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30 July 2015, Gateway House

Gurdaspur: Advantage Pakistan

The attack in Gurdaspur this week was different from any previous Pakistan-sponsored terrorist hit. India must be wary of the new and improved strikes coming from across the border, and must also plan a robust, long-term policy response

Fellow, International Security Studies Programme

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Barely two weeks ago, on 10 July, amidst fanfare, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia,  on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit and agreed to resume the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue.

It seemed unlikely then that the meeting would be the breakthrough it was touted as, given the history of such bilateral hopes. The attack in Gurdaspur in India’s Punjab, on 27 July, proves this.

Typical of the India-Pakistan dialogue, multiple factors determine the volleys in the bilateral, but any terrorist attack can potentially smash it.

This time though, it’s ‘Advantage Pakistan’.

Three reasons why:

  1. This is not a typical terrorist attack on India. It’s neither in a metro city nor in the theatre of  conflict, Jammu and Kashmir, but in a tier-III city, Gurdaspur, in mainland India.
  2. The attack was not a Mumbai-style frontal attack but a cross-border raid.
  3. The attack was not targeted at the Indian military or at crowded locations, but at civilians in a bus and at state-level police personnel.

Clearly, whoever controls the activities of the anti-India terrorist groups in Pakistan are now seen to have carved out a unique space in Pakistan’s low-intensity warfare against India—with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba imprint. The Pakistani government has condemned the attack in a statement. But the message, sotto voce, is this: dialogue or no dialogue, it will be business as usual when it comes to the Lashkar.

How should India respond? To win the set, India can do the usual: remove the “thorn with a thorn,” as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar described it. Or carry out the “hot pursuit” option as India did in Myanmar last month, following the Manipur attack on 5 June, in order to quench emotional public opinion in India and boost the Army’s morale. In the past, India has responded to Pakistani adventures on the western border with this retaliatory option, though few actions are public knowledge.

But will these responses be an effective deterrence for the future? Especially now that the fight seems to be moving beyond Pakistan and its ISI spy agency, to the ISIS, the deadly Islamic State which has recently declared it will recruit from, and attack India?

So far, the Indian response has not been effective deterrence.. It will be better now for India to thoughtfully plan a win for the big game. In the last year, Modi has had enough engagement with Pakistan to understand the bilateral dynamics. Now is the time to craft a sophisticated, logical, and pragmatic Pakistan policy, beyond the limited black-and-white lens through which the country is currently viewed.

This will require New Delhi to take the following actions:

  1. Stick to the dialogue timetable. Continue plans for the Delhi meeting of the respective National Security Advisors.
  2. Engage openly across the political spectrum in the Kashmir Valley. Modi has the vision to do it.
  3. Learn from Pakistan’s successful propaganda warfare, and counter it well.
  4. Develop a robust research base on Pakistan, drawing from varied sources, particularly Pakistan’s thriving Urdu media and social media.
  5. If there are plans for an immediate removal of “thorns with thorns,” don’t publicise it. Just do it.

Track II dialogues and people-to-people exchanges will help develop a better understanding of Pakistan and curb India’s appetite for retribution. But only a determined rebuilding of India’s domestic economy will take the focus away from Pakistani malevolence and foreground India’s more important global goals.

Sameer Patil is Fellow, National Security, Ethnic Conflict and Terrorism, at Gateway House.

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