Post-Balakot, The Way Forward For India

Surya Gangadharan New Delhi 17 April 2019

Next week will mark two months since the Indian Air Force struck a terrorist camp in Pakistan’s Balakot. No major terrorist incident has been reported during this period, which suggests that Pakistan has at least temporarily leashed its terrorist storm troopers. For how long is the question.

G Parthasarathy, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan and a well-known commentator on regional security, says that Islamabad is nowhere close to giving up its terrorist proxies but it is under pressure on multiple fronts. “It badly needs an IMF loan to arrest the decline in its foreign exchange reserves and pay for imports. For that it needs to play ball with the U.S. which can be expected to squeeze concessions from them on Afghanistan.”

The IMF is reportedly setting tough conditions on Islamabad, demanding details of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and assurances that its money will not be used to pay off Pakistan’s CPEC debts. Parthasarathy believes that India needs to do some squeezing of its own. In 2004 former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf committed his government to stop backing terror attacks on India from Pakistani soil. But his successor as army chief Gen. Kayani changed that.

“We need to squeeze the Pakistan government and the army; therefore, there’s no going back to SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). Rather, India should push BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation),” said Parthasarathy. He hinted that India must exploit Pakistan’s uneasy ties with its two other neighbours—Afghanistan and Iran.

He believes that the threat from Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is overstated. Air Marshal KK Nohwar, a former IAF vice chief, concurs. He recalled that at several war games conducted as part of the non-official interaction between retired officials of the two countries, the Pakistanis never hit the nuclear button. So the nuclear challenge can be managed and the Balakot strike demonstrated it clearly.

“But a policy based on military coercion alone will not work,” says Sharat Sabharwal, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan. “The reality of the Pakistani military establishment has to be appreciated. There is no silver bullet to ending terrorism.”

Lt Gen. SL Narasimhan says that dialogue between the Indian Vice-Chief of Army Staff and the Pakistani Chief of General Staff (CGS) is possible. “Let’s not forget,” he pointed out, “the CGS was calling the shots during the Kargil war, a point which was underscored when the transcripts of the conversation between Musharraf and his CGS were leaked.”

Any conversation between the Pakistan army chief and his Indian counterpart would be highly asymmetric. The former is known only to deal with presidents and prime ministers. Nor is it unknown for high-level U.S. state department and Pentagon officials to call on him at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

India also needs to do some housekeeping at its end. Gen. Narasimhan says that large convoys of the sort that got hit in Pulwama are unwieldy to handle. Movement of army and security personnel, therefore, needs rethinking, which is underway. The fact that the suicide attack was planned with enough time taken for stocking up explosives shows poor intelligence.

Narasimhan believes that India needs to manage the perception battle better. “On February 26, there was euphoria when news of the Indian air strike on Balakot spread. But the next day the downing of an IAF MiG-21 and the capture of its pilot plunged the nation into gloom.”

He also had a word for the media: “The job of the armed forces is to complete the mission or task at hand, not to provide proof of action taken or results achieved”.

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