Though the Indian armed forces maintain that their ‘operations’ are ongoing, it seems that there will be a pause in any further kinetic operations across the international border or even the Line of Control (LoC). Tensions are, however, likely to remain high, more so with the repeated violations of the ceasefire by Pakistan along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. The policy focus, therefore, needs to shift to the non-kinetic options – diplomatic, political, and economic.
Already, there are signs that the Pakistanis are facing significant diplomatic pressure to clean up the swamps of terror in that country. Reports of an impending crackdown on the terror groups – these are not non-state actors but quasi-state actors – are an indication of Pakistan’s hand being forced. Except for Turkey, no other country has come out openly in support of Pakistan. Even China is reported to be feeling the pinch and could lift its veto on designating Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist.
While Pakistan is insisting that its action against the terror groups had been decided much before the Pulwama row, no one is really buying into this spin. There is of course the enormous pressure coming from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). But there is also the IMF programme that Pakistan desperately needs and which could be jeopardised if the country doesn’t at least make a show of cleaning up its terrorist act. Most of all, if Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with journalists on March 3 is anything to go by, then it seems that Pakistan has realised how close it had come to a ruinous war with India which, according to the Pakistanis, was contemplating attacks on multiple targets inside Pakistan.
Even though deeply sceptical of the Pakistani move to clamp down on the jihadist terror groups – this movie has played out many times before – India will be watching very carefully to see if the latest clean-up is genuine or just another eyewash. The worst thing India can do at this stage is to jump the gun and re-engage Pakistan, even if this is at a fairly low level. Unfortunately, a tentative re-engagement could be underway, what with the Pakistanis agreeing to send a delegation to discuss the Kartarpur corridor.
While India will have to bear the cross of the ill-thought out decision to go ahead with the pilgrimage corridor, this should not deflect India from reviewing and rethinking its entire Pakistan policy, assuming that one exists. Slackening the pressure on Pakistan at this stage would be tantamount to losing the plot. Therefore, even as India maintains the military pressure to keep Pakistan unsettled, it needs to start ratcheting up pressure in other areas. The idea is not to close down lines of communication – that would be counterproductive – but to keep engagement at a very low level even as India downgrades, degrades and deflates or defangs Pakistan’s ability to damage India.
Among the first things India can do is to consign to the rubbish bin the notion that a strong, stable, prosperous Pakistan is in our interest. Nothing can be further from reality because when Pakistan enjoys these attributes, it feels emboldened to needle India. For India, the ideal state is a weak, unstable (not necessarily chaotic) and poor Pakistan. The question is how to achieve this.
On the diplomatic front, India needs to downgrade its relationship with Pakistan. We don’t need a 100-man mission (most of whom are virtual prisoners) in Islamabad. With trade having all but closed, issuance of visas falling drastically, and very little interaction, the mission can be reduced to about 20-25 people, headed by either a chargé d’affaires or a junior ambassador who knows and understands Pakistan and has no romantic notions of improving ties. We also need to do an audit of how useful the policy of people-to-people relations has been in improving ties.
We need to start treating Pakistan like a pariah nation, and degrade it by ignoring it and treating it with healthy contempt. Pakistanis crave for recognition in and by India. Deny this to them and their confidence will take a tumble. Expose Pakistan before the world through the use of India’s considerable soft power. On the economic front, undercut their exports and snatch their markets. Use the Indian market to disincentivise companies from investing in Pakistan. Increase engagement with Pakistan’s so-called friends (including China) to steadily edge out Pakistan. Use India’s position in international and multilateral financial institutions to squeeze Pakistan. Double down on defence modernisation to build up fearsome capabilities that then force Pakistan into a ruinous competition.
India will need to bring to bear all elements of national power to seriously squeeze Pakistan to a point where it is left with no choice but to sue for peace. This isn’t a seasonal project, not even a medium-term one. This is a 10-year, maybe longer, project which requires clarity of vision, seriousness of purpose and resoluteness in action. A surgical strike or an air strike is but one component of this strategy, which needs to be backed with a 360-degree approach and not just one-off demonstrations of force.
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