Pulwama: Carrying the battle to the enemy camp
by Punarvasu Parekh on 25 Feb 2019 4 Comments

For the first time, India has seriously hinted at using the only weapon that can really raise hackles in Pakistan. Not the bomb, but water. That is the significance of Nitin Gadkari’s (Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation) statement that India is exploring options to block even Pakistan’s share of waters from the Indus system. Whether things can actually come to that pass is another matter, but the timing of this statement could not have been more appropriate.  


The Indian public is seething with rage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under tremendous pressure to take a convincing precipitate action against Pakistan to avenge the Pulwama terrorist attack. Facing a double-edged sword, Modi is running a race against time: If he can inflict a wound on Pakistan that satisfies his countrymen raring to punish the rogue state, he will have almost won another term in the office; if he fails his credibility would suffer a severe jolt.


At a deeper level, this is an opportunity for the country to clear the cobwebs of silly sentimentalism that have dogged its attitude to Pakistan over decades, recognize the true nature of the beast and devise ways to tame it, neutralising in the process the deeply entrenched pro-Pakistan lobby in the media and academia.


Before we even begin discussing realistic options available to India, we must understand a few things clearly.


First, living peacefully with Pakistan is a pipe dream. Pakistan is not a normal neighbouring country. It is personification of an unprovoked war, jihad, against India. Pakistan is founded on a deep hatred of Hinduism and Hindu society. Indeed, its only self-definition is “Non-Hindu”. If Pakistan can live peacefully with Hindu India, it might as well reintegrate with it. Pakistan exists to harm, hurt and destroy India. To that end, it is prepared to remain poor, invite opprobrium and distrust across the world, be a vassal to China, US or any other country and nurture poisonous snakes at home, fondly hoping they will only bite India.   


Secondly, it is our war. We have to fight it ourselves, with our own blood, sweat and money. Others will support us only in so far as it suits their interests. Currently, India has the support of Israel, European Union, Russia and France. United States says India has the right of self-defence, but it needs Pakistan’s help for an honourable exit from Afghanistan. Pakistan has its backers among Islamic countries. China is solving Muslim problem in Xinjiang in its own way and seeks to buy Muslim world’s silence by scuttling India’s attempt to get Masood Azhar branded an international terrorist. We look stupid when we ask Pakistan to act against jihadis operating from its soil. They are two sides of the same coin.


Given the nature of Pakistan, the problem cannot be solved in one stroke. An enlarged and revised version of the surgical strike will certainly help calm the popular angst, boost the morale of the forces, and vastly improve BJP’s election prospects. What it will not do is deter Pakistan from carrying out more similar attacks. Pakistan is carrying out its proxy war with expendable proxies and will not bother if we target them. It is going to be a long war, testing our resolve, resources and stamina. Moreover, since the challenge is unconventional, the response also must be so.


The withdrawal of MFN status to Pakistan under WTO has more symbolic value than substance. At worst, Pakistan will lose a few billions of rupees worth of export market in India. The withdrawal of security cover to separatists in Kashmir is a step in the right direction. Both these measures should have been taken long ago. After all, we need not trade with a country that hates us and plans to destroy us. And why should the Indian state protect those who refuse to accept its constitution and authority?


There is considerable public opinion in favour of refusing to play Pakistan in the coming cricket world cup. On the other hand, great cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar have come out in favour of defeating Pakistan on the playground. The question is not one of defeating Pakistan on the cricket field, but whether we should dignify a rogue state like Pakistan by playing against it as an equal. Since considerable money is involved, a decision on this issue will be a good indicator of how far we are prepared to go to set Pakistan right. If monetary considerations prevail, forget about winning the war on terror.


There is a strong demand to declare Pakistan a terrorist country, snap diplomatic ties and end social and cultural interactions. This demand is certainly more logical and edifying than urging US and other countries to call Pakistan a terrorist while we keep seeking good neighbourly ties with it. However, declaring Pakistan a terrorist state is not such a great idea. If we do it, Pakistan also would, in all probability, declare India a terrorist state and achieve ‘parity’ with it!


A better option would be to treat Pakistan as a terrorist state (which it really is) in practice. India should break diplomatic ties with Pakistan, recall all high commissioner and all staff from Islamabad and ask Pakistan to wind up its diplomatic presence in the country. Trade with it must be stopped for whatever it is worth. All Pakistanis in the country should be asked to leave India immediately and Indians should not be allowed to travel to Pakistan. Pakistanis should be banished from films, TV channel discussions and serials. If Pakistan wants to reciprocate these measures, it is welcome.


Taken in a swift but calibrated manner, these measures can help build the right atmosphere in which to take on Pakistan, and convince people at home and abroad that government of India means business. However, even all of them put together will not make any dent on the real problem. That needs altogether different approach.


As a means of warfare, terror is extra cheap and a force multiplier. Countering it through conventional methods entails heavy costs and is not always effective. Using terror, Pakistan has launched an asymmetrical war on India, which has enabled it to inflict heavy damage on us at a low cost. It has utilized radical Islam to motivate people to literally blow themselves up. For better or worse, there is no Hindu counterpart to it. India’s response has been conventional and reactive, apart from trying to buy peace through dialogue etc.


India’s effort should focus on altering the cost-benefit ratio of terror for Pakistan. One way of doing it is by conducting covert operations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere if necessary, aimed at taking out known trouble makers. Such operations must be carried out at home too, for we have no dearth of self-proclaimed separatists and wanna-be Pakistanis. We must strike terror in the hearts of those who think that India is fair game. Instead of wasting time seeking ban on outfits and detention of their leaders, we should ourselves go for individuals who keep troubling us while changing banner names all the time.


Care must be taken to ensure that this does not become free-for-all for trigger-happy men in uniform. There should be a cell of legal experts to examine evidence and sanction eliminations.


Since Pakistan in its current form is inherently inimical to India, the long term objective of Indian policy should be to dismember it in four provinces. Fanning separatist tendencies in Pakistan could be a highly effective means of keeping it busy with its own troubles. If Pakistan is broken up along provincial lines, none of the resulting states would be in a position to challenge India. The J&K issue will all but disappear, at least in its present form.


However, as Nitin Gadkari has implied, the most potent weapon whose very mention can throw Pakistan completely out of gear is 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 meters in 1951 to less than 1017 cubic meters now, far below the internationally recommended level of 1500 cubic meters and just above the critical 1000 cubic meters level. Even this limited water is distributed unequally, leaving some regions permanently parched. The situation is going to get worse in the years to come, what with the declining flows in the Indus Water System, mutual suspicion among Pakistan’s provinces and an unsustainable rate of population growth.


Herein lays 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. True to form as a Nehruvian legacy, India’s share of water under the treaty is 33 million acre feet, as against Pakistan’s 135 MAF. India also has right to generate hydroelectricity through run of the river (ROR) projects on the western rivers, subject to specific criteria for design. 


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 the Chenab on the ground that some design parameters provided India with excessive ability to accelerate, decelerate or block flow of the river may give India a strategic leverage in times of tension or war.


This is the kind of leverage that 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 and it will be our time to remind it that war between nuclear neighbours is not an option. 

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