Strategic Space

Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross–Border Terrorism: With a Little Help from Friends

16 Aug, 2016    ·   5106

Dr Manpreet Sethi reviews and draws from the recently released book - Not War, Not Peace? - by George Perkovich and Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Manpreet Sethi
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow at CAPS

Not War, Not Peace is a recent publication from the prolific authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The book seeks to help India find ways of ‘motivating’ Pakistan to give up its cross-border terrorism. As they have correctly inferred, and as Indians have long fretted, “good and ready options for retaliation” are difficult to come by. Undoubtedly, India faces a unique security dilemma in the existence of a nuclear-armed, terrorism-supporting, dissatisfied-with-self nation as its western neighbour. In fact, the predicament is exacerbated by the fact that this challenge encompasses four levels of threats: from the state of Pakistan, from non-state actors backed by the state (Pakistan’ Army and ISI), from non-state actors not under state control, and from the state backed politically and strategically by another state (China).

It is heartening to finally hear some Western scholars join the search with India for the right answers to deal with these issues. In fact, the first happy aspect of the book is the admittance of the fact that Pakistan uses cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy. This was never a secret. But, the West had been chary of publicly accepting the reality. So, the good news for India is that what was essentially considered only an Indian problem for decades is now being accepted as a security challenge at a wider international level.

It is also an implicit assumption of the authors that Pakistan is unlikely to give up its support for terrorism, and hence India will face such incidents in the future. Indeed, this is inevitable if Pakistan continues to maintain a strategy that seeks to decimate one kind of terrorist – those that threaten its own interests - while holding onto another that have been cultivated to trouble India. This is an unsustainable strategy. Terrorist organisations have exhibited deep and complex cross-institutional and cross-sectoral linkages and it is not feasible to annihilate some and allow others to proliferate. In fact, today Pakistan is infested with highly motivated terrorist organisations that are as anti-West and anti-India, as they are anti-Pakistan. The country has seen attacks on sensitive high security zones/installations despite all assurances of security.

In such a situation, it is not surprising that Perkovich and Dalton caution India against more attacks and offer assistance by undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of the four possible options before India. These include an Indian response through the use of a proactive strategy led by the Army, response through use of punitive air power, use of covert operations, and use of non-violent compellence through economic and diplomatic means. Their recommendation is for the use of the last approach since it is seen as least escalatory.

To be fair, the Indian response, traditionally, has been largely defensive – better border fencing and better intelligence gathering to foil infiltration, picking up pieces after an attack, and banking on the resilience of the Indian economy and society to carry on. As a nation and a civilisation, India tends to lean towards strategic restraint and does not believe in easy or quick use of force. Since Operation Parakram, military responses were further seen as offering lesser dividends and the focus was clearly on economic growth and development. So it was that even the Mumbai attack in 2011 did not elicit a forceful military response that would have overtly appeared to punish Pakistan. However, one can sense a loss of patience and tolerance with Pakistan’s duplicity, as well as the international community’s loss of patience and tolerance to be taken in by Pakistan’s duplicity.

It is in this context that the book is a welcome change. However, its recommendation that India should follow a calibrated, synergistic diplomatic and economic response to motivate Pakistan’s change of behaviour can only be useful if simultaneously supported by the international community. If influential powers opt to turn a blind eye, continue to pander to Pakistan’s tantrums, or seek to offer it status of ‘normal’ from outside, it would only tempt Pakistan to further exploit the virtues of terrorism shielded by nuclear brinkmanship.

The following set of multi-pronged and multi-directional international responses could serve as a corollary to the option that the book recommends for India. It is imperative that the US and other friends who understand the security challenge posed by Pakistan contribute their bit through the following steps:

a. Reassuring Pakistan that India has no designs on its sovereignty or territorial integrity. Its threat perceptions from India are of its own making. Unfortunately, they serve the purpose of propping up the Army in the domestic power structure. If the Army were to reduce the sense of ‘existential threat’ from India, it would also lose some of its relevance and power. This will not be easy. But if the influential major powers were to question Pakistan’s threat perceptions, it might have some impact by and by

b. Using all leverages to subtly influence the Army mindset into becoming a regular Army servicing a state rather than treating the state as its appendage

c. Reducing military and financial support for Pakistan’s armed forces

d. Reassuring Pakistan that neither India nor the US have the intention nor the capability to disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons

e. Communicating to Pakistan that the state will have to take responsibility for acts of terrorism emanating from its soil. Therefore, dealing with all terrorists uniformly is in its own interest. In any case, under UNSCR 1373, the international community is legally bound to respond to acts of terrorism through united action. Sending this message may help to prevent a future act of terrorism

f. Greater sharing of intelligence and coordination of crackdown on terrorist financing, communications etc

g. Assisting constituencies in Pakistan that cherish a different future for the country

h. Refusing to buy into Pakistan’s low projection of its nuclear threshold. Rather, using every opportunity to highlight the lack of military utility of nuclear weapons, and the long lasting impact of a nuclear exchange could motivate Pakistan to adopt a more responsible nuclear strategy.

Pakistan is too complex a case for any one set of responses to work. It is a happy development that two serious Carnegie scholars have discussed Indian responses in a constructive manner. While there would be some differences of opinion on how Indians undertake their own capability appreciation and adversary’s intention analysis, there is no doubt that it is only through a collective churning of thoughts that a problem as vexed as Pakistan can be managed.

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