By C. Uday Bhaskar*
The much awaited post-Uri response has now come into the public domain by way of a counter-terror “surgical strike”.
While the Modi government has remained committed to a path of restraint, the underlying resolve to impose a cost on Rawalpindi was palpable. The rare press briefing by the Indian Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) indicated that the immediate counter-terror objective has been achieved – and that Delhi has no intention of escalating the military operations.
This is an important element, in as much as the fact that the Indian DGMO also stated that he had informed his Pakistani counterpart about the operation. The sub-text is that India does not wish to pose any challenge to the territorial integrity of Pakistan, much less to its sovereignty.
The response from Pakistan is predictably charged. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised retribution to avenge the death of Pakistani soldiers. The firm response from India has been made and while this will assuage the bruised post-Uri domestic sentiment – it remains to be seen what kind of a trajectory this surgical strike will lead to.
It is instructive to note how India has created the politico-diplomatic space over the last few days for the limited military action.
India’s decision to pull out of the 19th SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad was expected after the Uri attack. The manner in which Pakistan has responded to this audacious attack was also predictable – refusing to even condemn such a dastardly act – and furthermore, rejecting the evidence incriminating Rawalpindi (General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army – GHQ) that India was willing to share.
Under the circumstances, the Indian position was conveyed in a firm and appropriate manner to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) by the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in New York (September 26) and a day later, the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi confirmed that the regional environment created by ‘one country’ was not conducive to hosting a regional summit that was supposed to nurture amity and meaningful cooperation.
Hence, India decided to convey its inability to attend the Islamabad summit and the pleasant surprise – from the Indian perspective – was the swift endorsement by three other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations – Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan. Afghanistan it may be recalled had also expressed its unhappiness with Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups at the UNGA. In its statement to withdraw from the summit, Kabul made explicit reference to ‘imposed terrorism’ that Pakistan was inflicting on it and conveyed its inability to Nepal, the chair of SAARC.
Bangladesh referred to the ‘growing interference by one country’ in its own internal affairs and reiterated the Delhi position that this was not conducive to a summit. Bhutan also joined the terrorism-affected members and conveyed its own inability to attend the summit.
India has been successful in applying political and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan for its intransigence over Uri – and Pathankot before that and Mumbai of 2008 even before these attacks. The SAARC Summit cannot be held even of one member withdraws and in this case the number is four. To that extent India has conveyed its own displeasure about the terrorism issue and has ‘snubbed’ Pakistan – but this does not mean that Islamabad has been isolated in the larger international context.
The political reality that has to be acknowledged is that the major powers continue to remain engaged with, and invested in Pakistan for their own reasons even if they condemn terrorism and empathize with India. This is true of both the USA and now Russia; and in the case of China – the strategic cooperation with Rawalpindi is of a very deep and distinctive nature.
The Modi government has to decide on its own course of action to both punish Rawalpindi for its proxy war against India and also compel the Pak military to desist from such action and global support in this effort may be limited. Furthermore, the support to Pakistan from its Islamic peers in the global comity cannot be ignored – and these are some of the prevailing political realities.
India has also indicated that it will review the award of MFN status to Pakistan but again – this is unlikely to have any impact on the behavior of the Pakistan military. Since 1971, the Pakistani ‘fauj’ (Army) has rejected trade and economic imperatives and related logic to pursue a zero-sum game of wanting to bleed India by a thousand-cuts and ultimately ‘break’ India.
The review of the Indus Water Treaty (signed in 1960 by the two neighbors) just announced by the Modi government has caused considerable anxiety in Pakistan. Even without abrogating the provisions of the treaty, if India were to implement policies that will allow it to fully utilize its share of the water that is its due – the long-term repercussions could be significant. However India will have to proceed very cautiously as far as the Indus waters issue is concerned given the larger regional and international ramifications apropos treaty obligations of an upper-riparian state.
Even before the surgical strike by India, Pakistan Defence Minister Khwaja Asif had once again brandished Rawalpindi’s nuclear weapons and has threatened to ‘eliminate’ India – if any military action is taken by Delhi. This action has been taken. Consequently the next few days are likely to be fraught with tension and some uncertainty – and India must now stay the course. That is the determination being exuded by Modi.
*C. Uday Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]