Thumbnail images: 

India’s response to Pakistan henceforth will have to form a ceaseless continuum from the local response to the global. At the local level, India’s response would have to be methodically splintered between external threats from across the border and the consequent internal security situation generated in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) due to Pakistan’s cross-border shenanigans. At the global level India should relentlessly strive to strengthen and institutionalize its anti-terror narrative.


The Local


A brutal reality is shaping up near the Line of Control (LoC) dividing India and Pakistan. Mass relocation of people living near the LoC is not a new phenomenon but the increasing number of local residents in relief camps away from the border certainly is. The relief camps near the border are swelling up with affected people, even as estimates have gone beyond 10,000. Between 13-17 May alone, close to 1,700 were shifted to relief camps in the Balakote sector of Jammu & Kashmir. Overall 26 villages in Nowshera and Qila Darhal Tehsils have been affected, besides nine villages in Majakote Tehsil of Rajouri District. The more serious consequences have been borne by small and subsistence farmers with damage done to livable houses by mortar-shelling; and above all the children who have been at the receiving end of this rivalry as an indefinite shutdown of schools has now led to preponing of the summer vacation.


A vicious, unending cyclical process of initiation and retaliation of cross-border firing has resulted in the firming of the game of chicken that has characterized cross-LoC relations since Independence. Any possibility of peace in the near future has been upended by sustained and escalated reformulations in militant tactics from across the LoC. The killing and subsequent mutilation of two Indian soldiers by the Border Action Team (BAT) of Pakistan, provoking promise of a retributive response from India, has further muddied waters. Increased infiltration bids, rising resentment among Kashmiri youth, threats to state leadership especially through the frequent killings of local leaders and Sarpanchs, growing terrorist factions and Pakistan’s relentless bid to hyphenate bilateral relations present new socio-temporal challenges to India’s trans-boundary relations and more so to its internal security situation in J&K.


Cross-border attacks, especially those targeting soldiers, military infrastructure and installments spiked in 2016 with Pathankot, Nagrota, Gurdaspur and Uri being at the receiving end of some of the most gruesome attacks. Even though India responded through a clandestine military operation to destroy some of the terror camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the effort seems futile in the end. The terror infrastructure nurtured by the deep state in Pakistan resembles the hydra-headed monster that keeps sprouting a new head every time. As per a recent official confirmation, there are 55 functional terror camps in PoK with as many as 20 new ones mushrooming after India’s ‘Surgical Strikes’ in September last year. This not just complicates the fragile security situation near the LoC but also in the interiors of bordering states such as Punjab and J&K, particularly given the situational and strategic relevance of cover-firing provided to infiltrating terrorists by militants near the border.


Much of the immediate impetus for a resurgent rise in terrorist activities and cross-border attacks seems to have been provided by the rancorous sentiments that accompanied the killing of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul-Mujahideen commander, by Indian military forces in the Kashmir Valley in July 2016. There is every attempt to stoke post-Burhan sentiments in the valley from across the LoC. However, what is now being called the ‘new age militancy’ in Kashmir, where employment and education sometimes fail to persuade people away from terrorism, cannot be entirely credited to a militant-enticer. The role of the medium adopted to propagate unregulated content through social media is equally important, besides many other factors. It is not too late before innovative and bright ideas like Kashbook begin to be used by terrorists in order to circumvent the oft-imposed internet regulation in the state affecting sometimes as many as 22 social media platforms.


There is also an undying public anger among the Kashmiri people against the Centre ever since the Modi government came to power in 2014. The political circumstances arising out of an ideologically diametrically opposite government not only at the Centre but as part of the ruling coalition in J&K have been used in the valley to stir up hostile sentiments. In such a combative political environment, every terrorist attack or every counter-insurgency move carries equal measure of ignition potential.


India hits a wall with Pakistan when the interests of Kashmiri people are justifiably tied with that of the state of Pakistan itself. As ceding on this ground would mean nothing less than loss of sovereignty for the Indian state and a violation of its Constitution, the situation remains fraught with low-intensity conflicts as a perpetual reality. 


The Global


With respect to its interests, Pakistan is trying to double down on two immediate interests vis-à-vis India which are coincidently being served by extant situational fluxes in geopolitical and geostrategic circumstances prevailing in South Asia. First, a deep-seated resentment of the people in the Kashmir valley is being seen as an opportunity to rake up the Kashmir dispute internationally. Even more detrimental, the geostrategic circumstances of South Asia position India at a crossroads apropos an ever-strengthening China-Pakistan nexus. In that sense, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China’s role in Gwadar port, China’s opposition to India’s NSG entry and China’s blocking of India’s bid to list Masood Azhar at the UN all point to a possible yet incipient internationalization of hitherto bilateral stakes.


The Chinese support that Pakistan has received in the recent past has been a welcome addition to the fast-paced strategic gains that the latter has made vis-à-vis India at least on two fronts: first is the overwhelmingly large number of nuclear warheads that it has developed which by most accounts exceeds that of India, and second is the ever narrowing gap between the Pakistan Air Force and the Indian Air Force. These circumstances, along with the politico-security uncertainty in J&K, have propped up the possibilities of enhanced cross-border role for Pakistan in the state of J&K.


Pakistan’s endeavour to seek a strategic balancing in the South Asian region is also fast seeking an expansion into the maritime domain from its hitherto continental focus. There is an increasing focus from Islamabad to transfer its strategic weight into the parts of northern Indian Ocean, especially the northern Arabian Sea waters. While the Gwadar port is poised to play a strategic pivot in the region, other developments like gaining a successful second-strike capability in the Indian Ocean post the successful test of Babur III missiles in the Arabian Sea earlier this year sought to achieve the same goal. Pakistan also seems to have learnt that ocean-oriented diplomacy and joint military exercises are as indispensable to aspiring as to existing naval powers. In that regard, the recently concluded 37 nation Aman-17 naval exercise which took pride in excluding India was also geared to restore some of the lost maritime balance in the Indian Ocean due to India’s multifaceted advantage in this domain.


India’s response to Pakistan will have to be a two-pronged approach. The first should seek to counter the direct conventional and unconventional threats from Pakistan by maintaining effective conventional superiority, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. The second approach should focus on countering, exposing and isolating Pakistan internationally. Here India will have to prepare itself for the China-challenge that would invariably come along with such an approach. The mounting evidence after every cross-border attack that India has accumulated should be shared with specific international countries that support its global idea of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).


For a long time in the post-Cold War era, India-Pakistan mutual relations and their relations with the global commune caricatured a pattern reminiscent of the Cold War history. Among the most prominent patterns was Islamabad’s proximity to Washington and New Delhi’s alignment to Moscow. These compartmentalized understanding of inter-state relations are rather proving to be reductionist efforts in the face of growing complexities in state behaviour across the Asian domain. As Asian Giants India and China seek to expand their domains of influence beyond their immediate areas of interest, they seek altered alliances which have not only upended normative state diplomatic history but have also crisis-crossed each other’s competitive domains. While the state of India-Pakistan relations appears to have been ossified in a perpetual conflicting situation spiraling only bottom wards, there are other dimensions to both countries’ individual relations that seek to change the nature of Asian geopolitics once and for all.


Given these circumstances, India’s response henceforth, even on issues related to Kashmir, could possibly be mired in issues beyond the state and the deep state of Pakistan alone. This would be mainly on account of developments that seek to rehash partnerships and alignments in Asia.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.