Pulwama Terror Attack: India’s Options
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Following the horrific terrorist attack on 14 February 2019 in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, carried out by Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM), India went into a state of shock and mourning. The entire country was united in support of the 44 martyrs of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and their families. Equally, there is a resolve to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

JeM is a banned terrorist group, an asset of the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), whose leader Masood Azhar lives in Bhawalpur, Pakistan. Several past terror attacks in India, including the ones on Pathankot air base, Uri army base, the Indian Parliament and the J&K Assembly, have been attributed to JeM. JeM has also been linked with Al Qaeda. India’s efforts with the UN to list Masood Azhar group as a global terrorist have been repeatedly blocked by China.

After the 2016 terror attack in Uri, the Indian Army had undertaken ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control (LoC) against the terrorist launch pads. Since then the Indian security forces have done a commendable job in eliminating a large number of terrorists in J&K. Better intelligence and better coordination is responsible for pinpointed strikes against terrorists.

Despite these measures, Pulwama attacks did take place. While a detailed inquiry will show the precise reasons, it must be borne in mind that terrorist attacks cannot be fully eliminated. The terrorists have to succeed only once. This is what happened in Pulwama. A locally recruited 20-year oldman, Adil Mohammed Dar was recruited by and used by JeM as a suicide bomber to kill CRPF soldiers. Within hours, the JeM claimed responsibility for the attack and released a video of Adil Mohammad Dar. The entire planning of the attack was done by JeM.

Many messages of sympathy and support from the world leaders have been received by the Prime Minister and the President showing that the international community is aghast at this dastardly act. The question that is uppermost within the country and outside is how will India react and what are India’s options?

India’s Options

The situation is not new for India. In 2001, following the attack on Parliament, it had amassed its entire army on the borders to pressurise Pakistan. The war was however averted. After the Mumbai terror attacks India demanded from Pakistan action against the perpetrators of the crime. Unfortunately,Pakistan did nothing despite the fact that the international community stood behind India at that time. In 2016, the Indian army struck cross LoC targets in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).

India has several options. It is much better placed today to exercise these as it is much stronger today than before. Its standing in the international community is much better. The political leadership at the helm of affairs has shown the will to take hard decisions. These options have been discussed in the past both within the government and in public.

Military: India can undertake limited strikes across the LoC to target the terrorists as in 2016. This will be well within its rights. The targets can be in the POK or elsewhere. The course of action will have to be decided by the Armed Forces who have been given a freedom by the Government to take appropriate measures. Such strikes will no doubt satisfy the public opinion but whether they will have a lasting impact on terrorists and Pakistan is a matter of assessment.India can also strike high-valuetar gets over a period of time after due planning. It can also consider some action in the cyber domain.

Military strikes entail a risk of counter retaliation, escalation to a full-fledged war and casualties. The risks will have to be carefully weighed. However, Pakistan’s capability to get into a war with India at a time when its economy is in crisis is doubtful.The military strikes will have to be justified in the context of the fight against terrorism. So presented, the international community is likely to take a neutral stance on limited strikes but would be averse to a full-scale war.

Diplomatic:India has many options on the diplomatic front. It should make a determined outreach to P-5 and other countries and apprise them of the facts. In particular, the evidence of JeM’s links with Pakistani agencies can be presented. Reaching out to the Gulf countries and Pakistan’s other friends is important. However, convincing China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will be the most difficult task that India will face.

How easy will it be for India to isolate Pakistan diplomatically? The International committee knows very well the Pakistani complicity in terrorism. However, it may not go as far as declaring Pakistan a terrorist state.

The reality is that Pakistan, thanks to its geostrategic location, remains important for the international community. Presently, the United States is pursuing negotiations with the Afghan Taliban and regards Pakistan as an important facilitator. Although the US has condemned the attacks, it may not go as far as imposing sanctions on Pakistan because in this particular attack no US national has been hurt. Similar is the case with other countries.

China is a strong backer of Pakistan and will be expected to neutralise India’s efforts and block any sanctions. It has already indicated that it will not support the declaration of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN. However, China must realise that it is also vulnerable to Uighur extremism.

Russia has indicated that the perpetrators of and sponsors of terrorism must be ‘punished’ but whether it will go as far as imposing sanctions on Pakistan needs to be seen. India must remain in close touch with Russia.

In the last few years India has strengthened its relations with the key Gulf countries. It should persuade these countries to pressurise Pakistan not to support terrorism. Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is visiting Pakistan. He will also be visiting India. This is a good opportunity for India to convey to Saudi Arabia its deep concerns on Pakistan’s complicity in Pulwama attack.

The short point is that India must assess the mood of the international community and decide on specific actions. Diplomatic isolation of Pakistan will be a long drawn and adverse process.

Economic: Considering Pakistan’s economic vulnerabilities, India should carefully consider economic actions against Pakistan. These may turn out to be more potent than anything else in the long run.

Pakistan is in the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force FATF. India should use all its diplomatic influence to ensure that Pakistan is placed in the blacklist of the FATF for having failed to take action to stop terrorist financing. It is negotiating a multibillion-dollar loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). India should ensure that Pakistan does not get the loan because of its support to terrorism. Coordination with the US, Japan, the EU will be very important. Pakistan enjoys Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP)-plus concessions from European Union (EU). Under the scheme, the EU allows several Pakistan items to enter its markets on zero duty. India should lobby with the EU that these concessions are withdrawn drawn.

India has already withdrawn the most favoured nation treatment from Pakistan and has imposed 200 percent duties on Pakistani imports. While this is symbolic, it nevertheless sends out a powerful signal to the outside world that India means business. It should also persuade the international community to impose economic sanctions on Pakistan. This will hurt the Pakistani economy. It should work out a plan to offer competition to Pakistani exports in the international market. This will have a salutary impact on Pakistan.

China is the main supporter of Pakistan. China is also eyeing the Indian market. India could consider leveraging its economic relations with China to put pressure on Pakistan. Many countries are sanctioning Chinese companies on grounds of national security. India should watch these developments carefully.

Other Actions

India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty in 1960 under which India is allowed 3.6 MAF water use in Jammu and Kashmir. India has not built any storage dam in J&K despite the fact that this is allowed under the treaty. Last year, PM Modi had inaugurated the Ratle Dam with storage capacity on the Chenab River in J&K. This must be completed at the earliest. Similarly, India should complete actions to ensure that the surplus water of theEastern Rivers Ravi, Sutlej and Beas does not flow into Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have agreed to open the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims.The security implications of this action must be carefully reviewed.
India could consider downgrading diplomatic ties with Pakistan. The High Commissioner can be recalled.

India would also disallow Pakistani carriers to use the Indian airspace.


Thus, India has a range of options that it can choose from. These options have their own risks and rewards. The Government can use a package of military, diplomatic and economic options to impose costs on Pakistan. It also must realise that eventually it is its own responsibility to prevent Pakistan from supporting terrorism. The international community is not going to fight India’s battles with Pakistan. India must build its own capabilities to do it alone. What is needed is the will and a long-term strategy to deal with Pakistan which is hell-bent on supporting terrorism against India and is unlikely to relent.

Image Source: http://d2r2ijn7njrktv.cloudfront.net/apnlive/uploads/2017/06/terrorism-1068x601.jpg


Thank you sir for the article!


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