The inevitable cycle that follows each exceptional terrorist attack – the explosion of tired bombast about "dastardly deeds" (the new and improved version is "despicable attack"), promises that they will not go unpunished, sweeping accusations of security failures, with insidious claims about "specific intelligence" having been abundantly provided in advance, and, of course, the noise and violence of media debates – have now almost subsided in the wake of the Uri attack. Soon, it will be business as usual.
This is how it has been in numberless cases of Pakistan-backed terrorist excesses in the past; this is how it will be now. The limited riposte the Army will deliver, at a time of its own choosing, along the International Border or the Line of Control, is also part of this predictable cycle.
How can India break out of this fruitless pattern? Bomb Pakistan? Surgical strikes? Limited war? Diplomatic offensives? The armed forces’ leadership has, by now, already informed the government that the military option is limited, its outcomes uncertain. The government has suitably turned down its belligerent rhetoric. As for diplomatic offensives, they are quite worthless, though they may make some of our diplomats feel even more important than they already do.
For decades, the world did not heed India’s evidence of Pakistani malfeasance. A skeptical West (that really is the "world", in terms of the equations of power) was quite unable to distinguish between terrorists and freedom fighters. Now, since Caucasians, among others, are dying in terrorist attacks across Europe and America, the West has no problem with such distinctions, and is immediately able to recognise terrorists on sight, and is aware that there is a Pakistani footprint to almost every attack on their sacred lands (including the latest serial bombings in New York and New Jersey).
The West is presently busy, partly trying to defend itself against an alleged Islamist deluge (which has cost a few hundred lives, as against the tens of thousands lost in India alone, and hundreds of thousands in West Asia, as a direct consequence of Western adventurism and mischief), and partly in preparing for the revival of the Fourth Reich project, as the extremist Right gathers strength. Even if they were not quite so preoccupied, it is unlikely that they would come and kindly fight our wars for us.
And so, the obvious fact that has long eluded our national political and strategic leadership is that we have to do much of this ourselves. Crucially, moreover, this is not going to be done by a posture of extreme machismo, chests that dubiously measure 56 inches, nationalist belligerence, communal polarisation, or military jingoism. Nor is it going to be achieved by inviting ourselves to the birthday parties of various dignitaries in Pakistan.
The first step is to acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of this undertaking, not as a source of pessimism or to demoralise ourselves, but to understand how much of a commitment it is going to take to resolve the problem.
It is necessary to recognise that Pakistan has successfully employed the strategy of Islamist terrorist jihad against the Soviet Union, and has not been deterred by the United States in its Afghan campaigns, even when top US commanders squarely blamed Pakistan for the death of US, International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Security Forces personnel, as well as thousands of civilians. The United States alone has lost 2,325 military personnel in Afghanistan, but has failed to evolve an effective punitive or deterrent strategy against Pakistan.
It is abundantly clear that India has no consistent policy whatsoever with regard to Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, so there is no reason for the Pakistani military and intelligence leadership to believe it cannot get away with what it is doing against India, when it has survived – and survives – comparable transgressions against infinitely more powerful states.
That said, it is also crucial to recognise that Pakistan is on the wrong side of history, that its trajectory is of cumulative and inevitable ruination. The world has now turned against Pakistan, with the sole exception of China. There is, moreover, significant consensus among most of the Western powers today that if India could take effective action against Pakistan for its terrorism, it would not attract extraordinary criticism, since the Western powers are also victims of terrorism arising from Pakistan. The international environment is more hostile to Pakistan today than it has ever been before.
Further, Pakistan’s internal disorders, an economy in disarray, rising demographic and resource dissonance, and sustained political mismanagement are careening towards an existential crisis. The question, however, is how long will this process take and how much harm will Pakistan do before this outcome is realised?
This is where the potential of strategy and policy of other powers – including India – comes into play. Unfortunately, this potential remains largely unexplored, as the world appears to have paralysed itself with nightmare scenarios of Pakistan’s abrupt collapse into chaos.
Crucially, strategy is a function of capacity, and our capacities across the security spectrum are abysmal. This is the consequence of decades of neglect, mismanagement and corruption. The current regime promised to change this, but there is no evidence of any dramatic improvement in resource flows or capacities in our defence, internal security management and intelligence apparatus. Indeed, many crucial programmes supporting improvements in operational capacities on the ground are being squeezed, even as the government seeks to divert public attention by focusing on a handful of high-value acquisitions from foreign vendors – most of which remain frozen in delayed pipelines.
Also, our covert capabilities have been severely damaged by past regimes, and will take far greater attention, resources and political consensus to rebuild than is currently available.
Further, it must be recognised that the opportunities Pakistan exploits are substantially – though certainly not exclusively – at least in part created by our own domestic political mismanagement. The obvious case in point is the present limited terrorist escalation in Jammu and Kashmir, which is piggybacking on the street mobilisation of the past two months. The latter, in turn, surely has much to do with the continuous campaigns of communal polarisation that have been the mainstay of electoral politics in the Valley and Jammu region, and for which, at least over the past two and a half years, responsibility must squarely vest in both Valley-based parties, who constantly adopt a "soft" Islamist-separatist line, and the "nationalist" Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates, who have aggressively, and at least occasionally violently, pushed the "Hindutva" agenda.
The challenge of Pakistani terrorism can only be addressed within a protracted war paradigm, which demands long-term perspectives, policies and strategies, and a sustained process of capacity building within a coherent strategic framework. If national responses continue to be dictated by electoral cycles – and there is an ongoing electoral cycle at all times in this country, with general, state or local elections perpetually around the corner – and by transient and partisan political considerations, there is simply no way in which anything we do is going to alter Pakistan’s intentions and malfeasance.
The present regime claims to place national interests over all other considerations. Let it demonstrate this in the will and determination to create the capacities that are necessary to defend India against its enemies – not just Pakistan, a country one-eighth our size, but also a potentially much more devastating China.
This is not going to be achieved by rates of growth or foreign direct investment or the patterns of predatory and crony capitalism this regime continues to promote.
It will require a clear and extraordinary focus on addressing the enduring deficits and demands of the defence and security sectors. Dramatic capacity augmentation in these sectors alone can create the new strategic options that India needs to confront and neutralise the persistent threat of Pakistan-orchestrated jihad on Indian soil.