Defence and Dialogue
Days before India celebrates its Independence Day, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Sartaj Aziz on Thursday said he would visit India on August 23 for talks with his counterpart Ajit Doval. The decision to hold NSA-level talks was taken when the Prime Ministers of the two countries met in Ufa, Russia last month on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. The talks between NSAs of the two countries come in the backdrop of simmering tensions following terror attacks in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. There have been 19 ceasefire violations along the border in July in which four persons, including three Indian soldiers, were killed. The two countries had exchanged a war of words over a “spy drone” which Pakistan alleged was being used by India for aerial photography near the Line of Control (LoC), a claim dismissed by New Delhi.
India, meanwhile, has repeatedly expressed its anger with a Pakistan court granting bail to terrorist Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed in 2008. Pakistan has, in turn, has criticized India’s decision to not challenge the bail granted to Swami Aseemanand, the alleged mastermind of the bombing of a train in 2007 in which 70 people were killed, most of them Pakistanis.With terrorism on top of the agenda, both sides will bring these sore points to the table. The recent spates of attack in Udhampur, followed by the terror attack in Punjab, where two terrorists, again reportedly from Pakistan, sneaked across the border and wreaked havoc on the small town of Gurdaspur, will also weigh heavily in the negotiations. On a positive note, however, both governments have maintained their position in seeking diplomatic engagement to overcome tensions, despite repeated ceasefire violations across the International Border and the Line of Control.
The default setting underlying the Pakistani military establishment’s policy, which usually supersedes the stand taken by its civilian government, since Independence, has been to engage in a covert war against India. They are aware that the Indian establishment, besides issuing intermittent threats of war, will go to any lengths to avoid a crisis-like situation and return to the negotiating table. The dialogue process between both sides has not borne much fruit for the last 69 years, despite repeated attempts. Despite India’s superior military strength, a costly war at this point is out of the question, and not necessarily due to the imminent threat of a nuclear holocaust. Although dialogue is the only way forward, the best way forward for India is to possess the necessary tools to defend its border areas.What the recent attack in Gurdaspur did was to expose the visible lack of preparedness in a sensitive border district.
New Delhi, in coordination with state governments, must improve the security apparatus in these areas, instead of leaving brave souls to defend Indian soil. In addition, New Delhi needs to further augment its ability to eliminate key terror elements across the border in covert operations, unlike the much-publicized raid into Myanmar, which did not see a single target of intelligence value either captured or killed. Defence modernization, allied with filling up an under strength Intelligence Bureau with more manpower, and the augmentation of the Research and Analysis Wing technical capabilities are some of the long-term steps that New Delhi must earnestly take up. Besides the odd Ajmal Kasab, many Pakistani terrorists are repatriated back home because Indian investigators are unable to achieve successful convictions. If the Modi government does take up all these steps in earnest, then it will be in a better position to deal with Pakistan both on the ground and the negotiating table.