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Beyond Mumbai: Prospects for Indo-Pakistani relations

Commentary, 11 January 2009
Terrorism, Central and South Asia
The Indian government has defied its own hawks by seeking to work with the Pakistanis and pursue the attackers of Mumbai. Pakistan must now respond in kind and join the Indian government in resisting belligerent voices in favour of those calling for peace. The status quo requires immediate and bold action from both sides, with international patronage, before it is too late.

The Indian government has defied its own hawks by seeking to work with the Pakistanis and pursue the attackers of Mumbai. Pakistan must now respond in kind and join the Indian government in resisting belligerent voices in favour of those calling for peace. The status quo requires immediate and bold action from both sides, with international patronage, before it is too late.

By Ahmad Faruqui for

India has handed over evidence to the Pakistani government connecting the perpetrators of November’s Mumbai attacks with terrorist organisations operating from Pakistan. Based on news accounts, the evidence purports to show that not only were the murderous acts planned and funded by leaders of a banned Pakistani terrorist organisation but that they were also stage- managed by them in real time as the carnage was progressing.

By providing this evidence, India appears to have backed off from the vitriolic statements that emanated from the hawks in its diplomatic and military communities. While Pranab Mukherjee, India’s foreign minister, said that his government was keeping all options open, Vikram Sood, the former top spy, called for tough action to prevent the Pakistani army from ‘Balkanising’ India. In his view, the army’s quest dates back to 1971, when India dismembered Pakistan.

Arundhati Ghose, India’s former UN representative, opined rather undiplomatically, ‘If there is another attack, we should go in and bomb the daylights out of them’. Pradeep Kaushiva, a retired vice-admiral, did not want to wait for another attack. He said that every Indian in uniform feels ‘that the country has been attacked and someone must pay for it’.

BJP parliamentarian Arun Shourie, perhaps realising that a full-blown attack was not possible, called for covert actions to be carried out in Balochistan, Gilgit and Baltistan to create disquiet and unease in Pakistan. He declared, ‘Not an eye for an eye; but for an eye, both eyes’.

The eye-for-an-eye notion of retaliation hearkens back to the Latin injunction, lex talionis, a sentiment which is echoed in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. The idea of non-proportional retaliation, now gaining currency in some Indian circles, is a far cry from Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa mantra. Gandhi was even opposed to lex talionis, saying that it was a prescription for global blindness. In the wake of Mumbai, the purveyors of hatred, whose predecessors killed Gandhi, have found another opportunity to surface their views. There is little doubt that those who push the ideology of Hindutva in India are just as dangerous as those who push for jihad in Pakistan.

The Indian government’s measured response may have been the consequence of sustained pressure from the US and the UK, which are anxious to keep Pakistan focused on fighting terrorists along the border with Afghanistan and to prevent war from breaking out in the sub-continent.

Now that India has taken the high road, Pakistan must reciprocate in kind. It should promptly follow up on the evidence, arrest the key figures, charge them and put them on trial. Ultimately, any sentences that are handed out to the suspects should be proportional to the magnitude of the crime. In the case at hand, where some 170 people were killed in cold blood and several hundred injured with malicious intent, that would mean the death penalty, which is allowed and practiced frequently in Pakistan.

There is of course no guarantee that Pakistan will reciprocate in kind, because of domestic compulsions and because it has its own hawks to contend with. What will happen then?

Response options for India


A large-scale invasion of Pakistan is unlikely. The only time that took place was in 1971, in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). That invasion was very successful but it had come on the heels of a long and bloody civil war in that province. The poorly equipped Pakistani army garrison was fatigued after nine months of fighting an expanding insurgency. And it was isolated from its supply base in the West.

For long, Pakistan’s security dogma had been that the ‘defence of the east lay in the west’. So, after several weeks of artillery duels with the Indians in East Pakistan, it launched a counter-attack on 3 December along the western border. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) swooped down on Indian airbases hoping to replicate the successful Israeli Air Force raids on Arab bases during the Six Day War of 1967. The PAF attacks failed miserably since the Indians had anticipated them and since the attacks were carried out with very few aircraft. Ironically, the attacks gave India the excuse it had been waiting for to invade East Pakistan in full force. In less than two weeks, Lieutenant-General Niazi surrendered to Lieutenant-General Aurora.

Today, India cannot launch a similar invasion for a variety of reasons, the foremost being Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Second, there is no commensurate provocation; the invasion would be immediately condemned by the world community. In 1971, to win global support, India had cited the economic burden of supporting some three million refugees who had fled the civil war in East Pakistan and the war crimes that it said the Pakistani army was carrying out against its own citizens in the east. And thirdly, the Pakistan army would be fighting with full domestic and logistical support in its heartland as opposed to fighting one thousand miles away from its base.

Coercive Diplomacy

Coercive diplomacy is a possibility. India tried that in 2002 after a group of terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December 2001. In response, India carried out a large-scale mobilisation of forces along the Pakistani border. The Pakistani military, then under the command of General Pervez Musharraf, who also served as the country’s ruler, responded with a counter-mobilisation. As summer arrived, almost a million men were massed at the border.

Then, to further punctuate the deployment of forces, Musharraf test-fired three ballistic missiles in the span of a few days sending a very clear message to New Delhi. India’s then defence minister, on a visit to Singapore, said that Pakistan was over-reacting since India had no intention of carrying out a large scale invasion. In the end, coercive diplomacy failed.

Limited Attack

A limited attack is more likely. Since that has never occurred before (from the Indian side), one has to carry out a Gedanken experiment to understand its character. It is fair to say that this would strictly be a punitive venture, carefully calibrated not to threaten the Pakistani heartland, and thus to fly under Pakistan’s nuclear redlines.

Clues to how such an attack may materialise can be found in the Cold Start doctrine formulated by South Block in 2004 [An excellent summary can be found in this article, which was published in International Security]. While the operational details are a closely guarded secret, it is possible to lay out four scenarios of how the attack may unfold.

In the first scenario, the Indian Air Force (IAF) would carry out a ‘surgical’ strike on camps located along the Line of Control (LoC).

In the second scenario, the air strike would be followed up with a helicopter-borne assault by Indian commandoes.

In the third scenario, the air strike would hit camps in several locations in Pakistan.

In the fourth scenario, the air strike would be accompanied by a ground assault by the Indian rapid deployment force along the entire Pakistani border with the objective of seizing territory as a negotiating weapon.

Each scenario is progressively more aggressive and more risky but may also yield a bigger dividend.

Before analysing Pakistan’s responses to the attacks, it is worth pondering a logically prior question: Can Pakistan prevent the attacks from being carried out? Probably not. As was seen during the 1971 war, Pakistani airspace is not impregnable to intrusion. Karachi was attacked repeatedly, first at night, then during the day, then around the clock.

The PAF pilots are very well trained and command respect in air force academies around the world. On a one-on-one basis, they would probably command an edge over their IAF counter-parts. But in the event of hostilities with the IAF, the PAF pilots would operate at a significant disadvantage. The PAF’s inventory of frontline aircraft is smaller and technologically inferior to India’s. In addition, the IAF pilots would enjoy superior AWACS support.

Counter-response options for Pakistan

So how would Pakistan respond? It could choose to respond politely or aggressively. In the first category, two options suggest themselves.

First, it could condemn the attacks in much the same way as Egypt and Jordan, and even the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority, are condemning the Israeli excursion into Gaza. It could work with China, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries to introduce a resolution at the UN Security Council labeling India as the aggressor and calling for sanctions.

Second, it could provide a passive military response. It would pull out its forces from the Afghan border, cancel all military leaves and begin large scale mobilisation and deployment toward the Indian border. To step up the tempo, the PAF would begin flying sorties over the major urban areas.

Or it could choose to respond aggressively. Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, a patient and quiet man, has said that Pakistan would react ‘within minutes’ of any Indian strike. He has lined up the full support of the National Assembly which has stated unanimously that the nation and its armed forces ‘shall together defend Pakistan’s security at all costs’.

What exactly would Pakistan target? Since there are no camps to take out in India, presumably the PAF would mount sorties against the IAF bases from which the intruders were launched.

This would up the ante and invite retaliatory Indian attacks against PAF bases. Pakistani formations, especially in Azad Kashmir, may be annihilated in these air strikes.

The port at Karachi may be blockaded and clogged with sunken naval ships. At some point, economic facilities, such as power plants, dams, and factories may be hit.

If the Pakistani military begins to crumble under the weight of an Indian counter-response, and significant territory is lost, the generals in Rawalpindi may think of going ballistic. It is widely understood that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is spread out and some are on mobile launchers, to preserve a second strike capability.

As they debate whether to push one or all of the nuclear buttons, a frustrated and tired brigadier in some isolated outpost may just lose his patience and unilaterally take the decision to weaponise the missiles in his battery.

What will happen next? Even a limited nuclear exchange would kill 2.8 million people. A more intense exchange would kill 22.1 million people. Ten times that many would be injured and possibly crippled for life. Eventually, the fall out from an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war would hit the population of neighbouring countries.

Preventing War

There will be no victors in such a war. One is reminded of the letter that the Duke of Wellington wrote in June 1815 from the field of Waterloo. It contained a line which has continued to reverberate through history: ‘Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won’.

Everything must be done to prevent war at all costs. Any type of IAF bombing run, while taking out a few jihadis, would sow the seeds of hatred among secular Pakistanis who would feel their national honour had been violated. The hawks in the Pakistani army, who have always considered India an existential threat, would be in the ascendant. Pakistanis from all walks of life would enlist in large numbers to fight the invaders tooth and nail. Even Musharraf, to evoke memories of Kargil, may be pulled out of retirement to lead the charge.

The military’s position in Pakistan’s strategic culture will be strengthened irrevocably. In the end, India would lose both strategically and tactically.

A century earlier, Norman Angell wrote a tract, The Great Illusion. Angell, who later became a Member of Parliament, a Knight of the Realm and a Nobel laureate, argued that in an age of economic interdependence war destroyed both the victor and the loser.

His advice fell on deaf years. In less than five years, the European powers were engaged in The Great War, sparked by the assassination of the Austrian crown prince in Sarajevo.

Policy priorities

Is there a way to stop a possible rush to madness in the sub-continent? The US, in concert with the EU, should continue to apply strong diplomatic pressure on both countries to resolve the matter through negotiations.

If Pakistan does not respond appropriately to India’s evidence, India should move the UN Security Council to apply sanctions on Pakistan.

At the same time, Pakistan should go the extra mile and shut down all militant organisations and dismantle –once and for all—those toxic campgrounds where tolerance is snuffed out from the human DNA and replaced with hatred.

As Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution noted recently, the ship of state in Pakistan, like the S.S. Titanic, is heading toward a giant iceberg. Unless it changes course, and soon, it is doomed.

To prevent a meltdown, it is necessary to call off the war of words that has been going between the two countries. Their leaders, who are yelling at each other through the mass media, need to have a face-to-face meeting. In the 1980s Pakistan’s then military ruler General Zia used cricket diplomacy to diffuse a military stand-off with India.

In that spirit, President Asif Zardari should fly over to New Delhi and confer with Prime Minister Singh and his cabinet. And since it is not clear who calls the shots in Islamabad, it would be a good idea to take along the two most important generals in the lineup: General Kiyani, the army chief, and Lieutenant-General Pasha, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. What better way is there to convince the Indians that the Pakistanis are presenting a common front when it comes to fighting terror?

It is encouraging that in a recent interview, General Pasha is quoted as saying, 'We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India'.

The author, an associate of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford, has co-edited ‘Pakistan: Unresolved Issues of State and Society’, Vanguard Books, Lahore.

The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

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