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D Suba Chandran

Cinque Terre

D Suba Chandran is the Director Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies New Delhi.He has a Ph D in International Relations and writes on India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other issues concerning South Asia.
Mar 05, 2019 | D Suba Chandran

Crossing the Pak Rubicon

The last two weeks since the militant attack in Pulwama has been a dangerous rollercoaster ride for India and Pakistan. The air strike by India inside Pakistan, the latter’s response across the LoC and the shooting down of an Indian plane and the capture of an Indian pilot and his subsequent release by Islamabad – there were fears of a military escalation. Fortunately, the situation seems to have cooled down, though cross-LoC attacks are continuing.

 

Of all the actions and counteractions during the last two weeks between India and Pakistan across the LoC and the IB, what stands out is India crossing the international border, flying into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and targeting a Jaish camp. The issue is not whether there was a militant camp or not. The point also is not whether there were that many militants (over 300, as has been reported in India) inside the camp when it was targetted. The issue also is not whether India merely dropped a few ammunition and returned empty-handed, as reported by Pakistan.

 

The real issue is India crossing the international border and carrying out a military strike in response to the deadly militant attack in J&K. It is crossing the Rubicon. Now it has been crossed, what does it mean for the Indo-Pak relations? Will the military strike help future leaders to take a decision, if there is a militant attack on the Indian soil, or will it pressurise them to respond militarily? More importantly, India believes a message has been conveyed to Pakistan. Has Pakistan received the same?

 

Crossing the Rubicon: Aleaiactaest?

For India, in many ways, it is like crossing the Rubicon. It may not be in terms of what Julius Caesar did in January of 49 BC before crossing the Rubicon river and entering into Italy. Remember, Caesar was supposed to have remarked: Aleaiactaest (the die is cast).  Was the die cast for India to cross, after the Pulwama attack?

 

For India, it was a different Rubicon. Consider the following.

 

First, despite pressure to cross the LoC and international border during the militancy periods in Punjab in the 1980s and then later in J&K since the 1990s, India had never crossed the international border to pursue a military strike inside Pakistani soil since 1971. India has used diplomatic pressure against Pakistan for the latter’s support – overt and covert for militant groups inside India but had never crossed the international border as a response to ‘terrorism’.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

Whether it was the right response or not – politically or militarily, the decision has been taken, and the act has been carried out. This decision to cross – how will it impact India’s future decision-making process – will it help or hinder? Will political leadership be under pressure to take a military option?

 

Second, Pakistan has been talking about a low military threshold, especially since the nuclear tests in 1998. At least there were two major military strategies played out by India – theoretically and in terms of military games – Limited War and Cold Start. Both the military options were pursued as a likely military response by India to Pakistan. The latter has been insisting on a lower threshold, thereby trying to convince India that there is no space for a limited war or Cold Start by India.

 

To an extent, India seemed to have considered those statements from Pakistan in terms of a low military threshold. During the Kargil War, despite pressure from the military and also from rest of the nation (remember the enormous public opinion pressurising India to cross the LoC), Vajpayee gave strict order to the Indian military establishment on not crossing. India did not cross the LoC.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

 

Third, since the 1998 nuclear tests and the Kargil War, there has been a series of terrorist attacks on the Indian soil – the Indian Parliament, Kaluchak, Ayodhya, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, and finally in Mumbai. Between 2001 (Indian Parliament) and 2008 (Mumbai), there were a series of militant attacks in India, with New Delhi blaming it on Pakistan. In many cases, the militant groups themselves had made a claim.

 

Even after NarendraModi took over, there were militant attacks, for example in Pathankot in 2016. However, India never retaliated across the international border. Though during the recent years, especially since Modi took over, there has been an intensification of cross-LoC firings and attacks, India never crossed the international border as a punitive response to Pakistan.

 

Today that position has been crossed.

 

Fourth, India has relied primarily on its military in responding to militant attacks in J&K. It has been reluctant to engage its Air Force. Even during the Kargil War, when the Air Force was engaged, it was primarily in the Kargil sector, that too as the last response. The air cover during the Kargil War was also a strategy to provide the space for the ground troops and vacate the places that were occupied by the other side. In other words, whatever role that the Air Force played until now (since the Indo-Pak War in 1971) has remained defensive and within the LoC. The Air Force was not used as an offensive response and a military option against terrorism.

 

Today that position has been crossed.

 

Fifth, the fear of escalation and the presence of nuclear weapons have remained as deterrence against initiating any military operation against each other. India has been repeatedly told, that with both countries having nuclear weapons, there is no space for any military operations. On the other hand, India has been trying to convince and conceive a “limited war” under the nuclear umbrella. Pakistan added a new dimension to this nuclear dimension, by introducing the Nasr – projected as tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons.

 

The above meant that India could not conceive of any military operation under the nuclear umbrella. Pakistan deliberately has been conveying the message that its nuclear threshold is low.

 

The Indo-Pak nuclear debate, whether within South Asia, or elsewhere especially in the US would repeatedly argue about Pakistan’s low nuclear threshold. A section inside India is also convinced of the above and perhaps was the reason for India not pursuing the military option either after the attack on its Parliament in 2001 or Mumbai in 2008. On both occasions, there was tremendous pressure on India to cross the border and teach Pakistan a lesson. However, the governments then were wary of taking the decision.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

 

Finally, while successive governments before Modi (both – Congress and BJP), though have been talking about military operations against Pakistan, New Delhi resisted the same, and pursued a political approach – by closing down bilateral interactions and pressurising the international community to act upon. The Prime Ministers before Narendra Modi did have the military option.

 

After the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Prime Minister did order his military chiefs to get ready. There was a military mobilisation, leading to a tense standoff across the border and LoC. However, the political decision to cross the LoC and IB was not taken since 1971 by successive Prime Ministers.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

 

Now the Rubicon is crossed, what next?

Will India and Pakistan de-escalate?

 

India believes a message has been sent to Pakistan. Perhaps. However, has Pakistan received the message? Pakistan’s position (at least the stated one) is on returning to the dialogue and negotiation table. New Delhi is in no hurry to pursue that option; given that the elections are around, this government is less likely to continue the negotiation option with Pakistan.

 

Second, even if India wants to negotiate, what are the options? During recent years, it is unfortunate, that the positions on both sides have become stronger. It is even more regrettable that the public opinion on both sides has become even more jingoistic. Reaching an understanding would require a long haul and deeper political commitments towards a meaningful dialogue process. The space for the same, unfortunately, remains extremely small at this juncture. It may perhaps change after the Indian elections in 2019.

 

Finally, what about an internal dialogue on J&K, and within J&K?  Since the recent military operations and worsening of the bilateral relations started with Pulawama, is it not the time that one tries to get back to address the issue within? Isn’t the problem within the LoC even more critical than the one across it? If it is, then shouldn’t the former be addressed first? Unfortunately, it is also not likely to happen, again until the elections.

 

 

 

Mar 05, 2019 | D Suba Chandran

Crossing the Pak Rubicon

              

The last two weeks since the militant attack in Pulwama has been a dangerous rollercoaster ride for India and Pakistan. The air strike by India inside Pakistan, the latter’s response across the LoC and the shooting down of an Indian plane and the capture of an Indian pilot and his subsequent release by Islamabad – there were fears of a military escalation. Fortunately, the situation seems to have cooled down, though cross-LoC attacks are continuing.

 

Of all the actions and counteractions during the last two weeks between India and Pakistan across the LoC and the IB, what stands out is India crossing the international border, flying into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and targeting a Jaish camp. The issue is not whether there was a militant camp or not. The point also is not whether there were that many militants (over 300, as has been reported in India) inside the camp when it was targetted. The issue also is not whether India merely dropped a few ammunition and returned empty-handed, as reported by Pakistan.

 

The real issue is India crossing the international border and carrying out a military strike in response to the deadly militant attack in J&K. It is crossing the Rubicon. Now it has been crossed, what does it mean for the Indo-Pak relations? Will the military strike help future leaders to take a decision, if there is a militant attack on the Indian soil, or will it pressurise them to respond militarily? More importantly, India believes a message has been conveyed to Pakistan. Has Pakistan received the same?

 

Crossing the Rubicon: Aleaiactaest?

For India, in many ways, it is like crossing the Rubicon. It may not be in terms of what Julius Caesar did in January of 49 BC before crossing the Rubicon river and entering into Italy. Remember, Caesar was supposed to have remarked: Aleaiactaest (the die is cast).  Was the die cast for India to cross, after the Pulwama attack?

 

For India, it was a different Rubicon. Consider the following.

 

First, despite pressure to cross the LoC and international border during the militancy periods in Punjab in the 1980s and then later in J&K since the 1990s, India had never crossed the international border to pursue a military strike inside Pakistani soil since 1971. India has used diplomatic pressure against Pakistan for the latter’s support – overt and covert for militant groups inside India but had never crossed the international border as a response to ‘terrorism’.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

Whether it was the right response or not – politically or militarily, the decision has been taken, and the act has been carried out. This decision to cross – how will it impact India’s future decision-making process – will it help or hinder? Will political leadership be under pressure to take a military option?

 

Second, Pakistan has been talking about a low military threshold, especially since the nuclear tests in 1998. At least there were two major military strategies played out by India – theoretically and in terms of military games – Limited War and Cold Start. Both the military options were pursued as a likely military response by India to Pakistan. The latter has been insisting on a lower threshold, thereby trying to convince India that there is no space for a limited war or Cold Start by India.

 

To an extent, India seemed to have considered those statements from Pakistan in terms of a low military threshold. During the Kargil War, despite pressure from the military and also from rest of the nation (remember the enormous public opinion pressurising India to cross the LoC), Vajpayee gave strict order to the Indian military establishment on not crossing. India did not cross the LoC.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

 

Third, since the 1998 nuclear tests and the Kargil War, there has been a series of terrorist attacks on the Indian soil – the Indian Parliament, Kaluchak, Ayodhya, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, and finally in Mumbai. Between 2001 (Indian Parliament) and 2008 (Mumbai), there were a series of militant attacks in India, with New Delhi blaming it on Pakistan. In many cases, the militant groups themselves had made a claim.

 

Even after NarendraModi took over, there were militant attacks, for example in Pathankot in 2016. However, India never retaliated across the international border. Though during the recent years, especially since Modi took over, there has been an intensification of cross-LoC firings and attacks, India never crossed the international border as a punitive response to Pakistan.

 

Today that position has been crossed.

 

Fourth, India has relied primarily on its military in responding to militant attacks in J&K. It has been reluctant to engage its Air Force. Even during the Kargil War, when the Air Force was engaged, it was primarily in the Kargil sector, that too as the last response. The air cover during the Kargil War was also a strategy to provide the space for the ground troops and vacate the places that were occupied by the other side. In other words, whatever role that the Air Force played until now (since the Indo-Pak War in 1971) has remained defensive and within the LoC. The Air Force was not used as an offensive response and a military option against terrorism.

 

Today that position has been crossed.

 

Fifth, the fear of escalation and the presence of nuclear weapons have remained as deterrence against initiating any military operation against each other. India has been repeatedly told, that with both countries having nuclear weapons, there is no space for any military operations. On the other hand, India has been trying to convince and conceive a “limited war” under the nuclear umbrella. Pakistan added a new dimension to this nuclear dimension, by introducing the Nasr – projected as tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons.

 

The above meant that India could not conceive of any military operation under the nuclear umbrella. Pakistan deliberately has been conveying the message that its nuclear threshold is low.

 

The Indo-Pak nuclear debate, whether within South Asia, or elsewhere especially in the US would repeatedly argue about Pakistan’s low nuclear threshold. A section inside India is also convinced of the above and perhaps was the reason for India not pursuing the military option either after the attack on its Parliament in 2001 or Mumbai in 2008. On both occasions, there was tremendous pressure on India to cross the border and teach Pakistan a lesson. However, the governments then were wary of taking the decision.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

 

Finally, while successive governments before Modi (both – Congress and BJP), though have been talking about military operations against Pakistan, New Delhi resisted the same, and pursued a political approach – by closing down bilateral interactions and pressurising the international community to act upon. The Prime Ministers before Narendra Modi did have the military option.

 

After the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Prime Minister did order his military chiefs to get ready. There was a military mobilisation, leading to a tense standoff across the border and LoC. However, the political decision to cross the LoC and IB was not taken since 1971 by successive Prime Ministers.

 

Today, that position has been crossed.

 

Now the Rubicon is crossed, what next?

Will India and Pakistan de-escalate?

 

India believes a message has been sent to Pakistan. Perhaps. However, has Pakistan received the message? Pakistan’s position (at least the stated one) is on returning to the dialogue and negotiation table. New Delhi is in no hurry to pursue that option; given that the elections are around, this government is less likely to continue the negotiation option with Pakistan.

 

Second, even if India wants to negotiate, what are the options? During recent years, it is unfortunate, that the positions on both sides have become stronger. It is even more regrettable that the public opinion on both sides has become even more jingoistic. Reaching an understanding would require a long haul and deeper political commitments towards a meaningful dialogue process. The space for the same, unfortunately, remains extremely small at this juncture. It may perhaps change after the Indian elections in 2019.

 

Finally, what about an internal dialogue on J&K, and within J&K?  Since the recent military operations and worsening of the bilateral relations started with Pulawama, is it not the time that one tries to get back to address the issue within? Isn’t the problem within the LoC even more critical than the one across it? If it is, then shouldn’t the former be addressed first? Unfortunately, it is also not likely to happen, again until the elections.

 

 

 

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