By Bharat Karnad
It is funny how, and with what ease and confidence, Islamabad time and again reduces India to a blabbering mess. Over 40 CRPF men get blown up by a suicide bomber who rams his RDX-laden Scorpio into a bus on Route 44 and, as if on cue, the Indian media screams for action, demands demarches and what not, television cameras zoom in on grieving families demanding badla, bickering politicians turn sober and cluck in feigned sadness, a cowering Home Minister promises a fitting response and the Prime Minister, more magisterially, assures the people that the death of the latest lot of martyrs won’t go unavenged. And, in the background, are heard murmurs of telling punitive action in the offing. Meanwhile, in GHQ, Rawalpindi, the generals have a quiet chuckle seeing the same tamasha across the border being replayed for the umpteenth time.
Pakistan government knows it is on to a good thing. As co-legatees of Chanakayan statecraft Pakistani decision-makers, I have long argued, are better practitioners of kuttayuddha (covert war) than their Indian counterparts, who are handicapped by the idea of doing the right thing in the right way and according to, what else, international law and accepted practice which no self-respecting country, incidentally, observes when its vital interests are on the line. India is the sole exception. Because covert warfare is necessarily dirty and prosecuted without scruples, it is apparently beyond this country’s ken to engage in. In the event, it is left hoping that, other than the regulation bombast emanating non-stop from Indian news channels, that international denunciation will bring Islamabad to heel. Well, good luck!
Pakistan is no amateur at this game. It was party to managing (with an assist from the US Central Intelligence Agency) the proxy fight using the Afghan mujahideen to push the mighty Soviet state out of Afghanistan in the 1980s without seeding enduring enmity with Moscow. It is a far lesser task to use radicalized Kashmiris to discomfit India that acts as a punching bag of a nation. Pakistan is emboldened because there’s China as a backstop to Pakistani terrorist ventures, ready to blunt any international opprobrium. Never mind that its own restless Uyghur population in Xinjiang is susceptible to the Islamist virus, and the sunni hotheads in Jaish could, in a slightly altered context, be the medium to stoke Uyghur militancy.
So, how do you deal with the pestilence called Saeed Hafiz, Azhar Masood and others of that ilk and their scrofulous followers bent on attempting – albeit materially and infrastructure-wise supported and encouraged by their minders in the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services intelligence (ISI) — the impossible? Loosening India’s hold on Jammu And Kashmir is no easy thing to try and do for Pakistan. But that’s not what ISI hopes to accomplish. It is intent and itching to draw the Indian military and the state into a brawl with the natives, not get Delhi so riled up that it overcomes its self-imposed inhibitions. Equally, India — big in every way and enjoying a huge margin of safety and of error, seems unable to summon the necessary nerve and the gumption to do anything remotely incautious.
All the talk of air/missile strikes, more surgical strikes, etc. “to teach Pakistan a lesson” is a lot of hot air because if the Modi government had it in mind to actually unleash an aerial strike, for instance, it would have done so instantaneously after the suicide attack, not informed the media about the ruling party contemplating such actions. Moreover, the standard operating procedure on the other side is that as soon as a big terrorist operation is mounted, the Pakistan military firms up its forward lines, puts its SILLAC air defence system out of Sargodha on 24/7 radar sweeps to detect any aerial approach by India, and field formations assume a war-ready posture, prepared for any affray that an angry, perennially reactive, India may care to launch. Which is to say such Indian response has zero prospects.
I have long argued that the answer to Pakistan’s use of asymmetric means is not for the government to approve the army’s formal counter-strike proposals, which to-date have proved futile in deterring ISI from waging a covert war, leave alone cowing GHQ, Rawalpindi, into restraining itself on this count. But rather that time is nigh to physically target and eliminate trouble-makers like Hafeez and Azhar Mahmood.
Two options have always been readily available to Delhi. One is the sniper solution – a designated covert team infiltrated into Pakistan around Muridke in Pakistani Punjab, HQrs of Jaish, say, with one or two master marksmen to take out these terrorists, and for this team to be exfiltrated after the deed is done. The trouble here, again, is that the Pakistan army is besting India in this department, meaning that either Pakistan army sharp shooters or a few Kashmiri natives rigorously trained for sniper shoots have been making life miserable for the Indian armed forces – army and para-military for many years now. Their use of the Chinese Zijiang M99 Sniper Rifle, rated as one of best five of its kind in the world, has been exemplary. Its ability to precision hit targets at 1,800 metre range, ie, almost 2 kilometers, has played havoc with Indian troops in the Valley and elsewhere. It is something the army, para-military and the J&K and Indian governments do not acknowledge. The Indian army snipers, on the other hand, make do with a dated Russian piece – the Dragunov SVD when the newer, more advanced, Chukavin, with 1,600 metre range, is in the market. Worse, the Dragunov ammo stock is so low at only 25 percent of requirement that Indian snipers get to fire just 4 or 5 rounds for practice per year! This is a joke.
The other, more effective, option is right in the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s supposed area of expertise – activating RAW and other sleeper cells in Pakistan for attacks to execute Sayeed, Mahmood, et al. If successful, it will put the fear of God into these miscreants without disturbing the general tenor of bilateral relations. The Pakistan government cannot publicly object to their killing because it does not own up to sponsoring them in the first place. Moreover, there are lots of ways to make their elimination look like accidents. This is the very essence of kuttayuddha that the Indian government, intelligence and military are distanced from, but which Islamabad has grasped. It is also the only thing that will, in fact, work.