Uri and After: Can India Act?
PUNE: The India- Pakistan situation has entered an increasingly volatile phase since August 2016. The latest Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack on the Uri military base killing 18 soldiers was the severest attack on an Indian military facility in Kashmir. Resounding across the country there is mounting public pressure for the government to retaliate.
Even the latest, largely favourable, Pew Research Center Report on Global Attitudes and Trends, says that 50 per cent disapprove of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s management of India’s relationship with Pakistan.The need to demonstrate the limit of the country’s patience is manifest, even more for a government looking for a second term in the next general elections.
PM Modi’s, reference to the human rights abuses in Baluchistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, in his Independence Day address, raised the stakes following Pakistan’s terrorist forays in Punjab across the international border and targeting Indian Army bases across the LOC.
The government has lost no time pursuing the diplomatic option to internationally isolate Pakistan at the on-going session of the UN General Assembly. How far will it go? What other viable options does India possess? These questions need urgent responses now.
An over-all strategy to have Pakistan declared a ‘terrorist state’ will need relentless pursuit even following the UNGA. It will also require close consultation with Afghanistan so that a joint effort is possible.Its corollary will be strengthening our force capabilities on the LOC and the international border all of which is now open to a terror attack. In terms of military capability this will call for immediate and increased expenditures and possibly higher casualties. In many ways the proxy war is on the way to becoming overt.
While United States has condemned the Uri attack it has linked it with the situation in Kashmir and called for India and Pakistan to talk.
Only exceptions are France, which has listed the Pakistani terror groups, and Russia which has named Pakistan. Clearly Pakistan has got away with murder.
With the US on the eve of the Presidential election it is unlikely that we will get more.
It will also set the direction for the other P-5 members.With continuing US and Western preoccupation with Afghanistan, getting Pakistan declared a ‘terrorist state’ by the UNSC could be a long haul. Such a diplomatic isolation strategy will by definition have to be on-going and continuous. Yet it should not deter India from preparing a viable hard strategy whatever time it takes.
A military response, the ultimate option, will need to strategize action keeping in view repercussions centering on both conventional and nuclear weapons. It will take preparation and time. There are sufficient reports to indicate that the Indian armed forces may not be ready to take this step yet.
Two possible untried options need to be considered. The implications of revaluating India’s ‘No First Use’ declaration and the World Bank negotiated 1960 Indus Water Treaty.
India’s adopted the principle of ‘no first use’ in order to assure the major powers that it was not India’s intention to be the cause of a nuclear war originating in the Indian sub-continent. Pakistan, on its part, has made no such declaration and latest reports suggest that it has increased the number of nuclear weapons and developed tactical nuclear.
Although China has stuck to its 1964 ‘no first use’ policy most other nuclear weapon states, including the US, do not follow this policy. In 2000 Russia rescinded such a commitment made by the Soviet Union.
The somewhat vague reference to India’s NFU commitment, in the BJP manifesto prior to the 2014 General Elections which brought Narendra Modi to office, had introduced a doubt about India retaining its commitment. Does this keep the issue open and has the time come to review it?
India’s holding on to this commitment has enabled it to move further on developing its nuclear power assets starting with the US-India Agreement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation (2005). Yet it has not been admitted into four restricted nuclear groupings which regulate the international trade in nuclear technology and its use. How much will nuclear cooperation with the world’s nuclear powers, none of whom have such a declaration, be halted in case India rescinds its commitment? Will the parity it introduces vis-a-vis Pakistan reduce its belligerency?
The Treaty, covering the five rivers under the Indus waters system, has held despite four wars between India and Pakistan and continuing terrorist strikes since 1989 across the LOC. All the rivers coming down from the Himalayas pass through Kashmir making their upper reaches part of the Indian-held part of the state. About 80% of the water that flowed through these six rivers in the 1950s was allocated to Pakistan giving India has certain non-consumptive use rights over the waters of the western rivers.
Pakistan has approached the Hague-based International Court of Arbitration after two days of talks on July 14-15, 2016 on the dispute concerning India’s construction of the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects. While opening the Treaty will put non-military pressure on Pakistan the success of this option will depend on India thinking through Pakistan’s military retaliation in Kashmir and on the IBL, and second, on retaliation from China which is an upper-riparian state for the entire Indus water system. Yet the option exists and possibly the time for looking at it may have come.
Despite continuing Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks India has failed to develop viable hard power options to deter them. Till such time as this inertia continues so will Pakistan’s current strategy till it can wrest Kashmir. Much hinges on the receptivity of the Kashmir population which is getting progressively inured to India’s policy and blandishments. It requires a clear policy on Kashmir to bring the population back into the national main-stream while taking active steps to develop options for hard option.
Although a number of options exist, and others can be developed, the essence resides in political will and consistency. With an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha and public opinion in its favour, the government must actively pursue all options available.
(Rajendra Abhyankar, former diplomat, is Chairman, Kunzru Centre for Defence Studies, Pune. He currently teaches at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington.)