Cross-border terrorism has become a formidable threat to India’s sovereignty with a steep rise in cases of terrorist attacks on the Indian mainland as well as on defence bases and personnel.
Recently, on February 14, at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel (Indian paramilitaries) have been killed in a suicide car bombing by an operative of the JeM group (Jaish-e-Mohammad) which has claimed responsibility for the attack. The suicide bomber rammed a car carrying more than 350 kg of explosives into a convoy of the CRPF at Awantipora town of Pulwama district in Jammu and Kashmir (on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway).
Although this has been the worst ever attack on Indian security forces and the second ‘suicide’ car bomb attack in the valley after May 2000, terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Gurdaspur attack in Punjab in 2015 and Pathankot terror attack in January 2016 and attacks on Uri military camp in September 2016 apart from other attacks finding lesser media attention pointed to ceaseless challenges posed by non-state actors on the territorial integrity of India primarily targeting army and air bases, railways, bus-stands and police stations particularly to demonstrate India’s security vulnerabilities and arouse public fear.
Apart from attacks on the Indian mainland, border areas between India and Pakistan witness cross-border terrorism as a regular phenomenon resulting in deaths of military personnel and civilians every day.
The data recently released by the Ministry of Home Affairs show that between 2014 and 2018 (last 5 years), there has not only been a 93 percent rise in the number of security personnel killed in terrorist incidents but the state has witnessed a 176 per cent rise in the number of terrorist incidents as well. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/pulwama-terror-attack-jammu-kashmir-terrorism-data-last-5-years-soldiers-killed-1456427-2019-02-14
From an Indian perspective, cross-border terrorism has been a state-sponsored terrorism where institutional support of the Pakistani state remained crucial to the sustenance of cross-border terrorism.
Kashmir has been boiling with unresolved Pakistani claims of freedom struggle and accusations of human rights violations in the valley and Indian accusation of Pakistani collusion in cross-border terrorism.
On the one hand, while the Imran Khan leadership was reportedly working out a proposal to resolve Kashmir issue with an intention to forge ahead Indo-Pak relations, Pakistan’s envoy to the UN Maleeha Lodhi raised the issue at the UN seeking a settlement of the dispute in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions on the other.
These contradictory gestures seemed desperate and diversionary moves motivated to divert public attention from the enveloping economic crisis that Pakistan is hard-pressed to wade through.
Further, attacks have been carried out by militants operating from across the border have been corroborated by certain international developments.
For instance, long-hours meeting between the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump in June 2017 resulted in the joint statement which called on Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of Mumbai, Pathankot and other cross-border terrorist attacks to justice and the US Department of State designated Hijbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin – allegedly the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks – as a global terrorist.
Pakistan has been included in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘grey list’ on the ground of its failure to freeze assets of terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad subjecting its financial transactions to global surveillance and preventing it from raising money from any illegitimate sources.
Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to bring the perpetrators of major terror strikes on Indian mainland to justice contradicts its claim of its innocence. Pakistan has been projecting militancy either as an expression of the angst of the supporters of the freedom movement in Kashmir or labelled the militants as non-state actors over whom the Pakistani state did not have any control or claimed lack of evidences.
In the case of the recent Pulwama attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has not only rejected his country’s involvement, he, on the other hand, said that his government would take action if India shares actionable proof about involvement of anybody from Pakistan in the terror act. He, at the same time, warned India against any military action.
India’s options to deal with the menace
While India’s armed forces in their numerical strength and application of modern equipment and technology of warfare are superior to those of Pakistan and conveniently defeated the latter in all the regular and declared wars, the puzzle that India has been encountering and the threat that has been spilling more blood than regular warfare is the rise of intertwined phenomenon of proxy wars and cross-border terrorism which is neither declared nor regular.
Pakistan, as a nuclear weapon state, is in an advantageous position to continue proxy wars and cross-border terrorism with a nuclear threat while undermining India’s conventional military capacity. New Delhi resorted to aggressive measures earlier in the form of surgical strikes across the Indo-Pak border in response to rising incidents of cross-border terrorism with the expectation that Pakistan would take notice of the reprisal and would tone down its anti-India operations believing that further terrorist attacks on the Indian soil would invite counter-offensive strategies from India. However, contrary to Indian expectations, Pakistani sources not only flamboyantly denied such operations, but the incidents of cross-border terrorism did not abate instead increased.
India has many Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) agreements with Pakistan to ensure peace along the border, but they depend more on mutual goodwill to be operational in the absence of any monitoring mechanisms and verification protocols.
It is noteworthy that India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003 which has continuously been violated since then. In this light, diplomatic efforts and economic pressures are expected to work in India’s favor. Indian Prime Minister Modi’s attempts at the invigorating campaign against terror at international platforms have been successful in persuading as many as 48 countries to notice India’s victimhood to terrorism following the Pulwama attack.
While many countries have expressed their sympathies and solidarity with the Indian fight against terrorism, the White House statement from the press secretary has clearly implicated Pakistan for the attacks and noted: “The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region”. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/world-condemns-pulwama-terror-attack-who-said-what/articleshow/68019116.cms
On the diplomatic front, India is seeking support from allies and key strategic partners whose commercial activities and investments in Pakistan has also been a source of funds to finance cross-border terror activities. As a Saudi business delegation accompanying Crown Prince Bin Salman has been on a visit to Pakistan, India and China and has already announced fresh investments worth $20 billion into Pakistan, New Delhi’s diplomatic success will hinge on persuading Riyadh against such investments or guard against diversion of such investments toward terrorist activities.
As strategic partners, India and Saudi Arabia signed a pact on intelligence-sharing on money laundering and terror financing in 2016. Intelligence and security cooperation between the two countries has been witnessed in Saudi kingdom’s extradition of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Abu Sufyan and Indian Mujahideen member Zainul Abedin earlier.
Although a strategy of persuasion may seem unlikely to bear quick results, New Delhi needs to have a sustainable diplomatic move and long-term policy of engagement to persuade other economic partners that have investments in Pakistan such as UAE, Turkey, Japan and some European nations to guard against such investments going into wrong hands in long-term.
Similarly, India must have a long-term policy of engagement with China on the issue of terrorism keeping with the fact that China is currently the biggest investor as well as lender to Pakistan and its investments have boomed within the framework of the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC). Chinese state-run newspaper has accused India of uncritically criticizing China for blocking efforts to list Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist without providing “solid evidence” against Azhar. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/stop-blaming-china-pakistan-chinese-media-to-india/articleshow/68050309.cms
As per news reports New Delhi’s efforts at seeking cooperation from OIC member states in Central Asia and Africa to share Indian concerns on cross-border terrorism have received support from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well as from a number of African countries.
On the economic front, in response to the Pulwama terror attack, India has withdrawn the ‘most-favoured nation’ status granted to Pakistan in 1996 without reciprocity which implies Islamabad will not be treated favorably in trade arrangements and in terms of customs duties on goods within the World Trade Organization (WTO).
India has increased the customs duty on all goods imported from Pakistan such as fruits and nuts, gypsum, sulphur, finished leather, ores, mineral oils and cement to 200% as a way to mount economic pressures on Pakistan. Indian tea producers are poised to curb tea exports to Pakistan.
However, besides all these measures, India must work on its intelligence failures and security lapses as successful attacks on defence bases, convoys and legislature (supposed to be most secured and confidential places) imply serious vulnerabilities to Indian security. India’s foreign policy makers as well as strategic experts must shift their focus more toward tightening intelligence operations and get over security lapses as their present priority seems to be on the modernization of defence and purchase of conventional weapon systems.
Denying a threat by gathering credible intelligence inputs and tightening defence mechanisms by working on current security lapses would go a long way in containing the menace of terrorism than mounting offensive strategies which most of the times do not work and chances of backfiring cannot be ruled out. At the same time, India must aim at mustering more diplomatic capital by continuously engaging itself with countries sharing similar concerns on cross-border militancy and terrorism.