No more signs taken for wonders

Pakistan’s Diwali gift to India has been unprovoked firing on the borders and a resolution in its parliament asking for international intervention on Kashmir. Two actions by the Modi led government, firstly diplomatic, calling off the foreign secretary level talks, and secondly, military replying shell for shell, give a message of bridging the civil military divide and acting in concert. These twin actions have come against the back drop of India building bridges with her neighbour’s clearly showing value for peace, and that it was the first choice. Is the diplomatic model being turned gently towards coercive diplomacy? The government has issued new red lines; Pakistan reply has been to internationalise the Kashmir issue, ‘a rallying point with a troubled nation’. 

The million man march in London did not draw a million, and hardly matters to India. Pakistan is trying to internalise the issue by firing on the international boundary which consists of 720 kilometres along Line of Control (LoC) and 198 kilometres IB sector in Jammu region. Both the gun and talks have not been able to solve this vexed problem which has got more complicated with Pakistan using non state assets as strategic assets. Thus how does India which aspires to be a regional power and needs peace in its own backyard for progress reach a solution?

There will always be talks and diplomacy will be the final answer to all problems, but then why have Army and Para military forces been kept as show pieces for display only? The primary role of the armed forces is to guard the territorial sovereignty of the nation and if any nation through any means, state or non-state, is trying to encroach on Indian sovereignty the nation needs to give a befitting reply. Pakistan has tested India’s tolerance levels, through various terror related actions, but India has never tested Pakistan’s nerve and the recent befitting reply on the border was an apt reminder of the new tough line. India responded differently at Kargil and won the initiative; the attack on Indian parliament was answered by a mobilisation on the borders.

The Pakistan establishment responded with a cease fire agreement on the line of control and a commitment not to allow its territory to be used by terrorist. Mumbai- 26/11and a host of other terrorist attacks led to predictable reactions from the Indian side. These embolden the Pakistan establishment and the recent firing on the borders was and still remains a desperate act of a nation trying to draw international attention to the Kashmir cause.

There was peace and tranquility on the borders from ‘49 to ‘65, sixteen years. Six short years (65-71), of Indian vulnerability which Pakistan tried to encash on after the ‘62 debacle resulted in the nation being truncated in ‘71 and the creation of Bangladesh. Then again it thought of its scheme of death by a thousand cuts which led to the state sponsored insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir from 1988 onwards, nearly seventeen years.  The conclusion is simple each time India acts tough it takes Pakistan a couple of years to come out with a new bag of tricks. For far too long knowing that the foreign policy of Pakistan is controlled by the Pakistan Army, India has responded diplomatically.

Does an army understand force or diplomacy better? Has India not got the reply? The fetish for more and more talks has led the Indian establishment nowhere, the issue remains where it is and has only gone more and more complex, the two nations cannot agree where to start the talks. Similarly the various wars, ‘47, ‘65, ‘71 and Kargil have led the two nations nowhere. This is because the Indian nation has lacked strategic foresight, India lacks strategic culture and its political class only understands trade and identity politics. The Indian nation has neglected its armed forces, thus left her vulnerable. The threat that India faced about fifteen years ago was a single front threat, it now faces two and a half front hybrid multiple front threat. The sad part is it uses the same mindset   to tackle   this enlarged threat.

The gun too has not worked very well either, the shelling gets more and more intense, and peace from 2003 onwards brought rich dividends to the border areas. From 2007 sporadic firing took place on the borders, but from August this year all limits have been crossed. There is however a difference this time. The Army and the BSF do what they are supposed to do best, that is respond in a calibrated manner the way the opposition understands it. The soldier at the border must fire shell for shell, and so also must the BSF. 

Both the BSF and the forces need to be superior in weaponry to the opponent such that he thinks twice before firing knowing that the response will be accurate and overwhelming. A stalemate never brings a solution.  The forces need to know that those behind them will support their actions. The earlier emphasis was too heavily in favor of the diplomat and the soldier had other people’s interest uppermost on his mind. The soldier must act like a soldier, and any provocation must lead to immediate punishment of the target.

The result that the gun or wars produce are at a very heavy cost, imposing a great strain. In the 21st century two nuclear armed neighbours, will not be allowed by the international community to settle this dispute through the barrel of the gun. On the other hand weak armed forces will not be able to react where situations in the near future will be less predictable, situations will evolve and change swiftly and technological changes will make response more difficult.

The armed forces need to be strengthened such that they can fight and win a two front war. The dividend of peace can only be achieved from a position of strength not weakness, our political class needs to ensure that, indigenous production is the answer and the recent 80,000 crore package one of the necessary steps.   

The author is a retired brigadier
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