Since its inception as an independent state, Israel has been living with what it euphemistically calls “The Palestine Problem”. Generations of Israelis have come to accept Palestinian hostility as a fact of life and one that is probably never going to go away. They have tried everything – they have fought and won three wars with neighboring states; they have retaliated with ten times the force to every armed transgression by the Palestinians and their sponsor states; they have even tried peace talks. The result? The intensity of attacks and suicide bombings may have lessened, but every Israeli man or woman is acutely aware that when he or she leaves home, there is no guarantee that they will return in one piece.
India has “The Pakistan Problem”, which in some ways is similar to the Israeli experience. We have fought wars and major skirmishes with an intransigent neighbour; and we have tried to talk peace. But the hostility from the other side has been relentless and unyielding. Until now, the element that was missing was forceful retaliation; and now we have done that – although in very small measure. Will it change the situation on the ground? Don’t hold your breath.
The whole country is understandably euphoric about the surgical strike across the Line of Control (LOC) by the Indian armed forces. Many of us have puffed out our chests and declared that we have given Pakistan a long overdue bloody nose. The enemy will now think twice, we chortle, before sending across any more of their militants to create havoc in our land.
The problem is that the “enemy” is not acknowledged by the other side. They are shrugged off as non-state actors or freedom fighters waging a holy war; and over whom the Pakistani state has no control or association. This myth lacks credibility among the international community, but they choose to pretend to believe it. Calling out Pakistan’s lie would force them to get involved; and that is a quagmire they would rather stay out of. So it suits them to offer platitudes about terrorism, but essentially portray Pakistan as a South Asian problem to be sorted out by the parties concerned. In the final analysis, India will have to fight its own battles. We can expect moral support from our “friends”, but not much else.
Now let us examine the after effects of the “surgical strike”. What has it achieved in practical terms? The army has destroyed a few terrorist launching pads across the LOC. They have not destroyed training camps because there is nothing to destroy. A terrorist training camp is not a permanent structure. It is essentially a clump of tents that can be quickly dismantled and reassembled elsewhere. They are reported to have killed 80 to 100 terrorists, which may be a temporary setback to the ISI, but one that can be easily remedied. They have a pool of hundreds of “fidayeen” who are ready to die for the cause. When some people have been brainwashed into believing that they will attain martyrdom by killing the infidel, which will guarantee a quick passage to paradise, with the 72 virgins and all the trimmings, what has he got to lose? When a man is not afraid to die, there is no deterrent short of killing him before he can do any damage.
In symbolic terms, the Indian surgical strike has immense significance. It has partly assuaged the public thirst for revenge; and earned enormous political dividends for the ruling party. Now it behooves the government not to get carried away and give in to the hawks who are demanding even sterner military action. India has made its point. It should not be in a hurry to carry out another strike unless the provocation becomes unbearable.
By denying the very existence of a military strike, Pakistan is playing a deep game. It has kept up the pretense that the militants who attacked Pathankot and Uri have no official status; and only a tenuous connection to the Pakistani state. Hence, Pakistan did not attack India and there is no justification for Indian troops crossing the LOC. Of course nobody believes this whopper, but it offers a convenient face-saver, not only for Pakistan but also for the international community, who would prefer not to get involved in our “mess”.
An effective Indian military strategy would be to eliminate the bad guys, whatever they choose to call themselves. This can be done by preventing any infiltration to the extent possible; or allowing the terrorists in, at points of the army’s choosing, and then eliminating them. This should preferably be done away from media scrutiny; and by keeping the politicians at bay. Every encounter does not need to be made known to the public. This would have the added benefit of preventing the media from grandstanding and whipping up unnecessary public sentiment, as they often do. It would also spare the public the unedifying spectacle of politicians attaching more importance to attacking their rivals than to the national interest.
Whenever Pakistani spokesmen are invited to participate in a television debate, the inevitable result is a shouting match, where nothing makes sense and nothing gets resolved. It would be more pertinent and effective to ask Pakistan some basic questions. For example, for the past 50 odd years, Pakistan has pursued a policy of unrelenting hostility towards India. How has it benefited them? Certainly not economically. I recall a period in the 1960s when Pakistan’s economy was performing better than India’s. Now it is a basket case, dependent on handouts from America and the Arab states.
Secondly, the Pakistan army has always justified its preeminence by portraying itself as the only bulwark against being consumed by a hegemony-minded India. Now their security situation is worse than ever. The very non-state actors, nurtured by the army and the ISI and unleashed against India, are now turning around and biting the generals in their collective behinds. In short, Pakistan has lost a lot more than it has gained. A responsible nation state would cut its losses and ponder a fresh strategy. Unfortunately, the army has no strategy other than its own survival.
So we are in for the long haul. We can ignore Pakistan and contain the pinpricks as best as we can; or we can continue to get worked up over a situation we cannot change. Let Pakistan stew in its own juice. It is doing a fine job of imploding. Let us sit back and watch it happen. Above all, let us not allow ourselves to be goaded by self-serving politicians into embarking on an adventure that can have no positive outcome. We have enough problems to deal with in our own country.
Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and a freelance writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org