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Tag Archives | Pathankot

Countering the two Pakistans

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Summary of an interview I gave to Channel News Asia.

The Indian Army claimed that it conducted surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to pre-empt another infiltration by terrorists. Before we discuss the impact of this claim, it is important to analyse the antecedents. Else, we’ll be falling into the trap of recency bias which makes us react emotionally to the most recent events on the ground.

The current Indian government, much like the earlier Indian governments, started off with the vision that normalising the relationship with the Pakistani civilian establishment provides the best chance for peace in the region. Consequently, Nawaz Sharif was invited to the Indian PM’s swearing-in ceremony. Subsequently, the Indian PM also made a trip to Lahore in continuation of this policy. However, all this outreach ended with first, the attack on a bus and police station in Gurdaspur and then an attack on the Pathankot air base. More recently, the terrorists attacked the Indian army brigade headquarters in Uri. This cycle—rounds of talks ending up in retaliation coming from Pakistan has a long history. Hence we’ve previously advocated that:

it is futile to spend cycles on trying to engage Pakistan at all costs.  And that, only by developing and putting in place mitigation strategies can India truly hope to better insulate itself from the terror infrastructure that operates out of Pakistan [Discussion document: Sustained Dialogue Process as India’s Pakistan Policy].

Given that normalising the relationship with the Pakistani civilian government has higher costs than benefits, India was on the lookout for stronger options after the attack in Uri. And hence the attack on terrorist “launchpads” across the border. One needs to remember that this attack was not against the Pakistani Army or the Pakistani people. It was explicitly targeted towards terrorist infrastructure. Moreover, the Indian Army claimed responsibility for the attack and conveyed that there are no intentions to carry on with further strikes.

Pakistan’s response
Pakistani news agencies have been denying that there was a “surgical strike” and tried to play it down as cross-border fire. The terminology doesn’t matter. What is significant is that this was perhaps the first time that the Indian army openly claimed that it had struck down terrorist camps on the other side of the LoC. Even though tactical operations across the border from both sides aren’t new, this explicit claim is meant to blow the lid off the lie that Pakistan has been peddling throughout the world: any Indian response against a terror strike will eventually lead to nuclear war.

India’s claim and Pakistan’s subsequent dithering shows that there are options for India to explore below the nuclear threshold. There will be pressure on the Pakistani military establishment to retaliate and we might see some firing on the LoC in the days to come. But if Pakistan chooses to escalate in response to an attack on terrorists, it will only provide further evidence to how the army and the militants operate in unison and are in fact a part of an organisational structure— a complex.

What about the diplomatic responses?
Diplomatic responses (like refusing to attend the SAARC meeting) and military responses are not mutually exclusive to each other. In fact, since Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two—the first a putative civilian state and the second a military-jihadi complex—two responses are needed to counter the two Pakistans.

The diplomatic responses are meant to address the Pakistani people and the Pakistani putative state. They are meant to convey that the costs of supporting terrorists far outweigh the benefits. On the other hand, the overt military strike is meant to convey to the military-jihadi complex that India has options to strike back and that “tactical” nuclear weapons cannot be used as an excuse to target Indian people and the Republic of India.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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How Media is Feeding the Jingo Nationalism

By Dr. Suma Singh

India @70 – as a nation we are celebrating the various facets of the historic seventy years of life as an independent nation. The story however is a mixed bag of hits and misses, tales of indomitable spirit and success which have brought smiles on our faces and tears in times of adversity. But in these seventy years we have also managed to create a media industry which seems to believe it is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Primetime on leading channels has become more of agenda warfare and propaganda. Interspersed with nationalistic jingo, our television anchors have taken up the cause of being the first on the line of control and seem to display raw patriotism more than our defence forces.

Post Uri tragedy, electronic media seems to have decided that war is the best form of revenge and the entire media machinery is devoted to the cause of whipping war frenzy, what with talk of a war-room in South Block. The few sane voices which have appeared on the various shows have been muzzled by the vocal power of the anchors and warmongers. Call for a military reply to the dastardly attack is not taking into consideration the ground reality. We may have one of the largest armed forces in the world but they are bogged down by the chinks in the armour like the outdated and poorly maintained weaponry and a large number of fighter planes and ships that are not serviceable, according to a report in 2014 by IHS Jane, a defence publication. The larger issue is how war may take us back by a couple of years and derail the economic achievements of the last twenty five years.

Another exasperating story on primetime in leading English news channels was the issue of banning Pakistani artists from Indian entertainment industry. The argument was taken to ridiculous extents when a prominent news anchor wondered why the heartthrob of millions across both sides of the border, Fawad Khan, would not tweet to condemn the dastardly attack on the army camp in Uri when he made crores in India. Firstly, can you imagine a Tendulkar or Bachchan Sr. tweeting and condemning any action of the government and defence forces on the ground of humanism?! The backlash they will face will be led by the same electronic media and anchors. Secondly, people to people contact is the need of the hour, more so as it makes us appreciate the common roots the two nations share. If a jihadi factory has emerged in Pakistan it is largely to be blamed at the educational system which has painted all Indians as kafirs and nurtured generations of youth on anti-India propaganda. India should not fall into the same trap and become a nurturing ground for hatred as this will backfire on us given our large minority population.

As Indians, a Uri and Pathankot hurts us but we cannot be swayed by pure emotions and allow media to set the agenda for Government responses and decisions. To quote Albert Einstein “Nationalism is nothing more than an idealistic rationalization for militarism and aggression” and this seems so apt for the nationalism which electronic media is whipping up today. War makes for good TRPs but at what cost? Electronic Media must behave in a more constrained responsible manner and reasonable voices must be heard out.

Dr. Suma Singh is an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru

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India-Pakistan Rendezvous: Will terrorist attack destabilize the relation

 

Prime Minister Modi has called for a prompt and decisive action against those involved in the terror attack at Pathankot air base. Speaking to Prime Minster Nawaz Sheriff, Modi expressed his grave concern on the terror activities on the Pakistan soil and has called for an actionable response. Disrupting bilateral talks between India and Pakistan could be attributed as the key reason to this attack and a similar pattern has been sighted in the past.

A noticeable interface at the recent Paris Climate summit, on the sideline was the India-Pakistan Prime Minister talks that paved the way for a crucial Ministerial level dialogue. The rare meeting of the NSA (National Security Advisor) between India and Pakistan was described as cordial, open and positive. This was followed by the visit of India’s Foreign Minister Sushama Swaraj to the Heart of Asia Conference at Islamabad. Prime Minster Modi’s visit thereafter to Pakistan and meeting his counterpart Nawaz Sheriff, was seen as a significant bilateral development and an unprecedented progress in India-Pakistan relations. Interestingly this was followed several engagement like the cricket diplomacy and  the assurance by Modi to attend the SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan next year.

Despite the recent terror attack at the Pathankot Air Base and the Indian Consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan with several reports confirming the involvement of Pakistan militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the rendezvous between India and Pakistan continues. However, Prime Minster Modi has reiterated the fact that such a dastardly terrorist attack was carried out from the Pakistan soil and has insisted firm action. Normalization could succeed only if action on perpetrators are taken as promised by Pakistan. There is no ambiguity in the terrorist attack and India has provided specific information to Pakistan to investigate the strike. Prime Minster Modi has demanded stern action to be taken against the perpetrators.

On the face of hope, there is a movement for comprehensive bilateral dialogue as against a composite dialogue. The Foreign Secretary talks as of now does not stand cancelled. Instead of confrontation and antagonism there is an unruffled silence. There is a regional implication to this reticence, both India and Pakistan are competing for influence and stabilization in Afghanistan. Several common interest like trade, security, energy and terrorism underpins this relationship. Modi’s address at the Afghan Parliament dawned a ray of hope, positive spirt and an earnest effort to dispel the Pakistani notion of distress on India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

There are several drivers to this stabilization process and some of the key factors would be energy assets and viable Central Asian markets for both India and Pakistan. Afghanistan is a key promoter of regional stability and is looking forward to an era of economic and security cooperation. With an emerging India-Afghanistan-Pakistan triangular relation, each of them are exhibiting high level of maturity and commitment. The recent inauguration of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is yet another important strategic calculi.

Regional rapprochement has not been very successful and largely the South Asian politics have been dominated or clouded by India-Pakistan relations. Prime Minister Modi on assuming office has committed to sustain normalcy in the region. Earnest effort to adhere his commitment was seen in several of his initiatives towards the region. The recent   Modi’s visit enroute from Kabul to Pakistan is an important milestone in the process of regional stabilization.

Terror attacks and threats have been the key destabilizing factor in the area. Several terror outfits coexist and cohabit in the region and they have been supported largely by fundamental and fanatic groups. Countering terrorism has been a daunting task and several peace process to find a solution to this enduring problem has dominated the past years. Thus countering terrorism as a regional phenomenon would succeed only if there is a single peace process outcome in which both India and Pakistan are involved. Pakistan counter terrorism operation in the tribal region along Afghan border is underway. A step to regional balance and progress is on cards and India’s involvement is seen as positive step in this initiative. South Asian diplomacy has been advancing well in the past few months with several rounds of talks at the Government level and the impromptu visit by the Indian Prime Minister.

Balancing the regional stability is a daunting task, there are several glitches to this progress. It is not the very first time that peace process or normalization talks have been stalled. The question that remains is, will the recent terror attack at Pathankot air base set the clock behind in India-Pakistan Relations.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute.  She tweets@priyamanassa

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Drug-Terror Nexus: Pathankot attack

The recent terror attack at Pathankot has raised a concern over the imminent drug-terror cartel in the region. There is a  likelihood  of  arms and ammunitions pushed across the international border before the terror strike. The terrorist have entered the base on 1 January 2016 thereafter followed by an intense combing operation. The attack on Indian Consulate at  Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan preceded the Pathankot air base attack and both these attacks pointedly confirm the hand of JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed). Is the Border Security Force (BSF) not fully operational  in the region as Jammu and Kashmir is something that has to be seen. Is the emerging triangular drug-teror-money triad the probable reason for this lapse.

There is a flourishing narcotic network between Pakistan and Punjab. Lots of speculations on alleged  narcotic trade across the border to have played hand and glove in the attack.  Often drugs move at ease across the borders and then it is simply transported to  the mainland.  Despite Government measures to safeguard the border , this area continues to remain   primarily a conduit  for drug traffickers,  smuggling drugs and arms into India. There is huge money laundering and lobbying mafia which operates that could fuel the terror networks across the border.The border though heavily guarded continues to be a major apprehension for the Indian Government.

The drug-terror duality is growing menace and often terror groups tap this source as it is the most vulnerable and lucrative source.The combination of money traded against weapons could be a strong reason for the breach of security , thus synergising the    drug-money-weapons combination. The region is  famous for drug infiltration and notorious for heroin. Pathankot also has drug-deaddiction centre which could further testify this strong connections. Sprawling houses, multi-storeyed building dominate the area and could further act as a storage for the drugs before it reaches the market. There is a  noticeable youth population in Pathankot, who were possibly used in this racket. The attackers probably could have used this medium to transport heavy weapons across the borders.

There are challenges that India faces across the borders despite heavy patrolling and border fencining.  Due to geographical features there is no clear distinction or uniformity in this border creation.The 460 km long international border in Punjab is impenetrable and guarded. The recent terror attack at the Pathankot air base has raised major concerns on the border safety. There have been attempts made by the militant outfits to cross the border, a noticeable one was the gunning down of a militant who attempted to cross the border outpost in KMS Wala area near Ferozpur Sector of India’s Punjab on 5, September 2014. This confirms the fact that there are has been sporadic incidents of militants movement across the border.

The weapons used in the attack confirms that armaments  could have been transferred from Pakistan. There is a possible involvement of  several groups in this terror connection. The absence of latest technology to counter attacks could be one strong contending factors leading to security lapse. Several question remains unanswered, how efficient  is the  continuous and controlled operation across the border and the level of preparedness  in handling such terror strikes.

Priya Suresh is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution . She  tweets @priyamanassa.

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Why India must not Talk to Pakistan after the Pathankot attacks

The recent Pathankot attacks have put the spotlight on the impending Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan. India’s stand should be clearly not to engage in talks now.

Ever since the terrorist attacks on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, the public discourse is getting  shriller.  If we watch the TV news shows, for the last couple of days, the anchors are hell bent on shaping the public opinion in the favour of cancelling the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. There is strident criticism of Modi having made a surprise visit to Pakistan during Christmas last year. Of course, Modi demonstrated statesmanlike behaviour by going the extra mile.  India must not engage with Pakistan now and talks should be postponed indefinitely till such time conditions demanded by India are satisfied by Pakistan.

First, there is a need to analyse the statement given by the Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh in the aftermath of the operations. As reported in the TOI, the army chief is quoted to have said that “every time Pakistan bleeds us by thousands of cuts…we just talk about it for a few days and after that we let it go as usual business.” This clearly indicates that he would certainly have had sanction of the government. However, India is still far off from acquiring operational capabilities like Mossad’s Entebbe raid where an Israeli commando action in another country successfully resulted in the rescue of hostages. But this alone should not give India reason to engage in talks. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was responsible for 26/11 and all pointers of the Pathankot attack are towards Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) (NIA chief Sharad Kumar’s interview to TOI). By all estimates, these attacks have been planned well in advance and there is no connection with Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan. Having clearly established the hand of JeM, which happens be one of the important elements of Pakistan’s Military-Jihadi complex (MJC), there is no room for doubt that the topmost echelons of the Pak army were in the know of this plan. There is a sense of deja vu (a la Kargil) when Nawaz Sharif pleads that his government is neither aware nor involved. There is certainly no need to buy this argument.

Second, let there be clarity on which stakeholders are to be involved from Pakistan. The MJC finally seems to have given its blessings to the Nawaz Sharif government to go ahead with the talks. The inclusion of Kashmir issue from the Indian side apparently has given them a reason to do so. In this, we again come to the crux of the matter — which is the Sharif that India needs to talk to? Nawaz or Raheel (Pak army chief)? Or both? It is anybody’s guess the entire agenda of Pakistani position will be guided by the Pak army. This gets us to the classic catch 22 dilemma — damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Can India talk from a position of strength? Let the policymakers remember one thing clearly-never fear to negotiate, but do not negotiate out of fear.

Third, for those who feel that let Pakistan become a failed state and implode towards doom, a sense of schadenfreude is not the best way to solve this puzzle. Our national interest must be focused at achieving 8% GDP growth. It is the fear of widening gap with India that might have finally compelled the MJC to give its green signal for talks. India has the international support. It has a convincing stand that ‘terror and talks’ cannot happen together. Pakistan’s argument of non-state actors just does not hold water. The US has clearly asked Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of this attack. France & Japan have condemned this attack without naming Pakistan publicly. If the talks have not taken off, it is singularly because of Pakistan. Realpolitik, not morality governs international relations. To conclude, it is certainly not in India’s national interest to give a push to talks at this juncture; it is Pakistan which is on the back foot. India must seize this opportunity to shame Pakistan internationally and isolate it. This is an opportunity to be seized.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with the Takshashila Institution. He tweets at @guruaiyar

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The Pathankot Attacks: The link between terrorism and the drug market

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Punjab’s porous border, which has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent, is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

The Pathankot Attacks have once again heightened the national security concerns in India, specifically in Punjab as terror has struck the region twice within twelve months. The entire episode raises serious concerns about the preparedness of Indian security forces. This article is primarily aimed at establishing a link between the terror attacks in Punjab and the drug smuggling rampant in the state. The porous border that Punjab shares with Pakistan topped with the lack of vigilance in the area has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent. The same is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

First, the question arises on how the terrorists infiltrated the International border or the LOC, despite an alert and heightened security. There are speculative reports that terrorists may have entered from the same point which was exploited during the Gurdaspur attacks. Other reports suggest that the terrorists might have sneaked in from Bamial village in Pathankot, a spot covered in thick foliage and unfenced rivulets which is often used by drug peddlers. The Gurdaspur area for instance is quite close to the Pakistan border and lies between Ravi and Beas, a terrain that is vulnerable. Security forces already possess requisite gadgets like thermal imagers and radars to monitor activity in these areas. Therefore, such repetitive lapses hints at the ill preparedness of forces and possibly, the involvement of an insider.

Second, the fact that they could easily gain access into an airbase with such a large amount of ammunition makes one wonder if terrorists are bribing their way through the state. The air force base in Pathankot, spread over a vast 25km, houses strategic military equipment and an aerial fleet and is situated on the highway that leads to J&K. How is it that there were no fool proof security mechanisms at such a strategic base? Instead of ridiculing an SP who reported his abduction, why did authorities not kickstart the combing operations instantly?

The attack has come across as a big blow not only to the central government but also to the Punjab State government. It’s a brazen fact that Punjab’s notorious drug market has provided a breeding nest to an illegal arms trade racket and has also aided terrorism, both home grown and external. Punjab’s proximity to the Golden Crescent and around 550 km of shared border with Pakistan has made it a drug haven for smugglers. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, porous borders have rendered areas like Gurdaspur and Amritsar prominent heroin collection centers.

Though the security forces were able to neutralize the terrorists after a long encounter, the security breach and the loss of life could have been further contained had the government acted swiftly on intelligence reports. Had the operation started right after the complaint by the SP, who was initially taken as a prisoner by the terrorists, valuable lives could have been saved.

It should also ring alarm bells for the Punjab police – unless it tightens its grip on the drug racket in the state and the allied arms trade, the state will remain an easy target for terrorists. The smuggling network in Punjab must be comprehensively curbed and the gaps in security must be plugged. Hopefully, after two successive security and intelligence failures, the state government will pull its act together on the security front.

Shikha Pathak is a Community Manager at The Takshashila Institution. Shikha tweets @ShikhaPathak15.

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