India has allowed an image to be created in the chanceries of the world that it is a reluctant power, unwilling to use force in defence of its national interest. Over the last fifteen years, it has taken a beating at the hands of Pakistan and China, and has not been able to develop a suitable response to Pakistan’s aggressiveness and China’s coerciveness. Even when it was victorious in a war, it failed to take advantage of its victory by extracting the fruits of victory in 1947-48, while successfully preventing Pakistan from capturing the state of Jammu and Kashmir, we stopped short of recovering the whole territory from Pakistani occupation.
In 1965, we won the war, but returned the strategically important area of Haji Pir Pass after occupying it while signing the peace agreement at Tashkent in January 1966. In 1971, we won the war and delivered independence to Bangladesh, but failed to get the ceasefire line in Kashmir converted into an international border while signing the Simla Agreement in January 1972. In 1999 during Kargil War, we drove the enemy back across the Line of Control, but did not cross the LoC to destroy the terrorist training camps in PoK.
When India’s Parliament House was attacked by Jaish-e-Mohammed militants in December 2001, we mobilised around 5,00,000 troops and three armoured divisions under the code name of “Operation Parakram”, but decided not to attack Pakistan because of the US intervention.
When Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militants attacked Mumbai in November 2008, we again decided not to take any retaliatory action for fear of getting involved in the war which might lead to crossing the nuclear threshold. More recently in January 2016 when Pathankot airbase was attacked by Jaish militants, we drew enormous satisfaction from the fact that we succeeded in killing all the militants and the thought of any retaliatory action did not even enter our minds, particularly because we were basking in the glory of Prime Minister Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore on 25 December, the birthday of Nawaz Sharif.
Ever since the development of nuclear weapons capability by Pakistan in 1987, we are paralysed in the formulation of our response because Pakistan threatened to unleash their nuclear weapons against India if India used its superior conventional might in the event of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Our paralysis at the military front encouraged Pakistan to continue its terrorist attacks. After every terrorist attack, we suspended bilateral dialogue with Pakistan and made its resumption conditional on concrete action against terrorists. That action never came. Nor will it ever come. Our policymakers must understand the reasons to be able to get on the right track with regard to Pakistan.
Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the organisation responsible for the 26/11 attack, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the outfit which carried out the Parliament attack and the Pathankot airbase attack are both Punjab-based organisations, heavily admired and protected by the people of Punjab. The biggest value of these organisations is that Pakistan Muslim League (N) and Jamaat-e-Islami rely on them for mobilising votes and providing muscle power at the time of provincial and national elections. While this is a strong enough reason for the civil and military leadership not to touch them, the fear of death to anyone opposing them compounds the situation. The high popularity graph of these organisations in Punjab is explained by the charity work done by them, which in turn is funded by the industrialists and traders of Punjab. And of course, the security establishment which floated these organisations would like to continue to use them for strategic objectives in Afghanistan, Kashmir, rest of India and against the US, the Jews and so on.
In the words of Mujahid Hussain, the author of a pioneering work on extremism in Punjab, “There are hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan who support Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and love their ‘jihadi performance’ and who firmly trust that India would disintegrate sooner or later if these organisations continue their present activities, and not only will Kashmiris but the Muslims of India will also get freedom.” Talking of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the author says that Bahawalpur, Rahimyarkhan and Bahawalnagar districts are its strongholds “as thousands of youth are recruited from these districts not only for jihad in Kashmir and for Al Qaeda and Taliban’s assistance in Afghanistan, but also for the sectarian killing spree within the country”.
Lack of evidence against LeT and JeM for acts of terrorism in India will continue to be the reason for Pakistani courts to not take any action against them. On this the Pakistani state and society seem to be firmly united. It is futile for India to keep waiting for action against them before holding the dialogue. While dialogue may or may not be pursued, Indian policymakers will have to seriously think of options in the realm of deterrence and/or retaliation in the event of a terrorist attack. The dilemma that holds India back must be resolved.
We find ourselves helpless in the face of China’s assertiveness and coerciveness as well. The well-known Chinese strategic dictum is “to win a war without having to fight a battle”. Constant coercion in whatever form possible and deliberate delay in resolving disputes with the adversary is the Chinese way of getting the best terms from the enemy at the negotiating table. That is why despite eighteen rounds of Special Representative Talks on the border dispute we are nowhere near a solution. Major border trespassings took place at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2013 and 2014 and minor ones continue periodically and are justified on the plea of different perceptions of the LAC on both sides.
China continues to lay claim to Arunachal Pradesh and insists that Tawang belongs to China being formerly a part of Tibet. It disregards the fact that Arunachal Pradesh is represented in the Indian Parliament. China continues to support the Pakistani occupation of Pakistan-held Kashmir and reinforces this occupation by undertaking development projects in that region. We lost our leverage vis-a-vis China by recognising Tibet as a part of China. There is nothing left in our strategic armoury to deter China from committing acts of aggression or coercion against us. China’s aim is to keep us down and out as a supplicant in the Chinese court begging for resolution of the border dispute.
The strategy of improving relations in other areas pending the resolution of the border dispute has also failed. There is no doubt that China has emerged as our largest trading partner but out of the total trade of $72 billion in 2014-15, the trade deficit against us was of the magnitude of $48.5 billion. There is no hope of the situation being remedied in the near future. Chinese FDI in India from 2000 to 2015 was barely $1.2 billion. China has not been enthusiastic about India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council and is totally opposed to India’s membership of the Nuclear India should be confident of the fact that it is a ranking power.
According to a study done by Foundation for National Security Research in 2012, India ranks 8th in terms of economic capability in the world and 7th in terms of military capability, as compared with China 2nd and 3rd respectively and Pakistan 27th and 11th respectively. Economic capability was computed on the basis of GDP, foreign trade and growth rate while military capability was computed on the basis of armed forces and equipment, defence expenditure and doctrinal issues.
In terms of GDP (PPP-based), India ranks number 3; in military manpower, India is at number 2. In defence spending, India ranks number 4, along with Germany.
If India lacks something, it is political will to act. There is something missing in our strategic culture because of which we are not able to act assertively. Our wish to emerge as a major power does not seem to be commensurate with our will to act to defend our interests and to play a due role in discharging global responsibilities.
The writer is editor of India’s National Security Annual Review and a former JNU professor
Published in The Asian Age, 16 March 2016