Channeling anger: Pulwama and the limits of Indian power and influence

We should be angry that we are unable to find a diplomatic or military solution to Pakistani intransigence, writes Amb. T.P. Sreenivasan(retd.) for South Asia Monitor.    
By Amb. T.P. Sreenivasan(retd.) Feb 17, 2019
After the unprecedented terrorist attack in Pulwama, we should be angry with Pakistan, we should be angry with Jaish-e-Mohamed (JeM) and we should be angry with the bomber, who was apparently a Kashmiri. But we should also be angry with ourselves that we have gone through the cycle of terrorism, anguish, anger, frustration and learning to live with the reality and again terrorism. We should be angry that we are unable to end this cycle. We should be angry that we are unable to find a diplomatic or military solution to Pakistani intransigence. We should be angry with our politicians, who use Jammu & Kashmir for their political purposes and not as a strategic challenge and believe that we can absorb the losses and carry on regardless. Our anger should have no limits.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke for the entire nation when he condemned the terrorist attack in Pulwama: "The terrorists...have made a big mistake. The forces behind this act of terrorism and those responsible for it will definitely be punished.”
“We will never forgive, we will never forget,” said the CRPF. India is in anguish and anger and is asking for vengeance. Modi announced that he has given the armed forces a free hand to take any action at any time at any place of their choice. We also pledged to isolate Pakistan in the international community through diplomatic means.
But there are limits to our power and influence. That will be demonstrated again in the next few days. We can do another strategic strike and inflict some damage on the terrorist camps and Pakistan army across the Line of Control. We can even bomb some of the Pakistani posts on the border and destroy their men and equipment. However, a large scale war has to be ruled out because of the change in the strategic context on account of the nuclear capability of the two countries.
Crossing the LoC is fraught with the danger of nuclear blackmail by Pakistan. No nuclear warheads may ever be launched, but Pakistan will threaten to use nuclear weapons on the ground that since the Indian army is more powerful and lethal, they need to multiply their force by resorting to nuclear arms. The moment that happens, the international community will flock to New Delhi and Islamabad to find a compromise. Fear of a nuclear conflagration will lead to various pressures being exercised to bring about a compromise. We cannot resist these pressures beyond a point and no punishment will be meted out to Pakistan. The lack of any economic leverage with Pakistan was demonstrated by our withdrawal of the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status accorded to Pakistan, which will not dent Pakistan’s economy or trade. Pakistan had declined to accord the same status to India on the ground that it would be inappropriate to give MFN status to a country which is the least favoured in Pakistan’s eyes.
We have the power, but we do not have the freedom to exercise it the way we did in 1965 or 1971. The efforts President Bill Clinton exerted on July 4, 1999 to get Pakistan to withdraw from Kargil were precisely for fear of the two countries moving to a nuclear war. We shall face a version of that if we were to cross the LOC and attack Pakistan.
Where power cannot be exercised by declaring a conventional war, diplomacy becomes the answer. Our diplomacy in Pakistan should convince them that they have to pay a heavy price if they persist with terrorism. The other option is to seek to isolate Pakistan as a terrorist state, by sharing intelligence about the attack and Pakistan’s role in it. Major countries, particularly the permanent members of the UN Security Council and our neighbours have already been briefed to get them to condemn Pakistan and join in a protest, if not to take punitive action for masterminding the attack. Many countries have condemned terrorism in general terms, without specifying Pakistan’s direct responsibility in the dastardly act. This is fairly easy to do because there are formulations in many consensus resolutions of the United Nations, which have been endorsed by Pakistan itself, which often claims to be a victim of terrorism. But to expect any country to threaten any kind of punitive action against Pakistan will be unrealistic.
The positions that countries take on bilateral disputes tend to be based on certain principles, without taking sides and without considering merits. The US, for instance, strongly condemned the terror attack and called on all countries to “deny safe haven and support for terrorists.” The US State Department said it was "resolutely committed" to working with the Indian government to combat terrorism in all its forms. The statement said, "The US condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack today on an Indian Central Reserve Police Force convoy in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. We call on all countries to uphold their responsibilities pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions to deny safe haven and support for terrorists.”
There is nothing in this statement or other US comments to suggest that Pakistan is guilty of instigating terrorism. Such statements cannot lead to any political or economic action against Pakistan. In fact, when Pakistan is accused only of giving safe haven to terrorists and supporting them, Pakistan is being let off the hook.
If the present attack leads to a reconsideration of the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, it will be a positive outcome. After all, terrorism that is supposed to have ended is very well and kicking and the US should realise that if it is not rooted out, their mission in Afghanistan will remain incomplete and terrorism a threat to the US itself.
The Chinese statement was even less specific about Pakistan. "We are deeply shocked by this attack. We express deep condolences and sympathy to the injured and bereaved families,” China said. Asked about China's stand on listing Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "As for the issue of listing, I could tell you that the 1267 Committee of Security Council has a clear stipulation on the listing and procedure of the terrorist organisations. As to the listing of an individual, we have always upheld an earnest, responsible and professional manner," he said, adding,"JeM has been included in the UN Security Council terrorism sanctions list. China will continue to handle the relevant sanctions issue in a constructive and responsible manner." China has repeatedly said this while blocking efforts by India and other UNSC members to list Masood Azhar as a UN designated terrorist.
Even when France, Russia and others say they stand by India in its fight against terrorism, they may not have Pakistan in mind. Terrorism, in their mind, is not cross-border terrorism, but global terrorism like IS and others who pose a threat to them. Russia specifically stated at an Afghanistan related conference in India that cross-border terrorism was not a serious threat to international peace and security.
In other words, limits to the use of our military power and wielding our global influence place us in a dilemma, which will remain even in the face of the most gruesome terrorist attack. The biggest challenge for India today is to stop the cycle of violence emanating from Pakistan. Where and how we will break the cycle will be the determining factor in our struggle against terror. The nation should stand united with the government in whatever action it would take to deal with this menace.
(The author is a former Indian ambassador. He can be contacted at

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