The way out: Do a ‘Pakistan’ to Pakistan
by Virendra Parekh on 19 Dec 2008 3 Comments

Indians are seething with rage. Even Manmohan Singh is muttering the right words in his beard. It was heartening to hear leaders of all parties speaking in one voice on the issue of terrorism. That is the minimum we need to tackle the challenge. But along with this new-found unity, alas, there persists the old-style naivety. Some of our leaders still think Pakistan will do its bit to curb jihadi terrorism directed against India. The sooner they shed this illusion, the better.

The so-called Pak crackdown on jihadi leaders and outfits is an elaborate charade aimed at de-legitimising any direct action by India. Pakistan’s objective in detaining a few scoundrels or raiding certain outfits is not to placate India, but to impress America. And Washington is only too willing to be impressed and issue certificates of good behaviour to its frontline ally in the so-called war on terror.

Once the furore in the international community caused by the terror attacks in Mumbai dies down (which will be sooner than you expect), the arrested suspects will be quietly released and start their old business under a new name. Indeed, Pakistan and the US may be acting on a well-crafted script designed to shield Pakistan from further international pressure and cool tempers in India.

What should we do? If we attack Pakistan, the world will intervene to stop two nuclear powers from fighting before any serious damage is done to Pakistan. If we destabilize Asif Zardari’s civilian government, we shall only be handing over that country to the Army, (though, frankly, that would not make things much worse for us). A swift surgical strike against terrorist camps in Pak-occupied Kashmir may yield only symbolic gains. Contrary to popular belief, these camps are not well-equipped military bases. They are makeshift operations run from school and college buildings over the weekend. If we destroy one building, the jihadis will just move on to the other and carry on. 

We cut a poor figure crying before the world, seeking sympathy (which we get easily) and material aid (which we get rarely, if ever), presenting evidence of Pakistan's complicity and seeking extradition of our tormentors. No amount of evidence will convince Pakistan or its paymasters. The more evidence you give, more will be demanded. All this talk of presenting evidence before the UN Security Council makes one shiver. Have we learnt nothing from our experience of taking Kashmir to the UN?

It is our war. We have to fight it ourselves, with our own blood, sweat and money. There will be occasions demanding raw valour and brute force. But, let it be clear, they will not be the main elements. 

What will see us through this war is not valour so much as kootniti, deception, deviousness and an iron resolve to see the enemy humbled.

We should begin by asking ourselves a simple question: how has Pakistan, a smaller, poorer, weaker and more disunited country than India, managed to neutralise our nuclear arsenal as well as our acknowledged superiority in conventional warfare? The answer is: by conducting low-cost low-intensity warfare with plausible deniability.

The next question is: Why cannot we do the same? What can we do to bleed, harm and unnerve Pakistan with minimum costs - diplomatic and military - to ourselves?

Once you pose this question, the answer suggests itself: covert operations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere, if necessary, aimed at taking out known troublemakers as well as those in the making. Such operations must be carried out at home too, for we have no dearth of self-proclaimed separatists and would-be Pakistanis. We must strike terror in the hearts of those who think that Hindu India is fair game.

We should not waste our time seeking bans on outfits and detaining their leaders. We should ourselves go for individuals who keep troubling us while changing banner names all the time. I am no security expert, but it seems to me that there are not more than 200 scoundrels masterminding terrorist operations in India. Some of them are in Pakistan, some are here. Why not allocate 2 per cent of our defence budget (of Rs. 105,600 crore) on eliminating them in a practical timeframe? We should constantly keep revising and expanding the list.

The government should also explore the possibility of nurturing our own non-state actors (aided and abated by State) to do its dirty job. Admittedly, this is playing with fire. There is a danger that they may slip out of hand and become a law (or lawlessness) unto themselves.

We should also explore the possibility of flooding Pakistan with fake currency notes. If our government itself undertakes such a job, secretly of course, the results would be impressive. It should not be difficult for the government to know who supplies the paper, designs and machinery for printing Pakistani currency.

At a larger level, the most potent weapon whose very mention can throw Pakistan completely out of gear is – no, not atom bombs, but Water. Pakistan is facing one of the severest water shortages in the world. Its per capita availability of water per annum has dropped from 5300 cubic metres in 1951 to less than 1100 cubic metres now, far below the internationally recommended level of 1500 cubic metres and just above the critical 1000 cubic metres level. The situation is going to get worse in the years to come, what with declining flows in the Indus water system, mutual suspicion among Pakistan’s provinces, and an unsustainable rate of population growth.

Herein lies India’s biggest opportunity. The Indus Water Treaty brokered by the World Bank in 1960 gives India exclusive use of all of the waters of the three eastern rivers - Sutlej, Ravi and Beas and their tributaries before the point where the rivers enter Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan has exclusive use of the three western rivers - Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.

Pakistan is aware of the strategic importance of the treaty. It keeps a keen eye on anything that India does on the western rivers assigned to it. Thus it objected to Baglihar hydroelectric power project on Chenab on the ground that some design parameters provided India with excessive ability to accelerate, decelerate or block the flow of the river; this may give India a strategic leverage in times of tension or war.

This is the kind of leverage we should acquire single-mindedly. Instead of urging Pakistan to act against jihadis, we should announce unilateral abrogation of the Indus Water Treaty and declare our intention to divert waters from Pakistan to our territory. Pakistan will haw and hum, but US will never allow it to go to war with India, just as it is not allowing us to go to war with Pakistan. If Washington puts pressure on us, we should make it clear that we shall relent only when we have secured all our objectives.

But diverting waters of rivers may take years. Much may happen in between. What is it that we could do right now at low cost, low risk, and yet bring Pakistan to its senses? We should covertly start poisoning waters of the rivers at a point where they are entering Pakistan, not with a view to kill people, but to destroy soil fertility and agriculture.

It is not a Napoleon, but a Chanakya who can win this war.

The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

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