It had to happen. It was a question of when and never if. The biggest question, of course, is, “What next?”. Let’s us look at that question
The options are quite simple to list out even if they are quite complicated to choose from. After all, logically there can be only these
- Carry on with talks as if nothing happened
- Carry on with talks but restrict topic to incident and terror in general.
- Call off talks
Did I miss any? Of course, any of the above options can be pursued with or without mounting a retaliatory strike, either covertly or overtly or both. That is an entirely different matter altogether.
Good Pakistan’s response is the key
What is the underlying logic behind the resumption of talks in the first place? It goes along following lines: “Not all Pakis are terrorists, there is a strong constituency for peace and coexistence, if not brotherhood, that should be engaged“. Then there are more altruistic drivers such as “the civilian regime has to be strengthened to weaken military’s hold on the country” etc.
The hope here is that over time, the peace lobby will gain strength, the anti-peace ones (aka mullah/military cabal) weaken and we all happily live ever after.
If this indeed was the logic it makes absolutely no sense to call off talks after one incident, however, major.
But the key would be the response of the “good Pakistan” to this incident. If the good boys pretend as if it is not their problem or present a long list of demands to even consider some action on the terror front, then calling off talks would be logical.
That looks like Option (2) doesn’t it? Yes. Initially at least, talks have to be around the incident itself in order to gauge good Pakistan’s response. If some sort of assistance is offered, and followed through, it makes eminent sense to upgrade talks to Option (1). Such assistance or reassurance could range from covert action against some of the JeM players (overt may be too damaging to Pakistan’s own internal stability even if accepted), to even oral assurances from military to rein them in, if this has not been offered as yet.
If the response is that “look, we are not in control of these loonies, what can we do?“, India has to present a list of things they CAN do, to offset. For example, handing over Dawood could be one. Transit concessions, MFN etc., could be others. They can even be asked to warn us in advance and share intelligence, instead of simply opening a pack of popcorn to watch the show.
In other words, there has to be some quid pro quo. It cannot be that Pakistan insists on the entire Kashmir issue (and all else) to be solved to its satisfaction, simply to move an inch on any other front. We cannot be taken for a two year fool’s ride, like Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani, bending over backwards and yet getting nothing in return.
Covert or overt retaliation
No government can take this option off the table. Question is what will be the trigger level of provocation for each set of response. It also is a question on capabilities. Do we have the means to inflict damage to “bad Pakistan” without hitting the good boys? As Mohammed Taqi points out in his interesting column, (The Wire) Pakistani generals have chosen a calibrated provocation. It requires a nuanced response.
Regardless of what we do or don’t do, silly macho comments by responsible members of government and the ruling party should cease. That serves no purpose and in fact ends up increasing pressure on PM Modi. There are no ‘training camps’ to raid. The entire country is one.
Here the best option appears to be to work with alone as well as with Afghan, Iranian and other intelligence in the short term to inflict some sort of pain. In the medium term, capacity building for stronger action should be pursued. This has been seriously damaged by IK Gujral and the UPA regimes.
Given the deep distrust of the whiskey sipping Generals and the Pakistani establishment among the purer green cadre, it should be easy to find factions or groups more than happy to take a kufr’s aid to bring more purity to Pakistan, the land of pure. Balochi groups may be even more happy to help out, given their desperation for outside help in fighting an asymmetric war with the brutal Pakistani state.
But any such action has to be proportionate and carefully targeted to avoid needless escalation. The sole objective should be to send a message.
Chances are, India’s experience will be no different from Afghanistan’s. In other words, even as we keep talking, Pakistan would continue to mount covert attacks and pretend that they don’t control the show as much as they are thought to.
That’s when a serious call will have to be made on the entire matter. Unpalatable options may have to be given fresh look.
But until then, talks should go on. At least we can turn around to the international community and say, “look, we tried”.