War beyond borders

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War beyond borders

Saturday, 23 February 2019 | Shivaji Sarkar

India is not the only country facing terrorism. It has to, therefore, ensure a global alliance to break the backbone of terror and its illicit funding

The Pulwama terror attack that claimed the lives of 40 Indian soldiers has caused remorse and frenzy across the country to take revenge. There has been a cry to teach Pakistan a lesson. Many have even advocated for a war. Indians are hurt but howsoever one may wish, the solution is not easy. India has military preparedness but war will be expensive, and this not just in monetary terms. The sub-continent is passing through severe uncertainty as its neighbours —  Afghanistan and China — change tack every now and then. This, combined with the changing situation in Afghanistan, where the US is in a hurry to withdraw its troops, and the Taliban’s muscle-flexing, have made matters worse. Russia and Iran are not shy of striking a deal with the Taliban. All of this apart, big money plays a crucial role. It is not just the nation states that are pouring funds. In fact, they, including the US, are having trouble arranging for it. India is just next to a troubled Western Asia singed by the Islamic State (IS).

The IS war is being fought not for a “holy cause of jihad.” Terror is a complex mix of arms-drug peddlers, cyber frauds, human traffickers and other hegemonists. School girls from Europe to West Asia are used in the sex trade. This generates illicit funds. Will the Taliban take control of Afghanistan, where India has invested huge sums of money, as also in diplomacy, with the US’ withdrawal? It may be seen as yet another American failure after its loss in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. Since 2001, after spending billions, the US controls not even half of Afghanistan. Afghan soldiers and civilian casualties are heavy. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE are working out the face-saver for the US’ withdrawal. They are also pressurising Pakistan to help as also providing financial aid to boost its forex reserves that are as low as $ 6 billion. Saudi Arabia has given $32 billion aid to Islamabad.

Conflict is rising in northern borders of Pakistan. Even Iran lost 28 soldiers in a blast on its borders with Pakistan on February 12. Frenzy is ripe there too. The country vowed retribution. The sub-continent is on a tinder box but war is too complex an affair. Astute diplomacy is needed to save India’s economic assistance and friends in Afghanistan and Iran. The Taliban’s resurgence is a problem for Islamabad. It fears losing its might to it. Moreover, tribal regions on Pakistan’s borders are on ferment with sub-nationalism. Slight change in equilibrium would cause major problems for India and other states. The Pakistani Government is not in full control. The diplomatic question is: Who do you fight? Pakistan? Or in case of a war, Taliban, Jaish-e-Mohammad and other riff-raff elements? The situation today is more complex than in 1971, when Bangladesh was created despite radicalisation even at that time. There are many non-state actors.

Today, it’s not an issue of an Islamic bomb on India. It is managing within the country and outside in multi-dimensions and directions. An aggressive diplomacy, lobbying, negotiations and operations need huge investment as also manpower. Conflict with Pakistan cost three per cent of India’s GDP, according to Indian think-tank, Strategic Foresight Group, in 2004. India lost 3,843 soldiers in 1971 and captured 93,000 soldiers. Almost a million people in India were refugees. It had bled the economy then. The post-1971 war costs were higher. It had caused over 13 per cent inflation and severe unrest. The imposition of internal emergency was another fall-out. The proxy war since 1990 has claimed more casualties and economic cost — be it in Kashmir, the Kargil conflict of 1999, the Parliament attack in 2001, the 2008 Mumbai attack or the subsequent several other blasts and raids. Military and civilian casualties are more than it was in full-fledged wars in 1965 and 1971.

It is estimated that since December 2001, every year, almost $600 million is spent to protect the western border. Pakistan’s  spending is estimated to be a little less but it is higher in percentage terms for its GDP and geographical area. The Federation of Indian Chambers for Commerce and Industry estimated a huge business cost to the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict and trade volume is small. In other words, denying MFN status to Pakistan would have little economic impact.

So what does Pakistan gain? A conflict with India has seen huge economic gains in assistance from West Asia, the US and the West. The US, despite the World Trade Tower attack, considered Pakistan a strategic ally and gave Musharraf enormous aid. Even the current President Donald Trump is doing it today. India-baiting is survival technique for the artificial state. For us, apart from financial and political cost, there is human misery. Certain powers want the rogue state to survive as they have business, territorial and other interests. India has to chart out a course. A war may not be easy but breaking the tentacles of those who lead to war is a necessity. What have we done post-Pulwama? India has to re-strategise and ensure global alliance to break the backbone of terror and its illicit funding.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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