India needs a holistic, well-crafted response that balances its short-term, mid-term and long-term goals vis-à-vis Pakistan.
The jehadis have struck again on the Indian mainland; this time in Pune, albeit more than a year after the horrendous terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. The initial response, while going with the most plausible and popular assumption that the blast was the handiwork of Pakistan based jehadi groups, is one of indignation. Perhaps understandably so as tempers are bound to run high. And this emotion is likely to be further amplified as the Indian mainstream media hyperventilates and virtually runs amok with its over the top coverage of the incident.
On the other end of the spectrum is the rather logical sounding response that India should unequivocally reaffirm its commitment to continue peace talks with Pakistan, as the sole aim of the perpetrators of this blast is to disrupt these peace talks. This response would appeal to both realists and peaceniks alike.
So what is the correct response — surgical strikes against Pakistan or talks with Pakistan come what may? The response, in the end, has to come from the government of India and it will not be easy for them to articulate one. One way of framing the desired response is by breaking it down into Indian goals in a short-term, mid-term and long-term framework.
The short-term goal of the Indian government is to assuage the hurt feelings of Indians and protect them from any terror attacks in the future. It has to also somehow convey to Pakistan that India is not willing to be pummelled by non-state actors sponsored by sections of the Pakistani establishment. But how does it do that? Indian government has not been able to figure it out for the last 25 years when the country has been prone to such terror attacks. One of the simplest ways of conveying a message across the border is to emulate the deeds of Mossad in the UAE. Surely, it is not too much to ask of the Indian state.
In the mid-term, there is no option for India but to talk to Pakistan. This will deny Pakistan the excuse that Indian intransigence is preventing it from meeting the US goals in the region. Pakistan assumes great importance in the current US war plans which can be aptly described to be based on the hammer and anvil theory. As the US military offensive in Afghanistan moves southwards from Marja, Pakistan military will have to hold the jehadis from its side of the Durand Line. It is in India’s interest that the US strategy succeeds. India has to also continue to talk to Pakistan so that the idea that the complete region, India-Af-Pak is one single theatre, doesn’t gain ground and become accepted wisdom the world over.
When it comes to Indian long-term goals vis-à-vis Pakistan, it is a long story. To put it in a nutshell, Pakistan needs a Macarthur. Period.
If you look at the debate on the subject in this country, most of it is unbalanced and focused on only one of the above goals. This focus on only one of the goals, while completely ignoring the others, is detrimental to the national interest. However, it must be conceded that there are inherent conflicts between the three goals and balancing them simultaneously is a very tricky proposition. It presents a real challenge which the policy makers in the government of India must confront and overcome.