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Return the Favour with a Thousand Cuts: India’s Pakistan Policy

India’s Pakistan Policy aims to gain leverage over Pakistan by striking it where it hurts the most.



During the last couple of years, India has recalibrated its policy towards Pakistan by adopting a two-pronged approach. One prong consists of not holding formal talks until Pakistan stops using terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India. 1 And the second prong involves retaining the right of retaliation against those elements and locations along the Line of Control (LoC) that are complicit in perpetrating cross-border terrorism. 2

In essence, India’s aim has been to gain leverage over Pakistan by striking it where it hurts the most.

This policy has been critiqued in recent weeks. Some critics have ascribed “political motives” to the policy and described the military measures along the LoC as “disproportionate bombardment”. Others have questioned the “political purpose of force application.” And some others have highlighted the potential for “conflict escalation” as a result of the rapid increase in ceasefire violations. 3

But what the critics ignore is the fact that the genesis of the existing policy lay in the repeated failures of past endeavours of successive governments to stop Pakistan from employing terrorism as an instrument of state policy through bilateral talks alone. They also seem to suggest that talks and terrorism can co-exist and argue that India must lower the escalation in firing along the LoC even if that allows Pakistan to regain leverage.

This brief assesses the options that were available to India and the basis for adopting the current proactive approach in light of the limitations of the previous policy. It also suggests additional measures to enhance the effectiveness of the current policy.

India’s Previous Approach to Cross-Border Terrorism:

India’s struggle against Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in J&K began almost three decades ago. The broad identifiable policy adopted by India for most of these three decades centred around stopping infiltration from across the LoC and negotiating a mutually acceptable political settlement. The above external prong of India’s policy was accompanied domestically by an attempt to reduce terrorist violence within J&K and reinvigorate the political process and state administrative machinery with a view to limiting the adverse impact of violence.

This policy did indeed meet with some success. J&K witnessed a series of popular elections, arguably with appreciable levels of support for the re-establishment of the political process.4 This has been accompanied by a substantial drop in violence levels over the years, with 2012 representing the lowest point, although there has been a marginal upsurge during the last four years (See Table).

The state machinery has been successful in establishing its writ. However, despite these successes at the domestic level, the Pakistan factor, both at the diplomatic and military levels, has proved largely intractable, with only limited gains accruing in terms of desultory and superficial action by Pakistan against terrorist groups operating from its soil.

Its recent decision to add United Nations proscribed groups to its domestic list of terror entities and freezing of their assets is a case in point.5 Immediately, thereafter, this measure was diluted by the failure to build strong legal cases against terrorist leaders, despite their obvious and vocal support for terrorism, which prevented their prosecution.

Violence in J&K: 2013-2017

Year Incidents of Violence SF Killed Civilians Killed Terrorists Killed
2013 170 53 15 67
2014 222 47 28 110
2015 208 39 17 108
2016 322 82 15 150
2017 342 80 37* (*Up to December 10, of which 12 have been killed along the LoC in Pakistan’s ceasefire violations6) 213

Source: Annual Report, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Lok Sabha Questions7

This failure to deal with the external Pakistan factor is mainly a function of the Pakistan Army’s unwillingness to resolve the Kashmir issue. The Army has emerged as the self-designated custodian of Pakistan’s destiny, unity and ideology. It has sustained its grip on power and influence because of the widespread perception and propaganda that India is an existential threat. India’s role in the humiliating division of Pakistan in 1971 and its establishment of control over the Siachen Glacier since 1984 have remained key elements in the Army’s narrative.

However, the most evocative factor remains J&K’s accession to India, which is anathema for Pakistan both from a religious and territorial perspective. The institutionalised investment made to sustain the rhetoric of India as an existential threat, however artificial it may be, remains too high a cost to pay for the Pakistan Army to settle Kashmir.

In the absence of such a settlement, the policy of sustaining terrorism, given existing deterrence at the strategic level, ensures suitable leverage against India at an acceptable cost as well as the retention of domestic influence for the army.

The inability or unwillingness to respond robustly to Pakistan’s persistent use of terrorism has led to repeated characterisations of India as a soft state. Over a period of time, this sentiment strengthened leading to demands for a different approach.

Options Available to India:

India had two options to deal with Pakistan’s continued use of terrorism in J&K.

One approach was “more of the same” of what had been practised since the late 1980s.

This implied continued talks with Pakistan despite occasional terrorist strikes interrupted by short lulls marked by “no-talk” statements aimed at assuaging public sentiment. Simultaneously, a posture of offensive-defence would be maintained along the LoC, which would limit infiltration and retain moral ascendency against the Pakistan Army. Such a course of action would be sustained in the hope that Pakistan would eventually realise the folly of employing terrorism as state policy, given its domestic blowback effect, as well as growing international aversion. That would, in turn, lead to a political settlement acceptable to both countries.

The second policy option available to India was based on the premise that Pakistan is unlikely to change its policy of sponsoring terrorism given the vested interests of the Pakistan Army.

This led to the conclusion that unless India could hurt the principal architect of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, that is, the Army, terrorism would continue unabated, with only minor adjustments to tailor violence in response to the severity of Indian and international reactions. There is little doubt within the Indian policy-making elite that the Pakistan Army remains the bulwark of an anti-India policy and more so the policy on Kashmir.

It was also clear that the planning, preparation, facilitation and execution of terrorism in J&K could not be accomplished without the active support and involvement of the Pakistan Army. Under these circumstances, it was reasoned that India needed to create the requisite leverages against the Pakistan Army in order curb terrorism.

Contours of the Existing Policy:

As a result, the last couple of years have witnessed an evolution in India’s approach towards Pakistan and its employment of terrorism as an instrument of policy. The new approach closely reflects the second option discussed above. There are three clear elements in this approach.

First, the security forces will neutralise terrorists not only inside India but also target the perpetrators of terrorism across the LoC. Given that the government was convinced of the Pakistan Army’s complicity, actions were undertaken along the LoC to punish the posts that were an integral element of Pakistan’s terrorist actions against India.

It was expected that there would be Pakistani military retaliation to the same, which could raise the existing threshold of weapons and quantum of force employed along the LoC. However, the decision itself was premised on sound fundamentals. One, India possessed the ability to gain a military advantage over Pakistan along the LoC, irrespective of the level of escalation, something that had been accomplished in the past as well prior to the ceasefire in 2003. Two, there existed an understanding of the escalation ladder and adequate measures were taken to cater for the same. This understanding included the limits beyond which Pakistan was unlikely to go, despite disproportionate punishment by India. Most important, the option of a conventional war as an escalatory step by Pakistan was calculated as unlikely, given its repeated failures in 1965, 1971 and 1999 as well as the conventional superiority enjoyed by India.

Pakistan’s experience of force application against India through four wars and beyond indicates that the calibrated use of terrorism, supported by strategic deterrence, limits India’s conventional military options and thereby allows Pakistan to retain the strategic advantage of bleeding India. It, therefore, has no reason to take a retrograde step towards the failed model of waging a conventional war against India.

The first element of the current policy was not formulated in isolation. It was accompanied by a declaratory information regime aimed at making public the fundamentals of India’s response across the LoC, along with comparative casualties on both sides. This approach is unlike that adopted by the Pakistan Army, which has chosen to hide its own casualties. Inputs based on intercepts suggest that a substantially higher proportion of casualties had been incurred by the Pakistan Army during these cross-LoC actions.8

The information component of conflict is a critical factor in shaping perceptions. In this case, the decision to go public helped assuage public sentiment within India. It limited the concern that the country was a passive victim of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The ownership of surgical strikes was an example of this approach, as were cross LoC fire assaults on Pakistan Army posts. As a result, there was public acknowledgement of a robust counter-strategy of bleeding the Pakistan Army through a thousand cuts.

The Pakistan Army could no longer get away with employing terrorists as cannon fodder, as the punitive action was being initiated against it by India, unlike in the past. For once, strikes across the LoC were not necessarily reactive, but under changing circumstances these were also pre-emptive and punitive. The vulnerability and cost paid by the Pakistan Army were also brought to the notice of Pakistanis, thus denting the tales of one-sided superiority that had been peddled for long.

Second, other than discrete back channel processes, after the initial attempts at initiating talks, there was no attempt at formally offering talks to Pakistan.9 This was aimed at drawing the line between Pakistan’s desire to hold talks and simultaneously employ terrorism. In effect, India rejected negotiations under the shadow of a gun.

Further, doubts regarding the Pakistan Army’s sincerity in seeking a solution were reinforced by its repeated sabotage of peace initiatives. This did not merely occur in the aftermath of Vajpayee’s Lahore bus diplomacy in the form of Kargil but also happened after Modi’s late December 2015 visit to Pakistan in the form of the Pathankot attack in early January 2016.10

Third, India has made a concerted attempt to expose Pakistan’s complicity in employing terrorism as state policy.11 For instance, the Delhi declaration with 10 ASEAN countries issued in January 2018 mentioned the “cross-border movement of terrorists” in an obvious reference to Pakistan, which was a departure from the 2012 statement.12 Earlier, the 2017 BRICS statement included the LeT and JeM as terrorist groups of concern.13 These efforts were supplemented by Pakistan’s inability to rein in terrorist groups, which have preached the message of hate, collected funds and undertaken strikes with impunity from within Pakistan.

This was recently acknowledged by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an independent regulatory body which guides anti-money laundering (AML) and countering terrorist finance (CFT) procedures. The FATF’s identification of Pakistan as a country with a poor implementation record that required monitoring is a case in point. Worse, unlike in the case of other countries, this identification was related more to Pakistan’s refusal to curb terror funding rather than procedural lapses. Such a public humiliation reinforced the growing distrust among the international community about Pakistan and its double-speak on countering terrorism.14

Reinforcing the Existing Policy:

The success of the existing policy is evident from Pakistan Army’s targeting of civilian areas across the LoC, in a desperate bid to put pressure on India and stall the ongoing punitive military actions. In order to obviate this challenge and further strengthen the current policy, four additional measures could be undertaken. First, it is in India’s interest to remain focused on a single threat, even as other potential adversaries are managed and threats or misunderstandings mitigated.

There is, therefore, a need to introspect the strategic advantage of repeated references to threats on multiple fronts. While preparing for an adverse situation is inherent to national security management, a distinction must be made between competitors and adversaries. Further, it must remain a conscious endeavour to eliminate the potential and possibility of addressing challenges on multiple fronts, rather than being forced to prepare for them. Not doing so would lead to existing resources being spread far too thin to have a substantive impact on any front.

Second, the internal situation in Kashmir can function both as a catalyst and dampener for Pakistan’s ability to create instability. It remains imperative that the initiative to nominate an interlocutor is strengthened and taken forward to especially address the youth of the state. An increase in local recruitment remains a cause for concern and deserves urgent attention.

Third, the viability of Special Forces operations is based on their capability development and ambiguity of employment. While taking ownership of operations like the surgical strikes may have been an information campaign masterstroke, any further dissemination of operational information can adversely impact future options. Special Forces operations must also be supplemented by special operations. These should be developed on the basis of capabilities that extend beyond the armed forces and exploit the complete sub-conventional spectrum available. Terrorist group leadership is one set of targets that must remain within the operational spectrum of such capacity development.

Fourth, one of the regrettable fallouts of Pakistan’s ceasefire violations has been its targeting of villages along the LoC, which could increase further if the Indian Army were to persist with the policy of hitting Pakistan Army posts. Civilian suffering can be obviated by relocating villages in the direct line of fire of the Pakistan Army (mostly on the Pakistani side of mother ridge within 500 to1500 meters of the LoC) by acquiring this land at generous terms and facilitating the resettlement of the villagers. Further, the creation of family bunkers along the IB sector in J&K may also have to be considered, given past experience of ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army and its indiscriminate targeting of villages. These steps would help sustain the current policy without adversely affecting the local population.

Any shift in policy, especially one that addresses an area as sensitive and critical as India’s approach towards Pakistan, is likely to remain emotive. There are bound to be differences of opinions, as evident from the critiques of the policy.

However, any policy adopted must not merely aim at limiting the costs of terrorism emanating from Pakistan but must also provide an opportunity to create necessary leverages that can be employed to curb the Pakistan Army’s addiction to cross-border terrorism.


Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of League of India or of any of its partners.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere

Vivek Chadha
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Colonel (retd.) Vivek Chadha is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He served in the Indian Army for 22 years before taking premature release. His research focus covers counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and terrorism finance.

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Newly Created 6th Battalion ITBP Headquarter Inaugurated in Jalalpur

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar hoped that more local youth would be motivated to join the security forces, specially ITBP.



The Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh taking salute, during the inauguration of the several projects, at the ITBP 6th Battalion HQs, at Chhapra, in Bihar on April 22, 2018. (PIB Photo)

JALALPUR (Bihar): Newly built 6th Battalion ITBP Headquarter of Jalalpur in Bihar has been inaugurated by Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister and Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister, Bihar today.

Sushil Kumar Modi, Dy. Chief Minister, Bihar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, MP, Janardan Singh Sigriwal, MP, Janak Ram, MP, Om Prakash Yadav, MP and many MLAs and MLCs were present on the occasion.

R K Pachnanda, DG ITBP welcomed the eminent guests and described the efforts being made by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the modernisation of ITBP and efforts for improving working conditions for the force personnel.

Rajnath Singh lauded the ITBP for the duties performed by the elite force in the country and abroad and said that the ITBP has been working in the tough conditions of the Himalayan Region.

He also said that whenever any challenging task has been assigned to the ITBP, the Himveers have performed it honestly and extraordinarily.

The MHA has been continuously monitoring the process of providing modern equipment to the ITBP and government is looking forward to the welfare of families of the jawans and NOKs of the martyrs.

Singh hoped that with the establishment of newly built battalion in Chhapra will speed up the development process of the area and will be helpful in providing various job opportunities to the local youth.

Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar said that establishing new ITBP Battalion in Chhapra is a new beginning in the development of the area. He promised ITBP for providing best possible support by the State Government.

Expressing happiness on the establishment of the ITBP Battalion in Chhapra, CM hoped that more local youth would be motivated to join the security forces, specially ITBP.

Terming the event historic, Sushil Kumar Modi, Dy CM said that the newly built campus of the ITBP will be a great resource for the local administration in the times of need.

Rajnath Singh also awarded 08 personnel of ITBP for bravery:

Rakesh Kumar, Dy. Commandant,
Inspector Jitender Kumar,
Head Constable Sukhdev Donkari,
Constable Mahesh Kumar, and
Constable Amit Negi

The above five have been awarded for gallant action against Naxals in Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh.

Head Constable Sujan Singh was awarded for brave firefight at Indian Consulate in Mazar-E-Sharif, Afghanistan while Head Constable Narendra Kumar and Constable Biman Biswas were awarded for saving the life of fellow mountaineer during Mount Dhaulagiri Expedition of the Force.

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Chief of the Naval Staff Visits Iran for Indian Ocean Naval Symposium

The forum seeks to enhance maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region.



TEHRAN (Iran): The 6th edition of Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and Conclave of Chiefs is being hosted by Iran at Tehran from April 23 to 25, 2018. The Chief of the Naval Staff is leading a four-member Indian delegation for the event.

The IONS was conceived by the Indian Navy in 2008. The forum seeks to enhance maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region by providing an open and inclusive forum for discussion on regionally relevant maritime issues that would lead to common understanding on the way ahead.

The inaugural edition of IONS was held in February 2008 at New Delhi, with Indian Navy as the Chair for two years. This was followed by UAE from 2010 – 2012, South Africa from 2012 – 2014, Australia from   2014 – 2016 and Bangladesh from 2016 – 2018.

The IONS Charter of Business was agreed upon by the Conclave of Chiefs and brought into effect in February 2014. A relatively young forum, barely in its 10th year of existence, it has grown into a formidable organisation with 23 members and 09 observers.

As the founder nation, India will also be conducting commemorative activities in November 2018 at Kochi, for celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year.

The visit of the Chief of the Naval Staff is also aimed at consolidating bilateral naval relations between India and Iran and to explore new avenues for naval cooperation.

Admiral Sunil Lanba will also hold bilateral discussions with the Commander IRI Navy, and other participating ‘Chiefs of Navy/ Head of Maritime Agencies’.

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#GaganShakti2018: #IAF Executes Inter Valley Troop Transfer (IVTT) Along With the #IndianArmy

IVTT, a major Joint Operation, was conducted in the high hills of Northern and North-Eastern Sector.



SOMEWHERE IN NORTHEAST INDIA: As part of ongoing exercise ‘GaganShakti-2018’, the Operational Commands of the IAF planned and executed Inter-Valley Troop Transfer (IVTT) in coordination with affiliated Indian Army Commands. IVTT, a major Joint Operation, was conducted in the high hills of Northern and North-Eastern Sector.

The aim of the exercise was to validate the capability of the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army to quickly transfer and redeploy acclimatized troops, in the simulated objective area.

These operations are conducted to reposition troops from one valley to another, to counter any evolving threat and to surprise or offensively exploit the weakness of the adversary.

In the mountainous terrain, the movement of the troops from one valley to another is a challenging task. The redeployment of forces from one area of interest to another may at times take a couple of days. IVTT operations help to reposition the desired forces within a couple of hours.

All the three commands of IAF conducted a company level exercise in their area of operations, in a time-sensitive environment.

This tactical transfer of troops not only validated Joint Operations between the IAF & the Indian Army but also showcased the capability of the IAF to operationalise forward ALG’s by setting up communications and refuelling facilities and preparing aircraft operating surface.

C-130 and AN-32 tactical transport aircraft and Mi-17 V5 / ALH helicopters are used for these missions. Owing to their versatile maneuvering capabilities, these platforms are most adaptable in an extremely demanding high altitude terrain.

The operations were meticulously planned by the planning staff and the aircrew executed the demanding and rigorous operations by flying in a coordinated manner, giving due importance to the flight safety.

In addition to the aircrew, the maintenance and administrative personnel, worked relentlessly through day and night, to ensure smooth conduct of these high-intensity operations.

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