New Delhi must exhibit resolve and intent that it is serious about isolating Islamabad across the board

by Minhaz Merchant

Twenty-four hours after the attack by Pakistan’s terrorist-army on the an Indian Army station and family quarters in Jammu's Sunjuwan, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman held a press conference.

She said: “Pakistan will pay a heavy price for this attack.” Revenge is a dish best served cold. But retribution for Sunjuwan will not end Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It will not even mitigate it. Pakistan does not care about 3x or even 5x losses to its terrorists and soldiers who man terror launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). For Islamabad, terrorism against India is low-cost warfare. But make no mistake: it is warfare.

India has always “reacted” to Pakistani terror attacks with retributive Army assaults. Pakistan absorbs those assaults, accepting them as a small price to pay for bleeding India.

Islamabad knows that it has a limited time window of about 10 years to practise this strategy. After that India’s economic and military superiority will place it beyond Pakistan’s reach. The GDP gap between the two countries is today 9:1. By 2028, at current growth rates, the gap will widen to 12:1.

Militarily, India’s 30-year-long stupor in modernising its air force, army and navy has ended. The IAF will by 2028 have close to a full strength of 42 fighter jet squadrons, several new nuclear submarines (currently being built at classified shipyards), warships, anti-tank guided missiles, nuclear-capable stealth fighters, Apache attack helicopters and mobile shoot-and-scoot howitzers with a 40-km shelling range.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s nuclear bluff must be treated for what it is: bluff. India’s new low-yield battlefield nuclear weapons, along with its nuclear triad (air, land and sea), is a deterrent whose potency the generals in Rawalpindi will not dare to put to test.

But the real challenge today is to evolve and implement a comprehensive and coherent strategy to isolate Pakistan by every means available.

Last week in Paris, Pakistan was placed on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey-list. Islamabad has a three-month window until June 2018 to end terrorist financing. If it fails to do so (as it inevitably will) harsh global financial sanctions will follow. They will cause Pakistan's fragile economy considerable pain.

“Being placed on the FATF watchlist will bring extra scrutiny from regulators and financial institutions that can chill trade and investment and increase transaction costs,” conceded a report in Pakistan Today. “Mike Casey, a partner at law firm Kirkland & Ellis in London, said being put back on the grey-list would heighten Pakistan’s risk profile and some financial institutions would be wary of transacting with Pakistani banks and counterparties. Others might elect to avoid Pakistan altogether, viewing the legal risks associated with doing business there to outweigh any economic benefits.”

What should India, the main victim of Pakistani terrorism, now do? The key is to execute a series of steps that, like a tourniquet, strangle Pakistan’s terror infrastructure by imposing progressively heavier costs on it. Half-way measures will no longer do.

India must move from a reactive military strategy to a proactive military strategy. In retaliation for the terror attack on the Sunjuwan Army camp and family station that killed six Indian soldiers and one civilian, the Indian Army pounded Pakistani posts in the Uri and Mendhar sectors, destroying both. An unconfirmed number of Pakistani soldiers and terrorists (there’s little differentiation between the two) have been killed in India’s retaliatory attacks. That hasn’t changed Pakistan’s terrorism-as-state-policy mindset. Nor will it.

What does a comprehensive strategy to isolate Pakistan involve? First, downgrade diplomacy. The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi is a warren of subversion, packed with ISI agents. Downgrade it to a bare-bones consular status. Withdraw India’s high commissioner in Islamabad. Consular representation will do.

Even with downgraded status, certain arm’s length multilateral diplomatic engagements with Pakistan will take place. This week, for example, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale will attend a 25-nation conference on Afghanistan in Kabul. A brief meeting on the sidelines of the conference between Gokhale and Pakistan’s foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua can’t be ruled out. This falls well within the new paradigm of downgraded diplomacy.

India must exhibit resolve and intent that it is serious about isolating Pakistan across the board. End the hypocritical access Pakistani artistes have to Bollywood. All take huge Indian fees but mock India when they return to Pakistan. Without exception, they never condemn Pakistani terror attacks on India.

But why, ask India’s Pakistan apologists, drag artistes into politics? Because it’s not politics. It’s terrorism.

South Africa was isolated by the world over its racist apartheid policy. India sacrificed a Davis Cup title by refusing to play South Africa (even though that country had never sent terrorists to kill Indians as Pakistan incessantly does). The pressure of isolation on South Africa paid off. The inhumanity of apartheid ended in 1991 and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President in 1994.

What about trade, ask India’s Pakistan apologists? Why ban poor Pakistani filmstars when we still trade with Pakistan and haven’t revoked its most favoured nation (MFN) status? And hasn’t India invited Pervaiz Malik, Pakistan’s commerce minister, to India for the WTO mini-ministerial meeting in Delhi scheduled for March 19-20? He will doubtless have a congenial chat with India’s commerce minister Suresh Prabhu.

This reflects the failure of the Narendra Modi government’s confused Pakistan policy. Revocation of Pakistan’s MFN status must be placed high on its agenda as it enters the final year of its first term. Under WTO rules, revocation is legally justifiable based on non-reciprocity. Reciprocity was pledged by Pakistan in 1996 when India granted Islamabad MFN status. It was never implemented. It is time to end this farce.

While the 37 members of the FATF have taken Pakistan’s terror financing seriously and imposed sanctions on it which kick in from June 2018, India continues to soft pedal. That sends the wrong message to the world about India’s intent to deal effectively with the horrific nature of Pakistan’s continuing terror attacks.

Just how horrific those attacks are is reflected in this The Indian Express report: “Standing on a mountain, Silikote, a hamlet of 22 households, is overlooked by Pakistani army pickets across a ridge and is vulnerable even to small-arm fire from Pakistan. For the past five days, the village has been continuously hit by shells fired by Pakistani soldiers. ‘We have witnessed such intense shelling for the first time since 1999,’ says Ghulam Nabi Handoo. ‘We are lucky to be alive.’ Says Nazir Ahmad, from the same village: ‘We are dying every day. Is this life? Life there is hell. I think around 20,000 mortars were fired in an hour.’”

Such Pakistani army attacks on Indian civilians in villages near the LoC are trivialised by the daily retreat ceremony at Wagah and other border crossings. These must end immediately. They give Pakistan a false sense of importance and equivalence.

Meanwhile, the Modi government has got at least one aspect of its Pakistan policy right: it has fast-tracked hydro-electric power projects in J&K. They will now draw the full legally permissible quota of water under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). India had inexplicably under-drawn its legal quota for decades.

The Modi government’s Pakistan policy has been a disappointment thus far. It has a year to turn things around or Sunjuwan will not be the last Indian Army camp to be attacked by Pakistan’s army of terrorists.