The Pulwama aftermath: Whither to from here?

The Pulwama terror attack, the IAF action in Balakot and escalation by Pakistan by attacks on our military assets are all behind us now. Are these measures enough to stem the tide of militancy flowing from across the border? Should we now deescalate, not because Pakistan wants it, but because we have achieved our limited objective of destroying a major Jihadi training facility and we can do so from a position of strength? The biggest change in post- Independence Indian counter terror paradigm happened in the wee hours of the twenty-sixth of February this year. So where do we go from here?

Truth be told, surely no one expects the terror attacks to cease or even reduce. For every terrorist killed, a hundred rioters could easily be recruited. The experience of Israel is very much before us. Truth or myth, no secret agency is known to be more ruthless and pursue retribution at any cost, than their Mossad. And yet it never ends. So too will the case be from Pakistan.

In such a situation, are we ready for a prolonged heightened tension with a semi war like situation? Because of the much talked about paradigm shift, the bar is now higher. In the event of any terror incident in the future, the country would expect a robust muscular response, scaled up multi-fold. Whether this would be possible in the future will depend on many factors like a possible shifting of the terrorist training facilities to civilian areas, so a targeted operation might not be possible any more, a possibility that the terror recruits are permitted to don the robes of the armed forces during training, camouflaging them as soldiers, being openly trained by their army itself, etc. Thus, where we go from here depends upon both our near and long term objectives as well as the change of tactics by the enemy.

As far as the external dimension is concerned, a two-pronged strategy of rapid modernization of our Armed Forces and continued pro-active diplomacy would be necessary to counter the sinister designs of our neighbor. The importance of the first one cannot be overemphasized as the much talked about asymmetry in conventional warfare systems is said to be little more than hype according to some defense analysts. Whatever the lacunae in defense preparedness, they should be rectified on a war footing. As for talks with Pakistan, they should happen only when active abetment of terrorism ceases verifiably.

The internal dimension is equally complex because of the historic baggage with which it comes. It cannot be denied that the Kashmiris today are largely alienated from India. One fails to understand what their grievance or grouse against the Indian State is. India is no Utopia and our democracy may not be perfect, but so is that of many developed countries too. None of the problems that Kashmir faces is unique. As a country that is home to the third largest Muslim population in the world, with more than 95% of it living in non- Muslim majority states and where it is the majority that feels threatened by the kind of appeasement that is going on, we are at a loss to understand what their “alienation” is all about.

Yes, India did go back on the promise of plebiscite, but so did Pakistan, whom the separatists adore. Till this day, the unique nature of Kashmir has been preserved meticulously by not allowing any non-Kashmiri to settle there. On the other hand, it is they who drove out the Pandits out of their own homes. So, the sooner the Kashmiris learn to live as a Muslim majority state in India with full rights that other states enjoy, the better it will be for them and for all of India. And it is for the kasmiri intelligentsia to enlighten us regarding their alienation. Thus, this is a conundrum for which there is no easy solution.

But that should not stop our government from taking punitive action against terrorists and terror supporters and instigators. Our government should have a long term strategy where any one espousing the cause of Pakistan should be mercilessly stripped of his civil rights and thrown, for life, behind bars as the standard operating procedure. Moreover, all the organizations that spread hatred against India and indulge in anti-India propaganda should be ruthlessly banned (this has already started), their funding sources and methods scrutinized and stopped. Without enough funding, it can be expected that their offensive capabilities would be reduced drastically. In a situation where the militants would have to be imported from across the border, as foreigners, these non-state assets should be liquidated with minimal legal processes.

A new initiative by a bold and imaginative leadership has fired the imagination of a country of a billion people. With opportunities galore that are fraught with challenges and threats, a strong political leadership with clear long-term vision is what we need now. Surely, interesting times are ahead of us.

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