Time for Pakistan to establish credentials against terror

The retaliatory and pre-emptive operation of the Indian army in the bordering areas of India and Myanmar in the first fortnight of June has evoked an interesting reaction from India’s another neighbour on its western side of the border. 

Islamabad, which has been engaged in a proxy war against India by using terror outfits, has stated that New Delhi should not contemplate a similar operation inside Pakistani territory as Pakistan is not Myanmar. While it is true that Pakistan is different from Myanmar in many ways, it also raises an important question: does that give Pakistan the right to sponsor terror against its neighbours?

Few would dispute that Pakistan is far more militarily powerful than Myanmar. Moreover, it’s a country armed with nuclear weapons and missile systems that are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Its nuclear arsenal is the fastest growing in the world. What is worse, it is trying to develop tactical nuclear weapons for actual use in war situations.

Pakistan has also been getting advance weapon system from the US, supposedly for fighting the war against terror. The military hardware has also been supplied to it on favourable terms by its all-weather friend China. Pakistan is the largest consumer of Chinese military hardware that is exported. All this makes it militarily quite powerful.

As both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed countries, they would not like to engage in direct wars, lest it escalates to the level of a nuclear war. In the past, however, India was forced to defend its territory in Kargil. Once Pakistani intrusion became known, it was almost impossible for India to hold back its forces from clearing the areas occupied by Pakistani regulars pretending to be Jihadi elements.

Similarly, there was extreme pressure on New Delhi after the attack on parliament and 26/11 to take retaliatory measures against Pakistan. In all such cases, Pakistan is assuming that it’s the responsibility of India to avoid a full-fledged war from breaking out which can even go to the nuclear level. War is undesirable and does no good to any country. However, history has also taught us that, often, not acting against an aggressor leads to undesirable consequences.

During World War II, the conduct of Germany is a case in point. While Germany indulged in its aggressive acts, the British hoped that somehow the war could be avoided; that unfortunately did not happen. Similarly, the continuously hostile acts of Pakistan may create a situation where India could be forced to act. However, India’s reaction would depend on the prevailing situation and the kind of provocation provided by Pakistan.

It would be foolish for Pakistan to assume that India would not act, no matter what the provocation is, just because it is militarily more powerful than Myanmar and is armed with nuclear weapons. On the other hand, a better course for Pakistan would be to act against the terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) who have found shelter in its territory, and whose actions in the Indian territory could lead to surgical strikes in Pakistan.

Pak’s two-timing

Pakistan has been two-timing with terror. On the one hand, it is running operation Zarb-e-Azb against Islamists whom it considers a threat to the Pakistani state. Its soldiers are going all out against them even at the cost of huge collateral damage. On the other, they are protecting people like Hafiz Saeed and organisations like LeT whom they think can be used to further the proxy war of Pakistan.

Pakistan similarly tried to take the US for a ride by claiming to be its front line ally in its war against terror. They extracted huge price from the US in financial and military terms but maintained a dubious role. The US subsequently became aware of the double game played by Pakistan.  When it found out the whereabouts of Osama bin-Laden, it took unilateral action in the garrison town of Abottabad where he was kept in a safe house by the ISI. 

While carrying out the operation, the Pakistani government was kept in dark and it was informed only when the operation was complete. It is true that India is not the US and Pakistan is not Myanmar, hence unilateral actions like the US military may not be that easy. But it is also true that the security situation in South Asia is changing. It is likely to further change in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Taliban in Afghanistan and other terrorist groups in Pakistan are gaining strength. If nothing else, then a decaying state structure in these countries can embolden the terror groups to launch some daring operations. It’s highly unlikely that India would like to provoke a war with any of its neighbours, including Pakistan. However, it is also true that the present government that is in power in India also professes zero tolerance towards terrorism.

The constituency that has brought it to power wants the government to implement this policy. No doubt, countries should not violate international law and must respect the sovereignty of other countries. It is equally important that countries that harbour terror behave in a responsible manner and do not indulge in acts that threaten the safety and security of other nations and their neighbours.

It is unfortunate that Pakistan, instead of saying that it would not sponsor terror and would not allow its territory to be-come safe heaven to such elements, has tried to flex its military muscle. It would be much better for Islamabad to take action against terror elements and not let a situation develop where this kind of action is even contemplated.

(The writer is Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)

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