Patriotic quibbling will not hide the basic fact—that Pakistan has boxed India into a tight corner. As happened in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack eight years ago, every muscle in our body politic twitches to take revenge against the rogue state. But a whole bunch of reality checks hold us back. Fortunately, the Prime Minister recognised this and resisted hawkish pressure from his own party parivar. That prevented the tight corner from developing into a trap.
By now diplomatic, political, strategic and security specialists have weighed the options open to India and unanimously rejected military retaliation. Many have openly admitted that India, despite having one of the finest fighting forces in the world, has not kept pace with modernisation and resources-building. We do not have the sophisticated paraphernalia to stage, for example, the kind of operation that enabled American SEALS to dive deep into Pakistan and get Osama bin Laden.
The idea of isolating Pakistan cannot go far either. The frenzied shoutings of our television anchors might give the impression that world powers have taken positions in support of India. What world powers have done is to condemn terrorism and sympathise with its Indian victims. Not one of them has mentioned Pakistan as being responsible for the attack.
Russia’s statement is, as diplomatic statements go, the most sympathetic to India. But let us not forget that, following India’s policy shift away from Moscow in recent years, Russia has signed various treaties with Pakistan. According to one of these, 24 of Russia’s deadly SU-35 fighter jets will be delivered to Pakistan before this year is out. As for the US, India may have signed the logistics agreement. And some Senators may have moved resolutions against Pakistan. But Pakistan is recognised by Washington as a key element in America’s plans to disengage from Afghanistan. It’s clear that America will not be a friend in need for India as China would be for Pakistan.
Such nuanced shades of grey are no problem for jingoists of the black-and-white world, be they television superheroes or Sangh parivar pundits. One of the latter made a bombastic call: “For one tooth, the complete jaw.” A problem with Sangh parivar hardliners is that their admiration for Israel leads them to believe that if you attack opponents harshly enough, you will eliminate them. More than half a century of harsh, often inhuman, Israeli attacks did not eliminate Palestinian resistance. In fact, battling the sadistic Israeli forces has become a people’s movement in Palestine. The sudden increase in popular resistance in Kashmir in recent months has been quickly seized by Pakistan as ammunition against India in international forums.
Israel does a great many other things without anyone knowing about them, and India can learn from some of those. One of them is that spy/intelligence chiefs must not make public pronouncements. When the last chief of Mossad expressed an opinion after his retirement, his diplomatic passport was taken away by way of punishment.
Two years ago, at a public meeting, Ajit Doval went into the details of India’s options against Pakistan. One was: “You do one Mumbai. You may lose Balochistan.” On Independence Day this year, Prime Minister Modi virtually endorsed that line. We thus gave Pakistan all it wanted to know which way we were thinking and the time to start preparing its counter strategies.
Balochistan is no doubt a festering sore for Pakistan rulers. But how far can India go to make another Bangladesh out of it? East Bengal was contiguous with India. Balochistan is not. What’s more, it is contiguous with Iran—and Shia Iran will have its own views on Sunni Balochistan becoming independent as there is a large number of Balochis in Iran’s south-eastern province. And why would Iran want to take the risk of supporting Balochis for India’s sake when India actively sided with America in the sanctions against Iran and, even now, seems none too enthusiastic about joint programmes like oil pipelines?
In this bleak scenario, Modi did well by choosing a policy of strategic restraint. In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror strike, Modi had accused the Congress government of doing nothing and said: “Talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language because it won’t learn lessons till then.” The Modi government now must talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language. It must do so without addressing public meetings, keeping in mind the principle: The guerilla wins when he does not lose, the army loses when it does not win.