Uri attack - Effective retaliatory options before India

Post Uri attack, there has been a frenzy in India with all sections of people, including the Army, baying for a military response; one that will not only give Pakistan a bloody nose, but will act as a deterrent against any further adventure involving cross-border interdiction or support by state or non-state actors.

Read: Uri Terror Attack: It’s a Call to Action

The problem is that no military reaction from India is going to deter Pakistan from its well-developed strategy to take on India in Kashmir Valley.

Pakistan realises its limitations of military and financial capability to fight a prolonged full scale war with India; and it was under President Zia-ul-Haq’s time that the fruit of waging an asymmetrical war was first developed and tasted, when Pakistan got involved in Afghanistan with US support, against the Russians.

It has since transported the lessons learnt in the harsh terrains of Afghanistan to J&K, and has since been instigating militancy and civil dissent through its proxies sourced from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and various Madrasas located all over Pakistan.

This has been their strategy thus far, and given that Kashmir Valley has been boiling over the years, it has proved very effective from Pakistan’s perspective. So there is no reason for them to now give up their long established and successful tactics.

So, what can India do to retaliate? India needs to take a step back, calm down and think strategically. There are several effective retaliatory options before India that cover the following areas:

  • Military
  • Diplomatic
  • Economic

Military

Let’s be clear. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif stated the other day that Kashmir was their jugular and lifeline. Therefore, if India really wants to get Pakistan to its knees, it must go after that jugular by forcefully taking POK, which in any case is part of India, as per the Instrument of Accession signed on 26 October 1947 by the then Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh.

India has the military capability and resources to undertake a swift takeover, but that is highly unlikely, given the possibility of the action escalating into a full-fledged war with Pakistan. In which case, India would have undone all the diplomatic gains that it has built its case on J&K over the years and present the advantage back to Pakistan at the UN, where it would rush to, claiming the victim card.

Any cross border military action less than complete takeover of POK will not serve any military purpose for India, but will instead set back our diplomatic gains before the international community. So military response should be ruled out, at least for now.

Diplomatic

Thanks to a hyper-active PM, India continues to grow its diplomatic stature in keeping with its rising economic clout. On Kashmir, the global community is more or less aligned with the Indian position of maintaining a status quo and we must now go on the offensive to get the UN to name Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism or at least shame it, prior to launching economic sanctions against it. Same with the US, which still has a lot of leverage with Pakistan, despite the latter’s very vocal denial.

With SAARC Summit coming up on 9th and 10th November later this year in Islamabad, India has two options before it. It can either rally countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which are currently favourably disposed to India, and with some effort, bring Bhutan, Sri Lanka and perhaps Nepal, to join India in condemning Pakistan at the SAARC Summit for supporting terror activities emanating from its soil. That would be diplomatically very embarrassing for Pakistan and it would force fence sitting countries like Maldives to join in or be isolated alongside Pakistan.

The other option is to get Bangladesh, Afghanistan and perhaps Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, in joining India to boycott SAARC altogether. In case other nations don’t join in, India can go it alone and open up bilateral trade with individual countries IN South Asia, outside the ambit of SAARC. Without India, the Summit will be rendered a failure and will leave Pakistan diplomatically isolated in the South Asia.

However, the former option suggested is the more effective one and India must seriously consider attending and shaming Pakistan in Pakistan.

Economic

While military retaliation can bring us very limited gains and diplomatic retaliation will take time to show its effect on Pakistan, it is retaliation on the economic front that can bring Pakistan down to its knees and this what India should seriously consider.

India’s biggest and most effective leverage against Pakistan is water. In 1960, India signed the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan, under the auspices of the World Bank. The treaty mandated that India would get full use of the ‘eastern’ rivers Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, while Pakistan would get full access to ‘western’ rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.

Despite having fought two full-scale wars in 1965 and 1971 and a limited war in Kargil in 1999, the IWT has withstood the test of time with both countries respecting it.

But now, India can and must abrogate the treaty and walk away. Any treaty requires both parties to remain committed to it and it stands nullified if either party walks away. Several countries in the past, including the US, have walked away from treaties and this won’t be the first instance.

India can turn the tap off the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab rivers and divert its waters to India. If that happens, Pakistan will starve its food bowl, Punjab. If water is stopped even for a few days, people will revolt against their government and the military.

See the violent reaction in Karnataka on the Cauvery River judgement and gauge the potential impact on Pakistan, if waters of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab are to be denied to it.

Water is a sensitive issue anywhere and wars are likely to be fought over it in future. Now would be a good time for India to demonstrate to Pakistan that it means business and won’t tolerate it’s duplicitous activities in sponsoring terror.

If it still wants to dream of Kashmir, it will have to survive first. And the best part, not a single bullet would be fired from the Indian side. That’s the power of what we control but haven’t even considered against Pakistan, thus far.

Abrogating the IWT will force Pakistan to come to the negotiating table from a position of weakness, just as in 1972 in Shimla, and it will then be upto India to set the agenda and the terms. Pakistan government will have no choice but to comply, given the domestic pressure its people would have built on it.

This would also be a good time to get Pakistan to force its military to de-nuclearize and scale down in size, while committing itself to non-involvement in areas not related to military.

Time to show political spine

Enough of playing the goodly neighbour. It’s now time for India to take the bull by its horns and make Pakistan count the cost of each life lost on our side, civilian or military.

Both sides have nuclear weapons but so did Russia and China when they got into frequent bloody skirmishes along their border. Walking away from IWT would be far more effective than any economic sanctions on Pakistan, especially since it has the patronage of its benefactor, China, which will counter any drastic impact that sanctions may have on Pakistan. After all, China has a track record of propping dictatorships like North Korea which faces constant international sanctions and isolation but continues to survive.

Time to turn the tap off on Pakistan.

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