This is the fourth reported incident of the kind by Pakistan’s army in the last five years; there were others too during Kargil and beyond. The need of the hour is deterrent punishment and escalation of violence as the new normal. Heads must roll.
Yet, the response cannot be dictated by an emotional outpouring of outrage that is inevitable with a free press in a democracy. Especially, given that a big part of the mandate for PM Modi was being tough on Pakistan.
Instead, the need is for a calculated application of available force. It will yield the same results as a symbolic or knee-jerk retaliation may. There will be blood on the other side of the front as there was before. The fact is the Pakistan Army will be caught in a no-win situation if India decides on an escalation by counter strike.
Three policy parameters are critical for ultimate victory, beyond the latest episode of the 70-year-old war with the Islamic republic of Pakistan.
The first is to give greater operational autonomy to the Indian Army to frame initiatives and responses on the Line of control. In this context, the Pakistan Army has an incredible advantage – it runs the policy. Rawalpindi decides, and Islamabad follows. India too needs to give her Army a much freer hand on the ground. The fact is that the predicament of LOC encounters is operational in nature, but the response needs a change in India’s strategic culture that overcomes the fear of escalation. The surgical strikes were a start, the bouquet of options on the ground need tactical flexibility and greater trust of those leading the operations.
The operational level constraints are many and they need to be removed. For this, the Army needs to be trusted by the civilian leadership. The quicker this is achieved the better.
Fight beyond the flashpoint – use the artillery.
India has to extend envelope of action all over the LOC. To retaliate it must choose its time and its spot. The terrain offers several nooks where Pakistani troops can be lured and dealt with. This will test the tactical abilities of the Northern Command. The best option is heavy artillery.
Time for using mortars is over.
Inflicting damage and being ready for reaction will require nerves of steel – it will also result in some casualties on the Indian side. India must be prepared for both and up the ante – immediately.
It is often not realised that in terms of capabilities India and Pakistan are almost evenly matched on the LOC. However, lately, India has better mobility and heavier calibre fire power. This can only be enhanced by pouring in massive resources into the theatre. This is achievable if India spends 3.5 percent of GDP on defence in the long term. Immediately it needs special spending to bulk up attack, and support helicopters get more artillery locating radars and speed up purchase of 155 mm guns.
Without such an effort a two trillion dollar economy looks Pakistan’s equal and that’s bad for all stakeholders. India needs to outspend Pakistan with more boots, artillery and more armed drones to wear away Rawalpindi. Not putting your money where your mouth is could undermine this government.
The nation needs to steel itself and the media needs to exercise critical self-restrain. The terrifying price being paid by our soldiers will only be worth it if we take on a posture that underlines our will to fight till the goal is reached. History is on India’s side. Pakistan is dreaming if it thinks the odd attack will change actual ground positions. Nuclear powers do not change boundaries. In India, there are stampedes to join the all-volunteer Army.
The international situation too has changed – no one wants another caliphate and China’s investments in Pakistan will remain venerable as long as things are hot in Kashmir and the LOC. By 2030 India will be a $10 trillion dollar economy - instead of death by a thousand cuts that Pakistan imagines - it will be only the occasional pinprick. For all that however we must first calm down – and keep fighting.
(The author is a Delhi-based security analyst for defence, foreign policy stories.He was also a visiting fellow at the Institute of Chinese studies, Delhi)
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 7:04 PM IST