On June 6-7, 2015 Prime Minister Modi of India visited Bangladesh and spoke gravely about terrorism. In a speech at Dhaka University he said appropriately that “terrorism is the enemy of humanity. All forces of humanity should unite and isolate extremism.” In a well-turned phrase he declared that “tourism unites the world, terrorism divides,” which was an eerie summation of the terrorist slaughter of 38 western tourists in Tunisia only eighteen days later. His rational sentiments might have attracted wider approval had he refrained from the sexist pronouncement that “I am happy that [the] Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism.”
It is not clear what Mr. Modi intended to convey by his expression of happiness, although it is beyond belief that he could imagine most women actually tolerating terrorism. His hostess, however, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, appeared to accept his patronizing observation with the self-confidence for which she is so notable, and there were no reports that the students of the university objected, although there were many Twitter posts of reproach. Mr. Modi’s condescending sexism may be mildly amusing, but what he went on to say was far from positive or constructive. At a time and especially place in which he could have most effectively drawn the nations of the sub-continent together he chose to be confrontational. “Pakistan,” he said, “constantly disturbs us, and has created a nuisance... it promotes terrorism and incidents keep recurring.”
Certainly “incidents keep recurring” — but in June the only terrorist incidents in the subcontinent took place in Peshawar and North Waziristan where the Pakistan Army is combating extremists not only on behalf of the citizens of Pakistan but of the world as a whole. In the period January to June 2015, there was not a single incident of terrorism recorded in India while there were twelve in Pakistan. The main incident of organized anti-state violence in India was on 4 June when Naga militants ambushed an Indian Army convoy in Manipur state, killing 18 soldiers of 6 Dogra Regiment. Global Security notes that “Nagaland has its own distinct culture and ethos. Happy and cheerful, the people have an innate sense of music and colour.” But as observed by Kadayam Subramanian, a former Director General of Police in Northeast India, “The Naga insurgency arose out of Naga nationalism which focused on the sovereignty and territoriality of the Naga people. Naga nationalism was suppressed brutally by independent India. The long and painful saga of the Naga struggle for independence is well recorded... The Naga insurgency is the oldest and most powerful insurgency in India today.” The Manipur ambush prompted an Indian military operation outside its borders — a precedent that caused Pakistan and indeed the world at large to take note of a significant change of policy in Delhi.
It would have been more to the point if Mr. Modi had withdrawn his declaration that Pakistan promotes terrorism and agreed to immediately restart dialogue to discuss major — indeed vital — matters of bilateral security. Failing this, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have no option but to maintain a high degree of vigilance. They have to be prepared to counter and defeat “speedy multiple offensives deep into enemy territory.”
Some Naga militants are based in Myanmar and it was decided that they should be taken out. On 9 June, two days after Mr. Modi’s Bangladesh visit, his army’s special forces crossed the border into Myanmar and attacked two Naga camps, killing an unknown number of militants. Two days after the operation, the Defence Minister, the ever loquacious Manohar Parrikar, was reported by The Hindu newspaper as saying there had been a “change in mindset” in India and that “If the thinking pattern changes, lot of things change. You have seen for the last two-three days... those who fear India’s new posture have already started reacting... You have seen for the last two to three days, a simple action against insurgents has changed the mindset of the full security scenario in the country.”
His pronouncement was an unmistakable threat to Pakistan, in spite of coming from a defence minister whose credibility is crumbling even in Delhi’s ultra-nationalist BJP government — but there has been no attempt to deny or amend the thrust of his remarks. They remain official government declarations, along with Mr. Modi’s avowal that Pakistan “promotes terrorism.” On June 10, India’s Economic Times newspaper reported the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, as similarly explicit in “asserting that attacks on Indians are not acceptable anywhere. The Minister, a former colonel, said that based on effective intelligence, ‘we will carry out surgical strikes at the place and time of our own choosing’.”
The paper went on to note that Rathore “was asked whether such attacks could be carried out in the western border” to which he replied that “western disturbances will also be equally dealt with [and] the operations today [9 June] were a message to all such neighbours who harbour terror intentions. Friendship and zero tolerance will go hand in hand. This is a beginning. India is strong. This message should go to everyone.” It appears that the message had already gone to the Indian army, because reports of India’s annual springtime military exercises close to the border with Pakistan indicated emphasis in practicing tactics associated with deep penetration.
It should not be forgotten that after the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26-29, 2008 there were open warnings of preparations to strike against Pakistan. On December 24, Air Marshal PK Barbora, commander Western Air Command, said, “the IAF has earmarked 5,000 targets in Pakistan. But whether we will cross the LoC or the International Border to hit the enemy targets will have to be decided by the political leadership of the country.” The Air Force was ready to go, as was the Army. Six months later Air Marshal Barbora was appointed Vice Chief of Air Staff, which sent the message that there was no official disapproval of his threat.
Later I wrote that on June 4, 2009 the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of India’s South-Western Air Command, Air Marshal KD Singh, declared that “in case of a misadventure by Pakistan in shape of major terrorist attack or the attack like the one we had on the Parliament, attack on our leader, a major city, public or hijacking an aircraft, can obviously lead to a reaction from India, which could be a short intense war.” Then on 1st November 2009 India’s Home Minister, Mr. Chidambaram, was reported as saying “I’ve been warning Pakistan not to play any more games. Let Mumbai be the last such game. If they carry out any more attacks on India, they will not only be defeated, but we will also retaliate with the force of a sledgehammer.” The threat from Delhi, which many observers had considered to have been negligible, given the apparent pragmatism of the government of Dr. Manmohan Singh, was spelled out in blunt and menacing terms.
In April-May 2015 India’s 2 Corps (Strike Corps) conducted Exercise Brahmashira (‘Ultimate Weapon’) in Rajasthan, 50 km from the border opposite Multan, involving some 20,000 troops practicing to “break through multiple obstacles in a restricted timeframe.” A spokesman stated that “the focus of the exercise is on new and efficient ways of fighting a war in a synergized battlefield” and Indian media reported that “the exercise has been conceptualized by the Kharga Corps under aegis of Western Command for rapid mobilization and speedy multiple offensives deep into enemy territory.” In other military manoeuvres in April, the army’s 10 Corps held Exercise Akraman-II (‘Attack’) — also in Rajasthan, near the border with Pakistan — involving “more than 300 combat vehicles, main battle tanks, long range artillery guns and about 10,000 troops.” Among other things it practiced “the capabilities of Indian Air Force in launching deep insertion of airborne and helicopter-borne army units.” HQ 10 Corps is at Bhatinda and two of its three divisions, 16 and 18, are headquartered, respectively, at Sri Ganganagar (20 km from the border) and Bikaner (60). “Speedy multiple offensives” and “deep insertion” are phrases that strike a warning chord with military planners facing an army of a million that is patently planning for offensive action — under the orders of a prime minister who states publicly that “Pakistan has created a nuisance . . . it promotes terrorism.”
There has been much analysis and discussion of Pakistan’s possible reaction to a thrust — a larger-scale and more ambitious Myanmar-style strike, for example — across the border or the Line of Control, and my conclusion is that any such action could on no account be accepted by Pakistan, which would have to react vigorously to protect its sovereignty.
On Mr. Modi’s website it is stated that “Dynamic, dedicated and determined, Narendra Modi arrives as a ray of hope in the lives of a billion Indians.” But it says nothing about any rays of hope concerning relations with India’s most important neighbour. Mr. Modi met with Mr. Nawaz Sharif on 10 July at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Russia. The handshakes were formal, the body language indicative of suspicion rather than cordiality — but at least they met and talked, and Mr. Modi agreed to come to Islamabad next year for the SAARC Summit.
India’s Hindu newspaper reported that they “made no commitment on restarting dialogue” but that they had “tasked Foreign Secretaries S Jaishankar and Aizaz Chowdhury with announcing a five-pronged statement of progress in their discussions, including meetings between National Security Advisers Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz and between military and border security force chiefs of the two nations.” It would have been more to the point if Mr. Modi had withdrawn his declaration that Pakistan promotes terrorism and agreed to immediately restart dialogue to discuss major — indeed vital — matters of bilateral security. Failing this, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have no option but to maintain a high degree of vigilance. They have to be prepared to counter and defeat “speedy multiple offensives deep into enemy territory.”