It is a little surprising, therefore, that in his first reaction our Prime Minister has said that our armed forces have been given a free hand.
Moments of crisis require national unity underpinned with statesmanship. The dastardly attack by a suicide bomber on the CRPF convoy, that claimed over 40 lives of our braves, is such a moment. Such a brazen attack that took so many lives is unprecedented. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, based in Pakistan, has proclaimed that it is responsible for the attack. Since the Jaish operates unhindered from Pakistan, the culpability of Pakistan is established. Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s speech, in which he has asked India to give proof of Pakistan’s complicity, is a fine example of deceit. Pakistan knows it is culpable. The question is what should India do.
First, it is only to be expected that there is strong popular feeling that Pakistan should be punished for what it has done. Such a response is legitimate. However, our response must not be impulsive or impetuous. It needs to be carefully planned and calibrated, with the right degree of surprise. Jingoism, war-mongering and bravado must be avoided. Options must be strategically weighed, and consequences carefully anticipated. We are — after all — dealing with a face-off between two nuclear powers. Decision making requires maturity and statesmanship, which should not be equated with pusillanimity.
A major responsibility lies with the political leadership. It is a little surprising, therefore, that in his first reaction our Prime Minister has said that our armed forces have been given a free hand. Presumably this means that at the ground level our armed forces can take such decisions that are needed to protect our borders and repel, and even punish, predators. However, the political executive cannot wash its hands of overall national strategy.
Second, we must do whatever is feasible to strengthen and reinforce the effectiveness of our armed forces and paramilitary personnel. They must now be provided state-of-the-art weaponry, surveillance technologies, interceptor devices, drones, and perimeter security of armed installations. The proxy war that Pakistan is waging against us is not going to end soon. Only a well-equipped force can counter it. Any shortfall in fulfilling our armed forces’ legitimate operational requirements, must be met on a war footing. At the same time, we must take immediate measures to strengthen our intelligence gathering abilities, including through a covert presence in Pakistan.
Third, we need to redouble our efforts to isolate Pakistan internationally on its nexus with terrorism. Such efforts need to go beyond "dossier-diplomacy", wherein we continue to provide more evidence of Pakistan’s complicity, when the world already knows that Pakistan is complicit. After all, Osama bin Laden was finally traced to a safe house in Pakistan. That the Jaish and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are global terrorist organisations operating freely from Pakistan is well known. Our aim now must be to persuade key countries to go beyond their verbal condemnation of terrorism to specific action against Pakistan.
Sometimes I think we are too complacent about having put Pakistan on the back-foot diplomatically. The fact of the matter is that China is still Pakistan’s all-weather friend; countries like Saudi Arabia are still willing to pump billions of dollars to shore up that terrorist state; and even the USA, needs Pakistan to further its strategic interests in Afghanistan. It is important for our foreign office to take a realistic view of the situation, even as we use our leverage and persuasion to convince the world that action against Pakistan where it hurts is necessary.
Fourth, we need to do a rigorous analysis of what went wrong in Pulwama. Was there an intelligence failure? Was there lack of coordination? Did we fail in showing requisite anticipation? Were standard operation procedures (SOPs) not followed where the movement of large convoys is concerned? To ask such questions is not an anti-national act. In fact, it is patriotism that pushes a nation to learn from mistakes, if any, so that such terrorist attacks do not take place in the future. Such post facto reviews have taken place in the past as well, such as after Kargil. To nullify efforts to learn from the past by resorting to sterile jingoism is to do a great national disservice.
Fifth, attacks against Kashmiri students, and citizens from the Valley, in other parts of India must forthwith cease. The need of the hour is national unity. Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. By attacking people from that state, we are only playing into the hands of the terrorist masterminds from across the border who want India to be divided. Those indulging in this anti-national violence must be immediately punished. I would urge our PM himself to make a statement condemning this senseless behaviour, and assuring every citizen of J&K full security. In this context, the deplorable statement of Meghalaya governor, Tathagata Roy, advocating the boycott of Kashmir and Kashmiris, merits his removal from this high constitutional post.
Ultimately, the best riposte to Pakistan’s nefarious designs is a happy and prosperous J&K within the Union of India. If, by withdrawing security and other government facilities to the members of the discredited Hurriyat we have signalled that they are no longer desirable interlocutors, then we must find other credible interlocutors. Homegrown terrorists in the Valley indoctrinated by Pakistan, must be dealt with firmly. But to proceed on the assumption that all Kashmiris are terrorists would be disastrous. The commencement of a dialogue and a healing process to counter the increasing radicalisation in Kashmir, especially among the young, is not an easy task. But it cannot be abdicated.
In any vibrant democracy where elections are round the corner, sober but resolute thinking often becomes a victim to the immediate benefits of rhetoric and bluster. We must not allow this to happen. We have suffered a grievous tragedy. Pakistan must be punished for its transparent complicity in perpetrating it. But how this is done requires dispassionate planning, away from the arc lights of public approbation. The Indian state must rise to the occasion, weighing all options carefully without losing sight of larger goals. Even as some nations support our cause, or appear to support it, this will be, in the final analysis, our battle. The great Chanakya put it succinctly: Nations respect those nations that respect themselves.