What to do about Pakistan

In the wake of the beheading of a slain Indian soldier by 29 Baloch Regiment regulars on the ceasefire line, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, warned about “other options”, implying something stronger by way of a reaction than the usual harrumphing by New Delhi.

Such expectations were toned down by the Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, on January 14, who said the Army would choose the time, place and type of retaliation. This latter statement is actually the right response. The Indian Army will go punitive, do whatever it has to do, whenever it chooses to do it. Provocative acts can be the result of plain cussedness, or bad blood owing to particularly aggressive actions by this or that unit on the LoC, marking it out as an entity to be “dealt with” by units on the other side. Straying soldiers, who would be waved off in more placid times, become targets in these situations. This is an aspect of the blood sport the two Armies have engaged in for the last 42-odd years since the Line of Control (LoC) formally came into existence.

The trouble is that India-Pakistan relations have always occupied the indeterminate grey area between intimacy and enmity. The organic links of kith and kinship, ethnicity, religion, and culture have tied up the two countries in a difficult embrace, and their relations in knots. Reflecting this affinity are the “wars” the Armies of India and Pakistan have fought, which the late Major General D.K. Palit, director, military operations in the 1962 China conflict, memorably described as “communal riots with tanks”. These essentially counter-force engagements are space, time and scale-constrained affairs which, in peacetime, transform into a sort of ill-natured intra-mural blood sport involving the occasional gruesome act, sniper kills and localised special forces-created mayhem.

It is clear that other than the Prime Minister and politicians heading the defence, home and external ministries, the political class generally knows nothing of this reality on the LoC, evidenced in the Opposition demanding Pakistani pound of flesh. This was nothing compared to the bombast in the media, especially the television channels. Swayed as much by ignorance as by the need for tamasha and raised TRPs (television rating points), over-wrought, mindlessly provocative anchors were outdoing even William Randolph Hearst. Hearst, owner of the New York Journal who, with the US intervention in Spanish-held Cuba in mind, in 1897 supposedly told the painter, Frederick Remington, “You furnish the pictures, I will furnish the war”! In the event, Hearst got his Spanish-American War, and Manmohan Singh stopped the rapprochement process in its tracks. “No business as usual”, he said, suspending, in the process, the policy of issuing visas at the border for Pakistanis 60 years or older, driving Pakistani stars out of the Hockey League, and disinviting the Pakistani team to the Women’s World Cup to be held in India later in the year. These measures came into force just as General Headquarters on both sides agreed to strictly observe the ceasefire and the Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, mouthed the Congress Party Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar’s mantra, of dialogue between the two countries to be “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”.

This mantra is right not for the reasons adduced by Aiyar, but rather because the Indian policy establishment is simply not sophisticated or farsighted enough to conceive and conduct a non-linear foreign policy simultaneously prosecuted with different approach and attitude at different levels, with all policy activity driven by a single strategic vision. Aiyar’s view in that sense falls short but is useful to the extent that it seeks normalisation of relations regardless of any disruptive incidents, which is in line with the principle of non-linearity of policy. The Chinese, for instance, are masters of the non-linear, multi-layered approach, and do this so well that India is effortlessly disadvantaged. India’s attempt at prosecuting a multi-level policy, like in the case of Pakistan, is ham-handed and buckles at the first hint of pressure. Thus, the Manmohan Singh government kept aloof from the beheading hullabaloo for some 10 days, saying and doing nothing to suggest that a breakdown of the diplomatic interaction was in the offing, and using IAF Chief Marshal Browne and Gen. Bikram Singh to signal its anger. But then it abruptly capitulated in the face of the media-induced hysteria, exposing once again India’s absence of strategic vision of course, but also the lack of conviction and political will to persist with policy initiatives that New Delhi, in any case, will be compelled to revive after the situation cools down.

This is to say that India’s bilateral relations with Pakistan will, in practice, have to be more nuanced and multi-layered. The composite talks have to be resumed, but larger volumes of trade and commerce between the two countries do not have to depend on the Sir Creek issue being resolved tomorrow, or a solution for the Kashmir dispute being nigh, and neither does the whole slew of interactions in the other spheres — sports meets, the movement of drama troupes and cinema and music stars, and the easing of visa norms to allow freer travel and tourism. None of this means India and Pakistan will see eye to eye on Afghanistan, China, the US, Indian Ocean, or nuclear strategic issues. Even less likely is it to blunt the combative instincts of the Indian and Pakistan militaries. Therefore, there will continue to be tensions, and cross-border firings and inconsequential artillery duels, which should be left to the directors-general, military operations, and flag meetings to deal with. The future of South Asia cannot anymore be hostage to isolated incidents and occurrences involving the Indian and Pakistani Armies.

“[Published January 18, 2013 as “Out of control on line of control” in the Asian Age, at http://keralawww.asianage.com/columnists/out-control-line-control-031 and in the Deccan Chronicle at http://deccanchronicle.com/130118/commentary-columnists/commentary/out-control-line-control ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Ocean, nonproliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to What to do about Pakistan

  1. RV says:

    @Vihan: As a carry-over from the previous articles, here are two avatars of Santhanam’s larger report:

    Click to access

    Click to access Basu.pdf

  2. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, if you regress in time, much of India’s lack of credibility/seriousness can be traced to those fateful days when a botched test was formally declared as a TN test, and, NFU, self-imposed moratorium and the other nonsense became official policy!

  3. Shaurya says:

    Bharat ji: First Thank you for taking the Pakistan policy formation issue up. One comment is: It is not just the Chinese who know the art of a non-linear pursuit of foreign policy. If our MEA and establishment dig in to their roots, they will find similar examples by way of Sama, Dana, Bheda and Danda as guidance on how to do the same.

    Socio-economic and military de-escalation by way of sama, extending some resources to Pakistan by way of Dana, a jaw for broken tooth by way of danda and using Durrani Pashtuns by way of Bheda across the Durand line and doing all of these simultaneously is the need of the hour.

  4. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, has anyone thought of what kind of economic Pearl Harbor Pakistan and some of its allies could pull on India. There has been hundreds of crores (if not more) of fake currency pumped into the Indian economy. There are thousands of crores of “easy money” floating around Bollywood (controlled in no small measure by ISI hirelings), and it’s no great secret that the BSE is one of the worlds largest money laundering centers for terrorist and drug money. If this is ignored or pulled off, can you imagine the consequences?

  5. Vihan says:

    @RV: Thanks for the links! Much appreciated 🙂

  6. Joydeep Ghosh says:

    Bharat sir

    a few things

    1. 2 chaps of IA were beheaded in 2011 and 1 in 2010, all these were hushed up by IA high command as it didnt want to demoralize the army and their bodies were reportedly sent home in sealed caskets. so its indeed important to find out who leaked the news to media in first place that led to such media frenzy.
    2. i fail to understand why certain media channels (a english channel particularly) actually tried to do trial by media where security experts from both sides mouthed sharp jingoistic rhetoric, didnt someone try ask the anchore to pipe down.
    3. situation was complicated when certain politician wanted the govt. to bring 10 Pakistani heads, i think the politician forgot that in 1999 govt. of party to which politician belonged strictly issued orders to IA & IAF not to cross LoC thereby letting go of a lifetime chance to go across and recover whatever area that was possible, that would have completely demoralized their opponent.
    4. all this has created scary situation for sportsman, artists and businessmen from Pakistan when the stated policy should have been to keep out sports, artist and business (not talking about visa for 65+)
    5. why dont these politicos, news anchors see fact that by indulging in such rhetoric we are actually pushing each other to point of no return

    however i see a few ominous signs,

    1. on one hand they kill our soldiers, then they ask for 3rd party check if this happened
    2. HM chief says full blown jehad in kashmir from 2014, right when US will withdraw from Afganistan.
    3. just head Pakistan will release all the Afghan Talibans resting in its jails

    what these may lead to and what more we have to go through, when it be enough i dont know


    Joydeep Ghosh

    • RV says:

      @Joydeep Ghosh: There’s another issue nobody seems to ask. These ghastly and barbaric incidents took place in 2010 and 2011. Why is it that only after the matter was made public, that Gen. Bikram Singh and ACM Browne issued loud bombastic statements about retaliation, etc, with equally hollow statements from the PMO. What were the Indians doing all awhile when these incidents were hushed up? Didn’t MMS and the rest know of these incidents when they were hobnobbing and kowtowing to Rabbani-Khar? Surely, it doesn’t take 2 years to retaliate! IMHO, whoever leaked the news to the press did the right thing!

      • As I hinted — reference to bloodsport, etc. — in my piece, these sorts of grissly and grotesque actions have been ongoing for many decades now. It is just that this time the incident has gone viral. With the media now getting into the act, both the armies will be more careful about returning mutilated bodies. Th offending side may simply choose to dispose off the bodies, forcing the other side to claim death by avalanche or some other natural event. This is difficult business allround.

        Your apprehension about the imprisoned Taliban being let loose by GOP to create mayhem in India, is well merited. But then Islamabad is taking the chance that these hardcore rogues will not join the numerous Islamic extremist gangs to wage war on the Pak state and society. After all, TTP, for e.g, has already warned that imposition of sharia in Pakistan is first priority.

  7. RV says:

    Great strategist, your statements: “But then Islamabad is taking the chance that these hardcore rogues will not join the numerous Islamic extremist gangs to wage war on the Pak state and society. After all, TTP, for e.g, has already warned that imposition of sharia in Pakistan is first priority.” are well merited. OTOH this may be further cause for the Pakistani establishment to rachet up tensions with India to keep these rabid creatures from turning on the Pakistani elite.

    • Shaurya says:

      With extreme fears, come extreme caution. One can make a logical argument of the irrationality of the Pakistan state and come to a logical conclusion on how untrustworthy and irrational GoP has been from the Indian perspective.

      However, somewhere along the line many Indians loose the plot and get divorced from reality, which is indeed far more nuanced and mixed. There are as much signs of rational decisions by GoP as made by GoI. Coupled with the mistrust of both GoP and GoI, there is an extreme paranoia that sets in – leading to a state of analysis paralysis. This is were realists, who can gauge the weight of many arguments and have the temerity to separate the wheat from chaff have a role to play.

      • RV says:

        Stating a very plausible scenario with precedent to back it up is not divorcing oneself from reality. OTOH, living in a state of denial based on false premises leads some people to lose the ability to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. The term “realists” needs to be explicitly defined as should the notion of what constitutes “reality”! Hand waving arguments and jargon do not constitute analysis.


    I recently have studied your website security wise.It’s a great site.It consists elaborate discussions on security issues.I would like to place some of my views on India Pakistan relation.For a long time Pakistani establishment is using terrorists as a tool against India.India becomes victim of deadly terrorist attacks, planned from the Pakistani soil.Pakistan Govt repeatedly denies any pakistan role behind these attacks.It’s clear that ISI and Pakistani army executes these attacks by joining hands with terror groups.Now,Hafiz Sayeed boss of Let should be India’s prime target.Hafiz sayeed is the mastermind of deadliest 26/11 attack.India is not a weak state.Why can’t we execute an operation like USA did in Abottabad.India should launch a search operation for Hafiz Sayeed and kill capture him.Unlike USA India should bring Hafiz Sayeed to India and Judiciary system will gove him death sentence.That will be a slap on the face of Pakistan.I know it’s not an easy job.Hafiz sayeed is guarded by ISI and army.India have to collect correct intelligence reports an,work day and night to chalk out a plan.Pakistan will never hand over Sayeed to India ,India itself must punish him.
    There is also possibility that India Govt may already started the planning.Capture,bring and punish that wiil be real teaching for pakistan.Please express your valuable views on this

    • Nothing would be more just than India getting its hands on Hafiz Sayeed and bringing him up before Indian courts. In fact, Israel had that programme of literally kidnapping and secretly transshipping former Nazi regime leaders who lived in exile in South America. The US has such a scheme — the “rendition’ program which succeeds in putting enough pressure on states where such persons live to hand them over to American authorities for their day in court in the US. Unfortunately, GOI is not politically strong-willed enough to enforce such a program with, say, Pakistan. And there’s the rub!


        Yes that’s the problem with India.You are a graet strategist.What is the problem with India that every time India avoiding such action against pakistan what do you think?Is India trying to emerge as a new responsible peace loving world leader?So that India can get a permanent berth at security assembly of UN.That’s the reason that India is stepping very cautiously and doesn’t want any criticism from any country.

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