The Lessons Learned from Israel: In Secret War the Aggressor Is Always the Victim

[Always berate your opponent for copying your own behavior.  Hypocrisy is the hallmark of “counter-insurgency.”

“Pakistan keeps pursuing its strategy of inflicting a thousand cuts on India. There is little reason to believe that Pakistan will abandon that low-cost, minimum risk but high returns terror enterprise either now or in the foreseeable future.”]

American doublespeak

Rajiv Dogra

It was and remains a practiced part of the American routine to say in India what goes down well with the Indian media. However, as soon as Americans are on Pakistani soil, they recraft what they said in India. That’s precisely what US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has done

Alas, we are easy to please. Otherwise we would have known that what they say here isn’t how they reassure there. Like the British during the days of the Empire, Americans feel that they now have the international licence to pontificate. By and large the world too falls in line; with the exception of China which has recently taken to hitting them back with equal vehemence.

But turning back to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ recent visit, just look at the ecstatic response he got from us when he said in New Delhi that “India would find it difficult to show the kind of restraint it did after 26/11 if there was another attack from the Pakistani soil”. We failed of course to recognise that it was a practiced part of the American routine to say in India what goes down well with the media here.

However, as soon as they are on the Pakistani soil they nuance that same statement differently. There, they are under intense scrutiny, and not just by the media. According to Dawn, after addressing Pakistan’s National Defence University Mr Gates commented that his statement in India had been misunderstood.

And just to make things amply clear to the American visitor, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reportedly told him, “Pakistan is itself facing Mumbai like attacks almost every day and when we cannot protect our own citizens, how can we guarantee that there wouldn’t be any more terrorist hits in India.”

This of course should not come as a surprise because from the very beginning Pakistan has perfected ‘denial’ into an art form. And when cornered, as it nearly was after 26/11, it pretends injured innocence. No wonder then that time and again Pakistan has been let off the hook by the international community.

Thus emboldened, Pakistan keeps pursuing its strategy of inflicting a thousand cuts on India. There is little reason to believe that Pakistan will abandon that low-cost, minimum risk but high returns terror enterprise either now or in the foreseeable future.

If Pakistan has been consistent in its approach, so it seems are we. Ours, however, is the uniformity of the timid.

Despite Mr Shashi Tharoor’s withering view of aspects of Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy, it will be hard to disagree with Nehru’s observations on a policy file at the height of tensions in Kashmir in December 1947. After sketching out Pakistan’s aggression, he reflected on India’s response, “It seems to me that our outlook has been defensive and apologetic, as if we were ashamed of what we were doing and we are not quite sure of how far we should go. I see nothing to apologise for and a defensive way of meeting raiders seems to me completely wrong.”

Then, as now, his assessment rings true. Had Nehru been alive today, wouldn’t he have written similarly on the policy files of Ministry of External Affairs?

Essentially our response remains the same; tepid, just along the lines of Nehru’s lament. Be it the terrorist attack on Parliament when we lined up troops futilely along the border, or the Kargil war when we refrained from crossing the LoC, or 26/11 when for long we kept insisting that it was the work of non-state actors; the essence of our response remains half-hearted and apologetic.

But having written what he wrote in 1947, would Nehru have handled any of these situations differently; a bit more firmly?

Nehru himself provides a clue as to how he may have reacted. In that same note of December 1947 he goes on to add, “Are we to allow Pakistan to continue to train new armies for invasion and allow its territory to be used as a base for these attacks? The obvious course is to strike at these concentrations and lines of communications in Pakistan territory. From a military point of view this would be the most effective step. We have refrained from taking it because of political considerations. We shall have to reconsider this position because a continuation of the present situation is intolerable… This involves a risk of war with Pakistan. We wish to avoid war, but it is merely deluding ourselves to imagine that we are avoiding war so long as the present operations are continuing on either side.”

This was no moralistic running commentary. It was hard headed realism, yet he held back. The point at issue is not war, but the nature of our response. Why was it that having diagnosed correctly and having made the right prescription, Nehru refrained from taking the action that he had advocated? Doesn’t that signal weakness? Isn’t this a major reason why deterrence is not seen by others as a part of our armoury?

Call it complacence, fatalism or supine acceptance or whatever else you wish; but one thing is clear. This lack of an effective response on our part has nothing to do with the caste, creed or belief. It is simply a product of the benign Indian soil. Any one of our one billion would probably be equally soft and forgiving. Perhaps, this attitude has more to do with a deeply ingrained desire not to displease the other.

The confidence that we will not strike back, and hurt, is a major reason why India has suffered foreign rulers for over a thousand years. While our response, or lack of it, has remained static others have diversified.

The nature of aggression has changed; terror has been added as an important new dimension to war since that first invasion of Kashmir in 1947. State and non-state actors are coordinating their strategy brazenly; look for instance at the frustrating way Pakistan keeps asking India for more, and yet more evidence, when everything that happened in 26/11 was planned on the Pakistani soil. The nature of targets has changed too. It is no longer simply a case of conquest of territory. Pakistan uses to the full its capacity to befuddle the west, with consequent pressure on India to accommodate and concede.

A manifestation of this tactic is the rumours afloat currently that India will initiate the dialogue. There is also the increasingly frequent talk that autonomy for Kashmir is a matter of time. But others warn grimly that autonomy would be the thin end of the Pakistani wedge. They doubt that Pakistan’s gameplan is limited to Kashmir; otherwise the targets of its terror would not have principally included India’s economic centres.

That it should be so is natural, because the world over there is growing recognition that India is poised at the edge of economic greatness. But prosperity, and economic heights, cannot be sustained in isolation. To remain truly great, a country must be powerful and should be perceived as so by its enemies. It is a historical fact that financially rich, but militarily weak, nations are tempting targets; just as India was so often in the past.

Therefore, it will be simplistic to presume that goodwill alone will safeguard our prosperity. Or that conceding demands like autonomy will be the end of our troubles with Pakistan. In fact it may mark a new beginning of them; for the simple reason that while India has consistently used democracy as a tool for nation building that has not been the case on the other side.

Pakistan’s birth was based on the ideology of exclusion. To complicate matters further its leaders have consistently reared Pakistani people on a diet of envy. Till Pakistan gets over that envy and its hatred of India, we are condemned by our benignity to live by its whims.

— The writer is a former Ambassador.