last to remain obsessed with war or a kinetic approach. He displayed enough desire to pursue peace. Pakistan does not like a strong personality at India’s helm, especially the Pakistan Army. The diplomatic isolation of Pakistan cannot be a one-off attempt; it needs continuity and, importantly, a more holistic approach. We need to take the diplomatic battle to beyond just conventions, conferences and big-ticket events and fight it at every level.
There’s a new Army commander at the Srinagar-based 15 Corps which you once commanded. Are you satisfied with the way in which the Army has responded to Pakistan’s provocations The 15 Corps is the Indian Army’s pride. Its ability to calibrate from conventional to hybrid is amazing. I also wish to compliment the Army Commander Northern Command for staying the course. His understanding of the concept of operations needed at this juncture has been superb.
I would like to see the Unified Command being made use of as often as possible. Most importantly, the entire situation in J&K is what we call in military parlance, hybrid warfare. Unlike the conventional or pure sub-conventional, this needs a whole of government approach. The more the Army advises governments at Centre and state the better will be the response.