As the dust begins to settle and ‘Surgical Strikes’ enter everyday lexicon in India, a shift is noted by all. Strategic Restraint has been abandoned – not that strategic restraint seems to be much of a policy. Indeed for much of the past decade it was noted that India did not seem to have a stated policy nor a consistent course of action. Much was left to the daily drift and the India-Pakistan relationship settled into a comfortable pattern of daily skirmishes at the border, and occasional literature festivals across the borders. Cricket matches were fought fiercely, and trade maintained neighbourliness.
Everyone knew that all was not well. Pakistan had been trying for decades to identify itself as a Muslim state, and yet amongst the Islamic world its people were not the most respected. It’s identity as a nation stood as the ‘pak’ or pure land, presumably in opposition to the unclean idea of India which stood for secular inclusiveness. It’s existence therefore seemed to depend upon this opposition. It’s nationalism rising to destabilise this big-brother next door who struggled, but seemed to make a go of things in a way Pakistan never could. It’s people could not rise from poverty nor its politics rise above territorial squabbles. It’s own frustrations could of course be mitigated by creating troubles in the big brother’s house, and that it did consistently. India and Pakistan have been at war in one way or another for over three decades.
Their history did not help them. Separated at birth, there was conflict built into their very fibre. Pakistan, an unwieldy state hanging on to the east and west of India in two parts was unusual to say, in the least. India’s role in the formation of Bangladesh and it’s comprehensive wins in the direct wars between the two countries probably convinced Pakistan to play destabilisation. Indeed, it seems to have been their declared policy if evidence is to be believed, and there is enough corroboration in the public domain and the international stage.
Their claim to Kashmir stands on weak ground, and so they mount assault upon assault, damaging a people who could do with some respite and peace. Their failed war in Punjab where they set up a claim for a Sikh state, Khalistan, has turned into a dangerous and insidious war on the people with drugs. The state, once India’s most prosperous, now suffers a generation decimated by drugs that are clearly brought in from Pakistan. The war in both Kashmir and Punjab has three clear markers: (i) It’s origins and support structure from across the border in Pakistan, (ii) it is an attack on the morale and foundations rather than an honest frontal battle, and (iii) it is an attack on the people, not a nation. Pakistan’s sneaky wars are about destruction of ordinary lives. People like us.
The shifts in the relationship between India and Pakistan has been evident to most close observers. From a ‘family’ tiff between two brothers over a boundary wall and a room at the back of the divided ancestral property, they have now come to behave like a nasty couple sniping and drawing blood just to hurt each other. And there is much hurt and anger – for consistently there has been a public game played of placation and peace followed by a terrorist strike by Pakistan, or another act of damage to India. As the Indians see it, Pakistan is a state not to be trusted. Any trust placed has been breached, and breached time and again. And each such break has shifted the relationship further apart. Each test of tolerance, of restraint has led to a further breach.
Pakistan itself must know that it’s victim complex has come home to roost. It is under siege from its own homegrown and hosted powers that now control its polity, its people, and worse – it’s economy. To free Pakistan from its own insecure and armed power hungry powers is a job for Pakistan itself. India’s strategic restraint has been a policy insofar as allowing Pakistan the space to control its own monsters – even as they reach across time and again to hurt India. The narrative in Pakistan surely is the opposite, painting India as the enemy. But the people of India have no love left for the state and ‘powers’ of Pakistan and not much patience left with it. Even the ones who wistfully wished for the states to be rejoined as one are long gone. We may love our neighbours, and share our food, our music and our movies but that can never be taken to mean we want to be one family. Not now, not anymore, not in the near future. Likely never. It is now like a noisome neighbour whose infestations are troubling. They need to fix their house. They make the neighbourhood unsafe.
It is not as if India has not been protecting its own. More has been done than is always shared in the public domain, and rightly so. The shift has been in declaring and owning a strike. The strikes announced last week are still positioned as defensive more than preventive – in search of the terrorists who struck Uri and more. Certainly not an act of aggression or incursion. Strikes inside each other’s territory, it seems have been common, at the least operations. For neighbours that have been skirmishing for decades, this is the new normal, now acknowledged. But for India to abandon strategic restraint, as as been written may be a statement of shift, it is certainly not a declaration of new policy yet.
A nation that rises to protect its own is a nation that needs an active policy of strategic aggression – and this does not mean war. It does not necessarily mean a tightening of language or action. One could also be aggressively kind, if it is to strategic advantage. It certainly means an aggressive alertness and responsiveness to matters of national interest – and a strategic choice to be made in choosing such action.
(P.S. The India Pakistan relationship tore my family from its home, and the PTSD they say lasts three generations. It’s time is done. It is time to stop living in the history or the shadows of the actions that happened in the forties, fifties and sixties. I have followed these closely – and this is an ask for both nations to grow up and deal with each others as neighbours should. Much more could have been written, but for now, this suffices.)