The latest India-Pakistan face-off started with the terrorist attack in Pulwama, which killed over 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on February 14, followed by the February 26 retaliatory aerial raid on the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camp at Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, and the intrusion of Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets into Jammu and Kashmir, in which Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a MiG-21 Bison, shot down a F-16 in a dogfight, but had to eject from his aircraft after that and land in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir from where he was taken a prisoner of war on February 27, and finally ended with his return to India on Friday, March 1.
The political reverberations have overshadowed the substantial issue of terrorist attacks. India’s newly-demonstrated ability to target terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Pakistan’s token gesture of intruding into Indian airspace are simply sideshows.
Whatever the political motives of the Narendra Modi government behind the Indian airstrikes against the Jaish camps in PoK and Pakistan, it is meant to show that India can, and will, try to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan. The question is whether India can do this without triggering a war with Pakistan, which, like India, is a nuclear power. India has been very clear that it is not fighting a war with Pakistan. That is why no military and civilian targets were chosen in the Indian aerial attack in Pakistan. Pakistan too is not willing to open a war front with India. Pakistan too claimed that its F-16s did not target military bases though India has said that the Pakistan aerial attack was targeted at Indian military bases, but that they failed in their attempt.
Whether the Jaish-e-Mohammed was responsible for the Pulwama attacks, as the JeM claimed in the beginning, and the Pakistan foreign minister has now denied on behalf of JeM, is an important issue both for India and Pakistan, but in different ways. What India needs to know is the modus operandi of the JeM-engineered terror attack and the way to shut off the terror source. The key issue for India is whether JeM is using Indian recruits to achieve its goal of creating mayhem. JeM cannot hope to do more than that. It cannot hope to wrest the Kashmir Valley from the Indian security forces. It is necessary for India to find ways to deny it the use of any local recruits. Increasing local surveillance would be one of the ways.
The question cannot be avoided as to how to stop JeM from penetrating into India. Those who talk of a political solution in Kashmir do have a point, but that is going to be a long-drawn out affair. There is a vicious cycle in operation here. Any movement towards political normality is always disrupted by a terror attack. The Army inevitably steps up its local surveillance and leaves the people alienated. This in turn becomes fertile ground for recruiting suicide bombers. The security forces have the unenviable task of eliminating the terrorists, without rubbing the local people the wrong way. The JeM terrorises the local populace and they are thus not in a position to help the security forces. The political parties in Jammu and Kashmir — the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Front, the Congress and the BJP, among others — as well as the Hurriyat Conference’s various factions have to connect with the local people and to respond to their needs, restore local governance by involving more and more people from the villages and towns to govern themselves. The security forces simply cannot do this. This will lead to the marginalisation of the hotheads among the local people.
India will still have to fight the war against terror groups like the JeM and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). Pakistan is unlikely to help India in this. No country ever would. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) survived in Sri Lanka because there was tacit international support for it when governments in Britain, Canada and elsewhere in the European Union (EU) allowed the supporters of the LTTE to raise funds from their territories. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) lasted because it has tacit support from Irish sympathisers in the United States, and partly within Ireland itself. It will be an ideal solution if Pakistan were to turn away even as India quietly bombs out all the terrorist bases inside Pakistan. The one way out is for India to do the job of bombing the terrorist bases inside Pakistan without the war cries. That will be a face-saver for Pakistan.
But if it wants to support the Jaish, Lashkar and other terrorist groups to raise the pressure on India over the Kashmir issue, then Pakistan will have to come out into the open and retaliate against India to protect these terror groups. India must continue to wage war against the terror groups based in Pakistan, and with Pakistan. India can sustain the battle. Pakistan will find it difficult to continue because both the United States and China will not lend support beyond a point.
While waging the war against the terrorist groups in Pakistan, India must stop bleating about it in global forums. It should deal with the terror groups without making noise. The only way out for Pakistan is to stop harping on the Kashmir issue, and India should stop raising the temperature over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That would effectively end the dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, as we know it.
The world is really not interested in the India-Pakistan face-off, and their tiresome enunciations about Kashmir. Pakistan’s economic growth will be faster if it turns its back on the Kashmir dispute. It should take care of its so-called “Azad Kashmir”, Gilgit and Chiral. Pakistan had committed its first blunder by supporting the Pathan raiders in 1947, and it is continuing the blunder now by allowing JeM and LeT to operate from its territory. Partition is over and done with. The rhetoric over Partition on the part of both Pakistan and India needs to end, and the sooner the better.