The Pakistani military establishment is under severe pressure from the US to stop sponsoring jihadi militant groups, on the one hand, and to actually join the fight against them, on the other. Now, even in the unlikely event that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency decides to dismantle its jihadi connections, the army will still find it impossible to purposefully prosecute a counter-insurgency war against the Taliban. Why? Because the dominant belief among Pakistani military personnel—across the ranks—is that it is the US that is the real enemy and the Taliban are righteous fighters for the Islamic cause. One has only to imagine what a brigade commander would say to his troops to motivate them to fight their compatriots to realize that the Pakistan army is incapable of fighting the Taliban.
Photograph: Narinder Nanu / AP
In a way, those who argue that the Pakistan army lacks the capacity to fight this war are right; but this is a lack of capacity that no amount of night-vision goggles and helicopter gunships can ameliorate. And this unpalatable reality is obfuscated behind the India bogey—the pretence that the Pakistan army could do much better against the Taliban if only it didn’t have to defend itself from its much stronger adversary to its east.
If the “India threat” were to recede, Pakistan—and for that matter the US—will have no more excuses left to avoid having to do what is necessary. New Delhi should, therefore, call Pakistan’s bluff by mounting what we propose to call Operation Markarap.
First, the new Union government, at the highest levels, must categorically declare that Pakistan need not fear an Indian military attack so long as the Pakistan army is engaged in a battle against the Taliban. Now, such a verbal commitment might not convince the military brass in Rawalpindi, but it is likely to play well in Washington. It will take the wind out of the sails of Pakistan’s American apologists by depriving them of their strongest and seemingly plausible argument.
Second, India should move back some of the army strike formations currently deployed in Rajasthan and Punjab. Such a bold, strategic move will not only make India’s verbal assurances credible, but will also immediately result in irresistible pressure on the Pakistan army to commit more of its troops to the western border. According to our rough estimate, the Pakistan army can shift around 150,000 troops to its western front without lowering its presence along the Line of Control.
Since the risk of Pakistani armoured columns rolling into India is not serious at this time, India can easily afford to move several divisions of its strike corps away from the border to more inland positions. Such military movements can be accomplished without affecting border security. Indeed, this is where India can exploit the existence of nuclear weapons to its advantage—for nuclear deterrence makes such strategic moves possible by lowering the risk of a conventional war. And even if the Pakistan army irrationally tries to exploit the Indian move by launching a conventional attack along the border, it will be hopelessly isolated internationally, not to mention at serious risk of yet another military defeat at the hands of the Indian Armed Forces. In the nearly seven years since Operation Parakram—the military build-up after the December 2001 attack on Parliament—the Indian Army has improved its mobility sufficiently to be able to quickly rebuff a foolhardy invasion.
Third, India should proceed with the normalization process in Jammu and Kashmir that includes reducing the visible presence of security forces in population centres. At the same time, this should be accompanied by greater vigilance along the Line of Control to prevent the infiltration of jihadi militants. It is conceivable that the Pakistani military jihadi complex will attempt to heighten tensions with India by increasing the tempo of terrorist attacks in Kashmir—as well as other parts of India—in a bid to maintain its alibi. An analysis of the reports of infiltration attempts this year suggests that the jihadis are exploring non-traditional, harder routes in northern Kashmir. This calls for the Indian Army to change its post-Kargil posture from merely holding the heights to proactively curbing jihadi movements in the valley.
Finally, Indian diplomacy must extract maximum advantage— mainly in Washington, but also in other capitals—by signalling India’s invaluable role in helping the international community solve its “migraine”. It is important to remember that there will be four, if not eight, more years of the Obama administration. Cooperating on the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) problem will provide a positive basis for engaging it and will provide India with greater leverage in negotiations over other contentious issues.
Given that what passes for Pakistan policy is an astonishingly trivial game of dossiers-and-lawsuits, India won’t be worse off by mounting Operation Markarap, a Parakram in reverse. By calling Pakistan’s bluff, India can shorten the time it will take for the Obama administration to realize that Af-Pak can only be solved by dismantling Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex.
Nitin Pai and Sushant K. Singh are editors of Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review, a publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org